Eleven-year-old Madeline McNichols had never sung in front of a large crowd before, but you wouldn't know it by the way she stepped out in front of a stadium of 20,000 people and belted out “America the Beautiful” at the U.S. Open last year.
McNichols, now 12, recalled it was the experience of a lifetime.
"That was my favorite thing I've ever done," said the seventh grader from the University School of Milwaukee. "I love tennis and I love to sing. It was the most amazing experience I've ever had."
McNichols will relive that experience Friday night, when she will once again perform at the U.S. Open, which runs through Sept. 9 in Flushing Meadow, NY. Her family leaves on a plane Thursday morning.
To earn the prestigious gig, McNichols was one of a handful of 12-and-under singers selected out of a group of 151 applicants that auditioned at the Apollo Theater in June. , McNichols was the first in line to audition in a line of talented singers with established portfolios including Broadway and television appearances.
The panel of judges included Broadway director Ray Roderick, Ken DiCamilo of the William Morris Agency and Brian Nolan of Columbia Records.
Ever since her first major singing appearance at the US Open last year, McNichols has honed her craft with vocal lessons and has been called back for several auditions on Broadway.
"This really opened the door for realizing that she has talent," said Madeline's mother, Patty McNichols.
Starting at 5 years old with the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, McNichols played Annie in the Menomonee Falls Patio Players’ production of Annie in 2011, and in the fall she will play one of the Von Trapp children in the Skylight Music Theatre's upcoming production of the Sound of Music. She has been studying the violin since she was 6, and she also plays the piano.
Last year's experience at the U.S. Open was jaw-dropping for McNichols, as she was given exclusive access to areas of Arthur Ashe Stadium and was standing side-by-side with tennis players from across the globe.
The experience was somewhat chaotic for the McNichols family, but Madeline's mother Patty believes Madeline will rise above the pressure and perform even better than she did last year.
"She's knows what it's like to go through the whole process, and she knows what to expect," she said. "She's a year older this year, and she's more seasoned a singer, so she's really looking forward to it and she's very excited."