Vanessa Hudgens is ready to leave ’High School Musical’ behind and graduate to the next level of her career.
PHILADELPHIA — Neither rain nor lightning nor flash floods will deter Vanessa Hudgens’ young fans.
As a chesty storm rages outside, a ruly mob of young girls (along with their doting chauffeurs) has gathered in a Philadelphia mall waiting for “High School Musical’s” prom queen.
Hudgens is doing an autograph signing to promote her recently opened movie “Bandslam.”
Anticipation is high on the line that snakes away from a hastily rigged platform outside GameStop.
“I like her singing, and she’s talented,” says Brianna, 11, from Philadelphia.
“She has a good voice, and I like all her movies, too,” says Veronica, 13, from Bensalem, Pa.
“She’s my favorite from “High School Musical,” says Shayla, 10, from Aldan, Pa.
The crowd is too young to have mastered the art of adulation. They scream just as loudly when a female gofer crosses the stage as they do when Hudgens appears, an hour behind schedule.
In an interview after the brutally efficient signing session, Hudgens declares that while the kids are still smitten with “High School Musical’s” sunny song-and-dance, after three installments, she herself is ready to move on.
“I think they look up to my character, Gabriela,” she says. “Which is great because it’s an incredible character. But I’m doing this (acting) for myself. So at the end of the day, I’m going to do what I want to do.”
“Bandslam,” which was filmed before “HSM 3,” with Austin, Texas, filling in for New Jersey, is the first step in jettisoning the Disney franchise.
The 20-year-old is still playing a high-schooler and does sing one song (a ska cover of the Boy George hit “Everything I Own”), but her semi-goth Sa5m (the “5 is silent) is a departure from the wholesome Gabriela.
“That was the whole point of doing this. This character is very introverted and deadpan. I get extremely bored playing the same part over and over,” she says, laughing.
She’s not even the star of this underage romantic comedy. That distinction is shared by Gaelan Connell as a lunchroom Woody Allen and Aly Michalka, another Disney star, as the “fille fatale.”
But the movie draws a line in the sand between Hudgens’ past and her future.
“People are going to think this is just another teen movie, which it is sooo not. This really has substance. The characters are really evolved and defined. It’s kind of like “Breakfast Club,” she says, flashing the dazzling dimpled smile that is her moneymaker.
Taking the next step in her career is something of a relief for Hudgens, because being a teen idol isn’t what it used to be. Especially not since having Zac Efron, “HSM’s” Prince Charming, as a boyfriend has made them the Brangelina of the braces set.
“I think the Internet is ruining the business as we know it,” she says, frowning. “People just know too much. People have too much accessibility to everyone these days. I feel like I do movies and I give that to them and in return I keep my personal life.”
Sounds like a very grown-up attitude.
Taking the next step in her career is something of a relief for Hudgens, because being a teen idol isn’t what it used to be.