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Selena Gomez performs in concert at the American Airlines Center on Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013 in Dallas. (Photo by Mike Fuentes/Invision/AP)

Selena Gomez has come a long way since "Barney."

The former child actor, who began her career on the children's program "Barney and Friends" and went on to fame starring in Disney Channel's "Wizards of Waverly Place," has matured into one of the true rising stars of the entertainment industry.

The talented 21-year-old Texan has hit it big in Hollywood, having worked on film projects that range from 2012's lightweight animated comedy "Hotel Transylvania" to this year's edgy action flick "Spring Breakers." Gomez also released her first solo album, "Stars Dance," which debuted this summer at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. (She also released three albums with Selena Gomez and the Scene, all of which charted in the Top 10).

Selena Gomez in concert

Of course, Gomez's romantic relationship with Justin Bieber (now over) and close friendship with Taylor Swift certainly haven't hurt her celebrity status.

All of this explains why Gomez's concert at the SAP Center in San Jose on Sunday is expected to be a sellout and why her inaugural solo headlining trek, the Stars Dance Tour, is turning into one of the season's hottest road shows.

"She is playing all of the largest arenas in the U.S. and doing good business," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert industry publication Pollstar, who says Gomez has now graduated to the top-tier of arena attractions. "The preteen and teen market keeps generating new heroes every year."

But Gomez hardly seems to be positioning herself as a flash in the pan. Like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, she is looking to make the jump from tween-oriented TV/pop star to an entertainer commanding bigger audiences and enjoying career longevity.

It seems to be working, so far. And on her terms.

For one thing, Gomez isn't the new Miley. Some say she's just the opposite -- and that is a large part of her appeal. She hasn't resorted to Cyrus' controversial antics (see: MTV Video Music Awards, twerking) to take the next step in her career.

"She's the anti-Miley Cyrus," says Marla Davies, DJ at San Jose's Mix 106.5 radio station. "She's keeping it classy, and I think she's really trying to take the high road. I think she's a good role model, too."

'Please,' 'thank you'

A certain purple dinosaur would be proud.

"I learned everything from 'Barney,' " Gomez said in a 2008 interview with this newspaper. "I even learned good manners. Saying 'please' and 'thank you' became a habit."

But while Gomez certainly cultivates a more mature and sexier image than seen in her early Disney years and has even courted controversy (her decision to wear a bindi at certain performances angered Hindu leaders), she still describes herself in a new Teen Vogue interview as "the girl you want to take home to your parents, not for the night."

As Davies says, "She's growing up gracefully."

Other young stars are paying attention to Gomez's move from tween attraction to legitimate headliner. One of those is Zendaya, the 17-year-old Oakland native who starred on the Disney Channel series "Shake It Up" for three seasons and now is trying to establish herself in the pop world with her recently released self-titled debut album.

"I think she's done a great job," says Zendaya, who singled out Gomez's "gamble" of starring in the adult-oriented film "Spring Breakers." "She's been transitioning very well."

It's a success story that probably can't be attributed to any one thing, but rather to a perfect storm of events.

"Her ascent has been from different angles, and that's helped build her fan base -- make it a very robust fan base," says "Jazzy" Jim Archer, assistant program director and music director at local radio station 99.7 (NOW). "There's her acting, in the Disney Channel show 'Wizards of Waverly Place,' and her relationship with Justin Bieber. Then on top of that, there's her growth as an artist. It's all three of those things."

Archer has been impressed with what he's seen and heard from Gomez thus far, having witnessed others try and fail to make the leap from child star to mature artist.

"It's very difficult," he says of performers trying to overcome the stigma of having been a tween sensation. "But it comes down to songs. Music can break down all those barriers very fast. If you have a hit record that connects with people, they forget all about your baggage."

Supportive fans

Gomez has won mostly positive reviews for her dance-floor-friendly brand of pop that has spawned such hits as "Come & Get It." And her fans certainly approve and are buying up tickets to her shows at an impressive clip. But it's yet to be seen whether they will support her in the future. It's up to the star herself to convince them to stick around.

"The big question is if she can do an arena-size show that leaves the audience gasping for more," Bongiovanni says. "Does she have enough good material to do 90-plus minutes and the performance chops to project to the back of the arena? I haven't seen Selena Gomez ... but too many artists develop the ability to sell large numbers of tickets before they have refined their act."

Follow Jim Harrington at Twitter.com/jimthecritic, Facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.

Selena Gomez

When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: SAP Center in San Jose
Openers: Emblem3 and
Christina Grimmie
Tickets: $30.50-$70.50,
www.ticketmaster.com