Destiny Hope Cyrus is born to country singer Billy Ray Cyrus (left) and wife, Leticia (Tish), who call a 500-acre Nashville farm home. Her dad is a "recluse" at this point, pulling back from the aftereffects of his "Achy Breaky Heart" fame. Theirs is a full house, with Miley and five other kids. The smiling darling earns the nickname "Smiley," that with time gets shortened to "Miley."
As Billy Ray's returns to showbiz with acting roles in the series Doc, Miley wants to follow suit, despite her father's efforts and painful rejections at auditions. "I'd see those little tears come down her face and I'd hold her and say, 'Enjoy being a kid. There is too much heartache to mess up your childhood,'" Billy Ray tells PEOPLE. But there's no keeping her down on the farm. "She kept stepping up to the plate, and danggone, the right opportunity came at the right time." Those steps include a guest spot on Doc, and a part in Tim Burton's Big Fish.
Miley, 13, wins the lead role in the new Disney series, Hannah Montana, after initially being rejected because she was "too small, too young". She plays an average teen with a double life as a famous pop singer, and Billy Ray is cast as her dad. "I feel like I can tell my dad anything," she tells PEOPLE. "When we come home, we forget that we even work together and just hang out."
Hannah Montana becomes cable's most-watched show for kids ages 6 to 14. Its success continues in song with the Hannah Montana soundtrack album debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200, eventually going triple platinum. Miley's appeal is "charisma and a very winning personality that's easily conveyed by both television and live performance," says Billboard touring editor Ray Waddell. "She's totally non-threatening to parents and a must-see for her target audience."
Miley releases her follow-up album, Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus, which sells 1.1 million copies. In October, Miley embarks on a 54-date concert tour, and tickets are snapped up as fast as Billy Ray's footwork during his run on Dancing With the Stars. Some fans complain that the tickets are sold out before they get a shot, prompting at least four states attorneys general to launch investigations about ticket sales.
PEOPLE reports Miley is dating Nick Jonas (right), 14, youngest member of the Jonas Brothers. With his brothers, Nick guest-stars in a ratings record-setting episode of Hannah Montana in August and tours with Cyrus. "Nick and I loved each other," Cyrus tells Seventeen in 2008 of their romance, which ended in late 2007. "For two years he was basically my 24/7."
Billy Ray and Miley appear on the cover of PEOPLE, where he discusses raising Miley so she doesn't follow the same path as former Disney stars Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. "Everything is about keeping her grounded," his wife Tish tells PEOPLE. "I still threaten her with a wooden spoon to the butt!" In the Cyrus household, Miley is required to do chores, attend church each week with the family and gets grounded as punishment.
After gracing the cover of CosmoGIRL!, press of a different nature surfaces on the web. "Someone scanned the page, altered it and then posted it on the Internet," Janet Giovanelli, J-14's editor-in-chief, tells the New York Times of the story that started Miley pregnancy rumors. The original story, titled "Miley's Gross Habits," was a fun piece about joking with her Disney co-stars. The magazine issued a statement debunking the doctored report and emphasizes Miley as "an intelligent, respectable role model for young girls."
After candid photos of Cyrus showing her bra surface online, a semi-clothed Vanity Fair shot of Cyrus makes the media rounds – and causes a big to-do for the child-friendly star. "My goal in my music and my acting is always to make people happy," the singer, 15, tells PEOPLE. "For Vanity Fair, I was so honored and thrilled to work with Annie [Leibovitz]. I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be 'artistic' and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed."
After signing a seven-figure book deal, Cyrus is named PEOPLE's richest kid in the world. By the numbers, Cyrus earned an estimated $1 million per week while on tour; sold 6.5 million albums; and is projected to sell $1 billion worth of Hannah Montana merchandise.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Ron Galella/WireImage; Everett Collection; Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP; Clark Samuels/Startraks; Michael Simon/Startraks