LOS ANGELES – She's been surrounded by celebrity just about all of her life, but Jamie Lynn Spears (search) would have you believe she's just another Louisiana teenager blown away by the fact she gets to travel to Los Angeles from time to time to make TV shows, where they sometimes let her keep the clothes she wears on set.
But then Britney Spears' (search) kid sister, still disarmingly polite and kid-like at 13, makes a pretty good case for her innocence when she recounts her reaction to learning she would be starring in her own TV show this year.
"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, that would be so cool!'" she recalls thinking when veteran TV producer Dan Schneider told her one day over lunch that he wanted to take her out of the ensemble cast of the children's variety show "All That" and put her in the spotlight.
"So we started talking about stuff and we came up with all of these — all of these ideas — and he wrote something," says Spears, still sounding fascinated by the process.
The result, "Zoey 101" (search), debuts Sunday at 8 p.m. on the Nickelodeon children's network. The sitcom stars Spears as Zoey Brooks, a student at Pacific Coast Academy, a campus that until her arrival and that of a handful of other girls had been an exclusive all-boys boarding school.
Zoey, not to be intimidated by her swaggering, macho 13-year-old male counterparts, quickly begins to take charge, something Spears herself doubts she would be as eager to do in real life.
"Zoey's kind of like a leader," she reflects. "I guess I could say I lead in some ways, but Zoey is so good at that. I'm a little more shy than Zoey, I'd say."
The two are alike in some ways, adds Spears, whose Southern accent is far more noticeable in conversation than Zoey's is in front of the camera. Like Zoey, pink is her favorite color, and she loves wearing the same clothes as her character.
"All her clothes, I'm like, 'Can I have 'em?" she says, laughing.
The youngest Spears has never been far from show business. By the time she was walking, Britney Spears had made her debut on TV's "The New Mickey Mouse Club." She was just 8 when Britney's first album came out in 1999.
As for her shyness, if it's born out of being the youngest of three children, Spears insists she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I was always mom and daddy's little baby," she giggles. "I was spoiled the most."
After going through what she calls her "tomboy stage," she became interested in acting and began appearing in local plays. Her mother, seeing the interest, helped her land a commercial and a small role in her sister's film "Crossroads."
Then Nickelodeon came calling, asking her to audition for "All That," the long-running variety show that, like "Saturday Night Live," changes ensemble casts every few years. Its alumni include Amanda Bynes and Nick Cannon, who went on to star in films and their own TV shows, as well as "Fat Albert" star Kenan Thompson, who is also in the current cast of NBC's "Saturday Night Live."
Schneider, the executive producer of "All That," says it took only two seasons for Spears to become the show's breakout star.
She had won her spot in the cast when, as a gangly 11-year-old, she did an over-the-top impression of an 84-year-old bodyguard who pitches people out of windows and attacks them with leaf blowers. She had based the character on her great-grandmother.
"Based on her audition, I would have added her to the cast of 'All That' even if she had not been a Spears," says Schneider, adding the secret to her success both as an actress and a person seems to rest in the fact she doesn't realize she's beautiful, famous and talented.
"The net result is you have this real girl talking to you, sort of like the girl next door," he says.
"Zoey 101," meanwhile, marks the first time Schneider has gone on location to film a TV show. It takes place at Pepperdine University, and the Malibu campus, with its palm trees and stunning hilltop views of the sun-dappled Pacific Ocean, dominates the show almost as much Spears' Zoey does.
The Kentwood, La., teenager has taken advantage of that, ferrying some of her school chums to California to visit the set.
"They just love the show," she says. "They pick on me, of course. They say (in a teasing voice), "Ah ha, ha, you're so funny,' and like that, because that's what friends do. But they love whenever I go to L.A. to do the show because they get to come up and visit and they get to be extras in the background."
Her sister also got involved in putting the show together, writing its theme song, "Follow Me," which the younger Spears sings.
"Yes sir, she wrote it and I changed a few little words here and there. But she helped me a lot," says Spears, who bears a striking resemblance to her 23-year-old sister. She doesn't know yet if Britney will make a guest appearance on the show, but adds it would be "really cool" if she did.
As for her own future, the youngest Spears (she also has an older brother) is hoping "Zoey" does well enough to stay on the air for a few seasons. After that she'd like to look into making movies and attending college.
"I want to go to Louisiana State University. If I can," she says shyly.
What she'll study is still up in the air.
"Oh, goodness, I don't know," she says, momentarily flustered. "I just want to go to college. When I get older, I'll start thinking what I want to do."