'I'm Gonna Make Mistakes'
Miley Cyrus is in many ways a typical 16-year-old, a contradictory, evolving mix of poised young woman and goofy kid. But where most teens only have to navigate the turbulent waters of self-discovery in front of their classmates and teachers, Cyrus is growing up before millions of watchful eyes.
Thanks to the astronomical success of her Disney Channel sitcom Hannah Montana, Miley has become the most famous teenager in the world. Her album sales are multi-platinum, ticket grosses for her 2007 concert tour earned $55.2 million, and her new feature film Hannah Montana: The Movie (opening Friday) is expected to reach similarly stratospheric box office numbers. She is the face and voice of a franchise worth an estimated $1 billion; there is Easter chocolate bearing her likeness at my local Walmart. Now that's famous.
As a Disney icon, Cyrus is expected to be a paragon of wholesome virtue; as a professing Christian—"He died for our sins, that's how awesome he is," Miley says in this YouTube video (fast forward to 6:12)—she takes her influence over her young audience seriously. But under the spotlight's relentless gaze she has not been able to completely avoid controversy. Fans and critics alike questioned the appropriateness of a scantily clad Vanity Fair photo shoot in 2008—which also featured her co-star dad, country singer Billy Ray Cyrus.
The mothers of Miley's tween-aged followers worry that the young actress is in over her head with older boyfriend Justin Gaston, a 20-year-old singer and underwear model. And a recent photo of Miley and friends jokingly pulling their eyes into slits provoked accusations of racism.
At a recent Hollywood press conference promoting her new movie, CT Movies asked Cyrus about the pressures of such an examined life. Her reply was thoughtful … and honest.
"I'm gonna make mistakes," she said. "And I would not trade that for anything, because the minute you stop making mistakes is the minute that you stop learning. And if I ever stop doing that, we're all in trouble, because that's what life is all about. I never want to disappoint people; my decisions sometimes not only disappoint other people, they disappoint myself as well. But there are times I'm going to do that and if I don't, then all of a sudden I'm not real and then you really can't look up to me."
In the new movie, 31-year-old Jason Earles plays Miley's older brother Jackson; he is quick to defend his young co-star.
"I think that it's unfair to expect a 16-year-old to raise your kids," said Earles. "So when Miley does occasionally make mistakes, that's a good opportunity for parents to educate their kids about different decisions they could make. While you can look up to Miley and there are things that are very inspirational about her, anybody who thinks that she, 100 percent of the time, should be the shining example for your kids … you're sort of misleading yourself as a parent."
Caveats aside, Cyrus does embrace the fact that millions of young fans do look up to her.
"I find there are two different things," she said. "If you look at me as a role model, I agree with it. If you look at me as an idol, I don't. Because an idol is someone you want to replicate, you want to be them. I don't wish that on anyone, because if you lose what you have personally [to try to be someone else], that's when your spark is lost. What I think people like about me and the way they relate to me is the fact that I don't try to change and I haven't let what I do for a living completely affect me."