By Serena Kappes
Updated March 02, 2005 06:00 AM

Age: 23
Hometown: Waldorf, Md.
Current gig: Playing an aspiring singer in Be Cool (the sequel to 1995’s Get Shorty)

Being cast in the all-star Be Cool was a coup for Christina Milian, but the biggest perk for the singer-actress was costarring with John Travolta, who plays gangster-turned- Hollywood-producer Chili Palmer to her wannabe pop star Linda Moon. “He’s adorable. I have a crush on him from Grease,” she admits. “It’s actually really embarrassing.”

Yet Milian had no trouble keeping up with a cast that includes Uma Thurman, OutKast’s Andre 3000, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer and The Rock. Though she was the youngest member of the ensemble, Milian isn’t new to the big screen: Besides Be Cool and the comedy Man of the House, she starred in last year’s Torque and 2003’s Love Don’t Cost a Thing. To boot, Milian released her sophomore album, It’s About Time, this past summer and her sexy hit song “Dip It Low” was recently nominated for a Grammy.

“Sometimes you’re working so much, you don’t realize that, okay, a couple of years ago I was just watching P. Diddy videos and now, here I am, ‘Oh, hey, Puffy, how ya doing?’ I pinch myself every day,” she told L.A.’s Daily News. Be Cool allowed her to showcase both her talents: Along with starring in the movie, Milian has two songs on the soundtrack (including “Ain’t No Reason,” which was cowritten by Alicia Keys and Rich Harrison). She’s also already at work on a third album.

Life wasn’t always so sweet for Milian. At 13, after her parents’ divorce, she moved with her mother, Carmen (who’s her stylist and manager), and younger sisters Tal and Lizzie from their native Maryland to Los Angeles, where they struggled to make ends meet. The family once accepted food from a local church to stay afloat. “The bread was crawling with ants,” says Milian. “I told my mom, ‘We’re not moving into a homeless shelter. We’re gonna make it happen here. I promise.’ ”

Milian was determined to find success as a singer and actress. At 3, she was “very active, very hyper, very creative,” says Milian’s mom. “I told my husband, ‘We either have to get her a psychiatrist or a manager.'” They opted for the latter: At 10 Milian got her start as an actress doing bit parts on TV shows and starring in a Honeycomb cereal commercial. She even had a stint as a kid reporter for the Disney Channel, which lasted until she was 18.

As for music, it’s in Milian’s blood: One of her great-grandfathers was an orchestra conductor in her native Cuba and her grandmother was a dancer at Havana’s Tropicana. In 2000, Milian scored a record deal with Def Jam Records and released her self-titled debut album the following year. Her album took her on the road as the opening act for ‘N Sync. “She was like the cute, spunky kid sister,” says the group’s JC Chasez. “Not everyone could take Justin’s practical jokes or my teasing.”

Of all of her achievements, Milian – who dates actor Nick Cannon, her costar in Love Don’t Cost a Thing – considers buying the Woodland Hills, Calif., home she shares with her mom, sisters and dogs Chihuahua Baby and Yorkshire terrier Missy “my greatest success,” she recently told InStyle. “When we look at this house, we can’t believe that we live in it!”