Jaleel White has made a name for himself playing "America's Most Popular Nerd," and the 17-year-old actor has no regrets about it at all.

After all, being Steve Urkel on "Family Matters" has made him rich and famous, and opened up plenty of opportunities."I'm actually rather flattered," White said during a recent ski trip to Deer Valley. "Hey, I'm really happy about it.

"I think it's an actor's dream to get a role and be able to play it for 5, 6, 7 or 8 years. And I'm having a lot of fun doing it."

While Urkel is a giant geek, White comes across as a pretty cool guy. He's confident without a hint of arrogance, and he's amazingly normal for someone who's so famous at such a young age.

He doesn't even look the same as he does on TV.

"It's really a costume," he said of the Urkel get-up. "I have a different voice entirely. I don't have those glasses. I look a lot different."

But when it comes to real life, White isn't so different from a lot of other 17-year-olds. He attends a public high school (along with being tutored on the set of "Family Matters"). He's even a member of the basketball team - which he proudly adds is playing above .500 and is a contender for the California playoffs.

And while the fact that he attends a public school is fairly unusual for a television teen, White said it's no big deal.

"I've been going there since ninth grade," he said. "I've known everybody for so long, it's not even a big deal when I walk on campus. Somebody may comment on an episode (of "Family Matters"), but it's really not a big thing.

"All you want is cooperation from the school and a support system to fall back on. You don't need a $10,000-a-year private school for that. It really ticks me off because some people I know pay that 10 grand a year and end up getting jerked around by the school. Who needs that?"

Still, being Urkel has made him remarkably famous. And it's still more remarkable when you consider that the character was supposed to be on only a single episode during the series' first season and ended up being the break-out character on the show.

"I had no idea it would turn out like this," White said. "I just went out and had fun."

He said he really didn't know how Urkel had caught on until the show's second season, when he went to New York to do publicity appearances.

"When you're staying in the penthouse at the Trump Towers, you realize it's affected your life," he said. "When you get your own (Urkel) doll, you really realize it's affected your life."

But with the possible exception of his Range Rover, White's lifestyle isn't particularly different from most of his friends. He lives at home with his parents. "And I don't plan on moving anytime soon. Why would I want to do that - move out and live in some big place all by myself? I never understood that."

His recently completed trip to Deer Valley was the fifth year in a row White and his family, along with some friends, have been in Utah for the holidays.

"We love it up here," said the avid skier. And, while he's often recognized, he's not often bothered by fans.

"Up here, they're really cool about it. I have yet to sign more than maybe two autographs."

Although he's been acting since he was 3 and did several TV shows before "Family Matters," White said, "I didn't get into this business to stay. I'm as surprised as anyone at how it's worked out."

He's also a writer. He wrote his own special that aired on ABC last season and the story for one of this season's episodes of "Matters" as well as working as a free-lancer on other projects.

"Somebody told me I'm the youngest member of the WGA (Writers Guild of America)," he said with a laugh. "I love to write. If you can only act and you can't create anything, you're really sort of stalemated."

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He's also the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in the animated series.

"It's actually hard work. You've got to do stuff over and over and over, and then there might be something like a pop in the mike and you've got to do it over again."

Although he'd also like to direct some day, his immediate plans - after graduating from high school a year early in the spring - are to head for college at either USC or UCLA. And he'll juggle college with "Family Matters."

"I'm still having a great time," he said. "As long as people are laughing when they come to tapings, I'll be there."

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