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The Jazz singers: Many brave voices rise for Star Spangled spots

Just as he has for 30 years, Dan Roberts is ready to take to the microphone again as the arena voice of the Utah Jazz.

Come Nov. 1, he'll say something like, "Ladies and gentlemen, please rise in honor of the national anthem."

And he'll introduce one of the Utahns who will sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the Jazz's 41 home games.

Auditions for singing at those games were held Friday at EnergySolutions Arena. The four judges — Roberts, Jazz promotions director Chantay Davies and two other Jazz employees — listened to the song 174 times. They also received about 40 audition tapes from people who couldn't attend.

Come game night, the arena will fall nearly silent and the singer will stand at center court, flanked by two teams aching to pummel each other.

It's not a time for nerves to take over.

But it's a feeling the Salt Lake-area quartet 25:12 knows.

The group sang for a packed house during a Utah Jazz-Phoenix Suns game last season. Even though it was nerve-racking, the experience was good enough for the group to come back and try again.

Leipua Lao said she hasn't sung publicly in a long time and felt the jitters during her audition. And not only because she found out about the audition by text message at noon Friday. The auditions were over by 1 p.m.

"There's no music to hide behind," Lao said. "There's no people to hide behind."

The Salt Lake City mother of two should know. She sang as a member of the pop band The Jets. But the now-sing-at-home-mom won the judges' applause. She was the only performer judges confirmed as landing a coveted gig at one of the Jazz's big games against the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics or Phoenix Suns.

The Jazz home opener is Oct. 29 against the Denver Nuggets. Country music superstar Colin Raye has already been booked to sing that night. A few other local celebrity musicians will likely be booked for some games, said Davies, who oversees game operations.

But for the rest of the home games, she said, Jazz owner Larry H. Miller wants local talent to sing the anthem in a traditional way.

Auditioners came from all over the Wasatch Front and included a cappella group T Minus 5, who said this is the first year the five members got their schedules to match up for the audition. Group members said they're huge Jazz fans and during shows that coincide with game night, they often ask their crowds to keep them apprised of the score.

Groups from Judge Memorial, Roy and Kearns high schools, as well as T Minus 5, Lao and various others were allowed to sing the entire first verse of the anthem. Most auditioners, however, were stopped after "... and the rockets' red glare" to save time.

"It's a tough decision," Davies said. "Utah has a lot of talent."

Roberts, whose voice is the most well-known inside the arena during games, only yields the microphone for the one minute and 15 seconds it takes to perform the national anthem, so singers need to make the song count, he said.

"Get up there and rip," is his advice for people who want to sing at games.

"It's an impossible song to sing," he said. "It takes a lot of guts."


E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com