By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
In her first attempt at singing the national anthem in front of a large audience, Rylee Werth inserted an extra letter in one of the words.
Werth rolls her eyes as her mom tells about her daughter singing the "Star Splangled Banner."
It's been the only diversion from the original song Werth has made through the years. And she was just 7 years old at the time.
Werth has gotten a lot of practice since, both around her house on her family farm near Ellis and in front of crowds large and small.
This month alone, Werth -- at age 11, still young for a singer so much in demand -- has been asked to sing at several festivals, including three nights this week.
Werth will sing the national anthem before the rodeo Tuesday and Wednesday at the Ellis County Fair in Hays, then travel to Ness City on Friday for a performance at the Ness County Fair.
Getting up to sing in front of people in Hays has become old hat for Werth lately. She also sang all three nights of the Wild West Festival concerts in downtown Hays the first week of July and Saturday at the McCracken Rodeo.
"I don't really get so nervous anymore," said Werth, who got her start doing public performances by accident.
The Werths were managing the go-kart track in WaKeeney a few years ago, and "we wanted a live version of the national anthem instead of a recording," said Rylee's mom, Cristi Werth.
"When she first started, I'd sit close so she could see me, and I'd mouth the words," Cristi said.
Werth's breakout night was two years ago at the Trego County Fair when she sang before the Blackhawk concert.
After that, the Werths' phones started ringing.
"From the very start, her tone and notes were so dead on, every time," her mom said. "We were amazed."
They aren't the only ones.
People, especially organizers of events, hear Werth sing once and start asking questions about who she is and requesting a contact number.
Family members who can't be on site also want to see her performances, so Werth's mom puts them on Facebook.
All the while, the quiet unassuming youngster seems to take it all in stride.
"It's an honor for her," said her father, Rod Werth. "And it's so natural for her."
"We encourage her because it's something she's good at, but we try not to push her," said Cristi, who added they have been advised not to seek an instructor for voice lessons for their daughter just yet.
"She's so natural, I don't want to mess her up," Cristi said.