LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Miley Cyrus is attempting to teach an adult the Hoedown Throwdown, the big dance number from “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” and it’s not going well.
“We did it in one day!” she gasps. “We just all kind of made it up as we went along.” It doesn’t help that Cyrus offers this consolation and advice over the phone to a journalist who’s trying to follow along on YouTube -- and untangle herself from the phone cord.
“Well,” Cyrus patiently explains, “you have to be semi-coordinated to do it.”
This is exactly how Cyrus’ legion of preteen female fans must be learning the dance: YouTube onscreen, phone to ear, someone on the phone offering encouragement amid occasional peals of laughter.
Such is Cyrus’ Everygirl power. For the better part of five years, the 16-year-old has had a direct dial into the cerebral fun cortex of the brains of millions of 10-year-old girls.
Under the stewardship of the Walt Disney Co., Cyrus has starred in “Hannah Montana,” which remains one of the top-rated kids’ TV shows on cable; sold more than 7 million albums; starred in “Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour 3-D,” which opened at No. 1 and earned more than $65 million at the box office, making it the top-grossing concert film; and helped sell a clothing factory’s worth of merchandise at Wal-Mart. That all adds up. According to Billboard’s Money Makers chart, Cyrus was the 15th-biggest earner of 2008, taking in $48.9 million from sales of music, ringtones and concert tickets.
On April 10, the franchise about the schoolgirl by day, pop star at night will get a narrative take on the big screen.
In “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” Cyrus’ character from the show, Miley Stewart, gets a little too embroiled in some divalicious antics while in her Montana guise and winds up brawling with Tyra Banks in a posh boutique. Stewart’s father -- played by the actress’s real-life dad, Billy Ray Cyrus -- sends her back home to Tennessee to bring her down to earth. After getting in a little Henry David Thoreau time communing with nature (and, in an age-appropriate fashion, with a cute local farm fellow played by Lucas Till), Stewart weighs the benefits of a life less glam.
The soundtrack will be released March 24 and features 18 tracks: seven are performed by Cyrus in her Montana persona, four by Cyrus herself, one by Billy Ray Cyrus and one by father and daughter together. Newcomer Steve Rushton contributes two tracks; Taylor Swift adds a new song, “Crazier”; and Rascal Flatts supplies an acoustic version of “Bless the Broken Road.”
While “Hannah Montana” the TV show certainly features its fair share of music, the movie takes it one step further. In the film, the music is presented as an indelible part of the characters’ lives -- Rascal Flatts performs at a neighborhood party like it’s an everyday occurrence. It’s a narrative strategy that has reaped soundtrack sales for other recent movies, in particular 2007’s “Juno” and last year’s “Twilight.”
The movie also offers good old-fashioned drama to get fans into the theater. The trailer for “Hannah Montana: The Movie” flashes in giant protagonist-facing-a-turning-point capital letters that Stewart has had “the best of both worlds ... now, she has to choose just one.” In the real world, once Cyrus sold 1.4 million copies of 2008’s “Breakout,” her first album without a “Hannah” connection, it seemed inevitable that she’d shed her blond bewigged alter ego for a career under her own name.
Not so fast, Cyrus says. This is Disney, after all, and -- Bambi’s mom notwithstanding -- they’re not in the habit of killing off major (and profitable) characters. Cyrus has eight more episodes of the third season of “Hannah Montana” yet to film.
‘NOT UP TO ME’
“This movie was never meant to be the end of Hannah Montana,” she says. “The thing is, a lot of people put where the show’s future lays in my hands -- and it’s not up to me. It’s up to Disney and whether they want more episodes, and we hope that they do.” (A Disney Channel representative says it’s retaining the option to renew the show for a fourth season.)
Nonetheless, even the hint of putting Montana out to pasture is a tease that will pack tweens into theaters. Given the life span of teen trends, “Hannah Montana” should be ready for the old folks’ home after close to five years -- but Disney’s marketing and promotional smarts have ensured that a new twist is always just around the corner. In this case, it’s using the movie to show fans that Cyrus is taking another step toward establishing herself as more than just a Disney artist.
The Cyrus sheen helped secure multiple musician cameos for the film. The members of Rascal Flatts appear as themselves, Swift sings at an open-mic night, and Vanessa Williams plays a pushy record label publicist. “There’s a lot of prototypes for that,” Williams says with a laugh. “My daughter is 8 years old, and she’s the reason I did the movie. They called with the offer, and I said, ‘Sure. Yes. You don’t have to show me the script.'”
The centerpiece of the film is the “Hoedown Throwdown” song-and-dance sequence. Mitchell Leib, president of music and soundtracks for Walt Disney Studios, approached songwriters with a dire-sounding task: Write a song that could be “Miley’s ‘Macarena’ meets ‘Achy Breaky Heart.'”
Songwriters Nikki Hassman and Adam Anders stepped up to the challenge and worked with choreographer Jamal Sims and movie director Peter Chelsom to create the sequence.
Amid the buildup to the film’s premiere and the release of the soundtrack, Cyrus released an autobiography, the aptly titled “Miles to Go.”
“It’s just an honor for people to be able to relate to me and my music -- and not so much the character anymore,” she says. “I can’t be Hannah Montana forever. I have to have something after this. I can’t do this when I‘m 30.”
She may not be footloose and “Hannah”-free just yet, and Cyrus is back adjusting to life in Los Angeles. Her boyfriend, 20-year-old country singer/model Justin Gaston, drops her off at her Pilates lessons that double as credit for her physical education requirements. (Cyrus is still in high school.) She cackles with glee as she points out to Gaston an orange passerby, the victim of a particularly unfortunate spray tan -- “It’s freaking me out! Everyone else is totally normal-colored around here. She has a huge splotch!” -- and she’s excited about the birthday party she’s throwing that evening for “Hannah Montana” co-star Emily Osment.
“This is, like, the first time I’ve seen all my friends in seven months,” Cyrus says. “It’s hard, man. With all the stuff that goes on with this business, I only want to do something if I absolutely love it.”
And the scene that she loves the most in the “Hannah Montana” movie? The Hoedown Throwdown.
Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters