When Lemont resident Aileen Russo participated in the Chamberlain College of Nursing's music competition last month, she hardly expected win.
Russo, 34, always loved to sing, but mostly in the car or shower and never in front of large crowds.
Yet on April 4, she found herself at Dave and Buster's in Addison, where several of her classmates were gearing up for Chamberlain Idol. The winner of the competition would sing the national anthem prior to a Chicago Cubs game as part of Nurses Night at the Ballpark.
When Russo hit the stage with some friends to sing a Britney Spears song, the judges immediately noticed her natural talent. They asked her to sing something on her own, so she belted out the ballad "Open Arms" by Journey.
And just like that, the undercover singer was named the champion of Chamberlain Idol, meaning she would get to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the Cubs take on the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, May 8.
With only a few days to go before the game, Russo is still in disbelief.
"I really didn't go (to Chamberlain Idol) with any expectations. I just wanted to have fun with my friends," she said. "After I sang Journey, the crowd went crazy. It was the strangest thing to see so many people on their feet and know they were standing for me."
After she won, Russo was immediately overcome with anxiety as she thought about singing in front of tens of thousands of people.
"All I could think was, 'OK, I have to sing at the Cubs game now. What did I get myself into?'" But ultimately, how many people get to say that? It's nerve-racking, but at the same time it's such an incredible opportunity—something to cross off my bucket list," she said.
Since winning, Russo has been practicing the song almost every day.
"The last thing I want to do is be one of those people who forgets the words," she said. "I'm taking it seriously. I'm representing my school, so I want to do a good job."
Russo, a Downers Grove native, is on track to earn a bachelor's degree in nursing from Chamberlain College in June 2013. She enrolled in Fall 2010 after working at Lenscrafters for 11 years.
"I grew up wanting to be a nurse, and it's actually what I was originally in school for," she said. "When I started my job in retail, it just took me down a different path. It was a great job, but it kept bothering me that it wasn't really what I wanted to do."
Russo said she hopes to be a nurse in an emergency room or ICU once she graduates.
"It's always been my dream," she said. "I just can't wait to finish school and start helping people."
Nurses Night at the Ballpark is held each year during National Nurses Week (May 6-12). The event is held to recognize and thank Chicagoland nurses and nurse educators who are devoted to continually improving patient care.
This year marks the third year in a row that Chamberlain has sponsored the event at Wrigley. The school will give away commemorative T-shirts to the first 10,000 fans who enter the field.
Chamberlain College of Nursing offers bachelor's and master's degree programs in nursing. The college has campuses in 11 cities across the country, including Addison and Chicago.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -