Hitting all the right notes to the "Star Spangled Banner" may be a little difficult for some singers, especially if it's a capella, but not for 14-year-old Serenity Holloway. The gifted singer, songwriter and keyboardist hopes the Memphis Grizzlies will select her to sing the country's national anthem before the tip-off of one of its basketball games.
Performing the patriotic song before thousands is a cinch for Serenity, and practicing the song will only make her better, said Rena Clay, Serenity's mother, during a recent recording session at Hot City Entertainment in Millington.
Clay has been working with Serenity to make sure that her "gift" is polished and that she puts her best foot forward while singing a song – like annunciating her words, getting the pitch and timing correct, and remembering the lyrics.
"Do you have the lyrics to the national anthem?" Clay asked Serenity.
"I know it, mom," said Serenity, rehearsing the song in her head. "It goes like, 'Oh, say, can you see...."
"I figured you'd say that," said Clay, giving Serenity the matriarchal look. "I just want to make sure you sing it right. We don't want any mishaps."
After putting down two recordings of the anthem – one in a higher registry and the other, a little lower – Joseph Fulton, the CEO and president of Hot City Entertainment, gave a thumb's up to both versions. Serenity, however, felt she could have done better.
"I'm used to hitting those higher notes," she said, expressing to Fulton that she'd just gotten over a cold and wanted to sing the anthem again and again until she was completely satisfied.
Fulton sees in Serenity an innate and blossoming ability to transform lyrics into a melodious sound.
"When I first met Serenity, she had a very humble spirit," said Fulton. "I like that about her. When I heard her sing, her voice was anointed. I said, 'Wow, what a powerful singer for a 14 year old.' That's why I invited her to Hot City Entertainment, where we teach and develop young, talented people."
Serenity has been singing since she was 18 months old, "before she could talk," said Clay. "She was humming the theme song to 'Barney and Friends' (a children's television series on PBS stations). She was able to keep the tune."
At seven, Serenity was belting out gospel songs in church and the congregation was taken aback. Compliments started pouring in and the adulation continued to fuel Serenity's passion for music.
"I recognized the maturity in her voice and that's when I decided to enroll her in voice lessons when she was 8 years old," Clay said.
Serenity spent a year studying with renowned vocal coach Bob Westbrook in his Germantown studio. Westbrook has coached several "American Idol" contestants, along with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.
Westbrook helped Serenity finesse her style. After she gained more experience, Clay sought ways to get Serenity noticed. She performed at talent shows and other venues. At nine, Clay and her husband, Daniel Clay, took her to New York to audition at the legendary Apollo Theatre.
"I made it, but the show was cancelled before it aired," said Serenity, an eighth-grader who sings in the Horn Lake Middle School choir in Horn Lake, Miss. She sings alto and second soprano and has the ability, she said, to move up and down the musical scale with relative ease.
Although Serenity sings, writes and plays the keyboard, her real passion is to own her own studio and the necessary equipment to produce music, even if she's not producing her own.
"I want to be a successful producer and songwriter," she said. "I would rather be in the background. I would rather be successful than famous."
Serenity already has produced at least 25 music videos for YouTube. One of her original songs pays homage to 17-year-old R&B/pop recording artist, actor and heartthrob Jacob Latimore. The song has received more than a quarter million hits.
Admittedly one of Jacob's "Jewels," a term of endearment for Latimore's fans, Serenity's lyrics are a testament of her appreciation. And just by happenstance, she met her crush in 2011 at a gas station in Mississippi.
By self-description, Serenity's style of music falls into the context of Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Alicia Keys.
"She inspires me," said Serenity, who gives props to Beyoncé as well. "I was inspired by Beyoncé's "B'Day" CD. It was the first CD that I got when I was five or six."
While music is Serenity's life, Danielle Clay, her 6-year-old sister, aspires to be an actress. The Shadow Oaks Elementary first-grader already is showing potential, said Clay, who anticipates working with Danielle to develop her craft.
Serenity can't see herself doing anything that doesn't involve music. "I can't see myself being a doctor or lawyer," she said. "Some people belong in the workforce. Not me."
In May, Serenity has an audition scheduled at Class Act Studio NY, an award-winning acting studio for kids and teens in New York. Meanwhile, her mother is looking for an agent.
"I want her to have longevity," said Clay, who encourages Serenity to stay focus. "We're not in a hurry, but we're waiting on God to open the door."