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February 14, 1993|STEVE HOCHMAN | Steve Hochman writes about pop music for Calendar

"What a day for a boy from Flatwoods, Ky.!"

Billy Ray Cyrus is practically floating as he steps into a Westwood hotel elevator, chattering at about 100-good-ol'-boy-homilies-a-minute as he recounts what he'd have his guest believe has been the best day anyone could ever have.

He may have a persuasive case.

"It's not every day I wake up, go to the Shrine Auditorium for the American Music Awards rehearsal and find my seat is right behind the ones for Michael Jackson and Liz (Taylor)! And then I come back here and go to the gym, and who walks in? Gloria Estefan. And then I go out by the pool and meet two of the prettiest young ladies California has to offer.

"Is this real?"

You'd think the 31-year-old would be used to this by now. His "Some Gave All" album was 1992's biggest seller--more than 7 million in the United States, propelled by the country-rock single "Achy Breaky Heart."

But it came in an almost overnight avalanche after a decade of struggling as a singer and songwriter on the tough Southern bar circuit and a two-year stint in L.A. singing by night and selling Oldsmobiles in Van Nuys by day. (The rumor that he also supported himself in those days as a Chippendale dancer, he says, is completely false.)

As he sits under a canopy by the pool, dressed casually in blue jeans and a T-shirt bearing a photo of his new heroine, Marilyn Monroe, almost everything seems to excite him. ("This is the first time in my life I've done an interview under ferns and palm trees," he gushes.) But then, he confesses, he's a relentless positive thinker, self-schooled in the works of Norman Vincent Peale and other pop philosophers.

Right now he's got plenty to think positively about. He's got legions of fans ranging from teen girls who go for his beefcake looks, to grizzled Vietnam veterans whom he won over with the title song of his album, a tribute to soldiers who never returned from the war. He won favorite new country artist at last month's American Music Awards, and his "Achy Breaky Heart" took favorite country single honors. Next week, he'll see if any of the five Grammy nominations for "Achy Breaky" and the singer send him back with any statuettes.

And not only did he get a seat behind the King of Pop and Elizabeth Taylor, but he's also got his own network television special, "Dreams Come True," airing Wednesday on ABC. The hourlong show combines footage of a concert by Cyrus and his band in Reno with sequences shot with him back home in Flatwoods, revisiting a club he performed in regularly for four years (his positive-thinking aphorisms are still scribbled on the walls of the tiny dressing room) and conducting a feel-good seminar before squealing teens at his old high school.

"My special is very much alive," he says. "I wanted people to feel like they're at the show. Almost a magical thing happens at my shows with the crowds. I don't know if it can go through a television set, but that's what I want to capture."

What ABC wants to capture, of course, is a large audience. The network had a country flop with Dolly Parton's mid-'80s variety show, but Garth Brooks' CBS special last year was a big hit, and country has never been a hotter property.

Cyrus dismisses the notion that having a special is part of any rivalry with Brooks. That country star has gotten a kind of respect that has eluded Cyrus, who has often been dismissed as the "Vanilla Ice of country."

"I've never seen Garth's special," Cyrus says. "I hear mine is very different. I know I'm measured against Garth. How could I say no when the charts come out every month? But he's proven himself and earned every bit of his respect. I'll keep doing what I do. There were those who called me a 'one-hit wonder,' but we've proved them wrong three times, going on four."

Cyrus isn't making any predictions about whether he'll even make it to one-hit wonder status as a TV star. But even if "Dreams Come True" is a success, he's not so sure he would want to make television a regular part of his life, outside of music videos, of course. He does have an option with ABC for a movie of the week, though, and scripts have been pouring in ever since the world turned Achy Breaky.

"I just want my music to be heard through as many avenues as possible," he says. "Whatever media will spread the music, I'm all for it. I'm not an actor, so anything I did would have to be me--not a country singer, but a character with my traits."

There is one script that has caught his fancy: "Beat in the City," a cop-buddies film slated for theatrical release. If Cyrus takes the role, he says he'll be paired with football star Willie Gault.

But Cyrus is enjoying himself too much right now to waste too much time worrying if a film deal will happen or not.

"No matter what happens," he say with bubbly enthusiasm, "life can never be as good as this second."

"Dreams Come True" airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. on ABC.

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