The Fabulous Fefe Dobson

JANE STEVENSON

, Last Updated: 4:37 PM ET

Meet the new Avril -- Fefe Dobson. Same as the old Avril? Not exactly.

But fellow Canadian songbirds Dobson and Avril Lavigne do have similar-sounding voices, pop-rock songs about teenaged angst and -- outwardly anyway -- tough-girl appearances.

The 18-year-old Dobson, whose self-titled debut has sold 400,000 copies in North America since its Dec. 9 release and earned her "one-to-watch" status in everything from Entertainment Weekly to Rolling Stone, doesn't hear or see the similarities.

And neither, apparently, does Lavigne.

"We both think that we're completely different," says Dobson, a native of Scarborough, down the line from Manchester before wrapping up a two-week opening slot on Justin Timberlake's U.K. tour.

"Everyone might have almost the same inspirations, in a way, but everyone's very different."

Not that the comparison actually bothers Dobson, who is the product of a Scottish-Irish-Dutch mom and a Jamaican father.

"I really don't mind. I mean it doesn't bug me, because it's very natural to be compared. I mean apples and oranges get compared because they're both juicy. It's okay to be compared. It's nothing to be upset about."

In fact, it turns out the two young Ontario pop stars -- Lavigne hails from Napanee -- are friendly after having met for the first time at the Radio Music Awards in Las Vegas.

"Avril actually called me a couple of days ago," Dobson says. "I haven't gotten back to her yet 'cause I've been so busy. But she's cool. We've hung out a couple of times."

Larry LeBlanc, Canadian bureau chief of Billboard magazine whose son, Robin, was in musical theatre with Dobson at Wexford Collegiate, agrees that Dobson is the new Canadian artist du jour.

And while he understands the Avril comparison, he thinks Dobson is appealing to a more limited demographic.

"I don't think she'll be the next Avril," he says. "Avril was a pure pop child, the type of artist that a lot of teenagers immediately could identify with. They couldn't be Britney Spears, the girl at the prom, but they could be Avril. All kinds of small and large towns have girls exactly like Avril.

"Fefe -- no. She's got an urban image, but if you listen to her music, it isn't urban. It's harder to identify with her.

"And to be honest with you, this is an interesting album but I don't think it's the album. I'm struck more by her talent than I was by the record."

Craig Halket, MuchMusic's senior music programmer, says her non-traditional image is what has set her apart from the pack.

"It's not typical, and I think that's good," he says. "And I think that's why we get excited. Here's a Canadian of African origin doing angry rock music. It's fun and it's exciting when there's something a little different.

"You look at Fefe, she's got a genuine edge, sort of like when Alanis re-launched her career, what was a genuine angst, it doesn't seem put on," continues Halket.

"It seems like she's singing about things she means. So I think there was a buzz that happened there, and we got on board."

Dobson did manage to snag that coveted Timberlake opening spot.

Just five years ago, Dobson had a major crush on the pop performer, whose NSYNC posters she used to have on her bedroom wall.

"Oh, yeah, I've loved Justin since I was 13 but it's definitely controlled now," says Dobson. "I'm becoming an adult."

The first time Dobson had to perform with him she managed to keep it together.

"I was a little nervous, but I was more excited. I was just really excited to meet him and get on the stage, but it all went over well."

In addition to the high-profile gig with Timberlake, Dobson was scheduled to appear on Jay Leno last night followed by daytime appearances on Ellen today and Sharon Osbourne next Tuesday.

"Everything that's happening in my life is just really exciting," says Dobson. "I try not to let it be intimidating 'cause then I won't really enjoy it. I just make sure I get my sleep and I work out and I'm good."

Her latest single, Everything, is the first track from The Perfect Score, the teen-friendly film about a group of students who steal an SAT test. It opens in theatres tomorrow. One of the movie's stars, Erika Christensen (Traffic, Swimfan), even co-stars in Dobson's video for the song. "It's really great," says Dobson. "It's awesome to be a part of that. It's really, really good for me."

MuchMusic's Halket says the Everything video -- her third in Canada -- is "The Big One" this week at MuchMusic, meaning it will get shown at least 30 times a week. (Heavy rotation is usually 20 times a week.)

"We just really feel it," he says. "Certainly, it's nice to see when a Canadian artist can hook up with a major motion picture too. It's very exciting."

For her part, Dobson will attend the L.A. premiere of The Perfect Score and isn't shy about admitting she has acting aspirations.

She's already slated to appear on an upcoming episode of NBC's American Dreams as Tina Turner, singing River Deep, Mountain High. "I definitely want to act. I definitely want to do some stuff like that. I mean music's my No. 1 priority right now. But I would love to do a film, kind of like Natural Born Killers. I love Oliver Stone, I also just love Juliette Lewis. She really inspired me."

Next? More touring in the U.S. and eventually Canada. "My dream show? I would love to play, like, when I get the status, SkyDome," says Dobson.

She certainly was always vocal about her ambitions growing up in Scarborough.

"And people would always be like, 'We know Fefe! We've heard it a million times.' And I would be like, 'Yep, well it's true and it's going to happen very soon.' I would just be so confident about it because I was just really passionate about music."

"Hopefully they're proud," adds Dobson of her hometown.

Dobson, who has sounded remarkably calm about the buzz surrounding her, does admit it's been a whirlwind.

"It's pretty insane," she says. "I do have to admit, it's pretty nuts. But it's like everything I've ever wanted. Nuts is okay when it comes down to a dream come true."

After an early rough start with the now defunct Zomba Records Canada -- who signed Dobson to a development deal at age 15 -- she later signed to Chris Smith Management, the same company that discovered Nelly Furtado.

Smith eventually arranged a showcase performance for Universal Music Canada and Island-Def Jam, who signed her immediately.

"I think, right now, she's very much needed within our business," says LeBlanc. "This is youth personified, and that's what I like about it. And this is going to bring kids back into the record store. Or downloading in front of their computers. It generates interest and excitement. I think there's a lot more to her that we're going to see. Give this girl, two, three years, she's going to be incredible."

Dobson says she was musically inspired by Michael Jackson, Silverchair's Daniel Johns, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, John Lennon and David Bowie.

She was introduced to the older artists by her Toronto album producer Jay Levine, a former member of Prozzak and The Philosopher Kings.

"He really opened my mind up, since I was like 16, to like all different types and sorts of music," says Dobson. "I think I've even gone past him now. I mention artists, and he's, like, 'What the hell?'

"Jay and I just hit it off," she continues. "Like, after 10 minutes knowing each other, we wrote a song. I just knew it was special."


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