As the daughter of a famous country singer-turned-actor, Miley (rhymes with smiley) Cyrus' life was already different from that of most 13-year-olds. With a hit TV show on the Disney Channel now promising instant fame of her own, it's about to go off-the-charts crazy. Yet if anyone knows a thing or two about overnight success, it's Miley's father, Billy Ray Cyrus. Mention his name and you can't help but think of his 1992 smash single "Achy Breaky Heart"—along with images of mullet-sporting men line dancing.
Now, a decade and a half later, if you talk about the Disney Channel, chances are, any 10-year-old within shouting distance will start thinking about Miley. Her comedy, Hannah Montana, has garnered enough buzz to spawn a soundtrack (to be released this summer), and Miley already has her own recording contract. Given the way Disney ingeniously markets its tween idols, it's possible that Miley could become even bigger (gasp!) than dear old Dad—without any help from her hair.
Sassy Superhero Songstress
What exactly has the Cyrus clan signed up for? Nothing complicated. In a single line, the entire synopsis of Hannah Montana is: Average eighth-grader by day, famous pop star by night. It's a well-worn TV-show premise of a character living a double life. But the behind-the-scenes story of Miley (and Billy Ray, who plays her onscreen father) certainly gives this offering a unique twist.
Besides, kids apparently couldn't care less about how overworked the theme is. And they're proving that by tuning in—in droves. The debut of Hannah Montana drew Disney's highest audience ever for an original series, and it has continued to pull impressive numbers. Among kids ages 2 to 11, it lags behind only American Idol as the most-watched show this past season—an amazing feat considering it's on cable. Leave it to the Mouse to successfully repackage a familiar concept for a fresh new generation of viewers.
How'd they hook 'em? Maybe it's not so much the show as the show's star. Onscreen, Miley plays a bubbly 13-year-old named, um, Miley (quick thinking, guys) who recently relocated with her loving dad and goofball brother from Tennessee to a Malibu beach house. The reason is a secret known only to her family and best friends: She's also the famous singer Hannah Montana. Hannah is branching out from country to Kelly Clarkson-like pop-rock—thus the move to California. Yet all this American idol wants to do is live a normal life—thus the attempt to remain incognito.
Of Mistakes and Make-Goods
In the midst of groan-inducing jokes, campy slapstick comedy and laughable overacting (all of which have become Disney-show staples and work wonderfully at the fourth-grade level), Hannah Montana offers token yet positive life lessons. Miley sacrifices hobnobbing with A-list celebs (as Hannah) to stay loyal to her best friend, Lilly. "When I'm onstage performing and I look out to the wings, you're always right there cheering me on," Miley tells her. "Well, I just want to do the same thing for you."
Later, when her snobby Hollywood associates dub Lilly too "dorky" to be around, Miley discovers that "coolness" is in staying true to yourself. And after trying to manipulate her dad's selection of her birthday gift, she realizes that what matters most is the love that wraps a present, not the (often goofy) item itself.
These and other lessons are usually learned the hard way, of course. Miley and the rest of the cast get themselves into trouble on a weekly basis by lying, meddling and (occasionally) disobeying authority. And as always, adults typically play the dim-witted fools in this kid-dominated world. Yet by the end of each 22-minute episode, mistakes get confessed, apologies are made and order is restored.
When You Wish Upon a Star...
That "wrap it up nice and neat" approach has been standard Disney for years. So has the star-making assembly line that's produced such names as Hilary Duff, Raven and, to a degree, former Mouseketeers Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera. Each of those Disney alums went on to bigger—though not necessarily better—things. And Disney learned a few lessons along the way about the importance of keeping the reins pulled tight for as long as it held them.
Fortunately for families, that schooling has translated to a noticeable effort to keep out edgier fare. In the case of Hannah Montana, there's been nary a mention of sex, drugs, crass innuendoes or double entendres so far. Even a predictable sight gag involving a plumber's pants riding low showed no more than gaudy boxers pulled high. And while episodes may feature the mall-hopping Lilly getting her fashion fix from the likes of Style and Vogue, the show's producers have kept characters' clothing chic and modest. Amazingly, there's not a bare midriff to be seen.
Obviously, Disney (and daddies) can't hold the reins forever on their well-groomed stars. But it's doubtful that Miley Cyrus will be causing young fans—or their parents—any serious heartache anytime soon.