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Young stars shedding G-rated rep fast

On Tuesday, Disney darling Miley Cyrus will doff the Hannah Montana tag and release Breakout, what the 15-year-old calls her first "grown-up" album. If hit single 7 Things is any indication, America's Sweetheart is trading in puppy like for first-base love.

A week later, Nickelodeon star Josh Peck, goofball hero of the wildly popular Drake & Josh, will show up on local movie screens as a pot-dealing, virginity-eschewing slacker in R-rated flick The Wackness. Remember when Josh was cute 'n' chubby? Yeah, now he's moving weed.

A few weeks after that, Peck's TV partner, Drake Bell, will star in R-rated raunchfest College, about a bunch of randy dudes trying to wrap their lips around beer bongs and babes.

Finally, on Oct. 24, High School Musical 3: Senior Year will be released in theaters, celebrating the Mouse House juggernaut's ascent into adulthood . . . even though beloved HSM stars Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale have already traded their mouse ears for pushup bras.

The other night, my 4-year-old and I sat down to watch a new Tisdale movie, Picture This!, on ABC Family. I just about launched a mouthful of Jiffy Pop when some young thing started gossiping about getting "deflowered in the tower."

Good lord, where's the clicker?!

The next morning, my kid was dancing around to Hudgens' grindy hit Sneakernight, a hip-shaking, club-sweating booty jam. "Oh, let's go all night long," coos Hudgens. In the liner notes of her new album, V-girl throws lusty looks that would get you tossed out of the Magic Kingdom.

Listen, I'm not pulling the prude card here. I'm a music critic who dutifully rewards rebellion and the chaos theory. I'm also a father of two girls who knows his life is about to become a hellish battle of hormonal wills.

Cyrus and friends are entitled to move on with their careers, to court an older fan base. Tisdale is 23. Peck is 21. Bell is 22. Young actors routinely go overboard when trying to break from the family-friendly model. The Cosby Show's Lisa Bonet stripped butterball naked for that nasty Angel Heart sex scene. Family Ties star Michael J. Fox hoovered drugs in Bright Lights, Big City. Alyssa Milano ditched Tony Danza and courted a lesbian lover in Embrace of the Vampire.

But this latest crop of young stars is different, both sociologically and economically. First of all, they all come from shows made exclusively for children. This decade, pop culture has been largely defined by the 12- to 14-year-old set. The Hannah Montana franchise conquered cable, album charts, cineplexes and the concert industry. The billion-dollar High School Musical brigade (yes, billions) has moved CDs, DVDs and clothing in tsunamic bunches. In many respects, the rules of commerce have been changed to accommodate the whims of people too young to grow body hair.

More than that, this latest crop of world-turning teen stars is breaking free of its G-rated rep at the same time. Good lord, it's like an epidemic of after-school urges! Kids are losing their guiding lights en masse. Part of the problem is that Tisdale & Co. were always much older than their onscreen "selves," so when they stopped playing young, they immediately started acting their age — leaving a large fan base in the lurch.

Disney and Nickelodeon are run by smart, savvy showbiz folks, so they naturally saw this mass maturation coming long before I did. Thus, the Jonas Brothers have already been positioned as Disney saviors, and Miranda Cosgrove's iCarly is the It Show on Nickelodeon.

But no matter how well those acts do, things are about to change, from parents explaining why their kids can't see Josh in The Wackness to the music industry struggling to find replacements for HSM. Such was the rare allure and world-turning power of this glut of teen stars. They won't be easy to replace.

As a chronicler of popular culture, I'm curious to see if Cyrus can succeed without Hannah's bad wig. I'm curious to see if Drake and Josh can still find work without a laugh track.

As a parent of two, however, I have no idea how I'm going to explain "deflowered in the tower."

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.

Young stars shedding G-rated rep fast 07/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 11:50am]

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