JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The honor of singing the national anthem prior to Jacksonville's Fourth of July fireworks display was won by 19-year-old who received 41 percent of viewers' votes in the Oh Say Can You Sing contest.
The process began in May when 170 people turned out for an open audition. The field narrowed to 15, then to three finalists -- Alec Hadden, Justen Harden, and Brittany Westcott -- who each performed live on Channel 4's prime-time Fireworks Spectacular.
After intense voting that ran up over 1 million votes in only five minutes, Harden won by a single percent over Westcott. Minutes later, he would sing the nation anthem. He also wins $500 cash from the contest's sponsor, Claude Nolan Cadillac.
"Thank you to all those at home that voted for me. From the bottom of my heart, I really appreciate it," Harden told News 4Jax's Nikki Kimbleton.
Harden, of Brunswick, said he started playing guitar at 10 years old, and singing came naturally out of that -- mostly at his church. But he's always loved country music, and it's a dream he now wants to pursue.
"I really love to spread the love of Christ in the country music industry," Harden said.
He already has a concert booked Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Woodbine.