May 24, 2004 12:00 PM

Some multimillionaire teen stars (a.k.a. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) play up their we’re-just-normal-girls frugality. Others (a.k.a. Hilary Duff) maintain a mom-pleasing likability on-and offscreen. Then there’s Lindsay Lohan. Outspoken and confident, the 17-year-old Mean Girls star poked fun at her longstanding feud with Duff during her May 1 hosting gig on Saturday Night Live and dishes gleefully about her recent splurge: an $80,000 Chopard watch. “It’s covered in diamonds,” she says. “I was like, ‘I think I deserve this watch.'”

Spoken like a true teen queen. Thanks to the critical and financial success of Mean Girls—the smart high school comedy opened at No. 1 and has earned an impressive $42 million so far, badly bullying the Olsens’ new flick at the box office—Lohan has zipped straight to the head of the class. “This really puts her on the map as far as being a box office draw,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of the industry group Exhibitor Relations. No longer the freckle-faced little girl from the 1998 remake of Disney’s The Parent Trap—though she still has the freckles—Lohan also has drawn notice for her sexy new look. (Another SNL skit made light of her suddenly curvy figure.) With so much buzz, “this just really affirms completely that she is a movie star,” says Paramount exec Rob Friedman. “She’s very, very savvy about what she’s doing.”

But Lohan’s ascension hasn’t come without controversy. Her public squabble with Duff—dissected like Bush-Kerry potshots by the teen press ever since both girls dated pop star Aaron Carter, 16, in 2002—established Lohan’s reputation for making waves. (Said a hurt Duff about the recent SNL skit: “I just think it’s really mean when they make fun of people.”)

And then there’s Lohan’s rep as a party girl. At a private May 8 bash in L.A., Lohan was spotted smoking and partying alongside pal Nicky Hilton and fellow revelers Tara Reid and Ryan Phillippe. “I’m 17,” Lohan told PEOPLE earlier this month when asked about her reputation. “I’m learning, and I’d rather make my own mistakes and learn from them than have to be sheltered my whole life.” Adds her friend Jaime Gleicher, 19, who was featured on MTV’s reality show Rich Girls: “To call her a saint wouldn’t be fair to her. She knows she’s not a saint.” And yet, says Gleicher, “she’s not as wild as people think. If there’s anything Lindsay does in excess, it’s dance. She loves to dance.”

It’s in her genes, after all. The oldest of four children born to Dina, 41, a former Rockette, and Michael, 44, an entrepreneur, Lohan grew up on Long Island. At 3, she signed on as a Ford model; by elementary school she was appearing in commercials for Gap and Jell-O. After Parent Trap made her a star at 11, she took a four-year break to attend school before returning in last year’s hit Freaky Friday. (She’s currently wrapping up her studies.) On the Mean Girls set, “I would watch Lindsay to learn what it is to be a film actor,” says costar and screenwriter Tina Fey. At the same time, Lohan “really was a teenager,” says Fey. “She’d be on her pink cell phone calling her mom or online trying to track down baby-blue Uggs.”

Next on Lohan’s to-do list: settling into a Los Angeles apartment with her new roommate, 18-year-old Disney Channel star Raven. She’s also working with American Idol judge Randy Jackson—”Yeah, dawg!” she says with a laugh—to launch a singing career, and she’s in talks to do another Disney remake, the 1982 kiddie classic Herbie the Love Bug. Just don’t look for Lohan to stop acting her age any time soon. Says the star: “You’re only 17 once.”

Michelle Tauber. Sean Daly, Brenda Duran, Amy Longsdorf, Brenda Rodriguez and Nick White in Los Angeles and KC Baker, Sharon Cotliar and Mark Dagostino in New York City

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