“I think you go right here,” says Victoria Justice, guiding a reporter toward her house in the Encino Hills, overlooking the mountains and just down the street from Martin Lawrence's pad.
At home, Justice's 16-year-old sister, Madison, wearing a mud mask, lounges poolside, while her mother — a chatterbox Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent — talks about the special family dinners they prepare every Friday: beans, rice and chicken. Justice's family uprooted itself from Florida for her career when she was 11, and the singer-actress repaid the favor last year by purchasing this 5,000-square-foot home, which they chose, Justice says, “kind of on the spur of the moment.”
The haste is understandable, considering that the 20-year-old Justice worked every day but six in 2012. The star of the inexplicably canceled hit Nickelodeon television show Victorious is a certified millionaire, not to mention a film actress, a singer in possession of a Columbia Records deal and an emerging pinup who has been in Maxim. In her spare time she makes AT&T ads urging teens not to text while driving. Easy for her to say: She's been too busy to get her driver's license.
Justice is perhaps the biggest young star you've never heard of, possessing nearly perfect bone structure and an effortless, camera-ready charisma. Preteens have taken notice, even if adults haven't: She's graced countless magazine covers, and her social media followers exceed 10 million. (Her fan pages are read by hundreds of thousands.)
But Justice is a different type of young celeb, too shy even to reveal if she has a boyfriend, and definitely not into wild partying. “I don't think you have to get drunk to have a good time,” she says earlier in the afternoon over lunch at her favorite Sherman Oaks sushi spot, Nomura. Dressed in a Hall & Oates long-sleeved T, she apologizes to the waitress by name after accidentally knocking over her ginger tea.
Other than occasional bouts of clumsiness, the closest thing to controversy in Justice's life has been the cancellation last fall of Victorious — a comedic vehicle in which she played an aspiring singer, and which in three seasons became one of Nickelodeon's marquee shows. She says she was never given a good reason why it got the ax, and the cable network's PR wouldn't give the Weekly one, either.
If Justice is bitter, she doesn't show it, waxing enthusiastic about her forthcoming pop album: “I want it to be [catchy] enough to be on the radio but also with a lot of soul.”
Much the way Miley Cyrus became a pop star after playing one on TV, Victorious helped launch Justice's music career; her first headlining tour kicks off at the Gibson Amphitheater in June.
Her ascent began at age 8 with an Ovaltine commercial; four years later she was cast by Nickelodeon playmaker Dan Schneider for a supporting role in Zooey 101, starring Jamie Lynn Spears. Schneider later built Victorious around Justice, which she filmed on the network's Hollywood lot while attending Cleveland High School in Reseda. Her worldwide fan base swelled, and today she's like a Latina Taylor Swift, perhaps, but without the celebrity-boyfriend baggage. (Contrary to tabloid reports, she is not dating a Jonas brother.)
Asked to explain her ability to win the hearts of young girls, and some older boys, she demurs. “I'm not religious, but I feel really blessed,” she says.
A better explanation might be that she's glamorous enough for Hollywood but modest enough to cohabit with her parents.