The Anti-Britney?

Avril Lavigne
Image credit: Avril Lavigne courtesy of Avril Lavigne

Her first manager, Cliff Fabri, remembers Lavigne as the 14-year-old tomboy he discovered singing in a bookstore in her native Napanee, Ontario. ''When I first saw her, I liked her voice, and obviously the looks. But it was the attitude. She goes hunting all the time with her brother and dad. Here's this sweet little thing, and I said to her one time, 'What about when a little doe comes out and starts nudging up to the mother? What do you do?' And she goes'' -- Fabri makes the sound of a shotgun blast -- '''Dinner.''' He chortles. ''I was like, yeah! I loved the toughness.''

Just two and a half years ago, Fabri says, Lavigne was a frizzy-haired waif singing the sort of country-pop tunes favored by her devoutly religious parents: John, a phone-company worker, and Judy, her stay-at-home mom. ''She was so sheltered, she didn't know blink-182 from Madonna.... Her mother kept pushing Faith Hill and Martina McBride at me, saying, 'This is Avril.'''

Years of practicing to be a star in front of her closet mirrors paid off in 1998, when Lavigne won a contest to sing a duet with fellow Canadian Shania Twain in front of a capacity arena crowd. ''As soon as I walked out in front of 20,000 people, I'd never smiled so much in my life -- it was like perma-smile,'' Lavigne recalls.

Shortly after she turned 16, Lavigne auditioned for Arista, whose CEO L.A. Reid was so impressed by her 15-minute tryout that he authorized a deal worth a guaranteed $1.25 million over two albums -- not bad for a neophyte with no original material. Lavigne also got a $900,000 publishing advance, fulfilling Fabri's vow that this recent high school dropout would be ''a millionaire before she sold her first record.''

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