When Shannon Magrane was a little girl, she often visited the broadcast booth of the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. She loved visiting her dad, then-Rays color analyst Joe Magrane, a former standout pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.
By the time she was 11, the Tampa native had developed an impressive gift of her own: singing. And she made her baseball debut, belting out the national anthem before a sold-out crowd at the Trop.
Her father watched proudly from the booth, marveling at her daughter’s steely nerves in the spotlight — something she’d gotten from him — and a beautiful voice that came from her heart.
“I was as nervous as could be, because she’d never been in an environment like that before,” Magrane said by phone. “And she absolutely nailed it.”
And Wednesday night, Joe — along with wife Renee and younger daughter Sophia — will be on the edge of their seats in Los Angeles. That’s when 16-year-old Shannon takes the American Idol stage live for a chance to reach the vaunted Final 13, which will be announced on Thursday night’s results show.
Magrane knows a little about pressure. As a rookie, he hurled games one and seven in the 1987 World Series (won by Minnesota) and went on to pitch in eight seasons for the Cards, Angels and White Sox, with a career-best mark of 18-9 in 1989.
He was born to pitch — and his daughter was born with it.
“It’s going to be the longest minute and 37 seconds of my life,” Joe Magrane said only hours before heading from Tampa to LA to join his family for the telecast. “When I was starting the seventh game of the World Series, I was anxious to know where it could take us as a team, a franchise and individually. But I still had the ball in my hand and was in control. This is going to be really hard because it’s completely out of my hands.”
Luckily for Magrane, his daughter has been nailing it since American Idol’s 11th season began a month ago. And Shannon credits her dad with imbuing her with the genes that allow her to focus and stay calm under pressure, something that lets her talent shine through when the heat is on.
“This is my favorite quote from my dad — ‘I know you’re nervous and you have butterflies, but it’s a matter of making the butterflies fly in formation,’ ” she said by phone from Los Angeles following the male contestants round Tuesday night.
“To me, it means that when you’re singing, you shouldn’t be nervous. You should make your notes come out and feel the song so your singing and your message comes across — to not only yourself but to everybody else.”
Shannon savors her memories of hanging around her dad at the ballpark, something she did often during his stint with play-by-play man Dewayne Staats from the Rays’ inaugural season of 1998 through 2008. “I really miss the Rays family and being at the Trop and up in the booth with my dad and Mr. Staats,” she said. “But I’m so happy that he’s so happy with his new job.”
Shannon, in fact, says she draws her strengths from both her father and her mother, who has been with her throughout her Idol journey.
“I get my competitive edge from my dad and my passion and love for everything from my mom,” she said.
Her father’s competitive days entwined — at least on one occasion — Shannon’s music. In his final major league season, pitching for the Chicago White Sox, Magrane would drive to the ballpark on occasion with Renee and Shannon. And she’d be singing and clamoring for him to play one of her Disney CDs.
“You could babysit her by putting music in,” he said. “So I was driving to Comiskey Park, and we’re playing this kid’s song, ‘Thumbelina, Thumbelina, tiny little Thumbelina.’ Normally my routine is to rock some Stevie Ray Vaughan on the way to the yard. But I’m playing Thumbelina and when it would end, she’d go, ‘Play it again!’ So Renee drops me off at the park, and a little later I’m out on the mound, getting ready to throw my first pitch to face Derek Jeter and the Yankees.
“And I’m up there humming ‘Thumbelina, Thumbelina’ — and can’t get the darn song out of my head! It’s just like, ‘Well, that’s real macho, let’s go attack the Bronx Bombers to the tune of Thumbelina.’ “
So how did he fare?
“I actually did well,” he said. “I left the game in the seventh with a 4-3 lead.”
And, of course, baseball and music intersected last month when the previously taped audition round in Savannah aired.
The segment from Shannon’s spot-on audition instantly won over judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler and became one of the show’s recurring clips — thanks to the exchange between Magrane and Tyler moments before Shannon belted out Etta James’ “Something’s Got a Hold of Me.”
In case you’ve missed it, let’s go to the videotape: Shannon asked excitedly if her family could join her on stage for her tryout. Seconds later, they all appeared on stage. Jackson immediately bantered about baseball with Magrane, who then asked Tyler, of Boston-based Aerosmith fame, “How are things in Beantown?”
That’s when the free-wheeling, often bleep-worthy rock star responded, “Hot, humid and happening — just like your daughter.”
Viewers at home could suddenly hear a pin drop on the set as Magrane appeared to glare at Tyler, and Jackson jumped in to move past the uncomfortable silence. Turns out a little editing here and there enhanced the “awkward moment.”
No, Magrane wasn’t peeved as it appeared to America. In fact, the segment has actually generated a little additional buzz, and on a show like Idol, that can’t hurt.
Magrane says he had no intention of even being in the audition room until he was ushered in with Renee, Sophia and an entourage of friends.
“I didn’t want to cross that moat, but Randy said, ‘Oh Dawg, World Series,’ and stuck his hand out to shake my hand, and that’s what got me over there,” he recalled. “I was just trying to read the protocol in there. We’ve watched American Idol as a family for years, so it was weird to drive up from Tampa and within like 30 minutes of arriving, I’m in there suddenly shaking hands with everyone. When I said, ‘How are things in Beantown?’ I was just trying to be casual about it.”
With that, Tyler uttered his now-famous response.
“Some people may have taken it in a pervy way, but I didn’t see it that way,” Magrane said. “There’s a tendency to lean on phrases and take things very, very seriously, but I’m certainly not one of those people. I was not wigged out by the moment at all. Steve Tyler is Steve Tyler, just like Manny is Manny. It created a little buzz, and there was some creative editing going on there as well. That’s TV.”
Shannon echoed that the moment was made to look more awkward than it really was, adding, “My dad was like, ‘I don’t remember making that face.’ But you know what — we’ll go with it. It’s a Steven Tyler thing.”
Renee, for one, couldn’t be more impressed with how her daughter has handled everything so far with such poise.
“Through all the years of watching Joe play, I felt the nerves then, but nothing can prepare you for how you feel when you watch your child take the stage like this,” she said. “Your heart just beats out of your chest. But I’m so beaming proud of her. She put in years and years of work and gave up a lot of sleepovers and parties because she loved to sing.”
Adds Magrane: “I’m incredibly proud. This has been an exhilarating experience and weird at the same time. I was born with an arm to throw over 90 miles per hour, and she was born with an amazing vocal talent. But she’s also busted her butt to get to this point. She’s respected her gifts and worked hard. And if she can make it through this cut, I think people are going to really see something special.”