To the parents of most teens, pop starlet Mandy Moore must seem too good to be true. "She doesn't do anything extreme, ever" says her mom, Stacy, 44. "If coloring her hair is the worst of my worries, then that's okay." "We're not talking pink or green, either. This, after all, is a 17-year-old who sometimes channel surfs to find a televised Catholic mass, makes her bed and even sticks to a midnight curfew.

Call her the anti-Britney. Moore's career has been on the fast track ever since she signed a record deal at 14: Her first CD went platinum, and two years later she scored her own MTV show and a lucrative Neutrogena modeling contract. But unlike many of her sisters in song, Moore is keeping her image—and her personal life—suitable for all ages. "It's so Americana to turn 18 and be independent," says Moore, who splits her time between her parents' Orlando home and her condo in L.A. "To be honest, it's not something that I feel comfortable with yet."

Her transition from music to movies has been smoother. In the wholesome A Walk to Remember, a small but surprising box office hit that has earned over $30 million in its first month, Moore plays a plain-Jane preacher's daughter who reforms the local Lothario. "The movie's about having faith, not necessarily religion," says Moore, who made her screen debut in last year's The Princess Diaries. That may not be a "cool" subject, she concedes, but "there's enough in the teen genre about sex, drugs and rock and roll. I wanted to take a different approach."

Personally, she already had. Moore—who left her Catholic high school in ninth grade and now studies by correspondence—"doesn't have anyone her age to hang out with," says Stacy, a homemaker. "She'll confide in me, and I'm not judgmental." Even with peer pressure Moore probably wouldn't have rebelled. "She's mature beyond her years," says her mom, "especially with her work ethic." Her dad, Don, 45, a pilot, has always kept a tight rein on her. "He's very old-fashioned about dating and the way I dress," says Moore, "but I'm a conservative person anyway."

Moore, who started acting at 10 in community and school plays, had to audition several times before the Walk part was hers—with a proviso: She would have to cut her naturally blonde tresses and dye them a mousy brown. She quickly embraced the dark side. "I feel more myself as a brunette," Moore says. "I feel a strange sense of confidence."

Maybe that's because she is often "lumped in as one of the blonde singers," says Shane West, 23, Walk's leading man. But, says Moore's MTV cohort Carson Daly, 28, she sets herself apart as "one of the most genuine, sweetest young female talents I've ever met." He has just one complaint: "I'm dying to see her pissed off," he says jokingly. "She's got to blow a gasket sometime, right? Maybe throw a teddy bear?"

Not that she's a total pushover. When Welcome to the Dollhouse star Heather Matarazzo, 19, treated her coolly on the set of Diaries, Moore retaliated. "I kept calling her Britney," Matarazzo confesses. "Then she started calling me Weiner Dog [her Dollhouse character's derogatory nickname]. She's been my best friend ever since."

With her busy schedule—she is preparing to record album No. 4—Moore makes the most of her time with family and friends. One of her parents is always with her when she's traveling or in L.A. At her condo there she proudly displays paintings by her brother Kyle, 16. "If I can't have my family around," says Moore, who gave brother Scott, 21, a senior at the University of Central Florida, a Volkswagen Beetle for his last birthday, "at least I can put up a few things that remind me of them."

In her downtime the teen skips the party scene, preferring to get manicures or go out for sushi. "Yeah, I'm boring," she says. "I admit it." Currently unattached, Moore recently ended an 18-month relationship with her "first love," That '70s Show costar Wilmer Valderrama. "New start, new movie, new freedom," she says. "It feels so good."

Susan Horsburgh
Marisa Laudadio in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Marisa Laudadio.