Whitney Doucet was the third of 15 contestants to perform the national anthem at Saturday’s Speedway Star singing competition at the Mall of New Hampshire. But her stunning rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t forgotten by the judges, who chose the 22-year-old from Fitchburg, Mass., as the overall winner of the fourth annual contest put on by New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Doucet was one of 15 participants from across New England, ranging in age from 13 to 69. They performed in front of a celebrity lineup of judges, including Dan Nelson, director of northeast promotion for RCA Records; legendary NASCAR pit reporter Dick Berggren; and WOKQ 97.5 FM morning wake-up show host Karen Kiley. Mark Ericson, who co-hosts WOKQ’s “Morning Waking Crew with Mark and 2K” show with Kiley, served as the emcee.
While Doucet took home the overall title, 13-year-old Caroline Burns of Hollis, N.H., and Caroline Portu, 18, of Stratham, N.H., were also awarded opportunities to sing the national anthem this summer at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Originally, the plan was for the judges to award two winners with an opportunity to perform in front of thousands of fans at either the Whelen Modified Tour Town Fair Tire 100 race on July 13 or the F.W. Webb 100 race on Sept. 21. However, Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, had other ideas. Overwhelmed by the level of talent, Gappens awarded a third spot for a race to be determined in July.
“This has been one of my dreams for a long time to sing in front of so many people,” said Doucet, an aspiring country music artist with previous experience singing in venues such as Fenway Park, the DCU Center and county fairs. “This was unique because each singer got to sing the national anthem. I’m just so excited to have won, there were a lot of talented singers here today.”
Burns was the youngest performer in the group. A singer in an all-girl band called “Granite Beat,” Burns echoed Doucet’s sentiments about how strong the contestants were, but that she didn’t let the moment get away from her.
“I don’t get nervous, but I was definitely feeling really excited,” said Burns, who was third-to-last singer to perform. “I can’t wait to perform in front of such a big crowd.”
Portu, the final performer of the day, put on quite the show for the large crowd that assembled around the court in front of JC Penney. Not only did the Boston College freshman blow the judges away with her voice, but she showed off her hidden talent.
“I was told it’s impossible to do,” said Portu before proceeding to lick her elbow, drawing laughter and huge ovation. “I hate going last, but I loosened up when I was up there and my little hidden talent helped a bit. This was a lot of fun.”
A total of 50 contestants were asked to submit a DVD, CD, .wav file or .mp3 file of them singing “The Star Spangled Banner” a cappella style (without music or other accompaniments). The 15 competing on Saturday were chosen by a panel of speedway officials.
“Whoever picked these 15 out of the 50 did a really great job because all of these singers deserved the be on that stage – there was a weak singer in the group,” said Nelson, who works in conjunction with RCA Records Nashville, which serves as the label for such well-known country artists as Miranda Lambert, Chris Young and Sara Evans. “It was a really tight competition. The top three were terrific, but fourth, fifth and sixth were just a few points different – it was that close.”
The 2013 Magic Mile season is here. As part of the July New Hampshire 300, the Magic Mile recently unveiled its “Wheel and Deal Pre-Race Show” promotion, where it will giveaway over $250,000 in prizes and 10 new 2013 Toyota cars. Ericsson gave a sampling of that promotion with Speedway Star onlookers in the Mall of New Hampshire on Saturday.
“I thought it was great,” said Ericsson. “These folks seemed to have a lot of fun with it and really were amped up about participating in some of the games. I can only imagine what it will be like when there are actually cars up for grabs.”
Tickets may be purchased for the New Hampshire 300 on July 14 or the SYLVANIA 300 on Sept. 22 by calling the track’s ticket hotline at (603) 783-4931 or by visiting www.nhms.com.