WHO'S NEW ... JENNIFER HANSON

"Beautiful" Day

Jennifer Hanson figured out what she wanted to do with her life when she tagged along to her dad's workplace. Of course, that workplace happened to be onstage as a tour musician with Alabama, where he was playing guitar in front of 60,000 people.

"I got to stand on the side of the stage, so I felt really special," recalls Jennifer, who was 12 at the time. "Watching that concert, I was hooked. I knew it was going to take hard work and a long time, but since then I've wanted to do this."

Becoming a country singer meant leaving behind her hometown of La Habra, Calif., just outside Los Angeles. She had grown up singing with her very musical parents, making her public debut belting out "The Good Ship Lollipop" at a flower-shop opening at age 2. "I was a little ham," she chuckles.

By the time she finished high school, Jennifer was completely focused on music.

She attended nearby Fullerton College, studying music business and recording engineering, but by 1995 she set out for Nashville without quite completing her studies. "I was like, 'I don't wanna study math and English, I want to make music!'" she recalls.

That she did, leaping into Nashville's songwriting scene - where she met future husband Mark Nesler. The two were introduced by Tracy Byrd, for whom Mark played guitar. "We were friends and co-writers for a long time," she says. "And then way, way later it turned into a romance."

Jennifer and Mark were married in June 2000, and the following year she scored a record deal. Now she's enjoying her first hit, the bittersweet "Beautiful Goodbye."

"The first time I heard it on the radio, it was so thrilling and surreal," she reports. "I was driving down the interstate with my husband. It came on and I started freaking out, yelling, 'Turn it up! Roll the windows down!' It was a moment I'll always remember."

As she readies her debut album, Jennifer hopes there'll be many such moments to come.

"Right now's such a good time," she says. "I feel really balanced, because I have a wonderful family life and a career that's starting to go somewhere. If I can just keep doing what I'm doing, I think I'll be thrilled to death."

-- Chris Neal

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