She's Miley Cyrus, 13-year-old daughter of country crooner Billy Ray Cyrus. Friday, she makes her singing and acting debut with her dad in the new Disney Channel sitcom Hannah Montana (9:30 ET/PT).
As Daily Variety put it recently, young Miley is "loaded into the Disney cannon" and is about to be shot into stardom. She already has a contract with Hollywood Records, in addition to the show. A future as a fashion icon and rock star is looming.
Disney is adept at turning teen girls into stars. Duff, 18, started out on Lizzie McGuire and is now touring with her band. She recently appeared in Cheaper by the Dozen 2. Right now, the channel's That's So Raven is tied for top basic-cable series among girls ages 9-14 Star Raven Symone, now 20, has a CD out called This Is My Time and has been in movies including Dr. Dolittle.
In Miley, says Gary Marsh, Disney Channel entertainment president, "we saw a girl who has this natural ebullience. She loves every minute of her life. It shows in her demeanor and performance."
She didn't easily land the job: "I auditioned forever. At first they said I was too small and too young." Then, finally, came the big chance, a chance she knew was destiny. "As soon as I step on that stage, nothing matters. I don't think of it as work. It's just so much fun."
Comparing her to Duff, however, might not be the right thing to do. Although "she went down the same path that I'm about to begin," Miley says, "right now I want to be my own person."
That person on the show is Miley Stewart, an ordinary eighth-grader by day who puts on a blond wig and rocker clothes to become pop star Hannah Montana by night. Playing Hannah "is a total girl thing. It's like dressing up every day," she says.
Miley likes fashion, admitting, "I'm a shopaholic." And it's worse since the family moved from Nashville to Los Angeles. She's "a big shoe person" with an eclectic style. "Sometimes I'll be punky, the next day I'll be preppy. Every day after work, my mom and I go shopping. My dad is about to kill me. I say, 'We need it, daddy!' "
Daddy doesn't sound like he's capable of getting mad at her — a lot like his character, Robbie, Miley's dad on the show. "I've never been good — non-existent, really — with discipline," Billy Ray says. "I've never been able to spank 'em or command that type of fatherly figure with my children. What I try to do in real life is use psychology, make 'em laugh or tell a story to make a point. That's what Robbie does."
Though he's supportive of his daughter, he does have concerns about the celebrity world and the toll it can take on young stars. "I tried to discourage Miley from pursuing the entertainment business because it's a double-edged sword. For everything that makes you happy, there's something equally heartbreaking."
He says she won't be the next Hilary or Britney or Lindsay. "I see her being Miley Cyrus. She will never be somebody else. She's got her own thing. I think she takes and borrows and hints at a little bit of a lot of people. ... But she's her own person."
It's too late to worry anyway, he says. "She's in this thing deep now. She's in the water, and she's got to sink or swim."