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Let's hear it for Hayley Westenra
As a role model for young girls, New Zealand's 18-year-old Hayley Westenra is setting a good example

New Zealand 'popera' sensation Hayley Westenra is in Washington tonight. She told The Free Lance-Star that she enjoys American audiences.

In an era in which parents decry foul-mouthed, drug-using, overtly sexual celebrities as role models for their children, Hayley Westenra stands out like a shining jewel in a barrel of rotten fruit.

Westenra, an 18-year-old singing sensation from New Zealand, is a throwback to a gentler, kinder, more refined era. But at the same time, the "popera" star is a normal teen to whom today's kids can relate.

Westenra, who opens for Il Divo tonight at 7 at Constitution Hall in Washington, is bright, personable and likable, in addition to being gifted.

Her career began at age 14, and she's already performed in front of the queen of England, President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. She's one of the youngest artists to perform at Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Arena. She is also one of the youngest ambassadors for UNICEF.

"It can be kind of overwhelming" for a teenager, she admitted.

Her debut album, "Pure," has sold 2 million copies around the world, and her sophomore release, "Odyssey," which came out in October, seems poised to do even better.

During a Wednesday telephone interview with The Free Lance-Star, Westenra said she knew she wanted to be a singer when she was 11 and heard Celine Dion singing "My Heart Will Go On" on the radio.

"She poured her heart and soul into that song," Westenra said.

She started getting involved in school musicals, and her gifts as a vocalist were immediately evident.

"I definitely had my heart set on singing, but I didn't know what form it would take--what style," she said.

She crosses genre lines, performing classical songs in a way that can move grown men to tears, and pop songs in a way that can connect emotionally with girls her own age.

The New York Times has said she has "the voice of an angel."

"Odyssey," on the Decca Records label, features a startling rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," along with a duet, "Dell'amore non sis a," with classical icon Andrea Bocelli.

"I find singing really kind of completes me," she said. "I find it very fulfilling."Few 18-year-olds could even imagine getting up on stage at Constitution Hall, but Westenra isn't that different from other girls her age, she said.

"My life is about trying new things and having fun," she said. "A mixture of things.

"Everyone finds singing uplifting--even if you don't have the greatest voice, you can still get a lot of pleasure from singing. It's a release--really an outlet for your emotions. You can channel a lot of energy through singing. You can reach out to people and hopefully bring them some pleasure. It's nice to know you can do that."Growing up, she listened to pop music like any other teenager, but the first album she bought was by Bocelli.

A children's music group had exposed her to classical music."Classical music suited my voice," she said. "It's not that I disliked pop music. My voice just bloomed into it."

She also performs some Celtic music and folk music.

"I try to listen to as much music as I can," Westenra said. "And I choose songs to perform regardless of style. I choose them because they're great songs--for whatever reason. I'm big on melodies and lyrics I can relate to. I have to really connect with the lyrics to sell the song."

She said performing songs from different genres "really keeps me balanced. I love that variety, as long as you don't spread yourself too thinly. I get to take the audience on a real musical journey. And it keeps me on my toes."

She said American audiences are "a lot more vocal" than the "more reserved" audiences in Japan and Britain, and she enjoys that.

She said a lot of girls who are fans in New Zealand "have grown up with me and look up to me I think it's kind of nice that I can inspire them. I get a lot of letters from them."

credit : news item advised by jon vosloo
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