With a few deep breaths and some finger stretches, Amber Zion will step into the national spotlight on Super Bowl Sunday.
The Penn Hills native and Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf graduate will perform the national anthem and "America the Beautiful" in American Sign Language at the big game.
She will perform with soprano Renee Fleming, who will sing the national anthem.
Ms. Zion submitted a tape of herself performing the songs and was called for an audition. After learning she had been chosen, her husband and family were the first to know.
"I was thrilled, excited and nervous all at the same time," she wrote in an email. "It's everyone's dream. I am really looking forward to giving a great performance that deaf and hard-of-hearing people can enjoy."
Super Bowl viewers might recognize her from a guest spot on the CBS drama "CSI: NY" in 2006 or a Christmas commercial for Kay Jewelers.
She also has appeared in numerous productions for the National Technical Institute of the Deaf's Panara Theater. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Ari.
Ms. Zion lost her hearing at age 2 1/2 to meningitis and doesn't speak. She graduated from Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Edgewood in 1997 and from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2004 with a degree in graphic design.
Ms. Zion's passion for performing developed at an early age. She starred in "The Wizard of Oz" at age 5 and fell in love with more than just Dorothy's red slippers.
She has performed the national anthem at a few major sporting events, including a Steelers playoff game while she was in high school, but nothing quite like an event that was watched by an estimated 108.7 million viewers last year.
"There's nothing bigger than the Super Bowl," she said.
Memorable vocal performances often come from singers who infuse their own style into the song. Ms. Zion said an ASL performance is no different.
"Just like there are different touches in singing the song, there are different ways to convey the words and concept of the song through ASL," she said. "What I sign will stay true to the concept but add my own style to it."
Ms. Zion said she has consulted last year's Super Bowl ASL performer, John Maucere, for tips and ideas about how to prepare.
Normally, she cheers for the Steelers, a love fostered by watching the games as a child with her father. On Sunday, she would love to meet Derrick Coleman, a fullback for the Seattle Seahawks who is legally deaf.
While she shines on center stage, Ms. Zion has a captive audience in her native Pittsburgh.
Wayne Kelly, a high school math and science teacher at the School for the Deaf, said Ms. Zion was a model student and a school leader.
During her time as a student, Ms. Zion was a cheerleader and a member of SignShine, a stage group that gives educational presentations at local schools and performs songs in ASL.
"She was a natural on stage," Mr. Kelly said.
Earlier in the week, word began to spread around the school about the big news for one of their own.
"Everybody is really excited," Mr. Kelly said. "People are starting to buzz."
Lauren Lindstrom: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1964.