Neal Preston/Corbis
Liane Bonin
March 25, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

If you want to get the lowdown on the teen pop explosion that’s landed the Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, and Britney Spears at the top of the charts, who better to ask than former teen dream David Cassidy? ”(Today’s teen music is) a lot better than it was 10 years ago,” says the 48-year-old ”Partridge Family” alum who has just released a new single, ”Sheltered in Your Arms.” ”More talent is necessary now, and it’s great that the music industry is seeking out people who are talented and not just pretty faces.”

Cassidy, who’s always labored to prove himself more than just a pretty face, resurrected his career with starring roles in the Broadway version of ”Blood Brothers” and the Las Vegas production of ”F/X.” Now he’s revisiting his pop-idol heyday, having rerecorded three Partridge Family hits for his latest album, ”Old Trick New Dog.”

Still, he admits that being a teen idol in the too-hip world of rock music can sometimes feel like being Monica Lewinsky at a political fund-raiser. ”One thing I understand better than anybody is that we as adults have this cynicism that people making records for younger adults are not as credible (as other musicians),” Cassidy tells EW Online. ”That (bias) is still out there. These teen acts aren’t cool and edgy because they haven’t put rings in their noses? So be it. I don’t condemn (teen musicians), and I don’t stand in judgment of them. I view each one of them as, ‘There must be some talent there.”’

Cassidy, who went bankrupt and watched two marriages crumble after his bubblegum pop lost its flavor, has some hard-earned advice for the new wave of underage talent. ”Don’t just listen to marketing people about what you have to do,” he warns. ”Stay true to yourself. Follow your own gut, and have more control over what you do. Remember that it’s a long life, and its not just about this record, this television show, or this movie. Long after they are gone, you have to live with whatever you do.”

That’s advice Cassidy might soon have to pass on to his 8-year-old son, Beau, who listens to ‘N Sync and the Spice Girls and already has an itch to follow in Daddy’s footsteps. ”It worries me,” admits Cassidy. ”It’s not a good profession. I’ve given him as much of a reality pill as I can, but already the likelihood is that he isn’t going to want to become a brain surgeon. He wants to be an entertainer.”

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