Who among us hasn't botched the words to the national anthem at some point? Especially if you're going it solo, it's easy to panic mid-lyric: Is it a perilous fight, or night? Are the stripes broad, or bright? Did we watch or hail those ramparts?
Still, most of us don't blow it in front of an audience of more than 100 million people, which was Christina Aguilera's fate at Super Bowl XLV. This was definitely not the kickoff to 2011 the singer was looking for after her annus horribilis last year.
Heads cocked in puzzlement around the nation as Aguilera began singing the wrong words four lines into the song. Instead of "O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming," she sang, "What so proudly we watched at the twilight's last gleaming"—basically, repeating the second line of the tune, except for "watched," the one word of the fourth line she did nail down.
As she went on to the fifth line, the audience broke into a huge cheer, which Aguilera may have taken to be the crowd's gratitude that she was back on track; that ovation was actually prompted by the sight of troops from Camp Leatherhead in Afghanistan appearing on screens.
Some viewers were less taken aback by the lyric-fail than by the predictable onslaught of melisma she brought to the closing lines. In case you were wondering how long she stretched out the final word, "free," the count was: 12 seconds. (If you're wondering how many different notes she elongated that one word into, that might make for a guessing game akin to a how-many-jelly-beans-in-the-jar contest.)
If Aguilera squeezed as many notes out of the anthem as she could, at least she didn't add any extraneous words or utterances, as she has in years past in even showier versions of "The Star-Spangled Banner," when she was prone to throwing in an arbitrary "Ha!" here or "Yeah yeah yeah!" there. Until the final stretch, this was one of Aguilera's more restrained anthems, but the instinct to make up for the flub may have thrown her back into instinctive overdrive mode.
The YouTube archives are filled with other celebrities who've muffed the words of the anthem, including Keri Hilson, Jesse McCartney, and Michael Bolton, the last of whom famously paused to glance at lyrics written out on his hand. Aguilera has performed the song at scads of events in the past, so, unlike some other diva-come-latelies, it's not like she couldn't be bothered to learn the words. It just goes to show how any of us, no matter how famous or accomplished, can suddenly turn into a deer in the headlights—or in the rocket's red glare.
[Photos by Associated Press]