For 11-year-old singer Fernanda Alvarez, it’s all about the climb

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The ascent to stardom is always uncharted, but 11-year-old Fernanda Alvarez is moving straight up. She recently sang at the La Luz fundraiser “Noche,” earning three completely unexpected rewards – a standing ovation, a voice training scholarship and the attention of a powerful man in the world of music, Chis Montan, who just happened to be in attendance.

Fernanda gave a little speech before singing “The Climb,” from the Hannah Montana movie, explaining that she was the daughter of immigrants who benefited from the services of La Luz, and that her father, Fernando, is now a citizen, and her mother, Sandra, is a legal resident working toward citizenship.

“When you help La Luz you help us with our dreams and my dream is to be a singer,” she began.

Then her amazing voice dazzled the crowd, “I can almost see it, that dream I’m dreaming…”

When she finished, the audience rose, cheering. Tears streamed down Fernanda’s face and she said, “I was not ready for this,” completely moved by the appreciation. She didn’t know that Montan was there, and that he would inquire about her afterward.

Montan won a Grammy as a producer of the movie soundtrack “Frozen,” was the executive music producer of “The Lion King,” was responsible for Celine Dion singing her breakout song, “Beauty and the Beast,” and for the early rise of Christina Aguilera from Mouseketeer to “Mulan.” He just retired as president of music for Disney, and is now producing the music for “Frozen” the upcoming Broadway musical, sometimes working from home here in Sonoma.

When he learned Fernanda had no training prior to this event, he offered to pay for voice lessons, and locals Marcelo Defreitas, Scott Smith, David Stollmeyer and Harvey Shein are also contributing to the ongoing scholarship. Now Fernanda has weekly voice lessons with Sonoma vocalist and voice teacher Sheila Whitney. Montan told Whitney, “It’s always fine to use my name in Fernanda’s support.”

It all began when Fernanda happened to go along with her mother to visit Defreitas - the board president of La Luz and the Noche event director - to offer condolences when his mother passed away. Perhaps inspired by the surroundings of Defreitas’s beautiful home, Fernanda said to him, “Maybe you can make me famous. I’m a really good singer,” Defreitas recalled. So she sang for him, and he was impressed enough to ask her if she’d like to sing for the upcoming fundraiser. He then introduced her to Whitney, who prepared Fernanda for the big event, giving her voice lessons once a week for three months.

When Fernanda sang at Noche it was her first time in front of a large audience. She was very nervous before she went on stage, wearing black jeans, white Converse and a white vest, and her hair straightened. She was still jittery when she gave her introductory remarks – but it helped that, because of the lights, she couldn’t really see faces. “Then when I started to sing I felt like I was home. The stage is where I belong,” she said.

“I’m always singing. It’s a big part of my life,” the Altimira seventh grader said. When word got out about her La Luz performance, she was asked to sing the national anthem at a school pep rally. She rocked it. When she’s in her mom’s car she switches the station to 99.7 and sings along. Adele is her favorite singer. But right now, she said, it’s “school first.”

Her dream? “I want to be a superstar. I want to win a Grammy.” For now, though, she gets As and Bs in her advanced placement classes (science is her favorite subject) and she plays soccer and basketball. She goes to the Boys and Girls Club, and volunteers there for community service projects. An only child, she’s not shy and is very curious, “I’m always asking questions.”

She wishes she had a dog and, for her birthday that’s coming up, she hopes she gets a great Halloween costume. She’d like to learn to hula. Christmas is her favorite time and she loves when she goes with her parents to visit relatives in Jalisco, Mexico. She’s not sure why, but she thinks she like to go to New York University. But singing is her passion.

Whitney said Fernanda is a “delight” and that she is eager to learn and quick to pick up the techniques. “Fernanda has a plan and she understands the discipline and hard work needed to carry out that plan.” She said Montan recognizes her potential. “She is fortunate to have such generous and wise professional support.”

With a dimple to the right of her constant smile and a green twinkle in her brown eyes, Fernanda said she wants her singing name to be Ferne. “I want to break a world record for the most albums ever sold,” she said. Now she keeps in mind the closing line of the song she sang at the fundraiser, “Keep the faith, baby. It’s all about the climb.”

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