It was 25 years ago today that Whitney Houston performed one of the most memorable renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner” of all time, just before Super Bowl XXV between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants (note: don’t mention this game to a Bills fan). The country was in the midst of the first Gulf War, and Houston’s stirring and powerful rendition of our national anthem was simply incredible. In fact, she would go on to release the performance as a single and it broke the top 20 of the Hot 100, making it the highest charting version of the iconic song, until her version once again appeared in the top 10 following the 9/11 attacks. And in both cases, she donated all the proceeds to charity.
But while Whitney Houston’s performance was once in a lifetime, unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most dreadful performances of our national anthem to ever curse our ears.
Roseanne Barr – 1990
Yeah, you all knew she’d make this list. In Roseanne’s defense, she appears to have taken a “bad on purpose” approach here, attempting to emulate a baseball player with her excessive crotch-grabbing in a performance she gave before a San Diego Padres game. Still, this didn’t go over well with the crowd, who either didn’t get the joke, or just didn’t think it was funny. This was an example of how there are certain times that just aren’t ideal for attempts at humor.
Carl Lewis – 1993
This is probably the most horribly off-key rendition on the list, and as it goes on, you can feel everyone in the crowd actually empathizing with Lewis. There’s several notes that he can’t hit at all, and the crowd reacts in panic each time he flubs another line. What really makes this one memorable is that Lewis clearly came in with a healthy amount of confidence; he thought he was gonna crush it, and as he makes mistake after mistake, it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. Roseanne’s anthem was bad, but at least she came into it with no skin in the game. Lewis clearly thought he was going to give an all-time great performance, and this one is just cringe-inducing to sit through.
Maurice Cheeks/Natalie Gilbert – 2003
For the first 30 seconds or so, everything is fine. Then, 13-year-old Natalie Gilbert flubs a line, and suddenly stops. She might not have even finished the performance if not for a key assist from Philadelphia 76ers head coach Mo Cheeks, who helps her through the performance. The crowd was sympathetic to Gilbert here, and Cheeks definitely came across as a class act for helping her out during an embarrassing moment.
Kat Deluna – 2008
Unfortunately for DeLuna, her questionable performance of the national anthem before a Cowboys-Eagles game in 2008 has become a career-defining moment; if you think about her at all, it’s probably because you’re remembering this unfortunate incident. She’s not a bad singer, but she’s so hilariously over-confident, despite missing several notes. Her mistake was trying too hard to give an all-time great performance, and the whole thing fell incredibly flat. When you rain boos down on her at the end of the performance, it’s hard not to feel sympathetic.
Christina Aguilera – 2011
Aguilera is nowhere near as off-key as some of the other performances that made this list. Still, fumbling a line on the Super Bowl stage is a pretty big humiliation. You get the feeling that after confusing the lyrics, Aguilera says to herself “maybe if I really nail this next note, no one will notice.” Unfortunately, that strategy didn’t work, and her lyrical flub was all anyone remembered about this performance.
Steven Tyler – 2012
Fair warning: If you’re an Aerosmith fan, this will not be an easy one to get through. Tyler just can’t hit those high notes like he used to, and it really showed here, as he missed several notes when performing the anthem at the 2011 AFC Championship Game. By the time the tries to belt out “rockets red glare,” it’s obvious that he’s way off his game. Then, he botches the next line, and things get worse. Honestly, you may want to dust off your old copy of Toys In The Attic and cleanse yourself after this one.
Madison Rising – 2014
Madison Rising bill themselves as “America’s most patriotic rock band,” but a more accurate description might be “Nickelback if all their songs were regurgitations of generic conservative talking points.” But while one could certainly mock them for questionable originals like the fervently pro-gun “Right To Bear,” let’s focus on this particular performance of the anthem at a 2014 NASCAR race. The idea here was ostensibly to add some heavy-metal thunder to the classic anthem, but it just doesn’t translate. The whole thing came across as awkward and gimmicky, and it was hard to take anything the band was doing seriously. This performance gave the band some much-needed exposure, but it probably wasn’t the publicity they were looking for, as to most viewers, they just came off as needlessly bombastic.
Jamie Foxx – 2015
When a singer makes the anthem their own, it can turn into something incredibly beautiful. Perhaps the most notable version of this is Marvin Gaye’s arrangement of the anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. In this mold, Jamie Foxx tried to place his own signature spin on “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Manny Paquiao/Floyd Mayweather fight in 2015. However, it felt like he was searching for the right notes instead of presenting his own personal version in this gospel-flourished rendition. The following week, he was accused of “destroying” the national anthem and even had to go on an apology tour for it, which honestly wasn’t necessary. It was more of a poorly executed idea, rather than an actually poorly performed song.