It has to be a singers dream come true to be asked to sing the National Anthem.
To their management – it must seem like a great idea.
How else would you explain why so many artists try just about anything – whether it’s fiddling with the classic arrangement or striving for notes of glory that only divas can hit – to put their own stamp on the national anthem?
An artist getting booked to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a major event can make or break an artists career so why not try to make it memorable, like Whitney Houston’s epic take in 1991 or Marvin Gaye’s eminently soulful ’83 version?
With that in mind, Billboard brings you the 10 worst national anthem performances ever, after which you’re welcome to purge your ears by listening to the five all-time best. Here’s to U.S. of A.
10) Josh Groban and Flea, 2010
Back in January, we asked whether this unlikely coupling at the BCS championship game was the “weirdest national anthem ever,” and with good reason. Josh Groban and Flea may be friends in real life, but their musical inclinations — he’s a popera star who cameos on “Glee,” he’s a funk-punk bassist who plays with Thom Yorke — don’t exactly scream “hot collabo.”
9) Keri Hilson, 2010
Keri Hilson has the vocal chops to make “The Star-Spangled Banner” soar, but unfortunately, the R&B star’s performance at an NBA Lakers vs. Hawks game this year did just the opposite. Why? Hilson committed the sin of all sins: forgetting the lyrics. Let the grumbling commence!
8 ) R. Kelly, 2005
Notoriously excellent at turning ordinary performances into logic-defying moments, R. Kelly must have been trying to channel the great Marvin Gaye when he decided to go with a soul arrangement of the national anthem for a Mayweather vs. Pacquiao boxing bout. The results got people talking, but for all the wrong reasons, from the unnecessary use of hand claps to the even more unnecessary use of Chicago step dancers.
7) Steven Tyler, 2007
The Aerosmith frontman’s one-of-a-kind voice is perfectly suited to howling choruses like “Love in an elevatuhhh,” “What did her daddy doooo,” or, “Dream until you’re dreams come truuue.” “O’er the land of the freeeee,” however? Not so much.
6) Jesse McCartney, 2009
Singing at the Pepsi 500 in 2009, Jesse McCartney skips over a whole portion of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with such confidence, you’d think everyone else before him had performed it wrong. The former teen idol makes our list for the same reason as Hilson but ranks higher because, unlike her, he doesn’t make up for his mistakes by hitting his notes.
5) Aaron Neville, Aretha Franklin and Dr. John, 2006
It had all the makings of a potentially great national anthem performance. Super Bowl XL was the first since Hurricane Katrina, and two New Orleans heroes — Aaron Neville and Dr. John — were there to proudly represent their hometown, along with Detroit soul queen Aretha Franklin. Also, a gospel choir! But sadly, these elements added up to something that just didn’t leave us feeling good. Perplexed, maybe, and surely uncomfortable. But definitely not good.
4) Scott Stapp, 2005
“The Grammy Award-winning voice of Creed” has bungled the national anthem on several occasions, but a 2005 performance from the NASCAR Ford 400 best demonstrates why this man should never sing this song. Severed notes and brooding growls do not a good “Star-Spangled Banner” make.
3) Michael Bolton, 2003
Before there was Sarah Palin reading notes from her hand, there was Michael Bolton. At a Red Sox vs. Yankees baseball game in 2003, the crooner invited the wrath of fans when he dared to peek at the lyrics scrawled on his palm. Between that and the bizarre echo following his every line, Bolton’s performance was an epic fail.
2) Roseanne Barr, 1990
Even the most thick-skinned Americans had their feathers ruffled by Roseanne Barr’s national anthem performance at a 1990 San Diego Padres game. She wanted to be obnoxious, in a number of ways — by shouting the lyrics totally off-key, grabbing her crotch, and spitting on the pitcher’s mound — and it worked. The best part of this particular video, though, is that it serves to remind us that Madonna not only felt honored by Barr’s performance but spoke with an entirely different accent 20 years ago.
1) Kat DeLuna, 2008
Oh, Kat DeLuna. Once a pop newcomer with a bright future, the Dominican singer never quite recovered from this national anthem performance at a 2008 Dallas Cowboys game.
Any way you look at it, it’s a spectacular failure. She tries too hard to hit the notes that only a rarefied circle of divas can, then takes us on a painfully bumpy roller coaster ride of vocal runs.
She half-forgets the lyrics. She completely botches the last note. And she does it all with the swagger of something who believes she’s positively killing it.
When a chorus of boos erupts at the end, it’s far too little, too late.