Billy Ray Cyrus is probably more famous as Hannah Montana’s “daddy” than for his own pop country stardom. Moving on from his past four years co-starring with his daughter in the Disney Channel’s biggest show of all time is proving harder for him than he thought. He’s not exactly setting the world on fire, but his daughter’s antics sure are. And whatever it is she does, like bonging the psychoactive herb salvia, has made him the most well known (and, maybe the most annoying) pop-star father in America.
In a long interview with GQ magazine this month, Cyrus wishes—like all middle-aged men—for a do-over. This time, he wouldn’t have brought his 12-year-old daughter to Disney for that audition, where she beat out Emily Osment to play Hannah Montana to become Disney’s biggest princess since Cinderella.
It’s clearly not been a good year for the man. He filed for divorce from his second wife, Tish, in October after she had an affair with Brett Michaels of 80s rock band Poison. That same month, paparazzi pictures and videos of his daughter smoking from a bong surfaced. Personally I wonder who is releasing these images. Is it her own ten-percenters looking for more buzz on their client, or anti-Miley types at the party who in their anonymity seek to remind us that the world is a big, bad place and by disseminating that they become more powerful than a multimillion dollar teen loved the world over for most of the past five years?
I say “most” because I can remember the moment when my girls said goodbye to their tween idol. It was right around the time Billy Ray and his daughter were preparing for the last season of Hannah Montana.
We were living in Brazil. Hannah Montana fever didn’t catch on until 2006. We bought the first season on DVD so we could watch it in English. My daughters, code named MC and Six, watched the episodes repeatedly. “Look at those boney little elbows go! He can cut through a crowd like a weed wacker!” Bobby Ray Stewart said about Oliver, who was chasing Hannah Montana’s limo on his bike. At the time, he didn’t know Hannah was his freshman friend Miley, the very unpopular girl from Tennessee in a too-cool Malibu high school.
MC took to imitating the mannerisms and sense of humor of Miley and her friend Lilly. My youngest daughter would want to play Hannah Montana, and I would be cast as Jackson, the bumbling idiot—but let’s face it, hilarious—brother. They’d talk about the episodes with their friends and revisit them with me on the couch in our São Paulo living room, watching some of the same episodes three times.
For two years, Hannah Montana music filled our apartment. I sometimes caught myself singing “This is the Life” on the way to work. And this past summer, in a homage of sorts to Miley’s Breakout CD, we had a G.N.O. (girls night out) on the deck with their new American friends. But that was the last of our Miley experience. My daughters have moved on.
I saw it happen during the Hannah Montana movie.
During one of the final scenes in Hannah Montana: The Movie, Hannah takes her wig off to reveal she is really just a local brunette named Miley—something she has been trying to do since she was 16. When she solemnly took off her wig on stage, my youngest daughter’s chin shook. She raised her knees to her face in the cinema seat and punched her kneecaps twice. Then she started to cry because in her 6-year-old brain, something told her that she had lost Hannah Montana forever. I remember it because I could not console her. There was nothing I could do or say. She didn’t want to hear it. This was a part of her world, and it was changing whether I tried to fix it or let it be.
The Disney show went off the air in January 2011 to record ratings. In the final, Miley moves on to become a movie star and singer, but not before going to college with her friend Lily. In other words, it started out completely unlike real life and ended the same way.
But the gossip about Miley has kept her in the spotlight, something her handlers can be proud of.
Miley the musician and movie actress is not setting the world on fire. Her latest album Can’t be Tamed is not even on the Billboard Top 200, and it is less than a year old. None of the singles are chart-toppers, probably because she ripped herself out from the tween world too quickly. Instead of existing in a realm where girls like MC and Six reside, Miley has thrown herself in the ring with the likes of Katy Perry and Ke$ha.
As for Billy Ray, his pain seems as real as it is public. He made a dream come true for his daughter. What father doesn’t want to help his girl’s dreams come true?
My bet is that Miley and her father re-connect when she comes through the maelstrom of teen life. That’s a battle I haven’t had to face yet. James Lehman, the social worker behind the Total Transformation Program, used to say the best way to approach parenting is to remind children you are their father and not their friend. Cyrus says he’s got it now. “How many interviews did I give and say, ‘You know what’s important between me and Miley is to try to be a friend to my kids?’ I said it a lot. And sometimes I would even read other parents and say, ‘You don’t need to be a friend, you need to be a parent.’ Well, I’m the first guy to say to them right now: You were right.”
Maybe Billy Ray will get that second chance with another child. This time his older son Trace. They investigate the paranormal on new SyFy show UFO: Unbelievably Freakin’ Obvious.