With almost 9,800 pairs of eyes pointed his way, Jordan Baird, junior music major and walk-on for George Mason University’s basketball team, opened the Homecoming game with the national anthem.

Baird first started singing before kindergarten, taking after his mother and older brother. Basketball was another inherited talent; Baird’s father and brother both played. He is the first in his family to play at the college level.

by John Powell

After high school, Baird didn’t immediately follow up on his basketball career after a deal with Shenandoah University fell through. However, he did end up as a walk-on for the Mason team, which he calls a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“We know our place as walk-ons, but just because you know your place doesn’t mean you can’t strive for something more,” Baird said. “I’m always working hard in practice, and you never know when they might need us and might put us in, so you just have to keep on working hard. Overall it’s just been an awesome experience. The guys are great.”

After landing a record deal last summer Baird released his single “Grateful.” When basketball season started, he had to choose between music and basketball.

“Choosing between music and basketball was a decision I had to take time to make — but it wasn’t a hard one. Playing college basketball is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Baird said.

“I got to be on a Division I team. That’s the kind of thing little kids dream about. I didn’t think it would ever happen to me. I just put my music on pause for a while.”

He hasn’t given up his music entirely though. By majoring in music, he’s been able to keep up with his singing, which he plans to pursue after college.

He describes his musical style as melodic singer-songwriter. “I’m the kind of guy who, if you hand me a guitar and a mic, you’ll get some chill, laid-back music,” Baird said.

However, he also mentioned that he could see himself putting out a pop, R&B or soul record sometime in the future.

In high school, he sang in a choir in front of 13,000 people, but Saturday night’s Homecoming game was the largest crowd he’s faced solo.

“It’s a really different story when you’re out there alone,” Baird said.

Just months after graduating from high school, Baird auditioned for “American Idol.” He made it to the top 40 in the 2009 season, which Kris Allen ultimately won.

“Simon [Cowell] was really cool,” Baird said. “He had good constructive criticism. He said no, but he told me if I took it seriously, that I could come back and do well.”

After the first round of contestants was cut down from 19,000 to 200, Baird started to take the competition seriously. “When you go there, it’s just like a cattle call,” Baird said. “Four people sing, and then it’s like, yes, yes, no, no or whatever the case may be. Then they rip the reins off you and send you home.”

Baird was voted off the show after receiving a yes vote from both Paula Abdul and guest judge Kristin Chenoweth and a no from Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson.

Even though he didn’t make it to Hollywood, Baird took a lot away from his run on “American Idol.”

“Something like that happening right out of high school, it was a blast,” Baird said. “I got to like the fourth or fifth round and the judges were there. It’s like anything really. The experience always benefits you somehow. You can learn from everything. There’s something you can take away from every experience.”

Baird also auditioned for “The X Factor” this past summer. After submitting a YouTube video of himself singing, he was able to skip the first several rounds of competitions.

He sang in front of 5,000 people in Seattle during the first round. Cowell recognized him on stage and asked if they had met before. When Baird confirmed that they had, Cowell asked where. “I was like, ‘Uh, “American Idol”?’ The crowd went wild. It was hilarious,” Baird said. Baird did not make it past that round of judging.

Auditioning for “American Idol” again is one of Baird’s options after he graduates. He has kept in touch with his contacts in the music world and plans to reach out to them again once he is finished with school.

He is also looking into the newer television show “The Voice” with judges Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera.