revels in a favorite pastime—cruising through rolling fields on a beat-up Suzuki dirt bike. But when he spies a wild hawk circling overhead, Cyrus cuts the engine. "My kids used to watch wild hawks with me," says Cyrus quietly. "We'd see them build their nest and watch the mother and father teach the young ones to fly." These days it's hard not to think about his own future as an empty nester: "I wrote a song about a parent who watches his baby grow up," he says. "It's called 'Ready, Set, Don't Go.'"
That sentiment neatly sums up Cyrus's own relationship with his daughter Miley, 15, who has spent her adolescence becoming Disney's Hannah Montana
—and a superstar. Until recently, Cyrus—who also plays the father of his daughter's character on the hit TV show—and his wife, Tish, have managed to balance Miley's fame with their own deeply felt Christian values (the couple have four other children: Brandi, 21, Trace, 19, Braison, 14, and Noah, 8). But this year there have been some bumps: Personal photos of Miley surfaced on the Internet, and controversial pictures of the teen idol and her father were also published in Vanity Fair
. After the media frenzy that followed, Cyrus is thankful that the whole family recently spent several months in Nashville, where Nashville Star
shoots and the next Hannah Montana
movie was filmed. "After 2 1/2 years [in L.A.], somewhere along the line I had become lost," says Cyrus, surveying the bucolic landscape of Singin' Hill. "This is who I am—that other guy out there is just Hollywood."
Cyrus has poured those feelings into his upcoming album Back to Tennessee. And after her recent publicity problems, he says, his daughter sees the beauty of the simple life. "Over the last month and a half, Miley realized who she was and where she came from," says Cyrus. "You need that."
It's a lesson Cyrus learned the hard way. A politician's son from Flatwoods, Ky., Cyrus was a struggling musician living in his Chevy Beretta before he was discovered in 1991. After his single "Achy Breaky Heart" hit the top of the charts in 1992, "the ride was just spinning too fast. I needed to step back," he recalls. "I went to the farm, rode horses and got my head, soul and spirit back together."
It took a few years for Cyrus to find a balance in his career, and he admits that "every single day" he worries this business might take a similar toll on Miley. "Right now she's caught up in the machine, she's very competitive and she lives in the music," he says. "That's the one thing that assures me that this is meant to be: I know she's happy." Still, he knows the pressure of fame. "I'm not around her all the time—Miley's a teenage girl and needs her space," says Cyrus. "But if she listened to me, I'd say, 'When you get to a spot where you feel comfortable, step back and enjoy life.'"
Her dad would be happy to show her how. Heading back to his bike, Cyrus spots some wild blackberries and pops the fruit into his mouth. "You need to try one," he says. "They're the sweetest ones ever to come out of here."
- Eileen Finan/Thompson's Station.
Things aren't exactly calm on Singin' Hill Farm, the 500-acre home of Billy Ray Cyrus in Thompson's Station, Tenn. On a recent visit to his rural spread, the 46-year-old singer and host of TV's