Disney's new 'It' Girl

Dallas native Selena Gomez, who turned 16 this summer, is already well on her way to becoming Disney Channel’s Next Big Thing thanks to her own starring vehicle, “Wizards of Waverly Place,” a hit show about a family of sorcerers who also run a sandwich shop, now in its second season.

The fast-rising teen star has been carefully groomed by Disney ever since the company discovered her at a nationwide open casting call four years ago. After three pilots (one gave birth to “Wizards”) and guest spots on such high-profile shows as “Hannah Montana” and “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” Disney tailored the show’s mischievous lead character to suit Gomez’s input.

“When we began working on it, I wanted to be the tomboy character and maybe have a girly best friend — flip it around from the usual thing,” she says. “I used the inspiration of some of my favorite shows, like ‘Friends,’ took some comedy from there, and they liked it.”

Gomez next stars in Disney Channel original movie “Princess Protection Program,” followed by “Another Cinderella Story” for Warner. “It’s basically our updated version of the Cinderella story,” she says, “so I drop an MP3 player instead of a glass slipper and he’s got to find me through music.”

Now one of CAA’s youngest clients, Gomez “always wanted to act, since I was 6,” she says. “I was an only child, and my parents were very supportive, even though they thought it was maybe just a phase.” Driven and dedicated, Gomez even spent her ninth birthday at an open casting call for a role in the TV series “Barney & Friends” (she won the part), going on to work in “Spy Kids 3-D” in 2003.

“It’s a bit of a sacrifice giving up your prom and normal childhood things,” admits Gomez, who relocated to L.A. with her mother last year, “but for me it’s completely worth it.”

Recent breakthrough: Her show, “Wizards of Waverly Place,” is a runaway hit for Disney Channel.

Role model: “First and foremost, my mom.” And Judy Garland. “I grew up watching ‘Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ was the first song I learned to sing.”

Next: “Music is another of my passions. I’m working on my first album for Hollywood Records. It’ll be fun dance music, out next summer, and I’ll be doing a national tour.”

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