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SINGING LIKE A PRO AT 14

If you're a Buffalo sports fan, you've probably heard Jennifer Waris sing.

For the past four years, the 14-year-old eighth-grade Orchard Park Middle School honor student with the powerful voice has been belting out the national anthem for game crowds of up to 80,000 for the Buffalo Bills, who called her performances "phenomenal." She also hits those high notes at Buffalo Bisons games. The Sabres, with Jennifer's photo on their Web site, dub her a "crowd favorite." Her stage presence have been noticed by music industry professionals, who are helping her in her dream of becoming a pop recording artist.

Barely out of her braces, she's been compared to singers ranging from Jennifer Lopez to Christina Aguilera to LeAnn Rimes.

"Christina Aguilera was 10 years old when she first started singing the national anthem in stadiums, which is the same age I was when I started," Jennifer points out.

"Some people ask me, 'Aren't you nervous to sing in front of thousands of people?' The truth is, the bigger the crowd the more comfortable I feel," explains this slender teen, who takes lessons with a vocal coach. "Maybe it's the excitement of the crowd. I don't know, but I just love it. I hope someday to be able to share my music with the world. Singing has always been my dream."

Competition doesn't scare her. Next weekend she vies in the Miss New York State Outstanding Teen Scholarship Pageant in Cortland, the "little sister" pageant to Miss America.

She's the 2004 Amherst Idol, and that year also a runner-up in the Miss Teen Buffalo Pageant.

The young songstress landed the first runner-up spot in the Northeast United States' Teen People Magazine/ Maybelline National Singing Competition, where she was judged by another singer -- Paula Abdul.

"It was so exciting, a huge surprise because I didn't know Paula Abdul was going to be one of the judges!," Jennifer recalls. "She was very nice, and smiled at me the whole time I was singing. Being the youngest contestant, I felt I did pretty well, with competitors as old as 24."

Judge for yourself on the first day of summer when she sings before the June 21 Bisons game against the Norfolk Tides.

And she loves sports.

"It's so ironic that she got her start in singing by getting involved with sports organizations because she's such a competitive athlete herself," says her mother, Marie. "She just made the final cut on the track team for her school. This is another new sport she's taking on, but she's doing great with it."

Earning a varsity position for the last two years on Orchard Park High's girls tennis team, she plays basketball, snowboards, skis and roller-blades, too.

Additionally, Jennifer is a dancer and fledging actress, performing in school and local musicals, including "A Tale of Cinderella" at Shea's Performing Arts Center.

In whatever spare time she has left, she is a Cadet Girl Scout in Troop 852. This year, Jennifer and the other scouts ran a used-backpack drive and donated them to a school with needy kids. The girls also have volunteered for H.E.A.R.T., an animal rescue organization.

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail lcontinelli@buffnews.com