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Young 'Selena' Star Brims With Vocal Talent

Theater * Denise Stefanie Gonzalez, 11, has a powerful voice, matched by her desire to sing.

March 25, 2000|ALISA VALDES-RODRIGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When producers of "Selena Forever" held open casting calls in Los Angeles for the role of the young singer, they were stunned by the deep, powerful voice coming from a petite 11-year-old with the short brown bob.

Hemet, Calif.-born Denise Stefanie Gonzalez was able to perfectly mimic several divas, including Celine Dion and Whitney Houston, according to producer Tom Quinn.

"I've known I wanted to sing ever since I can remember," she said during rehearsals last week.

Gonzalez has appeared in local theater productions of "The Sound of Music" and "Annie." Her singing, which is called phenomenal by "Selena Forever" director William Alejandro Virchis, has also been featured at local baseball games.

"The girl is unbelievable," says co-star Rebecca Valadez, who plays the alternate adult Selena. "She's very mature for her age, and talented in every way."

Gonzalez's parents were born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, and she has an older sister and a younger brother. Her father, an architect, and her mother, a sculptor, are bilingual but encourage their children to speak Spanish at home so they retain ties to their roots.

"My mom only lets us speak Spanish at home," Gonzalez said. "Sometimes I forget and answer her in English, and she always says, 'What's that? I don't understand you,' even though she does."

Gonzalez says she and Selena had more than singing in common. "She liked to joke around a lot and play pranks on people," she said with a mischievous grin. "She was looking forward to the same thing I'm looking forward to. This is what I want. It's what I've always wanted to do."

Still Gonzalez enjoys typical activities of girls her age, and while on tour plays with Lorissa Chapa, 10, the alternate in the young Selena role. "We play Barbies," she said. "That's my favorite thing, and playing with my Pokeman ball."

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