Area Pirates fans may find themselves surprised when they see an Indiana resident performing the national anthem on Aug. 3 against the Colorado Rockies.
Malaika Turner, an Indiana resident since 1991, created a bucket list in 2007. One of those items, she said, was to perform the national anthem at a major sporting event. Six years later, the 40-year-old Indiana University of Pennsylvania employee will be able to cross that item off the list.
“I started practicing, rehearsing, you know, getting the words and really learning the song,” she said. “And then I had an opportunity to sing it at a smaller event and I assumed it was my ‘opportunity.’”
In December, she said, her husband Theo encouraged her to compete in the Oh Say Can You Sing contest at PirateFest in Pittsburgh. The “American Idol”-style audition, she said, made her a little nervous.
“There were folks in line, walking the room, and then there were three judges from the Pirates who judged your performance and gave you feedback,” Turner said. “They either sent you on to the next level or said ‘thank you very much.’”
After her first audition, Turner made it to the second level. The first level had about 50 contestants try out, she said.
“We went into the second level with 11 finalists to sing on stage before the audience.”
One of the judges was Pirates catcher Mike McKenry, as well as A.J. Burnett and Kent Tekulve.
“You basically went up one at a time and they voted right there and provided you with feedback,’ she said.
A twist on the normal “American Idol” theme, four of the finalists scored 10 out of 10 during the judging.
“They were only supposed to choose one,” Turner said, “but there were four of us that got perfect 10s. I actually got a standing ovation.”
When the four-way tie was announced, each one of them had to come back and sing right on the spot. Turner chose to sing “America the Beautiful.”
When all of the finalists performed again, the judges chose to allow all four of them to perform at different games throughout the season.
Though nervous at first, she said, Turner credits her husband for helping her overcome her fear during her audition.
“I sing all the time,” she said. “I’m a praise and worship leader at my church, I’ve sung since I was a baby. I knew that I was sort of poised to do this because it was on the bucket list.”
The pressure of a huge audience at the festival, though, was a lot to handle. According to the PirateFest 2012 website, 16,986 people attended the three-day event at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, and it was the largest crowed the festival has seen since 2003.
“I was very nervous. It was cold in there, I was shivering.”
A text to her husband was all it took to calm her nerves.
“I texted my husband and said, ‘I’m nervous.’ He said, ‘take ’em to church.’” Her husband’s text message, she said, calmed her down, because she considers her church to be her “natural place.” After that, it was exciting to sing in front of a crowd and “have folks who really enjoyed the performance.”
Until she sings the national anthem at the game in August, she will have only performed the national anthem in front of a large crowd at an IUP basketball game in March.
This item isn’t the only one she gets to check off her bucket list this year, though.
“This has been an exciting year because I have a bucket list of about 30 things, and one of them was this. One of them was to attend ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ and I didn’t think that would happen.” To her surprise, she attended the show in June. In addition, she’s written and published a book that’s now for sale in the IUP Co-op Store, titled “Walking in Step With God On Purpose,” which she said is an inspirational and motivational daily reader. While doing all of this, she’s also a doctoral student at IUP, studying communications media and instructional technology.
Turner’s kids, 11-year-old Malik and 7-year-old Tyree, will be cheering her on at the game in August, as well as a group of 40 students that her husband has organized to take to the game. Plus, Turner’s co-workers, family and friends will all be there to support her.
“My kids get to stand out on the field,” she said. “My youngest, Tyree, is an Andrew McCutchen fan. I mean, baseball is his life, and he’s really excited.”
Turner says she’s “kind of hoping” that she might get a signature from McCutchen on a ball.
Her biggest fan, her husband, will be her biggest asset during the game, and he’ll be standing on the field, too.
“Him supporting me with these goals that I have really makes a big difference,” she said. “He really pushes me, saying ‘you can do this, you can sing, you can do it.’ That’s really instrumental in a lot of my goals on my bucket list.”
The game vs. the Rockies will begin at PNC Park at 7:05 p.m.