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WB show features one 'Hill' of a singer

By Bridget Byrne

Associated Press

BURBANK, Calif. -- Bethany Joy Lenz's singing ability wasn't why she was cast as Haley James in "One Tree Hill." Yet her vocal talent has become an integral part of the character -- even affecting the plot of the teen drama.

While filming during the WB series' first season, creator and executive producer Mark Schwahn happened to hear Lenz's voice.

"She was standing in the corner of the set singing -- in a parking garage with really good acoustics! She has an incredible voice, one of those voices that you hear and you think that person should be on Broadway. Why's she wasting her time acting?" Schwahn recalls.

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Discovering that Lenz indeed wanted to sing on the show (7 p.m. Wednesdays) Schwahn developed a story line in which Haley started performing in a local club and then went on tour.

Deciding to have real life mirror fiction, "One Tree Hill" producers scheduled Lenz on a 23-city concert tour, along with Tyler Hilton, who guest stars as Chris Keller, and Gavin DeGraw, whose "I Don't Want to Be" is the show's theme song.

This led to Lenz scoring a deal with Epic Records, with an album of mainly original songs scheduled for release early next year.

"I was probably singing before I could talk," says the 24-year-old actress. "Musical theater is my passion. If I could afford it, I would just do dinner theater and live a simple life."

When presented with the role of Haley, she identified with the character immediately.

"This is me in high school," she says.

"We looked for a girl who could be a sort of an everywoman, but also be unique and talented," says Schwahn. "Haley is someone who sees the world with a little skewed perspective at a time in high school when fitting in, adhering to the company line, gets you through. Joy has a point of view that isn't necessarily career-based and I wanted those qualities for Haley."

"I've kind of come to a place in my life where I don't really care," says Lenz. "I'm happy now and even if I wasn't working, it would be fine."

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Now in its third season, "One Tree Hill" remains popular with its core female audience.

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