TAMPA — Her legs got longer; her shorts got shorter. Gone is the blond Hannah Montana wig, that synthetic beacon of innocence for 12-and-unders. In its place are real bouncy brown locks better suited for Raquel Welch in her hubba-hubba prime. Miley Cyrus, no secret identity needed, is 17 going on hide-your-eyes.
But although the billion-dollar Disney star longs to leave her youth behind, the suddenly curvy Tennessee native also longs to keep close the fans who grew up with her. And at a sold-out St. Pete Times Forum on Tuesday, a crowd of 15,087 super-voiced young ladies screamed that the feeling is mutual.
The 90-minute show was built to showcase Cyrus' more recent work and, apparently, her gams. Tracks from 2008's Breakout and this year's The Time of Our Lives were myriad; songs from the Hannah Montana show were not.
Pounding home her cries for independence, Cyrus opened the night by exploding from a plastic iceberg (huh?) and stomping into the song Breakout. Dressed in a leathery number — and backed by 10 dancers, a seven-piece band and giant shifting video screens — she then screamed the surly Start All Over.
Part of the reason the Cyrus business model (hook 'em early, keep 'em late) is working so well is that her new material is catchy, vaguely adult and fits in well with the hot-pants grind of Beyonce and Pink. 7 Things was a shouty bit of Baby's First Punk. Kicking and Screaming was a straightup rocker, which Cyrus performed writhing on the stage.
And let's be honest (even you hipsters and tsk-tsking parents): Current hit Party in the U.S.A. is a totally awesome club banger. "Nodding my head like yeah. Moving my hips like yeah …" Trust me, Mom and Dad: If Cyrus is the raciest thing your kids are exposed to, you're doing fine.
When the Hannah Montana phenomenon started in '06, Cyrus was a rah-rah cutie, all spunky, sassy, sweet. Three loooong years later, Billy Ray's kid is a booty-popping performer who doesn't spend much chit-chat time pumping up the party.
But that doesn't mean she's aloof. For Fly on the Wall, a New Wave bouncer right out of the Missing Persons playbook, she soared over the audience, a nifty bit of wire work. She took to the skies again — this time on a motorcycle — for a cover of Joan Jett's I Love Rock N' Roll.
The most memorable moment? She wailed unencumbered on the ballad When I Look at You. She was pitchy, screechy, but there was a genuine sweetness in her unfettered caterwauling. Hey, at least she's trying! Also to her credit? Her sound system was superb, so there was no hiding her weaknesses.
A Cyrus show no longer feels like an event or a coming-of-age moment. It now just feels like a regular ol' concert. But that, in itself, is a remarkable feat for a seemingly ephemeral child performer, especially one devoured by the tabloids. Yes, her stage presence and singing need work.
But you know what? Cyrus might stick around longer than you think.
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.