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Elaine Ndhlovu was so stressed about singing O Canada at the Eskimos’ pre-season game at Commonwealth Stadium that one of the veins in her forehead ruptured.
“As I was walking back to my seat, my brother asked me what was wrong with my eye,” said Ndhlovu. “I had blood in my eye.
“I was that stressed,” she continued. “I was so nervous. I was terrified. It’s very intimidating. I’ve just never been that nervous with something before.”
The 20-year-old student in a Bachelor of Science program in psychology at Burman University in Lacombe, Alta., was better before the Eskimos’ home opener on June 30, although her legs felt like they were shaking involuntarily – they were “jittery” – and not because the Canadian Armed Forces jets were doing flyovers before the start of the game.
“I’ll get more comfortable doing it, but the nerves will never go away,” she said about singing the national anthem. “I’ll just have a better handle on them.”
Ndhlovu, who has a Zulu name, moved to Canada from Zimbabwe when she was four years old. She started singing in the Edmonton Christian High School choir five years ago because her brothers also sang in the choir and has never taken singing lessons.
She learned the words to the national anthem in school, but had only sung it on her own five or six times at Burman University during the past three years before entering the Eskimos’ 92.5 Fresh Radio Fresh New Voice anthem singer contest in the spring. She submitted a video of her singing O Canada after her brother sent her a link for the contest. The top submissions were invited to audition at West Edmonton Mall in early May in front of a panel of celebrity judges.
“I just sing it the same way I sing it here at school,” said Ndhlovu, who was stunned when an email arrived later asking her to sing at every Eskimos home game this year.
“I thought it was just one game,” she admitted.
But Ndhlovu is excited to sing at all 10 games.
“I plan anything I’m going to do around the games because I’ve never had this kind of opportunity before, so I was completely available to do all the games.”
The Eskimos used to have different people sing the anthem before every game, but opted to go with one performer who could hit all of the high notes and low notes in the complicated song for the entire season.
Prior to singing the national anthem at the Eskimos’ pre-season game, the coolest thing Ndhlovu had done was go to the Beyonce concert at Commonwealth Stadium last year.
“I’m not on that level,” she admitted. “I’m just me.
“Sometimes when I sing, it’s like an out-of-body experience,” she continued. “I know what’s happening and I’m not even sure if I’m singing the right words. It’s just kind of auto-pilot. Whatever happens, happens.”