Louisiana Teen Born With Cleft Palate Becomes a Singing Sensation

PHOTO: A Raceland teen who was born with a cleft palate is singing - something doctors said would not be possible.
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A Louisiana teen who underwent surgery to fix his cleft palate as an infant is doing something his doctors once said would never be possible – he's singing.

Cameron Richard, 13, of Raceland, La., is singing so much and so well that he will be performing this weekend at Civic Theatre in New Orleans.

That is quite a leap for a boy who was told by doctors that he would have speech problems and need speech therapy after undergoing craniofacial surgery when he was 18 months old, his mother, Tina Richard, told ABCNews.com.

The idea that Richard could be singing was out of the question, she said. But from a young age, Richard loved to sing and "you heard him day in and day out."

"I would get home from school and I would start singing outside, and [my family] would be like, 'Oh boy, Cameron's back from school,'" Cameron Richard told ABCNews.com.

Singing was always something the 13-year-old did for fun, he said. But when he entered a singing competition two years ago in Houma, La., everything changed.

"I wanted to do this singing competition," Richard said. "My mom, she thought I would have forgotten about it, but I heard about it on the radio and I made her bring me to an audition. I passed the audition and I ended up winning the whole competition."

The win propelled Richard, an eighth grader at St. Mary's Nativity School, to keep competing. He entered a singing competition through an honor roll club in his school and ended up winning not only the district and the state titles, but the national title as well.

His prize-winning song was "Oh Darling" by The Beatles, he said.

As accolades for the young singer poured in, Richard said he and his family realized his amazing ability.

"They never really saw it until I started winning these competitions," he said. "I never thought I was that good either until I realized what I was accomplishing."

"They always said he would have speech problems and need speech therapy," Tina Richard said. "He's never had any speech therapy at all."

Richard's doctor, Dr. Daniel Bronfin, the medical director of craniofacial team at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, told ABCNews.com that its "very, very unusual" for cleft palate patients to not require speech therapy.

"The majority of kids not only need speech therapy, but it is probably one of the most important interventions with these kids," he said. "Despite multiple evaluations by speech pathologists, Cameron never required speech therapy. That was a bit unusual."

Bronfin said the palate is "critical" for normal speech and singing, but the surgery hasn't hindered Richard.

"Not everybody with a repaired cleft can sing like he does," he said. "If you do not have proper palatal repair, you won't be able to sing very well."

It didn't hurt that Richard was a very outgoing child, Bronfin said.

"That's been a big benefit to him as well," he said. "He's never been inhibited, which has allowed him to reach the point where he is today."

Richard's taste in music spans decades, and said he likes Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift just as much as The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. One of his favorite songs, he said, is "Waterfalls" by TLC.

"Every show, every performance I do, I try to express that I like all kinds of music," he said. "I am really influenced by everything."

Richard, who plays the guitar and posts videos to YouTube of his performances, said he hopes his career continues to "get bigger and bigger."

"Some of my dreams are to be on 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show.' That would be awesome," he said. "I want to sell out some big stadiums one day, and I want to win some Grammys."

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