What's The Big Deal?

The magical, sanitized ride of Disney Channel’s billion dollar baby Miley Cyrus came to a crashing halt this past weekend when semi-nude photos of the wholesome 15-year old Hannah Montanastar were released as part of a photo shoot for the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair.

The Annie Leibovitz-snapped picture of a bare back Cyrus draped in what seems to be a bedsheet is at best troubling to parents with young, impressionable girls who idolize Cyrus and her Hannah Montana alter ego.

Cyrus told People magazine Sunday that she was "embarrassed" by the Vanity Fair shots. Disney even released a statement chiding Vanity Fair for creating a situation “to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines."

Much like recent controversies surrounding 16-year old Nickelodeon star Jamie Lynn Spears’ pregnancy and Disney’s own High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgins’ nude Internet photo, parents fear that Cyrus’ indiscreet photo will slice yet another layer of innocence from their kids’ precious development years and send the wrong message about how young girls should conduct themselves.

But how do Cyrus’ legion of tween fans who tune in by the millions to watch Hannah Montana feel about the images? Little eight-year old Emma Seguljick may have summed it up best this morning (April 29) during an appearance on Disney-owned broadcast network ABC’s Good Morning America.

When asked how she felt about the Cyrus photos, she simply said, “It’s just a picture … What’s the big deal?”

In other words, tweens seem to be more than willing to look past their TV idols’ personal indiscretions. 

Spears’ Nickelodeon series Zoey 101is averaging a series high 3.5 million viewers in its fourth and final season – including 11 million viewers for the show’s Jan. 27 two-episode season debut – despite her controversial pregnancy. 

Appearing in the buff in cyberspace last year certainly didn’t cost 19-year old Hudgins’ plum role as numbers geek Gabriella Montez in Disney’s highly anticipated High School Musical 3 theatrical film this fall. 

Of course, neither Spears nor Hudgins are the $1 billion brand that Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus is, and it remains to be seen how sponsors of her various music concerts, CD’s and other merchandising opportunities react to the controversy.

Disney Channel won’t have to wait long to see how its viewers feel: the network will air an original Hannah Montana episode May 4, its first since January. It’s a good bet though that millions of tween Disney viewers will join little Emma in asking “What’s the Big Deal?” as they tune in to see the latest from their anointed American Idol.