Teen singer Jennifer Lauren is convinced she has what it takes to be country music's next superstar. Now all she has to do is convince Nashville. 

Nashville Bound

Don't tell Jennifer Lauren her chances are one in a million. She'll argue her odds are better, and they are: one in a half million.

Even the most starry-eyed dreamer would scratch this lottolike probability goodbye. But for 18-year-old Lauren, it's more than a pipe dream, a lark or a passing fancy. For Lauren, it's her one true thing: stardom. And for this class of '99 graduate of Lee Davis High School, nothing is more on her mind.


!S! "Electric"
!S! "Promises To Keep"
Real Audio Required

Below cornflower-blue skies, Jennifer Lauren belts out the words to "Fancy" like a "Star Search" contestant going for broke. Heart-tugging lyrics that could only be country smack the air: "Here's your one chance, Fancy, don't let me down." Like a lover blowing a kiss, Lauren waves to the crowd seizing her "Star Search" moment — one that escaped her nine years ago.

Here, on stage, a mere arm's length from the King William County audience, Lauren exercises her junior-level star appeal. From the center of the high school's football field, she sings for every man, woman and child dotting the bleachers or rocking the sea of folding chairs.

The turnout is good for this afternoon concert to benefit the King William County volunteer fire department.

A crowd of more than 300 wind-tousled heads looks up expectantly from hot dogs and Pepsis. Never mind that the grandson of a country-music legend is up next. Lauren's cover-girl looks and gets-down-where-you-live voice command attention. Some have heard her before; many listen for the first time. One thing is clear: When Lauren takes the stage, she's not riding the coattails of another band's lead, or warming up the crowd for even today's big-name headliner, Hank Williams III. For now, the microphone is all hers. Jennifer Lauren is in her element and she's the main event.

Dolled up in a ruby-red satin dress and long sable fur, she thumbs the coat's collar, tips her ivory Stetson and winks at her fans from behind silver-rimmed sunglasses. Among the onlookers, 10-year-old D.D. McQuillen stands glazed-eyed as close as she can to the stage. She sways the yellow "do not cross" fire tape loosely, as if it were velvet cording roping off a statue in a museum. McQuillen watches Lauren's every move, lip-synching words to those songs she knows by heart. Her freckled face and long strawberry-blond hair shine in the sun as she inches still closer, hoping that the Jennifer Lauren T-shirt she wears catches her idol's eye. McQuillen has never met Lauren, but in the middle of a song break she turns declaring: "I love her."

After a 14-song lineup — including five Jennifer Lauren originals performed for the first time in front of an audience — and three costume changes Lauren thanks the audience and introduces the band and her producer, Ron Fitzgerald. She is quick to plug her soon-to-be-released album, "Change of Heart."

"Y'all be sure to look for it sometime in July." The wind now is so brisk it seems to whistle for an encore.

Backstage, a bouquet of roses and her father, John Niess, wait. Just over his shoulder, a green and silver tour bus buzzes in the field. Shiny-chromed, white-walled and spray-painted in cursive with the name, Hank Williams III, it waits to carry this musician and his band home.

But if Jennifer Lauren has her way, her name will shine from the marquees of America's most prestigious concert halls. She'll be the next Nashville darling, a LeAnn Rimes or Shania Twain. If Jennifer Lauren has her way, she'll be kissing Mechanicsville goodbye before you can say Chattahoochie.

Could this kind of super-stardom be the destiny of this 18-year-old graduate from Lee Davis High School? The 400 members of her fan club think so. Others say it's a high-stakes game and risky business.

Continue to Part 2

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