By Stacy Jenel Smith, Stephanie DuBois and Emily Feimster
When 20-year-old Amanda Bynes
was in an auto accident in Beverly Hills earlier this year, the coverage was full of...praise.
Seriously. For instance, the Philadelphia Daily News let us know that the rush hour wreck "involved the delightful, totally together and not drunk" Amanda, who "stayed cool and collected during the incident (no surprise, she's going to run Hollywood one day), called for help on her cell and waited for a truck to tow her 2005 BMW X5."
And after giving a cheeky summary of what had not gone wrong in Bynes' crash in its thorough coverage, TMZ.com applauded: "And that, Brandy, is how it's done."
Could it be that these days, it's news when a young female star isn't in trouble?
With the recent rash of misses in messes one could get the idea that young women in Hollywood have completely lost it. Recent weeks have brought us perpetual party girl Paris pleading no contest to driving under the influence, Nicole in rehab after driving the wrong way on the 134 Freeway, Britney in rehab after shaving her own head, Lindsay in rehab after being chastised for "discourteous, irresponsible and unprofessional behavior" by Morgan Creek chieftain James G. Robinson, the rash of pantyless photo ops, on and on.
We're glad to report, however, that while there are indeed self-destructive sirens aplenty out grabbing tabloid attention, they are definitely in the minority.
Consider: Beyonce, Alexa Vega, Amber Tamblyn, self-described "non-partier" and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson - they're just a few of the 25 and under-year-olds who are best known for their talent and achievements rather than their nightclubbing antics.
The aforementioned Amanda Bynes, who has the big-screen "Hairspray" coming out in July and is making the comedy "Sydney White," is another example. The one-time "Amanda Show" and "What I Like About You" comedian and actress is firmly focused on her goals. As she told us, "I know who I am and I know what I want to do -- and I would never let anyone push me into anything I don't want to do." Bynes aspires to continue her education at Columbia University or NYU, and keeps her private life pretty private. However, those paparazzi shots of her enjoying an extracurricular on-street smooch with hunky "She's the Man" costar Channing Tatum indicate the young lady is not an all work type of gal, either.
Sara Paxton, 19, is playing a Wicked Witch of a sorority queen opposite Amanda in the feature. She also plays a college binge drinker in Lifetime TV's March 26 "The Party Never Stops: Diary of a Binge Drinker" - the most dramatic role ever for the "Darcy's Wild Life" TV series star. She had to learn how to act drunk for the part, she says, never having been so in real life.
"American Idol" winner cum pop star Kelly Clarkson, 24, has also managed to keep her private life hush-hush -- probably because she is busy making hit albums and not getting wasted.
Anne Hathaway, who transferred from Vassar to NYU a couple years ago, comes off a model of maturity and togetherness at 24. Yes, she exposed herself in "Havoc" and "Brokeback Mountain," but she starred in "The Princess Diaries" for goodness sakes. Plus, you never hear tales of her acting a fool off camera.
"I really don't drink, I don't do drugs. I feel like right now I've been given so many opportunities I don't want to mess it up with those things," she's made clear. "I think I was raised in a solidly upper-middle class family who had really strong values and excess was not one of the things that my family put up with."
Natalie Portman seems to have always had a good head on her shoulders. The undeniably talented actress left Hollywood for four years to study psychology at Harvard and she prides herself on being a role model for young girls. She's unlikely to succumb to the spells of fame and fortune. After all, she has said, "The moment you buy into the idea you're above anyone else is the moment you need to be slapped in the face." Portman, 25, admits "I've definitely gotten drunk before. I don't think it's possible to go through college without getting drunk. But I don't really like it at all." She identifies herself as "pretty much a boring Goody Two-shoes." Queen Amidala, boring?! Are you kidding?
Hilary Duff has earned kudos from fans and fellow performers for managing to transform into an adult without cheapening her image. Among the latter was Tia Mowry, a class act herself, along with twin Tamera, who applauded Duff for resisting industry pressures to exploit the titillation factor.
"It's definitely hard to try and make good decisions when other people are doing other things," Hilary told us in response. "It was nice of Tia to say that. You get around other people in the profession and some are cool and some hate on you."
Kristen Bell from "Veronica Mars" has also taken the higher route at that fork dividing sexy and skanky in the femme fame road. She once said, "I don't do plunging necklines or really short skirts. I try to stay as classy as possible and provide a little mystery."
Bell's series cohort, Tina Majorino, chooses to stay on the fringes of the Hollywood hustle being played out by such peers as Hilton, Richie and Lohan.
"There are a lot of young actresses not setting very good examples and there should be some that show us that that's not really how it's done," says Majorino. "There's this idea that success is this destination that one day you're going to wake up and realize 'I'm successful,'" she continues. "People don't realize it's actually the journey...the getting to different goals you set for yourself that is the real success." Developing one's life outside the show business whirl is important to her. "It definitely gives you a different perspective when you actually have a life outside of your work," says Majorino. "It's important when working in any kid of medium, but because of the temptations in this business you have to have some kind of reality that you can fall back on instead of just always living in this world of make believe - because that's really what it is."
For quite a few young actresses, using show business fame to make a positive difference in the real world is what makes success meaningful.
For example, "Gridiron Gang" actress Jurnee Smollett, 20, says, "I really feel the responsibility is on my shoulders to kind of be the voice of my generation." She is the youngest board member of ANSA, Artists for a New South Africa. Battling HIV/AIDS in South Africa and here is one of the focuses of the organization founded in 1989 by Alfre Woodard, Danny Glover and Mary Steenburgen among others.
Speaking of the fight against AIDS, she says passionately, "We all need to get off our butts and realize this is the new civil rights movement. It's got to stop with my generation."
She adds, "I love filmmaking, I love singing, I love being an entertainer and performing. That is a high like nothing else, but I know this is another part of my life. I want to use any kind of platform, any small platform I might have to do something in this world. If people are listening to me, damn it, I'm going to make sure I'm talking about something worth listening to."