— -- A West Virginia University police officer is now a viral star after delivering a rousing national anthem performance when the scheduled singer got stuck in the snow.
Carlton Smith, 28, was on duty at the WVU Coliseum on Jan. 12, for a men’s basketball game when he says university officials rushed up to him.
“They came over and asked if I was Carlton and they said, ‘We have a big favor. We don’t have anyone to sing the national anthem. It’s in like five minutes,” Smith, a four-year veteran of the WVU Police Department, told ABC News.
Smith is known among his police colleagues as a good singer – he says he reached the Hollywood round of “American Idol” during the show’s 13th season – but says he was caught off guard singing in front of a crowd on such short notice.
“I said, ‘Okay, can I have some water or something?,’” Smith said. “They got water from a cheerleader and then walked me through the concourse and onto the court in my place and said, ‘When they call your name, start singing.'”
“Normally I’d probably give myself an hour to an hour-and-a-half to warm-up and prepare, get my vocal chords warmed up before I start just belting out,” he said.
Smith wowed the crowd at the Coliseum, which holds 14,000 people. His performance went viral thanks to a college classmate who is now a journalist at a local sports media company.
Geoff Coyle, of West Virginia Illustrated, attended West Virginia University with Smith and had a colleague film his national anthem performance.
The YouTube video of Smith performing has now been viewed more than 1.2 million times.
“I started singing when I was really, really young in church and just ran with it when I got older,” said Smith, who sings at open mike nights with a band in his off-duty time. “It’s what I love to do.”