Miranda Cosgrove is giggling like crazy, helpless against a wave of nervous laughter. The übersuccessful star of Nickelodeon's iCarly knows it's not funny. But she can't help herself. "It's super embarrassing!" she says.
Miranda, who just turned nineteen, is seated at a chill West Hollywood restaurant—dressed in a black, oversize Wildfox Couture sweater and about a million beaded bracelets—talking about a typical rite of passage: her first fender bender. Seated behind the wheel of a brand-new Porsche Cayenne (the big one), Miranda and a friend had just hit up the drive-through at the local In-N-Out Burger when they spotted her friend's crush. "We rolled down the window to say hello," the actress says. "Then she wanted us to take off quickly—to look cool! She's like, 'Back up!' I put the car in reverse and ran really fast into a pole." There's that giggle again.
Trying to look cool has never been Miranda's game. Why front when your own front is perfectly hip to be square? On iCarly, Miranda is the good-girl- gone-even-better, the quirky one who makes chicken soup in a toilet bowl, waxes poetic about spaghetti tacos, and "random dances" whenever possible. She's a role model for the iGeneration. There's a mystery boyfriend in her past—one who still inspires her to write songs about heartache—but no skeletons in her closet. Just some well-organized Rebecca Minkoff and Prada. But now, with the future of iCarly in doubt and Miranda heading off to college in the fall, a question bubbles to the surface: How do you keep maturing without leaving your fans behind? "It's weird when your biggest success is something that you're also trying to break out of," she says. Sometimes to look forward, it helps to look back.
Discovered at age three charming it up at a food festival, the Orange County girl—who hung out at her dad's dry-cleaning business—quickly graduated from McDonald's commercials to the smash movie School of Rock before landing her own series on Nick. Miranda, who was home-schooled, doesn't regret a thing—except missing the prom. "Maybe I should date a guy in high school?" she says, laughing. "I could get away with it now."
iCarly launched in 2007 with a specific mission: to challenge Disney's runaway hit Hannah Montana. The show succeeded; iCarly recently celebrated its 100th episode and turned Miranda into a PTA-approved Neutrogena ambassador on her own terms—by using her gift for absurdist humor to appeal to both kids and adults, including self-avowed devotees like Brad Pitt and Emma Stone. Earlier this year, when People magazine's former Sexiest Man Alive told a reporter, "iCarly is big in our house ... I know every episode," Miranda's phone started blowing up. "All my friends were calling, saying, 'Can you believe Brad Pitt knows who you are?!' It was insane."
Also awesomely insane? Miranda reportedly earns $180,000 an episode (making her the second-highest-paid teen on TV, behind that kid on Two and a Half Men); meanwhile, her debut solo album, Sparks Fly, hit the Billboard 200 chart at number eight. The first time she took the SAT—yeah, she took it three times, so what?—was at a random school in Washington, D.C. "I was getting ready for this event with the President, Christmas in Washington, so I had to take it there," she explains. "That's where I met Barack." (First-name basis!)
Meeting the president is a pretty stellar perk. So is using the iCarly wardrobe department as your own personal Net-a-Porter. Miranda cops to borrowing just about anything she wants—as long as she promises to bring it back. "I'm constantly stealing these biker boots from the stylist," she says. "She'll text me and say, 'I know you have those boots!' " It's not just about playing dress-up; Miranda's own sense of style is evolving. For the 2012 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, she wore a royal blue Porter Grey minidress with an exposed back and Stella McCartney booties—grown-up, for sure, but appropriately so.
Finding her voice—sartorial or otherwise—is what being nineteen is all about, and it's a perfect marker for this stage in her life. After flirting with NYU, Miranda plans to enroll at USC (her father's alma mater) in the fall, where she'll major in film. She'd like to follow in the footsteps of onetime child actors like Natalie Portman and Jodie Foster: brainy and beautiful types who went to college and conquered Hollywood.
Miranda ultimately chose to stay in L.A. to be closer to the work. She's in the midst of filming a fifth—and possibly final—season of iCarly. "We don't know if we'll do more episodes," she says. "I'm looking at this as the last season. Though we said that last year." If she had her way, Carly would sail off into the sunset with her as-yet platonic BFF, Freddie. And Tina Fey would drop in to play Carly's never-before-seen mom. "I think she's awesome," Miranda says. "I love 30 Rock."
The more pressing quandary, and the one every successful child actor has faced since prime-time immemorial, is this: What's next? "I definitely think about that," she says contemplatively, poking at the remains of her lunch. "It's hard to find something that's a little bit edgy but that everyone can still watch. I'm waiting to find something right." (For the record, she wouldn't say no to a romantic comedy with Channing Tatum. "I think he's the dream costar of the moment," she says.) She put her well-manicured toe in the water with an episode of The Good Wife, playing a booze-happy pop tart charged with attempted murder. When her character explains a recent round of partying, saying, "It's just part of the whole climbing out of the Disney ghetto thing," the ache was palpable, if not somewhat autobiographical.
"I'm not that rebellious," Miranda says, smiling wide. "There's a part of me that wishes I was that." Is she looking for a rebellious guy? "I just want someone who lives in L.A.," she says, brushing the shiniest brown hair out of her eye. Miranda has been on a few dates recently, but the prospects seem to be out-of-towners. "I'll meet someone and they'll be traveling all the time. Someone here—that would help a lot!" she says.
OK, but you're not even a little, teeny bit rebellious? "Not other than running my car into poles!" she jokes. Talk to us after freshman year.
fixed the cut, sorry mods!