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Video: Billy Ray on ‘Nashville Star’

TODAY contributor
updated 6/17/2008 10:12:58 AM ET 2008-06-17T14:12:58

Publicly addressing the uproar over his daughter Miley’s Vanity Fair photo shoot for the first time, country music star Billy Ray Cyrus said he wasn’t present when the most controversial shot was taken. But, he added, there’s nothing for him and Miley Cyrus to do about it other than ride out the storm and move on with their blockbuster careers.

“I didn’t know they were gonna strip her down and wrap her in a blanket,” Cyrus told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday in New York. He was referring to a shot of his famous 15-year-old daughter taken by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz in which the “Hannah Montana” star appeared to be topless, covered only by a sheet she held against her chest.

While Cyrus doesn’t approve of the photograph, which Leibovitz defended as “a simple, classic portrait, shot with very little makeup,” he said there’s nothing that can be done about it.

“My dad always told me the more you stomp in poop, the more it stinks,” he said, reaching back to his Kentucky childhood for a colorful metaphor. “So I was just, ‘OK, this happened. We got to deal with it.’ ”

It comes with the territory of being a star, he said, harking back to when he was a brand-new star and an old hand told him how life is.

Advice from Kristofferson
“My mind also went back to 1992,” Cyrus told Vieira. “I had the number-one album on Billboard Top 200 for 17 weeks in a row. And with that positive thing going on, there was also that double-edged thing of a reaction. And I remember Kris Kristofferson stopped me backstage at one of my shows and said, ‘Listen, hoss, always remember: The turkey with the longest neck’s always going to be the one everyone’s shootin’ at.’ ”

After the controversy over the Vanity Fair shoot broke, Cyrus shared that advice with his daughter. “Me and Miley went for a little walk a few days later, and I told her what Kris had said. I said, ‘It’s just one of those things. You gotta kind of stand back and let it run its course.’ ”

In defending the photo, Vanity Fair pointed out that Miley’s grandmother and publicist were at the shoot, saw the picture, and didn’t disapprove. Billy Ray had even participated in the shoot, taking a picture with his daughter that was also criticized as looking more like a boyfriend-girlfriend shot than a father-daughter portrait. But, he said, he had to leave before the picture with the sheet was taken.

“I had just finished a movie down in Florida. I flew in because Annie had specifically asked that I come in and do a shot with Miley. I had worked with her before. She’s a great lady. She’s a good person, a great photographer. I was scheduled to be in Washington state the next day to play for the troops returning from Iraq and then the next day in Anchorage, Alaska.” He left early to catch a plane for that special concert.

He also defended the father-daughter photo, in which Miley, dressed in jeans and a top that bares her midriff, lounges across his lap.

‘Just a daddy who loves his daughter’
“I’m sorry if I offended somebody. That’s just a daddy who loves his daughter a whole lot,” Cyrus told Vieira. “Miley and I just got caught up in this adventure of this dream and what we do for a living and, again, we both love acting, we love making music, and we love each other. I’m her dad, she’s my daughter. If a daddy hasn’t hugged his daughter recently, I recommend he does.”

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He went back to his philosophy that life has its ups and downs, and you have to ride them out.

“For every action there’s an opposite and equal reaction,” he said, speaking of Miley’s choice of career. “For every high, there’s a low. It’s just the way life is. She has a dream. She loves what she does for a living, she just loves it.”

She also makes money at it — potentially more money than even her dad ever dreamed of. Slideshow: Miley Cyrus Conde Nast Portfolio recently predicted that the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana brand could reach a value of $1 billion by the time Miley is 18 years old.

While Miley’s career and future seem set, Billy Ray has turned his attention to finding the next country sensation as the host of the prime-time series “Nashville Star,” which moved from cable to NBC this year. The star-search reality show started two weeks ago with 12 hopefuls, and on Monday night pared that number down to 10.

“I lived the dream that they’re dreaming,” Cyrus said of the contestants on the show. “I’ve walked the streets and carried that guitar. It’s about the music, and that’s really what turns me on about it. It’s a lot of fun. You can see the fire burning in the kids’ eyes and know that they’re out there to win. They believe in the dream.”

Unlike Simon Cowell on “American Idol,” the “Nashville Star” judges — John Rich, Jewel and Jeffrey Steele — avoid scalding put-downs of the hopefuls.

“With our show ‘Nashville Star,’ this is about kids who have a dream of being a singer, songwriter, entertainer, and our judges are going to mentor these kids and hopefully take them down that path to become that next superstar,” Cyrus said. “I find that extremely exciting when people reach their dreams. I love that about life …. I do believe a major superstar is going to emerge from this competition, I really do.”

The man whose breakthrough hit was “Achy Breaky Heart” said that failure isn’t to be feared but embraced.

“No matter how many times you get knocked down, it comes down to getting back up,” Cyrus told Vieira. “Thomas Edison said the most important ingredient for success is failure. Every time you fail, you eliminate one way that won’t work therefore being that much closer to the one way that will.”

Cyrus knows what he’s talking about. “I’ve been knocked down a lot,” he said.

But he’s still standing tall.

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