Rachel Platten had every singer’s nightmare become a reality when she forgot the words to the national anthem at a sports event on Saturday.
The 36-year-old singer, best known for her 2014 single “Fight Song,” restarted her performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” twice at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, minutes before the NWSL soccer game between the Utah Royals and the Chicago Red Stars.
Two days after her national anthem fumble, Platten tells PEOPLE exclusively what happened in the moments leading up to the performance and how she felt immediately after.
“I feel really embarrassed, honestly. I’m having a hard time forgiving myself but I’m working on it. It was incredibly, incredibly embarrassing,” Platten, who released her latest album Waves last fall, says. “I’ve been trying to retrace steps of what happened … it has just been hanging over me,” the pop songwriter admits.
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“I was so nervous going into it. The anthem is such a big deal; it’s probably the most important song for our country. I always get nervous because it means so much, because it is so powerful. I always want to do it justice, do a good job and give people the exact version they expect and they want,” says Platten, who previously sang the national anthem before Game 1 of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians.
“I have done it a bunch of times but I stepped in front of the people and I felt the expectation. I was ready to open up and do it and my mind just went blank,” she shares. “I was trying to explain it to my husband : It was like a test that you know all the material to, you study so much and you get in there and your mind just goes blank; it doesn’t cooperate.”
While breaking down, an emotional Platten recalls how she felt after completing the national anthem on the third try.
“I was proud that I was able to finish … I actually can’t believe I didn’t forget more words and that I was able to complete the song. So I’m kind of shocked,” she says while fighting back tears, even remembering telling herself: ” ‘What I’m not going to do is run away. I really want to run out of the stadium right now but I’m not going to do that. I’m going to finish this song.’”
Platten, who performed a previously scheduled concert for attendees after the soccer game concluded, shares that she had an hour and a half to kill between gigs, most of which she spent overcome with emotions.
“I went back to the stadium and it all just came rushing at me, what I had done and not delivering what people were owed. My band was really kind. I was just sobbing,” she says looking back.
“My husband was so sweet, saying, ‘Rach you know people mess up all the time in their jobs. And no one really cares. Unfortunately, your job is in front of 18,000 people and they care.’ It’s a little hard to forgive myself but I’m working on it,” Platten continues.
“I’m trying to practice what I’ve been preaching. If I’m telling my fans to love yourself no matter what, I owe myself the same thing even though it’s really hard right now. I’m human. This was a humongous and embarrassing mistake, but it was a mistake. It’s nobody’s fault but my own. My mind just wasn’t cooperating.”
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During that hour and a half downtime, she recalls going into her dressing room bathroom alone and reading the reactions on social media.
“I definitely did look. My band was trying to convince me that no one was going to care, saying, ‘No one cares, everybody liked it more.’ I went to the bathroom alone to look at my phone, I’m like, ‘You’re lying! People care!’ And then I asked my assistant to take my phone so I wasn’t allowed to look anymore,” Platten reveals.
And when she came out for the concert shortly after, Platten admits she was overwhelmed and surprised by the crowd’s response to her singing for them again.
“I was really terrified to go back out but the crowd was so kind. I felt like I owed them an apology. I apologized and it was just so much love that I didn’t even know if I deserved at the moment. So my takeaway was, ‘God, people could be really kind even when I’m not willing to give that to myself,’ ” she says.
“The amount of grace and love that I was given in that stadium after I did the most embarrassing thing, God I wish that everyone who makes a mistake can feel that love. Because I think that’s when humanity is at its best. I got to see so much compassion that I didn’t know that I deserved,” Platten adds.
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All in all, the star is learning to embrace the “mistake” as a life lesson to move forward.
“None of us are perfect and we have to embrace the humiliating, deeply shameful things too. Maybe this can be an example of me learning to forgive myself for something that feels kind of unforgivable,” Platten says.
“Maybe I can do an even better job of helping to spread that message to people that are going to make nowhere near the kind of mistake that I made. You get to live it and be like, ‘I really understand how it feels to not like something about yourself or have a big flaw.’ I’m not perfect, I know that,” she shares. “I’m pretty aware of everything that I’m trying to work on and how to be a better human and be a better role model. This is, I guess, an opportunity to own that message more and hopefully share it more powerfully.”
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As for performing the national anthem in the near future, Platten says she does want to redeem herself.
“I don’t know if anyone would really want me to anytime soon. I don’t see any teams asking but I will absolutely try it again sometime,” she admits. “At first, I came off saying, ‘Well never doing that again.’ I love being able to do my country proud and sing that song. I’m not gonna be afraid and back down from it. Any teams out there: I’ll definitely remember the words! I’m probably going to have them in front of me so no one has to worry,” she jokes.