They could only imagine 71,000 fans packed inside M&T Bank Stadium. But the eight finalists who auditioned Tuesday morning for the coveted gig of Baltimore Ravens home-game national anthem singer got a good taste.
Each singer's face flooded the Jumbotrons as the sound system blared their echoing, hopeful voices through the vast space, just as it would right before game time.
Those voices included two sisters, two former Miss Marylands, a severely expectant mother (her due date is Wednesday), a richly tattooed rock musician and a contestant whose credits included winning a national anthem contest at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House when she was a teen.
The Ravens promoted the job of anthem singer on the team's website. Around 50 people uploaded videos of themselves. Ravens personnel whittled down the finalists.
Listening intently to the parade of "The Star-Spangled Banner" interpreters were eight judges charged with selecting a successor to the popular, golden-voiced Mishael Miller. He sang at nearly every home game for 18 seasons until last December, when he headed to Alabama to be a pastor.
"I always admired him," said Baltimore native Joey Odums, 25, a member of the Maryland Army National Guard who returned from duty in Afghanistan about a month ago and learned he was a finalist for the anthem gig. "He was the choir director at the church I went to when I was young. He made me want to be a singer."
Odums, who was the last of the singers to audition, practically jogged onto the field when his time came around 8:45 a.m., and proceeded to sing the familiar music in a bright, clear voice.
During the auditions, the finalists were sequestered in a room where they could not hear one another's performances. The atmosphere inside was cordial.
"Everyone was rooting for everyone else," said Brooke Ansley, 29, a country songwriter who was the 2009 Miss Maryland. "We all tried not to be too nervous."
The finalists were given one shot at performing the anthem for the jury, which retired to the locker room to deliberate after all of the performances. The winner will be announced later, possibly by the end of the week.
Some of the finalists already had experience singing the piece at events around the region, but facing judges early on a muggy morning in the cavernous stadium — "It's a lot bigger than it looks on TV," said finalist Andrew Carpenter, 29 — still takes stamina.
"I guess we did we put them in a daunting situation," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' senior vice president for public relations. "You see yourself on the screen and hear the delay while you're singing. But all eight of them handled it well."
The judges included Meg Sippey, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's artistic planning manager and assistant to music director Marin Alsop. Sippey regularly has a hand in choosing singers for BSO programs.
"The finalists were all very well prepared," Sippey said. "No one had trouble with the words, which so often happens, and the level of singing was high. We even heard some who emphasized the 'O.'"
That was a nod to the only-in-Baltimore tradition of Ravens and Orioles sports fans shouting out the first word — in an all-out Baltimore accent — of the line "O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave."
"You just have to pause and let it happen," said Peter James, 41, a contestant who has sung the anthem for an Orioles game. "It's very awe-inspiring to hear the entire crowd give you that 'O.' It says we are Baltimore."
As for the nine-months-pregnant finalist, Shannon Ramsey, she strode confidently onto the field and greeted the judges with a bright "Hi, everybody." She delivered a slow and vibrant account of the anthem that, like those of most contestants, included some liberties with the melodic line.
"This is my hometown, and I love the Ravens," Ramsey said afterward. "It would be such an honor to sing the anthem for them."