Peirce College has its own American Idol: Raymond DeShields.

And it will be the 39-year-old DeShields, recipient of the most votes in the college's American Idol-style online competition, who will sing the national anthem at the school's commencement ceremony Monday at the Kimmel Center.

"Music is really my passion," said DeShields, a married father of three, ages 3 to 12, who is studying for a degree in business administration.

"Life got in the way" was his explanation of why he has been working at Verizon as a database administration staff clerk for 15 years instead of pursuing a career in singing.

In past years, an outside individual or group performed the national anthem at Peirce's commencement.

"This year, we wanted to support the school president's vision in getting more students involved with the commencement exercises," said Rita Toliver-Roberts, dean of students. The team of staff and students that organizes commencement activities then came up with the idea of a contest.

An e-mail was sent to all Peirce students in mid-April, and there was a post on the school's commencement blog. Applicants auditioned in front of a panel of eight staff members and three of the school's social-media representatives, and videos of DeShields and four other contestants singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" were posted online for a student vote.

DeShields had missed the mass e-mail and didn't find out about the contest until the last day to register, April 30, when he was online looking for classes to take in the fall.

He said he had entered after his wife, Tatocka, encouraged him. "She oftentimes tells me that I sell myself short," he said.

Two weeks after auditioning, DeShields received word from one of the judges, who is his academic adviser, that he had won with 86 of the 194 votes.

DeShields said his kids were his inspiration for excelling in school.

"I push my kids when they're doing their homework, so I have to push myself. That would be hypocritical."

DeShields has been singing for as long as he can remember, he said. He began in his church choir at age 5 and later sang in the Overbrook Gospel Choir. He has also competed twice at the Apollo Theater in New York.

Since 2003, DeShields has sung the national anthem at a "Light the Night Walk" sponsored each October by the National Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Taking part in the event has been important to DeShields since his first son died of leukemia at age 2 in 1997. His child's death and his wife's successful battle with breast cancer four years ago have been major influences on him, DeShields said.

To prepare for Monday, he said, he has been drinking lots of tea and consuming cough drops.

Since his performance will be a cappella, he's been practicing to make sure he starts on the right note.

In his audition, "I actually started higher than normal," said DeShields, a high tenor. "I was nervous, like I never sang the song before."

He impressed even his competitors.

"I thought he was terrific, and he had an amazing story," said contestant Joshua Wise, 28, one of 447 students in the graduating class. "I'm excited to hear him again."

Valerie Ives, 49, another competitor, said, "As long as he does exactly what he did at the audition, he'll be fine."

Her advice for DeShields: "Knock 'em dead."

Contact staff writer Nicole Lockley at 215-854-5626 or nlockley@phillynews.com.