April 07, 2007 08:00 AM

Hayden Panettiere rocketed to fame as the self-healing cheerleader Claire Bennet on Heroes – but the 17-year-old is just getting started.

Since becoming the focal point of the show’s “save the cheerleader, save the world” plot line, Panettiere has also started filming the drama Fireflies in the Garden with Julia Roberts and is gearing up to promote her debut pop album this fall.

“With singing I get to be myself,” she tells PEOPLE in its new issue.

Later this spring, Panettiere will celebrate another milestone – high school graduation. “Thank God!” says the Nyack, N.Y., native. “School was difficult; when you come and go, you miss out on a lot. Cliques are formed and you’re just lingering.”

In L.A. Panettiere has found a BFF in Bruce Willis and Demi Moore’s daughter Rumer, 18 (“I stole my pink belly-button ring from Rumer,” she admits), and a boyfriend in Laguna Beach‘s Stephen Colletti, 21, whom she’s been dating for more than a year.

But Panettiere and Colletti are so low-key (their nights out usually consist of dinner and a movie) that the actress feels guilty about not giving gossipmongers more to work with.

“I had paparazzi on my street for a while,” she says. “I think I bored them to tears. I’m no fun to watch.”

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