Will taking charge of her new CD prove to be ''The Best Damn Thing'' for the petulant pop-punk singer's career?

By Shirley Halperin
April 10, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Avril Lavigne was not impressed with the musicians who tried out for her new band — and that’s putting it mildly. ”The auditions were pathetic,” spits the 22-year-old. ”I couldn’t believe how many were so bad!”

”I totally felt like a judge on American Idol,” she continues. But the usually attitudinal Lavigne played it like Paula — not Simon. ”Part of me wanted to be like, ‘Okay…no,”’ smirks the Canadian singer, known for her middle-finger salutes and angry lyrics (sample: ”I don’t like your girlfriend/I think you need a new one,” from her new single, ”Girlfriend”). Yet she swears she was ”trying to be polite.” ”Even if they were brutal, I would give them their two songs,” Lavigne says, the picture of sweetness on an L.A. garden swing. ”I didn’t want to be mean.”

Lavigne may have spared the wannabe band members, but she certainly didn’t hold back when it came to writing her third CD, The Best Damn Thing, the singer’s most aggressive, in-your-face effort yet. And she didn’t take kindly to the help that was offered by her label, RCA. ”I told my manager: I’m doing this on my own!” recalls Lavigne, who managed to persuade BMG exec Clive Davis to let her work unsupervised. ”I remember the label trying to be sneaky. They wanted to put this [A&R] guy on my project. They were like, ‘At least meet him,’ and I said no. I don’t need anyone’s opinion, advice, or help. I have my own vision, and they’re my songs.” Neither Davis nor RCA responded to calls for comment.

”The thing about Avril is, she knows what she wants and makes sure you know,” says Butch Walker, co-producer of Lavigne’s Under My Skin (2004) and one of her picks to work on Damn Thing. ”And,” he adds playfully, ”I have no room to argue since I didn’t sell [24] million records.”

Not bad for the former Napanee, Ontario, high schooler who might have been voted Most Likely to Get Detention. Fortunately, the teen liked singing almost as much as skipping school, partying, and drinking. In 1998, she won a local radio contest and got to sing on stage with Shania Twain. After that, the 15-year-old somehow persuaded her strict Christian parents to chaperone her to New York along with her first manager, Cliff Fabri. Within a few months, Lavigne was singing for then Arista Records head ”L.A.” Reid, who offered her a deal almost immediately, securing her decision to drop out of school.

Lavigne’s rise to the top happened almost as quickly, thanks to the sing-along success of her debut single, ”Complicated.” But it wasn’t long before her co-writers alleged in Rolling Stone that the singer didn’t have much of a hand in penning her songs: ”Avril would come in and sing a few melodies, change a word here or there,” said Lauren Christy, a member of the production team the Matrix, which worked with her on such early hits as ”Sk8er Boi” and ”I’m With You.”

”I wanted to cry,” Lavigne remembers. ”When you create something, and someone takes that away from you, it’s like [they’re taking away] your baby.” Her side of the story? ”Lauren and I would sing melodies and write lyrics together in the backyard on the blanket under an orange tree, and we had a great time. It was like a family. But…they said some things and burned a bridge.” Indignant, Lavigne adds, ”I’m the biggest thing that ever happened to them, so they basically f—ed themselves over.”

Christy, who, with the Matrix, has since written songs for Nick Lachey and Hilary Duff, tells EW: ”It seems we may have a difference of opinion as to what happened in the studio. Thankfully, some truly great, defining music came from our work together.” In Lavigne’s defense, Walker says, ”Not only does she write her own s—, [but] I’m constantly amazed at what she comes up with.”

These days, the part-time actress (2006’s Fast Food Nation marked Lavigne’s screen acting debut) has happily seized control of her career. She won’t even admit to being pissed off in the studio when recording those angst-ridden tunes. As Lavigne tells it, it’s all about having a good laugh, boosted by a bit of limoncello. The partylike atmosphere was filmed for a limited-edition DVD, which, Lavigne says, ”is so f—ing cool. [I’m] running around…skateboarding…going into the booth…singing and drinking.”

So how has this twentysomething, who lives in Hollywood with new husband, Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley, 27, managed to avoid a Britney-type meltdown? ”I’m a strong person,” Lavigne explains. ”You either have a good head on your shoulders or you don’t.” She makes it clear that she parties ”in moderation, and I don’t do drugs. Maybe I’ll [drink] for an entire week, then I won’t do it for a month. Just so you know, I’m not all about that.”

Besides, ”I wasn’t drunk the whole record,” she says. ”But I sing fine when I am. The harder songs are fun to sing wasted.”