Cyrus, better known as the star of the Disney original series Hannah Montana, might just be the hottest young entertainment figure today. Her accomplishments include a widely popular television show, two albums that have sold millions of copies, a merchandise line and a concert tour that's been a hotter draw than Bruce Springsteen's or the Rolling Stones'.
Much of that has to do with timing: The list examined artists' earnings from June 2006 to June 2007, and Cyrus' stardom has climbed steadily since.
She made $3.5 million during the period, just behind the supporting stars of the Harry Potter series, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, as well as actress Dakota Fanning ($4 million each), but well behind Radcliffe (in sixth place with $15 million), Lavigne (eighth place with $12 million) and Underwood (11th place with $7 million).
"It's an amazing thing that we've reached a place in the entertainment industry where a 15-year-old Disney firecracker could outsell 'The Boss,' that the kid who plays Harry Potter could make more money in a year than Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock," said Lea Goldman, senior editor of Forbes. "Kids are where it's at today. Tweens wield mighty, mighty power in the marketplace."
Like many others in entertainment, Cyrus is probably better known for her character's name, Hannah Montana, than her real name. However, the name "Hannah Montana" is owned by Disney, which controls all aspects of its use and pockets much of the earnings.
"Miley is unusual in that much of her earnings are under a Disney-owned brand, that of Hannah Montana," Goldman said. "This is a Disney property. That means Disney enjoys ownership of all the rights and royalties associated with the brand."
Syracuse popular culture professor Robert Thompson agrees.
"Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana is the huge phenomenon it is, not because she's a brilliant actor or an extraordinary singer," he said. "The reason it is a phenomenon is because of the incredible industrial complex that Disney has in control. The way the concert was promoted, the handling of Hannah Montana is a phenomenon created out of a brilliant set of marketing strategies."
That's why the teen star whose full name is Destiny Hope Cyrus - Miley is a nickname - is known more as Hannah Montana. On her second music recording, a two-disc follow-up to her Hannah Montana soundtrack, Cyrus uses her full name on the second disc. Beyond that, her official Web site (mileyworld.com) and her live television appearances as herself, Cyrus is Hannah Montana to the public.
Goldman said that Disney is well aware that Hannah Montana would not exist without Cyrus, "and she is well-compensated. But Miley wouldn't be Miley without Hannah."
Surely she wouldn't be at the center of a concert tour that has sold out nationwide in minutes, leaving anxious parents scrambling for tickets that are now being scalped at more than 20 times face value.
Not bad for a star whose TV show debuted in March 2006. Her first album, the Hannah Montana soundtrack, was released seven months later, debuting at the top of the Billboard Hot 200 chart. Her two-disc second album pretty much acknowledges that the real girl is lesser known than her TV persona: Hannah Montana, Vol. 2: Meet Miley Cyrus. That album also debuted at the top of the Billboard Hot 200 after its release in June.
Her 69-venue concert began in October. Forbes' Goldman and others say that her income will increase significantly once tour revenues are tabulated. She added that having a hit show on a cable network like Disney "isn't on par of the pay scale with, say starring in a hit series on NBC."
The highest-paid entertainers on the Forbes list are the 21-year-old twins Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen ($17 million each), who fashioned a multimillion-dollar empire by appearing on television since infancy, then added a popular film series as well as a clothing line.
Today, they're scarcely known for their acting, having made millions merchandising their image. They also own Dualstar Entertainment Group, which makes movies, video games and hair-care products. Forbes listed them 11th among the top 20 richest women in entertainment, with a net worth of $100 million.
Thompson said that even if Cyrus is always most well-known as Hannah Montana, she can still branch out and continue to have a lucrative career. He pointed to Montana's predecessor on the Disney star throne, Hilary Duff, who was once synonymous with the character she played on the Disney show Lizzie McGuire. She has since had a successful career as an actress and singer, enough to place seventh on the Forbes list with $12 million.
"If I had to bet on which star would succeed beyond her character, between Miley of Hannah Montana and James Gandolfini escaping the Tony Soprano character of The Sopranos, I'd put my money on Cyrus," Thompson said.