Laura Marano in Dubai Image Credit: Gulf News

At 19 years old, Austin & Ally’s lead actress Laura Marano is still the epitome of an American sweetheart, even as she bids farewell to the Disney role that catapulted her into young stardom.

Marano, who recently wrapped filming for the fourth and final season of the show and called it ‘bittersweet’, is up for two Teen Choice Awards later this month, surely a nice way to say goodbye.

But what’s next? No more Disney, that’s for sure. She’s focusing on her music, and somewhat surprisingly, her education. She signed a record deal with Big Machine Records in March — which is distributed by Universal Music Group and has signed country musicians such as Taylor Swift — and in three weeks, she’ll be a part-time college kid.

“My major is Politics, Philosophy and Law, but we’ll see. It’s going to be a lot of work, but you have to understand, I’ve been doing that since I’ve been five — balancing school and my career. It’s a lot of sleepless nights, but both my parents are teachers and I love learning,” she told tabloid! on Wednesday, a day ahead of her performance and meet-and-greet at Ibn Battuta Mall.

The starlet, who you might recognise from her recurring roles on Without a Trace, Dexter or The Sarah Silverman Program, was clad in a flashy leopard print blazer — think bright blues, greens, yellows and pinks — and a dangling, multi-tiered necklace. The only thing louder than her outfit was her personality — perfectly bubbly and gracious, unafraid to show her enthusiasm for little things like the view from her hotel room or the fact that she’s in the Middle East for the first time.

“I’m planning to get my degree,” she insists, decisively. “It might not be when everyone else gets their degree — I might get it when I’m like, 30 years old — but it’s definitely in my plans.”

There are a lot of things in Marano’s plans, like taking over an older audience. In November, she says hello to her 20s, and things might start to change. She opens up to tabloid! about what the future holds, and whether or not she’s ready to break free.


Q: First of all, you’re here in the Middle East for the first time. What’s your initial reaction?

A: There’s literally no place I would rather go on my first Middle East trip than Dubai. It’s insane how beautiful everything is. I’ve seen so many families here. What’s really awesome is that my parents’ anniversary was yesterday, so it’s the perfect spot to celebrate their 25th anniversary.


Q: Teen Choice Awards are coming up this month! You’ve been nominated for Choice Summer TV Star: Female and Choice TV: Chemistry, with co-star Ross Lynch. When you got that Chemistry nomination — did you guys text each other, like, ‘What’s going on?’

A: We have a group text, so it’s Raini [Rodriguez] , Ross, Calum [Worthy] and I — and also, we have one text with our dialogue coach and one with our producers — so we all were just texting. We were so excited. It’s crazy, because after I go from Dubai, I just have one week and then the Teen Choice Awards weekend. I have to pick out all my outfits. I should just go shopping here!


Q: How do you rate your chances?

A: I don’t know. I know this sounds so disgusting and cheesy, I’m sorry, but honestly, it’s literally an honour to be nominated. I wasn’t expecting it. I was so happy.


Q: Your birthday is in November – you’re turning 20. Are you going to try to break away from a young audience?

A: It’s so funny, because when you say 20, it’s a little scary. Obviously 18 is the adult, but you’re like, ‘Oh, now I’m really an adult. I’ve got to take care of business here.’ But I think I’ve been so lucky to acquire this amazing fan base through Austin & Ally, and there’s no way I would want to just say goodbye to that fan base. Even here, just meeting adorable children is one of my favourite things ever. But obviously, especially with my music, I’m going to try to broaden the age of the fan base as much as possible. It’s definitely a difficult task, but I think it’s a hundred per cent possible to keep the younger audience and still acquire an older audience, as well.


Q: And you think you’ll be able to stay true to yourself?

A: For sure, and I think that’s the number one thing when you’re deciding your ‘image’ for anything, the fact of the matter is you have to stay true to yourself. For me, staying true to yourself means keeping this younger fan base and going older, as well.


Q: Austin & Ally has been going strong since 2011. What’s next?

A: We actually are wrapped. We filmed our last season — we didn’t even expect to get a fourth season. The worst thing on our season was that awkward, ‘Are we done? Are we not?’ So when we went in for the fourth season, which we wrapped back in April, we knew that it was the last season, and it was definitely bittersweet — it’s so sad, but there’s some satisfaction in knowing ahead of time. The show is going to keep airing until early next year.


Q: Do you think you’ll do something else with Disney?

A: For now, I’m moving onto different ventures. Music right now is my biggest priority, which is really exciting, because it’s always been a priority, but it’s the first time that it’s number one in my life.


Q: You signed with Big Machine Records, which is known for its country vibe. What can people expect from you?

A: One of my favourite artists in the world, Taylor Swift, who’s my label mate right now — weird! — she really paved the way for Big Machine, and she paved the ‘pop’ way. She’s very much the queen of pop right now, I would say. I’m definitely a pop artist. I’m more pop-rock. Big Machine is really exciting — I feel so lucky to be working with these really incredible, intelligent, smart people. I think they’re excited because they’re continuing to venture into this pop direction.


Q: Where are you at with the album now?

A: We’re currently picking my single!


Q: Do you have release dates in mind?

A: I think my album will be early next year, in 2016. My single — there’s some sort of gravity that comes when you’re like, ‘This is my single.’ I just wanna make sure it’s the best possible song.


Q: Can you tell us a little about your favourite songs on the record?

A: Yes! It’s really hard. The challenging aspect is choosing which songs go on the record and which don’t. It’s just like telling your children, ‘I don’t love you as much as this.’ I’m continuing to create every day — even on this trip. I had a keyboard in my room to rehearse, and the most beautiful view ever, and I was writing songs with my music director. It’s almost funny, because I love writing, but at the same time I’m like, ‘I have too many songs, it’s too overwhelming.’ One of my favourites, the hook is, ‘You can be my Spider-Man, and I’ll be your Mary Jane.’ It’s called Mary Jane. I think it’s just really sweet and awesome — the vibe, the production of the song is really cool. One of my other favourites is Layover, which I’m actually going to be performing at the Ibn Battuta Mall for the first time.

*Catch Laura Marano at China Court at 5.30pm on Thursday.