Miley Cyrus is not the first young celebrity to run for cover and apologize to fans after some nude or nearly nude pictures popped up on the Internet. But in her case, the pictures in question were professionally shot by one of the world's most respected celebrity photographers, Annie Leibovitz, for a high-brow magazine, Vanity Fair.
Still, the scandal ensnaring the "Hannah Montana" star, who has ridden to fame and fortune via a squeaky-clean TV alter ego, begs the question: Will her young fans (or, more important, their parents) abandon Cyrus over the controversy?
"The impact on her as a bankable teen star won't be that much," People staff editor David Caplan predicted of the fallout from the Fair shoot, in which Cyrus appears to be topless underneath a blanket. "She's built such a strong fanbase. ... This is just a bump in the road for Miley-mania. She's not nude in the photo — it doesn't look like she's nude — so I don't think it will affect her overall, and it won't affect Disney's sales of $1 billion worth of merchandise."
If anything, Caplan said, the photo shoot and attendant publicity might just introduce the 15-year-old singer to an older audience without losing her younger tween superfans. "She's 15, she's been in the spotlight for years, and frankly, if the most salacious thing to come out is in a photo shoot for one of the most reputable magazines with a reputable photographer in a controlled environment ... it's much ado about nothing."
Unlike last week, when the nearly nude photos of the singer surfaced, Cyrus was quick to apologize to fans for the upcoming May 6 issue of Fair. But Caplan said the situation could have been handled with much less fanfare if Disney and Cyrus had just been forthcoming. "If the reaction had been, 'Yes, these photos were taken. They were artistic, art is subjective, end of story,' that would have ended the debate," he said.
The most difficult part for parents is figuring out how to explain the situation to Cyrus' many young fans, who might not understand why everyone is making such a big deal about the pictures. For Columbus, Ohio, mom Jill Willen-Kennelly — who has two daughters, one Cyrus' age and one who is 11 — the reaction was swift and clear. "My 11-year-old, who has seen her concerts and knows her songs by heart, just said, 'That is so stupid,' " Willen-Kennelly said, adding that her daughter had not seen either the Fair pictures or the leaked ones but had heard about them from friends. "I wasn't too disturbed by what she did before, other than the fact that an 11-year-old with Internet access can see them, but the Vanity Fair pictures are more disturbing to me because adults were involved who let her do that."
The conversation Willen-Kennelly planned to have with her daughters on Monday (April 28) after school, where she suspected the photos would be the biggest topic of conversation, would be about how Cyrus "used bad judgment, but is not a bad person and that everyone, particularly kids, will make mistakes, but hopefully there will be adults there who will intervene and provide them with an environment that's safer and not so public to make these mistakes."
Because the scandal didn't involve actual nudity, drugs or any illicit activity, Willen-Kennelly said she has no plans to ban Cyrus in the house. "Some parents might look at this and, next to the Olsen twins, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, say this isn't even worth mentioning," she said.
But not everyone agrees that Cyrus should be given a pass for shooting the provocative photos. A spokesperson for the Christian Coalition of America told Us Weekly that her organization thinks Disney should reprimand Cyrus for the incident. She called for a televised news conference, where "Miley should say it was a mistake and that kids have to be very careful at such a young age. ... Kids look up to her. ... Something needs to be done." The organization's Michele Combs added that if Cyrus, who told Fair that "Sex and the City" is her favorite TV show, is "gonna go out there and represent wholesome values, she needs to be more accountable for her actions."
Combs called the Fair photos, as well as the ones that surfaced last week, "sad and disappointing" and predicted that they were "gonna hurt a lot of people [and] it's gonna hurt her image."
As for the other woman at the center of this scandal, photographer Leibovitz — who has shot provocative pictures of everyone from John Lennon and Yoko Ono to Demi Moore and, most recently, a controversial image of Gisele Bündchen with LeBron James — she also apologized for the mess the photos have created. "I'm sorry that my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted," she said in a statement Monday, according to Us. "Miley and I looked at fashion photographs together, and we discussed the picture in that context before we shot it. ... The photograph is a simple, classic portrait, shot with very little makeup, and I think it is very beautiful."
We caught up with some "TRL" audience members to see what they thought of the pictures, and they weren't too surprised about the scandal. "She's really a role model for all these kids, and now for them to start seeing this?" one fan said. "It sets a really bad example for them."
Another fan said Cyrus should've taken notes from another Disney teen queen's experience. "They're scandalous," he said of the pics. "She should've learned from Vanessa Hudgens."
And one audience member thinks the mini-scandal will only raise Cyrus' profile: "Any publicity is publicity."