On the road with pop idol Ryan Cabrera. From the passenger seat of a Little Red Corvette, EW sees young rocker become a clutch performer

Ryan Cabrera is an internationally known pop star — and he travels like one. Case in point: On a recent balmy August evening, the Monchichi-haired acoustic rocker and soon-to-be MTV host (for the dating game Score) could be found cruising the largely Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park — in a turquoise 1993 Plymouth Sundance.

Perhaps we should backtrack? Several weeks ago, Cabrera filmed the video for his new single, ”Shine On,” from his new album, You Stand Watching. In the clip, he ”drives” a pristine cherry red ’72 Corvette convertible, but, like most Reagan-era babies (he’s 23), he never actually learned to operate anything other than an automatic; that meant faking it with an offscreen towing crew.

Enter Phil Ragusa, professional instructor and grand master of the stick shift. With Phil’s help, Ryan has decided that he’s ready to grab life by the manual transmission for real. Though highly distractable (”Hey, look, Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite to the left!” ”Do you have XM in here?” ”What’s your favorite breakfast cereal, Phil?”), Cabrera proves to be an excellent student; within minutes, he’s out of the parking spot and cruising in first gear. Second gear brings triumph, and the blissful ignorance of a bicycling Chinese-food deliveryman who has no idea how barely he’s escaped Death by Sudden Right Turn. By third gear, we’ve learned that Phil’s favorite artist is Phil Collins (”and, of course, Genesis”), that Ryan and his instructor share a half-Colombian background, and, in a busy intersection, that an abused transmission smells a lot like burned hair. ”Hook me up with fourth!” Ryan hoots. ”How do I get to the highway? I’m kidding,” he reassures Phil. But Phil doesn’t kid; three stalls, five gears, and one Queens expressway later, Cabrera is riding it out ”smooth as a baby’s bottom, baby.” Little red Corvette, it looks like someone’s ready for a rematch.