HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. — Mandy Moore recalls standing on her tiptoes to reach the microphone when she first sang the National Anthem at a sports event in Orlando, Fla. As she heard her voice reverberate throughout the outdoor arena, followed by a burst of applause, she knew that's what she wanted to do with her life.
Today, at 17, Mandy has her first starring role in a feature film, "A Walk to Remember," which opens this weekend. She also has recorded two albums, "So Real" and "Mandy Moore," and released the hit singles "Candy" (which went platinum), "In My Pocket," and "Cry" (from her movie).
"My dream as a 6-year-old," she says with a smile, "is becoming a reality."
Mandy made her film debut as the haughty schoolgirl in Disney's "The Princess Diaries." She had one singing number, and she was blond and beautiful.
But she changed her style for her part in "A Walk to Remember," an inspirational coming-of-age story based on the best-selling novel by Nicholas Sparks.
"I think of this role, a minister's daughter, as being beautiful, but not in the conventional way," she says. In the film, "my hair is its natural brown, I wear no makeup, and my clothes are oversized. I loved it! I look like I do when I wake up. I was the only one to walk around the set and be myself."
Mandy's mother gave her the novel before she started filming.
"I love how [the minister's daughter] stands up against peer pressure and does what she feels is right for herself," Mandy says. "[The story] conveys such a positive message to people my age, so when I heard it was going to be a movie, I fought tooth and nail to get an audition."
That dream took some time to fulfill. She first met with the director, Adam Shankman, and then she was asked to read with Shane West, already picked to star as the young man needing redemption.
"My test was a scene where we were sitting on a couch together and first realized we might be in love," she says. "I remember how strange it felt to be doing the scene with this 20-something actor I had just met. I had to talk sharply to myself. Snuggling up with a cute boy, how hard can that be? He'd made several movies, so he was understanding."
During the subsequent month-long wait, she recalls, "I mentally kept knowing 'this is my part.' When the call finally came, I was elated."
Meanwhile, her life has been moving fast. She received her driver's license, bought a car, and "feels very independent, which kind of scares my parents ... but I love it."
Currently, Mandy is working in the studio on demos for a new album.
"I want to write more of my own songs," she says. "The other day I was finishing a show at MTV, and this melody kept running through my head. I wrote it down on a paper napkin. Seems I get ideas at the oddest times. Like yesterday I was in the bath-tub when I thought of a phrase. I got out and scribbled it down with an eyebrow pencil and piece of pop-up tissue. You've got to get [ideas] down."
For that reason, she spends more time on her mini tape recorder than her cellphone.
Mandy's dad is a pilot for American Airlines, and her mom is a full-time mother. She says they weren't too thrilled when their daughter, inspired by her school production of "Oklahoma!" announced she wanted to sing professionally.
"At first they thought it was a phase. What kid hasn't wanted to be a movie star?" she says. "When I convinced them I was serious, they gave me singing lessons. My dad said, 'If you're going to sing, you better learn how to do it right.'
"After that, I began singing at all the community activities. I'd get out there at ball games with my little pitch pipe and sing 'The Star Spangled Banner.' I never got paid until I started as a professional recording artist!"
Because of her tight schedule making films, records, and touring, she attends school via the University of Nebraska's correspondence courses. "Sometimes, I get bummed out when I think of all the homecomings and football games and fun activities I'm missing," Mandy says.
But then she recalls the night in Toronto when she performed in front of 40,000 fans. As she sang, the audience held up glow sticks and waved them to the rhythm of her music. It was better than a dream - it was real.