Online Exclusive: Mandy Moore Grows Up

The former pop-tart is taking control on her fifth studio album

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"Considering the crappy music that I've made in the past, I'm really proud of this record," says Mandy Moore of Wild Hope, her tentatively titled fifth studio album due out in the spring. "I think that's the first time I've been able to completely say that about my music." Moore, 22, admits that with her past records, all she did was show up. "Everything was already determined for me. The music was already finished, all I needed to do was come in and sing the songs," she says. This time around, the seasoned pop-star/actress is taking control of her music. She even switched labels twice to see her goals realized -- after fulfilling her contract at Epic, she signed with Sire/Warner Brothers, but eventually left them for EMI because they did not share her vision. "I think [Warner Bros.] wanted something a little more mainstream," says Moore, who recorded the album at Allaire Studios in upstate New York. "They really didn't understand the direction I wanted to go in."

That direction is more mature, less bubblegum-pop Moore. Produced by John Alagia (John Mayer, Dave Matthews Band), Moore co-wrote every song on the album and handpicked collaborators including indie-folk duo the Weepies. The result is a more organic, folk-feeling album. While the record still has pop elements, Moore is convinced that people will be pleasantly surprised. "I think people are expecting the kind of pop that's out there today, whether it's Ashlee Simpson, Avril Lavigne or Kelly Clarkson -- and it's not," she says. But she isn't afraid to alienate some of her "Candy"-loving fans. "I listened to a lot of Patty Griffin and Wilco and Joni Mitchell for this album. I think it appeals to an older audience."

Moore began writing Wild Hope two years ago, forcing herself to dig deep and let her guard down. "It's kind of been a full circle as to what's been going on in my life: relationships and ups-and-downs and figuring out who I am," she says. "I'm trying to decipher how to navigate around being vulnerable and putting yourself out there. I'm completely baring it all and it's difficult, but you just have to make no apologies." Among the more therapeutic songs are "All Good Things," which will most likely be the album's single, and "Extraordinary," which she was inspired to write while alone on a trip to Japan. "It's about finding that moment in your life when you go, 'It's OK, I'm going to step up to the plate because I'm pretty great.' "