WHIZ KID

Billy Gilman Gets a Taste Of Life in the Fast Lane

Story by Bob Paxman

Billy Gilman is spending a rare, quiet afternoon at his home in Hope Valley, R.I., taking a break from his summer whirlwind. He flops into a chair, switches on the television and starts to make plans with his buddies for the evening. It has already been a full day with family and friends, but like most 13-year-olds, Billy wants to squeeze in every possible activity.

Not that his life isn't hectic enough already! Billy has spent most of the summer touring with fellow teen star Jessica Andrews. He's performed at the World Trade Center in New York, hosted an online chat with www.seventeen.com (which drew an astounding 10,000 visitors) and released his third hit album, Dare To Dream.

But even away from the bright lights, Billy still operates at breakneck speed.

"I got used to being on the go nonstop ever since the tour with Jessica started in June," says Billy, talking as fast as a county fair auctioneer. "When I go home and try to relax, I can't. It makes me go crazy."

This day, however, has been somewhat serene. "I went swimming in the morning, and in the afternoon, I saw the movie Cats & Dogs with Mom and some friends. It was nice to just kind of hang out and do what I wanted."

Now that he's 13, Billy is allowed to do more of what he wants. "I get to watch more PG-13 movies," he notes. "But I still have a curfew, though that's been moved up to 11."

On the road, it's a different story. By the time Billy finishes a show and greets fans, it's well past 11 when he's leaving the concert hall. Bedtime doesn't roll around until a couple of hours later.

"But I sleep until, like, noon, if I can," says Billy, with a mix of giddiness and guilt. "I'm definitely not a morning person - I'm more of a night owl."

And one who's getting wise to the ways of the road. Billy's learning that touring isn't all fun and games.

"You don't always have time to visit the city you're playing in," he explains. "You're just in and out in a hurry! We were doing a show in Hershey, Pa., and I wanted to visit the Hershey candy factory. But," he adds with disappointment, "we didn't get to."

On the other hand, a concert stop in Virginia led to a big-time thrill: a personal tour of the White House. "And I got to meet President Bush!" he exclaims.

But even the White House can't take the place of home. With a trace of wistfulness in his voice, Billy admits that leaving family and friends for long periods has proven tougher than he might have imagined.

"I had never really been away from home," he says, "except when I went to camp one year. That was only for two or three days - and now I'm gone two whole weeks at a time. I did start to get homesick and miss my friends. I even missed my little brother Colin," adds Billy with a laugh.

Ever the dutiful son, Billy calls his parents every day and travels with a laptop computer to send e-mails. The laptop will be a constant companion come September, when double duty calls. The eighth-grader will resume his home schooling while still in the midst of the tour with Jessica, which runs through October.

The intense schedule suits Billy just fine. "I like it when things go fast," he says.

They may be getting faster. A solo tour during the Christmas holidays is a possibility. Movie stardom could also loom right around the corner - films have been discussed, though no firm offers are on the table.

Surprisingly, Billy's ideal movie role would be a non-singing one. "I'd like to do a comedy, because that's the kind of movie I like best," he says. "My favorite actors are all comics, like Jack Lemmon, and Lisa Kudrow from Friends. My all-time favorite is Walter Matthau - he still cracks me up.

"I have had to do sad roles for my videos like 'One Voice' and 'Oklahoma.' But I wouldn't like to do a whole movie that was serious, or have a role that would force me to cry at the end. I couldn't do it!" he adds.

"People might say that things are happening too fast for someone my age," Billy concedes. "But I know I can handle it. Right now, I'm just too excited to slow down!"

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