Sonoma student Fernanda Alvarez, 14, is on a star-spangled path to success
When Fernanda Alvarez sings the 'Star-Spangled Banner' she hits the high notes perfectly, wowing audiences with her moving rendition of a song that's well known for being difficult to sing. For Fernanda, who just turned 14, the national anthem is becoming a stepping-stone in her quest for stardom.
Last month, she sang the anthem at the Vintage Festival blessing of the grapes ceremony, a local gathering of less than 100. The week before that she sang in front of thousands at the Sonoma Raceway Indycar event, complete with a jet flyover as she sang the final lyrics, 'and the home of the brave.' She's also performed it at a Sonoma Stompers game and Sonoma's 2017 City Party. And, heartwarmingly, she amazed her classmates and their families when she sang the anthem at the Altimira Middle School promotion ceremony last spring.
The City Party was her first time singing the 'Star-Spangled Banner' -- the crowd was huge, and she was very nervous.
'I just kept saying to myself, 'I've got this, I've got this.'' Once she started singing her fear subsided. 'I looked up at the sky and there were big trees and I sang to the trees. It was awesome,' she said.
Fernanda had her singing debut two years ago at the La Luz fundraiser 'Noche' where the audience was awestruck by her voice and her grace on stage. She told her family's story, that her parents were immigrants who, with the support of La Luz, are now citizens. She then sang 'The Climb' and, as she received a lengthy standing ovation, tears streamed down her face. She shared with the crowd that it was her dream to be a professional singer.
It was at the La Luz fundraiser where she gained the attention of Chris Montan, a Sonoma resident and recently retired president of Walt Disney Music, who happened to be in the audience. A Grammy award winner as the producer of the 'Frozen' soundtrack, Montan is still a Disney consultant. After meeting her that night, Montan provided Fernanda a scholarship to work with local vocalist and voice teacher Shelia Whitney.
'Fernanda has such grace under pressure. She always delivers. She knocked it out the park at Sonoma Raceway,' Whitney said. She has been giving her a one-hour voice lesson once a week for more than two years. 'She's got that extra little something.' Whitney said. 'Fernanda's voice just keeps getting better.'
Right now, Whitney is teaching her to sing in a classical style, adding show tunes and the blues to her repertoire. This month Fernanda sang 'Summertime' and 'Blue Skies' at a Sonoma Valley Jazz Society Event. Montan stops by Whitney's studio to hear Fernanda sing about once a month, and serves as a mentor to her. 'He is being careful not to have her go too fast. He is happy for her to be a regular kid,' Whitney said.
Fernanda got As and one B (in Spanish, which she speaks fluently) on her first report card as a freshman at Sonoma Valley High School. She plays basketball, which the 5-foot, 3-inch Fernanda loves. 'If I'm not doing homework and I'm not singing you can find me on the basketball court.'
She plans to go to college, probably to study performing arts, or possibly to become a lawyer.
She has wanted to become a 'famous' singer since she was 6 years old. 'I hope someday when people have problems or they are having a bad day they will play my songs and feel better, or just clear their minds,' she said.
Her longtime favorite singer is Adele, but recently she's added Ella Fitzgerald and Whitney Houston to her playlist. The late Houston is named by Billboard as the best Super Bowl national anthem singer ever, for her 1991 performance in Tampa. Maybe Fernanda will one day sing at the Super Bowl. She is a girl with huge aspiration and talent who's willing to work hard to achieve her goals.
Watch Fernanda perform at age 10 below: