"I'm JoJo. Nice to meet you."
Pop music's latest and littlest new star strides into her record label's midtown office and extends a preternaturally assertive handshake. She sends a lackey to fetch lunch, which should include "low-fat potato chips." Posing for a photographer, she pouts prettily.
Her sky-blue Dolce & Gabbana pants are paired with a hot-pink Gap tank top that matches her hot-pink high-heeled sandals. "I always wear color," JoJo says. "I like to look juicy."
She is 13.
Her debut album, "JoJo," was released last week. The first single, an I'm-dumping-you teen anthem titled "Leave (Get Out)," is working its way up the Billboard charts. The song's video clip is getting heavy rotation on MTV, and JoJo guested on the music channel's "TRL" request show to help launch the album. She's in the middle of a national tour, serving as an opening act for red-hot R&B star Usher.
"Having a great debut like this is a great feeling," she says. "It's incredibly exciting."
Her full name is Joanna Levesque, and she grew up in suburbs in Vermont, California and Massachusetts. Her parents divorced when she was 4, and in the years that followed she and her mother moved often. Back then, Diana Levesque cleaned houses for a living. Now she is her daughter's manager.
According to her record company bio, as a toddler JoJo was already scatting nursery rhymes. "I listened to George Benson a lot and Ella Fitzgerald," she says.
But by the time she was 3, JoJo quickly moved on to more enterprising performances. She'd go to a hair-and-nail salon frequented by her aunt and belt out hits by Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. "I'd be singing for the ladies, and they would give me, like, a dollar," she says. "You know that was cool because I could go get candy at the emporium and stuff."
Soon JoJo was seeking a larger audience. By 6, she was performing on television, including appearances on "Kids Say the Darndest Things" and various daytime talk shows.
At 8, she wangled her way backstage at a Britney Spears concert outside Boston. "I got to meet her, and she was very nice," says JoJo. "She spent a lot of time with me."
The pint-size JoJo sang Spears's hit ". . . Baby, One More Time" for the teen-pop princess, surely a thrilling moment. "I honestly don't remember it," JoJo insists now, trying to distance herself either from the 8-year-old JoJo or from the somewhat fading Spears.
But JoJo does recall that she wasn't nervous at all. "I was so fearless. I was like, okay, this is just some girl."
Last year, JoJo performed on TV's "America's Most Talented Kid" competition and lost. "It was the most terrible experience," she says. "I didn't know how to take it. It was me up against a tap dancer and a guitar player, so . . . I just had a good cry over it."
But that disappointment yielded JoJo's big break. Someone in the audience was impressed enough with her performance to introduce her to producer Vincent Herbert, who got her signed to Blackground Records, a subsidiary of the Universal Music Group.
"JoJo" (the album) was recorded over four months last summer in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. Then 12, JoJo wrote three of the album's 14 songs and learned a lot about the difference between singing live and in the studio. "I'd be doing crazy runs and they'd be like, 'You need to calm down a little bit,' " she says. "I'm really excited to go back and record a second one now that I know these new things."
Until six months ago, JoJo attended eighth grade at a public middle school in Edgewater, a nondescript New Jersey town just across the Hudson River from the Manhattan skyline. Now she has a private tutor. And although she often sounds like a daffy teenager, when she talks about production deals, "bringing things to the table" and her record labels, she sounds grown up indeed.
JoJo has signed a multi-album deal with Blackground Records. "They're behind me completely. They're in this for the long run. We've had many conversations about that," she says. "And they do care about my input, because for this album I was absolutely in the loop and had a lot of creative control."
That control includes shaping her pop-star image. The "Leave (Get Out)" video is one of the more chaste clips MTV airs of young female stars. And for the time being, that's exactly how JoJo wants to present herself. "I hope that people can look to me as a positive role model," she says. "I'm not trying to be like the cleanest person who's, like, never gonna show her stomach or anything, but I think I'm real for real girls."
"I hope that people can look to me as a positive role model," says 13-year-old singer JoJo, whose debut album, "JoJo," was released last week.