The wholesome country girl image of Disney star Miley Cyrus has taken a hit following the fallout from racy pictures of the “Hannah Montana” star set to be published in May in Vanity Fair magazine. The wildly popular teen star, who’s concert tour last year caused a lot of controversy on the ticketing front, has apologized to her fans for the pics, prompting the photographer, famed shutterbug Annie Leibovitz to issue her own statement that the photos were tasteful and taken with complete cooperation with the star and her family.

The fifteen-year old star is pictured draped in a blanket in sensual, topless pose on the magazine’s cover, an image that caused a revolt by parents objecting to the perceived sexualization of the underage singer/actress.

Cyrus so wowed teen and pre-teen audiences in her nationwide live tour that Disney released a hit film of her performance earlier this year. That film sold out in record-breaking time. At the time, fans described their love of Cyrus’ upbeat, wholesome image, and parents were onboard as well.

But, some parents reportedly were outraged over the weekend when the television program “Entertainment Tonight” began showing commercials promoting a “scoop” that Ms. Cyrus had posed topless, albeit with her chest covered, for Vanity Fair.

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In a provocative article on the subject in the New York Times business section Monday, the question was posed: “Did Miley Cyrus, with the help of a controversy-courting magazine, just deliver a blow to the Walt Disney Company’s billion-dollar Hannah Montana franchise?”

“It is doubtful that one photograph — especially one that is tame in the context of an Internet awash in nude photographs of other starlets — could dent the Hannah Montana machine, said several Wall Street analysts in the Times article. “Retail sales for the franchise are expected to total about $1 billion in 2008. A motion picture is in the works for 2009 and Ms. Cyrus signed a seven-figure book deal with the Disney Book Group last week.

“But keeping a teenage entertainment franchise on track in an age when stars are monitored around the clock by bloggers and paparazzi is extremely difficult, even for a company with the experience of Disney. Executives are constantly battling to keep minor slipups from growing into full-blown controversies.

“Last week, the public relations problem du jour was a green bra; photos online showing Ms. Cyrus pulling away her tank top to flash her underwear,” the Times reported.

In a statement released Monday, Cyrus apologized for the flap. “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. I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about.”

For her part, Leibovitz, no stranger to taking provocative photos of stars, said in a statement that Cyrus and her family saw the pictures during the shoot and approved of them. “I’m sorry that my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted. Miley and I looked at fashion photographs together, and we discussed the picture in that context before we shot it. The photograph is a simple, classic portrait, shot with very little makeup, and I think it is very beautiful.”

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