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Miranda Cosgrove connects with the ‘I' generation

iCarly

Various times, Nickelodeon

Miranda Cosgrove appeared to be a typical 15-year-old shopper – applying the latest flavor of lip gloss at the cosmetics counter, fawning over designer sneakers, slipping on headbands – except most of the other Nordstrom customers on this crowded Sunday afternoon weren't accompanied by security guards and didn't have the ability to make youngsters audibly gasp, as if they'd just spotted a Juicy Couture purse for 69 cents.

Cosgrove stars in Nickelodeon's “iCarly,” a series about a tech-savvy teen who creates her own goofy Internet show, which could best be described as a “Wayne's World” for hip girls. Unlike the Disney Channel series “Hannah Montana,” about a pop star who moves achy-breaky hearts, and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” in which two kids live in a luxury hotel, thereby eliminating the need to take out the garbage, “iCarly” centers around the very real possibility of putting on your own show without the need of great dance moves, a barn or Mickey Rooney.

Viewers are encouraged to visit icarly.com and submit their own work, and the results are as entertaining and creative as a season of “America's Funniest Home Videos.”

Creator Dan Schneider believes no other TV program has so successfully integrated the Internet into its content. It's a marriage that almost didn't happen.

Schneider, who had previously cast Cosgrove as a scheming sister in his hit series “Drake & Josh,” planned to build a new show around her titled “Star Struck,” which would follow the adventures of a young girl who, quite by accident, becomes the star of a hit show. But as the first day of shooting approached, Schneider started to have second thoughts.

“All my shows are about kid empowerment,” said Schneider, who's also responsible for “Zoey 101” and “The Amanda Show.”

Schneider's last-minute switcheroo paid off.

The most recent episode, in which the gang rebukes the advances of a know-nothing network exec, was the week's top non-sports program on cable TV and the second most-downloaded show on iTunes.

Further proof of the show's popularity was on display last weekend at the Mall of America's Rotunda, where more than 600 screaming teenagers gathered to get autographs from Cosgrove and snap pictures with their digital cameras and cell phones.

Fans, some of whom waited seven hours for 20 seconds of face time with the actress, seemed to crash once they got their turn, but Cosgrove was more than happy to compensate for their awkward and awed silence, complimenting their “supercool” T-shirts, sharing how she's “superexcited” about summer and telling them how awesome it would be to live just a parent's ride away from the Mall of America.

If that sounds like pretty “girly” chatter, well, it's because she's just a girl, a fact that's easy to overlook when you consider she's already starred in two hit series, procured a scene-stealing role in Jack Black's “School of Rock” (she was the no-nonsense band manager) and has a record deal with Columbia Records that could very well do Miley Cyrus-type numbers.

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