Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez, the Billboard Cover Story

\'\'It\'s a transitional stage," Selena Gomez says. "I\'m figuring out what I have to do."

 Gomez has been thrown a curveball. During the first week of June, there was a significant shake-up within the Disney Music Group. Two of the executives who helmed her musical career will be stepping away from her professional life in the months following the release of the most important album of her young career.

Disney Music Group chairman Bob Cavallo will retire on Jan. 31. Hollywood Records GM Abbey Konowitch will be leaving his post at the end of September. Cavallo pulled all of Disney\'s music properties under a single umbrella and spent 13 years there following a career in artist management (Green Day, Alanis Morissette, Prince) and film production. Konowitch had been with Hollywood Records for 10 years as GM and is credited with ushering Gomez\'s success.

The piece of the Disney empire they oversaw is filled with brand names well-known in households with kids -- Miley Cyrus, Ally & AJ, Jesse McCartney, "High School Musical" -- as well as a few acts (Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Plain White T\'s) less reliant on the Disney TV\'n\'tunes synergy. Ken Bunt will take over management of Disney Music Group. Hired in 1998 to help lead the company\'s digital media strategy, he was named executive VP on June 1. It\'s too early to say what\'ll happen with the young acts deemed a priority under Konowitch\'s watch -- alternative rock band Redlight Kings, Disney-groomed rock act Allstar Weekend and all-female punk-pop group Cherry Bomb -- but one thing does appear to be certain: Gomez\'s third album, "When the Sun Goes Down," has all hands on deck.

"Selena is one of our top priorities," Cavallo wrote in an email. "She made a fantastic album, with great depth and several hit singles. Everything is moving ahead as planned." Those plans include the release of the album, which features such songwriters as Toby Gad, Katy Perry and Antonina Armato, as well as a 29-city North American tour booked by Creative Artists Agency. There\'s also the promotional run-up for the film "Monte Carlo" with Fox 2000.

One of the last major rollouts for Konowitch, whose office decorations reflect his love of music -- primarily the Beatles -- rather than any of the success he\'s had at Hollywood Records, MTV or Maverick Records (where he developed Morissette), was to guide Gomez to and through a new stage of her career. She\'s the latest Disney Channel star attempting to step away from a TV character -- she starred on Emmy Award winner "Wizards of Waverly Place" for four seasons.

"She sees the world as her audience, an audience that goes 12 to 35 or 45," Konowitch said in a May interview, two weeks before he announced he\'d be leaving the company. "But she\'s conscious of where she came from, and of not wanting to abandon them."

In the decade-plus since Disney began aggressively connecting music and TV, its stars from cable and film have stumbled in the transition to stand-alone actor/pop star. Hilary Duff has struggled with Disney\'s velvet ropes. Cyrus has shed the "Hannah Montana" character but continues to get flack for the public steps she takes toward adulthood. Most recently, she made news ripples about plans to record a song with her brother, Trace. The Jonas Brothers have splintered. The stars of "High School Musical" have yet to find their place as individual artists.

"There have been other times when it was more difficult to use both audiences on top of each other," Konowitch says. "The fortunate thing with Selena is she\'s 18. She\'s winding down her Disney Channel show and she has movies in the marketplace. We can\'t just market to the young audience. It\'s not fair to her, not fair to her career, not fair to the fans. The opportunities are there. A lot has to do with how our business has matured -- we have to manage both audiences."

This summer, Gomez is attempting a new path for Disney Channel stars: severing her connections with a hit show, making a film for a rival studio and releasing her third album without the benefit of the Disney TV empire to promote it in conjunction with a series or special. Once the fourth and final season of "Waverly Place" wrapped in May, Gomez was promoting her new album, which Disney-owned Hollywood Records will release June 28, and the film "Monte Carlo," which also stars Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy, that opens July 1.

"Monte Carlo," shot in Monaco, Paris and Budapest, Hungary, is a mistaken-identity comedy in which Gomez\'s character, on vacation with two friends, is believed to be an heiress. It\'s Fox\'s only July release, following Jim Carrey\'s "Mr. Popper\'s Penguins" (June 17). Varese Sarabande Records will release Michael Giacchino\'s score for "Monte Carlo" the same day that Gomez\'s album drops.

"It\'s obviously an important phase in my career, and personally," Gomez says. "The good news is I have been juggling acting and singing for two-and-a-half to three years. But I have to start over in some areas. It\'s interesting to start taking risks, to grow up through my music."

To bring music from Gomez\'s third album to fans of her TV series and a broader audience, the key, Konowitch says, has been the employment of multiple platforms. The video for the first single, "Who Says," which plays during the film\'s closing credits, received a 30-second sneak peek on E! before the full version aired on Disney Channel. Ryan Seacrest, rather than Radio Disney, played the song first on his syndicated radio show before it went to other stations -- an attempt to avoid getting a "kiddie music" label stuck to her new songs.

Her promotional activities since the single\'s release have all been directed at an audience that most likely has never seen an episode of "Wizards of Waverly Place." She has already appeared on "Dancing With the Stars" and "Late Show With David Letterman." Upcoming stops include "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," "Good Morning America" and "Today."

"In the last two years she\'s gone from a novice to someone who stands for something -- with a real audience," Konowitch says. "Her song selection is about messages. What\'s important is that people have learned to respect Selena as the artist we think she is. Not just the consumers, but the industry and the gatekeepers . . . People want to work with her. People believe she can be big. But the stars have to align. Those stars have not aligned for others."

"When the Sun Goes Down" is Gomez\'s third album in 21 months. Her first, "Kiss and Tell," outsold the second, "Year Without Rain" -- 778,000 vs. 609,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- but the second disc achieved a higher position on the Billboard 200, No. 4 vs. No. 9. Her total track sales hit 7 million in early June.

