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A kid show `find' turns pop star, then film ingenue. Miley Cyrus may just be ...

July 08, 2007|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

MILEY CYRUS doesn't look like a mouse. Or a befuddled bear. Or even a princess. But make no mistake, like Mickey, Winnie the Pooh and Snow White before her, she is a Disney franchise.

Cyrus is the star of "Hannah Montana," a Disney Channel half-hour sitcom following the travails of Miley Stewart, a young girl living in Malibu who also happens to be pop star Hannah Montana. Costarring real-life Dad Billy Ray Cyrus and consistently featuring a wish list of costars including Dolly Parton and Larry David, "Hannah Montana" is one of the top-rated kids' shows of all time (in 2006, it was second only to "American Idol" among kids 6 to 14). Cyrus' first album, the 2006 "Hannah Montana" soundtrack, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart (a first for a TV soundtrack), sold more than 280,000 copies in its first week and subsequently went double-platinum. Her second album, a two-disc set titled "Hannah Montana 2/Meet Miley Cyrus," was released June 26 and beat out Kelly Clarkson's new album to be No. 1, selling 326,000 copies.

There is, of course, a feature film in the works.

This year, Cyrus performed as Hannah at London's famed Koko club (Madonna had been there a few days previous) and, with Mickey and Minnie, cut the ribbon to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Disneyland Paris.

Only a 14-year-old would have that much energy.

"I just had a 20-minute break," Cyrus recently announced as she took her place on set at a taping of "Hannah Montana." "The first I've had in about a year."

She's exaggerating, of course; the days of run-ragged young stars are long gone. Because she is a minor, Cyrus can work only 8 1/2 hours a day, three of which are to be tutor-taught schoolwork.

In a promotional whirl

IN person, this particular franchise is tall, thin and pretty in blue jeans and hip-hugging layered tunic. On set she holds hands with costar Emily Osment, wrestles with TV brother Jason Earles, mugs for the camera, bats her eyelashes at the director and yelps when Earles sends a piece of jello flying near her person. "No, seriously, Jason," she says when she can't locate the wobbly bit after the director yells cut, "where is it?"

On her break, she could be just another baby-sitter lying on the floor of her bedroom, texting her friends. Of course the floor she's lying on isn't in her bedroom, it's in her dressing room. And as she lifts herself off it (all legs and arms and long hair), throws herself on the couch and starts talking, the most notable thing about Cyrus is her voice: A husky alto in song and speech, it is rich and flexible, a voice that promises the possibility of an adult singing career. Then there's the cadence. As the story goes, she got the name Miley because she was such a smiley baby, but it could also describe the way she talks -- a mile a minute. Although her native twang does its level best to calm things down, even the great state of Tennessee is no match for a 14-year-old living the dream.

"Everything's starting to slow down," she says. "Just doing the show is such a break for me. I was on tour with the Cheetah Girls, went to London and Paris, was getting the word out about the new Hannah CD and the Miley CD -- I'm now working for two people. And writing, I write all the time. Miley Cyrus wrote every song on that CD. I write in my sleep. I don't know how, but I'll work on a song, go to sleep and it's finished when I wake up."

Europe was great because even though her mother, Trisha Cyrus, couldn't go -- Cyrus' younger sister was in a school play -- Cyrus got to bring her best friend from Nashville, so it was one big sleep-over adventure.

"Here's a funny story," she says. "I cut the ribbon in Paris, and everyone in Paris speaks French -- maybe you knew that. But I'm from Tennessee, and Tennessee girls don't speak French. So suddenly I'm stuck onstage with Minnie and Mickey and everyone is yelling at me in French -- I guess they're telling me to get off the stage, but I didn't know what they were saying at the time, so I start dancing with Minnie and Mickey like on the show and finally my aunt comes and gets me off. Next time I go," she says, finally drawing breath and hitting the pause before the punch line, "I will learn to speak a little French."

If Cyrus knows the importance of telling a good story for interviews, she comes by it naturally. Her country singer father also plays her father on the show, and if no one was quite prepared for the juggernaut of "Hannah Montana," the Cyrus family is quite familiar with fame -- its requirements, its seductions and its limitations.

"My mom is always telling me it takes a long time to get to the top," Cyrus says in all teenage seriousness, "but a short time to get to the bottom."

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