Jamie Lynn Spears wants to be known as a great actress—no drama, antics or tabloids involved. "I just want to have a successful career," she says. "Not a crazy one." While her older sister Britney has been a cottage industry of celebrity gossip lately (she lost custody of her kids Monday), Jamie Lynn has been focusing on her professional aspirations. She's kicking off her third season of starring in "Zoey 101," a cable hit on Nickelodeon that has earned her a Kids' Choice Award for top actress. The October 2007 issue of Us Weekly names the young star one of the 2007 Hollywood Powerhouse Players. Not bad for a 16-year-old high-school sophomore.
Does Spears have what it takes to cross over from tween icon to leading lady? That transition has never been easy. Flip on the TV or through a magazine and chances are you'll find a leading teen celeb torn between the adolescent and adult worlds. Last week pregnancy rumors swirled around Miley Cyrus of "Hannah Montana" (rumors that Cyrus has publicly denied); earlier this fall nude photographs of "High School Musical" star Vanessa Hudgens surfaced on the Internet. "Teen celebrities start discovering their own sexual behavior, and maybe the amateur [nature] of their performance," says Irving Rein, a communications professor at Northwestern University and the author of "High Visibility: The Making and Marketing of Professionals into Celebrities." "They go through a transformation, which often can be very rocky." That's because teen celebrities are trying to play two roles that often clash: the squeaky-clean kid whom networks like Disney and Nickelodeon want, and the more mature adult they're becoming.
The stars, and the companies that employ them, go to great lengths to protect their multimillion-dollar images. "It's fun being incredibly clean," "High School Musical" star Zac Efron told NEWSWEEK in an interview this summer. Disney stars are notorious for maintaining pristine images on—and offscreen. "Now people are trying to find things wrong with us. We're under the magnifying glass all the time. People are trying to find things wrong with the 'High School Musical' cast. They can search, they can try to find things, but they're not going to." Unless they do, as Efron's co-star Hudgens discovered in September. (Hudgens apologized to her fans and expressed regret at having the photos taken; Disney expressed its hope that the star had "learned a valuable lesson.")
With tabloids monitoring every step a teen celeb takes—not to mention every party she attends, every boy she kisses and every drink she downs—a carefully managed career is more essential than ever. "When you change from subteenage star to mature adult star, you have to change your concept," says Rein. "It's really a sort of brand regeneration." Rein points to Donny Osmond as a teen celebrity who managed his transition incredibly well by finding a new niche in Broadway musical. As for celebs who have struggled—well, check Jamie Lynn's family tree.
Jamie Lynn declines to discuss her big sister, on her publicist's order. But she did speak with NEWSWEEK's Sarah Kliff about her own experience as a teen celebrity, what effect the tabloids have on her and where she's headed from here. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: I'm sure you're really busy right now, so let's get started. Tell me a bit about what you've been up to.
Jamie Lynn Spears: Well, we just wrapped up a season of "Zoey," so I've just been reading scripts, looking around, kind of hanging out, being a kid.
Are you in L.A. right now or Mississippi [Spears previously attended Parklane Academy, a private school in McComb, Miss.]?
I'm in L.A. right now, but I've been going back and forth.
So school hasn't started yet?
I already started. I'm home-schooled. This is my first year to ever home-school. [Spears explained that she's taking her class by online correspondence.]
How's the change going for you?
It's different. I'm kind of missing out on some parts. I have to call the teachers and ask them what I'm doing, so I have to get used to that. But other than that everything is fine.
What's your favorite subject so far?
Probably personal health, which teaches you stuff that you need to know about your health, like exercise. It's an elective, but still it's cool.
I know you were involved in cheerleading and baseball before. Are you missing that?
I just go home and hang out with my friends, but I don't have to sit in a classroom for seven hours each day. I'm the kind of person who has to be doing something. It's actually working out better for me.
Are you thinking about any post-high school plans? Maybe college?
I want to graduate from high school and go out and do movies. I want to then go back to school when I feel like I'll be safe, study whatever I want and educate myself on whatever I want.
What about the new season of "Zoey"? What are you excited about with that?
There are so many little twists in "Zoey." Throughout the rest of the show there's surprises on every episode. The dating stuff is going to freak everyone out.
If you don't mind me asking, what's your own dating life like right now? Any boyfriend?
No, kind of hanging out. I have good, close friends, but nothing serious.
How much do you rely on your family these days?
My mom has to go everywhere with me. Especially in this business you have to have your mom with you. Sometimes we'll fuss and fight about the stupidest stuff because we're with each other 24/7. I know I couldn't do it without her.
It's pretty easy to get sucked into the pitfalls of celebrity, like what's happened when nude photos of "High School Musical"'s Vanessa Hudgens showed up online, or last week's pregnancy rumors about Miley Cyrus from the hit Disney Channel show, "Hannah Montana." How does that affect young celebrities like you?
It's going to happen to everybody eventually. It's part of this whole thing. It sucks, and I feel sorry for both of them. I've met Miley and she's a sweetheart. That's this business. You have to expect that. I stay out of that because I'm always at home; I don't go anywhere or do anything.
I saw that there were some unfounded pregnancy rumors about you that floated around the tabloids this summer.
You know, the only thing that I was worried about was people thought I was fat. Everybody thinks I'm fat. That was seriously the only thing I was worried about. My mom, everyone knew it was completely untrue. So I was just like, "Everyone thinks I'm fat."
What would be your perfect "True Hollywood Story"?
That I go on and do big movies and just have a very successful career. Not a crazy one. I want to be known as a good actress.
On the flipside, what would be the worst?
That I didn't get to do awesome movies. That I ended up not doing movies.