"Who Says," which has sold 844,000 copies and peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100, is being used in U.S. trailers for "Monte Carlo" and will be used in European trailers as well. "Love You Like a Love Song," the second single, will be released on iTunes a week before the album and is already in trailers in Europe. Kmart, which carries Gomez\'s "eco-friendly" Dream Out Loud clothing line, will use both singles in promotional campaigns this summer.

"She\'s become a style icon with the tweens and teens," Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler says. "Classy but sassy." One other song, "Bang Bang Bang," was released as part of iTunes\' Countdown promotion, but isn\'t an official single.

Hollywood Records started setting up the album six months ago, presenting the music in Europe to the label\'s international team and then to Fox for it to be considered for the film. "Selena is benefiting from longer setup time than most of our artists allow us," Konowitch says. "More time was spent in the recording process [because] she has a keen sense of where she was going versus where she had to go. She wasn\'t living within any kind of restriction or a creative box -- and many times [young pop] artists feel they are."

Hollywood, Fox 2000 and the concert promoters involved with her 29 shows have the benefit of a summertime launch. Gomez, who finished her high school studies a year ago, has had limited availability to tour or promote previous releases due to commitments to films and TV. It helps, too, that Gomez specializes in dance pop.

"It\'s techno dance," Gomez says. "Pop is something I\'m most comfortable with and these are producers who know me and know the direction we want to go in. The songs are tailored to me and my style. I\'m very lucky."

Named for slain Mexican singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez, Texas native Gomez showed an interest in acting as a child. Her mother, Mandy Teefey, took her to TV auditions well before Gomez ventured into singing. Little Selena, who spent her ninth birthday auditioning for "Barney," performed for two seasons with the purple dinosaur before taking on a series of smaller roles, one of which was as a guest on "Hannah Montana." Gomez was cast as Alex Russo in "Wizards of Waverly Place" in 2007, which led to her first starring role in a feature, the straight-to-video "Another Cinderella Story" from Warner. A co-starring role followed in Fox 2000/Walden Media\'s "Ramona and Beezus."

"My mom has been my manager since day one," Gomez says, a hint of family pride swelling in her voice. "She helps me make choices correctly. She protects me." She singles out the career of Shia LaBeouf as one she would want to emulate. Like Gomez, LaBeouf\'s career kicked into high gear when he was cast in a Disney Channel series, "Even Stevens," while still in junior high school. He made the transition to adult actor in the "Transformers" films, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." LaBoeuf, of course, doesn\'t have a concurrent music career.

"He did it really well," says Gomez, her compact sentences a reflection of training as both an actress and as a key piece in the Disney machine. "He\'s talented and doing wonderful things. Everybody has their own vision of how they want things to play out . . . Eventually I hope to make a record in Spanish. I don\'t do anything that\'s not organic. I don\'t like putting my name on anything I don\'t approve."

Fox 2000\'s Gabler is a firm believer in Gomez\'s talent, noting that she carries herself in a manner of "actresses who have built careers in feature films, like Dakota Fanning."

"Among young actresses in movies that have a pop presence she stands out," Gabler says. "She has a special quality in that she just doesn\'t -- and this is no disrespect to anyone else -- work out of just a sitcom style of comedy. There\'s a bit of self-deprecation, and she shows vulnerability. She\'s also able to do serious themes."

In the social media universe, Gomez is already a superstar. She has nearly 6 million Twitter followers and 20.5 million "likes" on Facebook. While those numbers are below those of her boyfriend Justin Bieber -- 10 million and 28.6 million, respectively -- she is the Internet queen of Disney. On Twitter, Demi Lovato is followed by 3.3 million and Joe Jonas by 2 million. On Facebook Cyrus counts 13.9 million likes; the Jonas Brothers, 8.7 million.

  "The key to Facebook is \'like\' and Selena has the highest likability of any artist we have ever worked with. It crosses over into all of her business," Konowitch says. "It\'s a gift. And she has it at a level that is remarkable." On Vevo, her video for "Who Says," posted in March, has been watched more than 37 million times. The clip for "Naturally," the first single of her career, has been viewed 104 million times and "A Year Without Rain" has been clicked on nearly 68 million times.

Gomez also recently lit up the Internet when photos from her vacation with Bieber were posted just days after the couple shared their first public kiss at the May 24 Billboard Music Awards. Compared with the nude shots of "High School Musical" star Vanessa Hudgens and Cyrus\' bong photos, the Gomez-Bieber pictures were child\'s play. Gomez takes it in stride.

"I have a love-hate relationship with the Internet," Gomez says, noting she does all of her own tweets. "I don\'t like it in general -- it\'s vicious. But it\'s also incredible that I can connect with fans, because I love to hear their feedback and let them know about my life."

The challenge now for Fox 2000 and Hollywood Records is to convert those online fans into actual consumers. They\'re starting by putting Gomez in front of her fans by filling her June calendar with events that combine music and film. The Fox 2000 marketing team has her cutting across the country to visit upscale shopping centers to promote the film, and in many of those cities, she\'ll promote her album on radio and TV. In some cases, Gomez will perform with acoustic guitar on the radio. "I love stripping the music down to bass and guitar," she says. "[It] gives the songs a whole new meaning."

That effort -- piling radio and TV atop the mall visits -- is another quality that singles out Gomez, Gabler says."She\'s a hardworking girl -- very few work as hard as she does -- and she loves it," Gabler says. "She\'s going around the country, going out to see the audiences. You can\'t get more connected than that."