The idea of Mandy Moore covering the songs of Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Joe Jackson may seem as surreal as Britney Spears doing an album of Bob Dylan classics.
After all, this is the Mandy Moore who started out four years ago as a Britney clone with the saccharine hit “Candy.” The 19-year-old who starred in youth-centric movies like “The Princess Diaries” and “A Walk to Remember,” whose boyfriend is 21-year-old tennis champ Andy Roddick.
Moore acknowledges that her new album, “Coverage,” may deliver a bit of a shock — and that’s just what she’s hoping for.
“I’m anticipating people looking at me just a little bit different,” she says, “whether they like my interpretations of the song or not. Like, ‘Never expected it from Mandy Moore. I didn’t like her music before, and maybe I still don’t like it, but well, kudos for her for trying something different.”’
That it certainly is. On “Coverage,” Moore tackles classics that might intimidate even veteran singers, including King’s “I Feel The Earth Move,” Carly Simon’s “Anticipation” and Blondie’s “One Way Or Another.”
Most of the songs are older than Moore herself. Still, many were relatively new discoveries for Moore in her quest to evolve from bubblegum singer to serious artist.
“I think the whole process started off by discovering someone like Joan Armatrading, and it’s sort of a domino effect,” Moore told The Associated Press during an interview in a Manhattan hotel, looking pretty and perky with brunette locks framing her face.
“She just opened up this whole completely new world to me — there’s someone singing with grit and emotion, and it’s raw and she lets her voice crack, and it’s amazing. She’s like strong and independent, and I don’t know, I hadn’t really heard anything like that,” she adds with wide-eyed excitement.
It’s certainly not the kind of music that Moore, who was raised on Broadway show tunes, was singing when she made her debut in 1999 with “So Real,” which sold just under 1 million copies. Describing that album now, Moore winces like a starlet trying to explain away racy photos taken before her fame.
“I’m embarrassed, yeah. It’s just bad. It’s just bad pop. It’s just tacky and terribly produced. It’s horrible!” she exclaims, mortified. “I was so annoying. Just annoying.”
Bubble-gum pop diva
But the then-blonde Moore came along at a time when Spears, Christina Aguilera, ’N Sync and the Backstreet Boys ruled the charts, when just about anything teen and pop was a success.
Her fame continued to rise even as the teen pop bubble burst. MTV, impressed by her good looks, charm and effervescent personality, tapped her to host many of its specials, helping boost her fan base.
“We thought, maybe there’s a personality there, and very quickly, that personality cut through and connected with the MTV audience,” said Amy Doyle, the channel’s vice president of music programming.
That served as a jumping point to film. Her breakthrough role was in the 2001 tear-jerker “A Walk To Remember,” a hit with teens. Earlier this year, she appeared in the teen drama “How to Deal” and was heralded as one of Hollywood’s hot teens on the cover of Vanity Fair.
Moore has distanced herself from the teen pop queens she came up with. While Spears and Aguilera are asserting their adulthood with risque pop songs and nearly naked poses, Moore has eschewed the Maxim strategy with a girl-next-door image.
Moore grimaces at the idea of even trying to be a sexpot.
“I’ve just become a woman — I’m getting used to that. The last thing I want to do is have someone photograph me not wearing anything,” says Moore, who lives at home in Los Angeles with her parents and brother.
“I’m pretty wholesome, I’m pretty boring. I don’t do anything. I’m not crazy, there’s no dirt to find. I’m not a big partier, clubber, drinker, drug abuser. I guess I am pretty wholesome in that sense.”
Wholesome sells pretty well, and Moore’s star continues to rise in film. In music, however, it has dwindled.
Her last disc, 2001’s “Mandy Moore,” was well received critically but sold just 443,000 copies, compared with 943,000 for “So Real,” according to Nielsen Soundscan. (A remix album released in the interim, “I Wanna Be With You,” sold 792,000 copies).
“It bummed me out a lot at first, because I loved the music, and I have a lot more creative control than I ever had in the past, so I felt a part of the album,” Moore says of “Mandy Moore.”
“I started to do the kind of acousticy stuff before that became popular, but I guess no one wanted that from me.”
After that album, Moore concentrated more on her film career — and spent time exploring different musical styles, going to record stores and randomly buying music from the likes of Jackson, Joni Mitchell and 80s British pop group XTC (her latest discovery? John Coltrane).
“Coverage” was an experiment, recorded with her own money, without her record company, Epic, even knowing about it, she says.
An Epic representative said no one was available to comment on the album.
“Coverage” has debuted to modest sales and mixed critical reviews. But Evan Harrison, vice president and general manger of AOL Music, which has been promoting Moore’s music, says it may bring her more fans eventually.
“There comes a point where you start out with a pop act as young as Mandy, and there has to be that evolution, that next stage,” he says. “I think this record stands a great chance not only to speak to an audience who knows Mandy ... but also to skew older.”
And Moore says she’s not worried about sales. She just wants to get the music out there — and hopefully, a whole new audience will discover it, as she did.
“I’m not necessarily worried about losing out on any particular audience. I just know how good these songs are. I have faith in these songs,” she says. “They’re timeless, they’re classic, and I just want to introduce people my age to this music, because there’s a lot of crap out there — and I was part of it!”