Image Credit: Disney Channel; Central Image Agency/FilmMagic.comIt’s wild to think that on March 26, 2006–just a bit more than four years ago–the Disney Channel’s tween-tastic series Hannah Montana launched with the then relatively unknown Miley Cyrus at the helm. Well, she was a bit known, what with being the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus, a country star who’d struck gold with a one-hit wonder “Achy Breaky Heart.” But generally, at the time, it somehow seemed unlikely that the awkward looking gal would shoot to stardom through a silly little show that featured her as a pop star who goes to a regular school in disguise, so she can lead a (relatively) normal life. But as we all now know, Miley is nothing but regular–she’s now one of the biggest stars in the world. Tonight, however, begins the end of an era for Miley, as the final season of Hannah premieres at 8 p.m.

At this juncture, we should all take a moment to ponder how she’s handled this transition and what it all means for her post-Disney future. Just look at the photo attached to this blog post–the change in Miley from season 1 of Hannah Montana (on the left) to the current Miley who seemingly “Can’t Be Tamed” (on the right) is downright stunning. But doesn’t almost everyone radically change between the ages of 13 and 17? I certainly did.

Like any growing adolescent, her look–and her behavior–has morphed along the way. She’s had hit albums and singles. She’s starred in a handful of movies, from a Hannah Montana pic to a Nicholas Sparks tear jerker. And there’s been scandal, too, of course: Remember when she posed for those racy photos in Vanity Fair? This one-time baby has come a long way, baby!

And despite all this success–and the jabs from critics along the way–Miley has been working steadily and employing an I’m-gonna-do-what-want attitude along the way. I, personally, applaud her for her fortitude. And as for all the questions about her bubbling sexuality and increasingly risqué attire? Pish. She’s a young woman–every teenager goes through the same things. But will it affect this final season of Hannah Montana? Leave it in a bad light? Honestly, probably not. This girl is pretty golden. She’s clearly growing her fan base, so that she has the younger fans and, now, older fans. (Hi! That’s me! I’m not ashamed to admit her latest album is on repeat on my iPod…) And truly, those tweens who started out watching Hannah Montana have grown up right along with Miley. She’s said it over and over in interviews, but she’s gotta grow up. Compared to some pop stars that have come before her, she’s doing it rather gracefully.

So what’s next? A lot, I’d guess. More hit records. More big movies. More TV shows, maybe. My advice for her: Don’t shave your head, get married in Vegas while drunk, or have babies too early. Oh, and stay away from anyone with the last name Federline, and you’ll be fine.

What advice do you, PopWatchers, have for Miley as Hannah Montana begins its final-season fade? What would you like to see her do next?

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