Poor Peter Andre, he had it all: tight abs, cheeky grin and a million

pre-pubescent girls hanging on his every lyric. Then he buttoned up his shirt, hooked up with some heavyweight musos and tried to do a George Michael. Big mistake,

says Mike Higgins.

We'd never seen anything like it. Here was a man who could lead an entire chorus - albeit one made up exclusively of prepubescent girls - with the merest twitch of his shirt: the higher it went, the more eye- watering the screams. Following incredible success in Australia, Britain and the world over, he seemed to have everything: money, women, a seemingly permanent residency in the Top 10 and the image of his cute features lodged in every mind in the land.

Suddenly, however, it all went wrong for Andre. Perhaps it was his decision to grow up, to get a haircut and drop the toy-boy image; or maybe the fickle adolescents had discovered a harder body, a softer voice and a prettier face. Whatever happened, even a brave comeback couldn't stop him going down in straight sets at the Australian Men's Hardcourt Championships last weekend. Tough game, tennis.

Facetious it may be, but there is a lesson for Peter Andre in Andre Agassi's descent from teeny heart-throb megastar to mature, well-adjusted has-been.

It's not that all Andres are doomed to respectable failure should they attempt to shed their under-14 fan base (Andre Previn, poor man, still can't leave the house for fear of flying knickers) - it's just that his current fans' older siblings, Andre's new target audience, aren't likely to want their kid sisters' cast-offs. Indeed, so insistent were rumours of Andre's failure to attract the chino pound of late that I mistakenly implied last week on these very pages that Andre's latest single had failed to chart at all in the Top 50, when, er, it wasn't due for release until this week. Sorry, Pete.

With the release of his second album, Time, Andre's career is on a cusp. Last year marked the 10th anniversary of Faith, the album that transformed George Michael from pin-up to serious artist in the eyes of his fans and from which, court cases notwithstanding, he has not looked back.

As Gary Barlow will tell you, however, such a graduation is far from easy. Post-Take That, pundits cited Barlow as the figure with enough ability to survive life after a boy-band. (Ironically, a good chunk of the three million who spent their pocket money on Peter Andre's debut, Natural, would have been traumatised ex-Take That devotees). In the year following Take That's demise, however, Barlow proved conspicuously silent - rumours of the troubled gestation of Open Road, his solo project, vied with reports of Robbie Williams's high-jinks in the music press.

Perhaps talent will out in the end, but for the moment, at least, Andre would do well to take note of the surprising durability of Gary Barlow's former workmates. Williams' sparky pastiche of Britpop and Mark Owen's musical sweet nothings have shown Gary that sub-Elton John balladeering isn't the only way to win fans old enough to buy an album with a credit card.

Andre's latest album has upped the ante and brought with it a whole new image for the singer. A flash of Andre's famously beefcake tum wouldn't have gone a long way with Andre's latest partners either, including as they did Montell Jordan, Warren G, Coolio and the Refugee Camp All Stars. It is probably over-produced and it is certainly highly commercial, but Time deserves attention for a number of reasons. First because Andre is honest enough not to play down the assistance of his heavyweight collaborators, and second because at no point during Time's canny mix of soul and swingbeat does the 24-year-old sound out of his depth.

If musically Andre potentially has what is required to take on George Michael, then it is the relatively poor sales performance of his album that ought to give cause for concern. The first two singles last summer both did well but October's "Lonely", though Andre's sixth Top 10 in 18 months, failed to stick around in the charts. Time then charted in at 28 on its release in November last year.

Andre won't mind that by and large his singles still appeal to the teenage market, but he ought to be concerned that his second album appears at the moment to have mass appeal to neither young nor the older buyer he is pursuing. The release this week of "All Night, All Right" may kickstart Time, but, if it fails to, it would be something of a pity to have to see Andre go back to the drawing board.

There's a lot worse than Time selling a lot more, and nobody wants to see Peter Andre have to break open another six-pack.