PASCO -- Vanessa Vega might be a soft-spoken honor student at Chiawana High School in Pasco, but she has a big voice.
And it's already earned the teen a multitude of singing awards, the most recent being a first place in the Music Teachers National Association district competition. That win qualified her to take part this weekend in the association's national competition in Anaheim, Calif.
"Vanessa is working toward a career as an opera singer, and I think she has the voice, discipline and musicianship to do it," said her voice teacher Reginald Unterseher.
Susan Vega recalls her daughter deciding at age 12 that she wanted to be an opera singer.
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"It was after Dolora Zajick came to the Tri-Cities and heard her sing," she said. "Dolora told us that she had a lot of talent and she could see her definitely making a career in singing. That made Vanessa believe she could really do this as a career."
Zajick is a renowned voice teacher at the Institute for Young Dramatic Voices in Provo, Utah. Vanessa auditioned for Zajick when she was 15 and earned entrance into the institute for a summer program.
"No one in the family can sing like she does," said her mother. "So it's not like she inherited any singing talent from her parents."
But as much as she loves opera, it isn't the only music she likes.
"I'm not a fan of country music, but I do love singing to pop and rock songs in my car," she confessed. "I don't think I could go through my entire life only listening to classical music.
"My ultimate goal is to have a successful career in opera," Vanessa said. "As for being a diva, it's not a label that makes a person sound very friendly or easy to work with, and I don't see myself that way. However, my mom probably thinks I already am one."
Vanessa says as much as she loves to sing, it's more important that she gets her education first.
"Education is my first priority so my grades are important to me," said the high school junior. "Right now I'm a full-time Running Start student at CBC, and I also work there."
She plans to have her high school diploma and AA degree by winter quarter of her senior year.
"Then I will move on to a university somewhere, and hopefully near the opera scene on the East Coast," she said.
In the meantime, she'll continue to compete in various competitions, continue her training and work when she can to help her mom and dad, Adrian, with Tyson Foods, pay for it all.
"Paying for classical singing lessons for seven years hasn't been easy," she said. "My parents have made it their priority to help me succeed and it hasn't been easy for them."
She and her family hold fundraisers when time allows to help offset the cost of traveling to competitions. Anyone who would like to donate can email Vanessa's mother, who works at Columbia Basin College, at svega@columbia basin.edu.