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Off to a great start with her debut hit, "Beautiful Goodbye," newcomer

Jennifer Hanson's turquoise '65 Impala comes to a stop in the gravel outside the Halfway House Café on Southern California's mountainous Sierra Highway.

Jennifer gets out, walks into the restaurant, and … cut!

No, it's not lunchtime -- Jennifer's here shooting her new video, "This Far Gone." She's been up since 4:30 a.m. for this 15-hour workday -- not that she's complaining.

"I'm just trying to enjoy this moment," she smiles. "Everything that I've accomplished so far has really been so rewarding and validating."

What she's accomplished already includes CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards and ACM nominations -- and watching her debut hit "Beautiful Goodbye" and self-titled debut album both go Top 20. Pretty overwhelming, but she's doing her best to stay on an even keel.

"You really don't really understand it until you're walking in those shoes," she says.

Jennifer has an advantage over many other new stars, though: She's been around the music business for all of her 29 years. Born in Whittier, Calif., and raised in the predominantly Hispanic community of La Habra, she watched her father, guitarist Larry Hanson, work with pop icons The Righteous Brothers before he landed a job with Alabama, with whom he has toured for 17 years.

That opened up a whole new musical world for young pop fan Jennifer, who remembers her first musical performance, when she was in the second grade, singing "9 to 5" in front of a school audience with her father in the band.

But her father's work in Nashville turned her on to country. She was moved by the music of Patty Loveless, The Judds and Vince Gill, among others. About nine years after Larry started working with Alabama, Jennifer moved to Music City.

Between her singing talents and natural beauty, Jennifer picked up a rash of entertainment jobs: modeling for Target ads, singing on demo sessions and appearing in an independent movie, Raney, as well as in videos by Martina McBride and Neil Diamond.

Jennifer also fell in love with singer/songwriter Mark Nesler, whom she married three years ago. Mark made an ill-fated solo album in 1998, which gave his wife plenty of insight into the business.

"It was really helpful that I got to watch Mark go through the ups and downs of the career," she reflects, "because it's really a roller-coaster ride."

Nonetheless, it's a ride Jennifer is eager to take -- and in that '65 Impala she's about to step into for one more take, it just got a whole lot smoother.

"This has really been a lifelong dream and journey and struggle," she says, before heading back before the camera. "I've been working on this since I was a kid."