They adore Hannah/Miley

MONTANA MANIA | Her voice is glee-club passable at best, but her enthusiasm wows tween fans

December 9, 2007


Regardless of their musical merits, which are often irrelevant, every generation has its "big as the Beatles" teen idols.

We could reach back past Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, before Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby, to find some medieval minstrel whose lute playing made all the young girls swoon, or some Cro-Magnon whose grunting put her fellow cave dwellers to shame. As an objective and veteran observer of these phenomena, I can say this about Miley Cyrus: She's at least as good as Hilary Duff, and much better than anyone in the cast of "High School Musical," except perhaps for that heavy-set girl who wasn't invited to take part in the tour.

After all of the controversy surrounding ticket sales, weeks of distracting anticipation in grades four through six and an unrelenting flood of Radio Disney/Disney Channel hype, the 15-year-old middle daughter of Billy Ray "Achy Breaky" Cyrus finally performed at a sold-out Allstate Arena on Saturday -- and so did her blond rock-star alter ego from the immensely popular TV show, "Hannah Montana."

In fact, the 70-minute set by the teen queen of the moment was neatly divided in two. Fronting a five-piece band with two backing vocalists and eight dancers and sporting that silly blond wig and a silver sparkle blouse -- the first of more than half a dozen costume changes -- Hannah Montana kicked things off with the moderately catchy, mildly rambunctious and gleefully self-esteem-building hits "Rock Star" and "Life's What You Make It."

"Nobody's Perfect," "Pumpin' Up the Party" and a few more songs later, the opening act, the discreetly libidinous Jonas Brothers, joined the headliner for a romp through her song "We Got the Party," followed by two of their own tunes (including the hit "Year 3000"), during which Hannah ducked backstage to transform herself into Miley Cyrus once more.

For the second half of the evening -- or rather the late afternoon -- the singer sported her own mousy-brown hair, though there wasn't any other noticeable distinction from her earlier persona as she bounced through more standout hits and pseudo-girl-power anthems such as "G.N.O. (Girls Night Out)" and "Best Of Both Worlds."

Whom did the crowd prefer: the unabashed rock star or the awkward, "average" schoolgirl? The key to Hannah/Miley's multi-platinum, billion-dollar appeal is that girls listen to her two albums, watch her TV show and believe there's no distinction -- and that if that's possible for her, it might be within their grasp, too.

Not that the fans could articulate this. Everything the starlet did was simply greeted with the same high-pitched wall of eardrum-piercing screeches and squeals. And their heroine deserved them.

Like her predecessor Hilary, Hannah has a voice that's glee-club passable at best. But she belted out her hits with gusto and no discernable help from digital auto-tuning. She worked up a visible sweat with all that dancing and cheerleading; she didn't push her merchandise (which Disney needs no help in hawking), and she exuded an enthusiasm so infectious that you had to admire her.

Or, to quote the current class of idol worshippers, "YEEEAAAHHH!!!"