COHOES — Madison VanDenburg sang for an audience of millions last year during her finalist run on “American Idol.” There was plenty of pressure, sure, for the Capital Region singer – but the show never required her to sing one of the most challenging possible songs, The Star-Spangled Banner.
Demi Lovato will take her turn to sing the national anthem prior to Sunday night’s Super Bowl LIV and will have to deal with the challenges every vocalist faces with the song. It’s one-and-a-half octave range, its challenging lyrics and knowing that every American knows the song by heart.
It is a moment that VanDenburg knows well.
The Cohoes native has performed the national anthem in front of small and large crowds. She can relate to the pressure Lovato faces Sunday evening.
“I think when it really clicked for me was the first big stadium for the Cleveland Cavaliers [Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse],” VanDenburg said recently. “I just had to make sure that I really nailed it because it was my first big time singing it.”
Once, the teenager even had the challenge of timing up her finish of the song to coincide with a flyover at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the home of the San Francisco 49ers who will play in Sunday’s big game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.
VanDenburg sang the national anthem prior to a recent wrestling match at Mohonasen High School for the Mighty Warriors’ matchup with Rotterdam rival Schalmont. She was there to support her half-brother, Clayton O’Connor, but still had butterflies heading into her performance.
“I think for events like [a high school event], when I don’t have a time restraint, I really like to kind of take my time and feel the emotion in the song,” VanDenburg said. “If I had my choice, I would try to slow down several parts and feel it better.
“I tend to feel like I’m going to forget the words right before a performance and I feel like the anthem is really important in terms of its lyrics. After doing it for so many years, for me, it come a lot easier than it used to.”
VanDenburg first sang the national anthem at 6 years old.
It wasn’t her best performance.
“I did something called Soap Box Derby and I did the anthem for that, and I forgot all the words. The crowd had to sing along with me,” VanDenburg said. “I was young, and everyone understood, but that my first experience with it, so it’s kind of traumatized me after that.”
And, that experience led to one of her first tips on performing the anthem.
“I carry the lyrics in my wallet. That’s how obsessed I am with it,” VanDenburg said. “It’s just such an important song. You just don’t want to screw it up. It means a lot to a lot of people.’
The late Whitney Houston’s 1991 version of the national anthem for Super Bowl XXV is considered one of the best performances ever.
“I’ve watched her version and others, like Christian Aguilera , and a lot of the big singers’ versions, and taken notes off of that. But when it comes down to singing the song, I feel like I really have to put my own twist on it and make sure that my artistry kind of shines through when I sing,” VanDenburg said.
Alicia Keys has the longest Super Bowl performance of the national anthem at 2:35 in 2013, while Jewel has the shortest at 1:27 in 1998. The length of the national anthem is one of many popular prop bets available at sports books around the country, but the bet is not available at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino; Rivers spokesman spokesman Al Roney said the New York Gaming Commission is only allowing bets that are game-related.
DraftKings, a daily fantasy sports website, is utilizing an estimate of Lovato taking 1:59 to complete The Star-Spangled Banner, and is using that in a prop bet related to one of the game’s teams having a scoring drive lasting longer or shorter than song’s actual completion.
However long Lovato takes Sunday to sing the national anthem, VanDenburg has a sense of how the singer is likely to feel when the song is complete, and the crowd is cheering.
“It’s probably one the most relieving feelings for me, especially because I go into it with so many nerves and anxiety,” VanDenburg said. “Once I know that I finally got through it, it’s a weight off my shoulders. It’s awesome.”