As a minor TV actor struggling to become a country music singer, Brad Hawkins had a problem: His performance style was more Green Day than Garth Brooks. At a concert last year in Ohio, he recalls, "I decided to do a stage dive into the audience. Bad mistake." Rather than catching Hawkins and passing him over their heads, the confused fans simply got out of his way. "As I was in midair," he notes, "they parted like the Red Sea."

Hawkins was unhurt but got the hint. He returned to Hollywood, where he had acted in the 1994-95 syndicated kids show VR Troopers, and landed what he calls "a dream part" as a '50s rock star in the CBS miniseries Shake, Rattle & Roll, airing Nov. 7 and 10. In that role, says director Mike Robe, Hawkins was able to show "the same magnitude a young Elvis Presley or Buddy Holly had." Notes Hawkins, 25: "Suddenly my phone is working again."

Born Dana Wroblski (he adopted a more countrified name for the sake of his music career) to Johnny, a Dallas carpenter and amateur country crooner, and Debra, manager of a home for the disabled, Hawkins got his showbiz start at 19, after being rejected for a modeling gig. An agency exec suggested he give acting a try instead. "I didn't see that I had anything to lose at that point," he says. "So I loaded up my Honda hatchback and headed to Los Angeles. It goes without saying that I didn't have a clue." But despite his success as an actor—and his stumbles as a singer—"I wouldn't ever want to give up the music," he says. "It's in my blood and heart, put there by my father. I'll always play music."