EMMY ROSSUM: BELLE OF THE BALL

To understand who Emmy Rossum is today, you need to understand who Emmy Rossum was a dozen or so years ago--a New York City kindergartner auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera. Rossum was asked to sing "Happy Birthday." When she had finished, she heard four thrilling, and terrifying, words: "Welcome to the Met." She hit the stage with the children's chorus at 7. She made $5 a night ("There were horses onstage that were getting $150"), but loved singing so much that when her private school gave her an ultimatum, she opted for home schooling. "First they asked me if Placido Domingo would rehearse after school hours," she says. "I told them that I wasn't sure--that I had to ask."

At 18 Rossum is a great talent who's said to be a bit difficult at times: a diva in both senses of the word. She's the star of "The Phantom of the Opera," and the loveliness of her singing is the one thing everyone should agree on, whether they cherish Andrew Lloyd Webber or think the movie looks like a Meatloaf video. After the Met, Rossum turned heads with the indie "Songcatcher" and with "Mystic River," in which she played Sean Penn's daughter. Lately, she's raced through publicists and indulged in some foot stomping at photo shoots. (Her mother, the tree the apple fell from, is often referred to as The Mother.) Director Joel Schumacher praises Rossum's work ethic to the sky, and advises people to remember that unlike the many spoiled stars in Hollywood who behave like teenagers, Rossum actually is a teenager. Her talent arrived, full-blown, when she was so young. Her heart and head deserve time to catch up.