When Nicole Hidalgo sings the National Anthem, it’s not just to honor the nation. It’s not just for her singing career, or the experience of winning. When she sings it, it brings her a little closer to her uncle, Charles “Chuckie” Mendez, a firefighter who died in the September 11 World Trade Center attacks. And now she’s poised to have that experience in front of the largest audience of her life.
Hidalgo, a Gerritsen Beach native, is one of four finalists competing for the chance to sing in honor of the Stars & Stripes to a crowd of 80,000 before a Jets game. The competition ends tomorrow, July 22, at midnight, and she needs all the help she can get from neighbors to boost her into the spotlight.
Not that she doesn’t have the talent for it on her own. She knew her calling early on: Hidalgo has been singing her heart out at every local event and parade in Gerritsen Beach (not to mention events run by the Sheepshead Bay / Plumb Beach Civic Association) since she was 12. As she came of age, she enrolled in LaGuardia High School for the Perfoming Arts, where she performed alongside classmates Pia Toscano, Karen Rodriguez and Rachel Zevita – all American Idol finalists. She sang backup for Josh Groban at Radio City and elsewhere, and was the anthem contest winner for the New York Mets and the Brooklyn Cyclones (in fact, she’ll be singing a Cyclones game tomorrow).
But it’s Jets stadium that really catches Hidalgo’s eye.
“Though I have shared a stage in front of some big audiences before, I have never performed solo in front of a crowd this large in my life. The experience of singing in the empty stadium [for the tryouts] gave me a rush that I have never felt and I can’t even imagine how amazing it would be in a packed stadium!” she said. “The Jets are the only team that roll out a big stage and make a pretty big deal out of the National Anthem.”
Out of hundreds of entries, the field of competitors was weened down by a jury to just 16, and then, finally, four. The final four were put online for Jets fans to pick. According to Hidalgo, turning it over to a fan vote means she’s got to call in backup to push her over the top, and that’s why she’s asking Sheepshead Bites readers to pitch in.
“I believe that I sing [the anthem] in a more traditional way, correctly and with all the heart and soul that I have, and I truly believe that I’ve done the best job out of the four of us,” Hidalgo said. “Unfortunately, this has turned into a popularity contest rather than a singing contest. I hope your readers will have a listen because I think they will hear in my voice how important this song really is to me!”
Voting takes under a minute and ends on Friday, July 22 at 11:59 p.m.