Miley Cyrus doesn't want to be Hannah Montana forever.
"I've never faked it, saying I'm going to be Hannah forever," the 17-year-old actress/singer told reporters recently. "I'm going to grow up at some point, and I've always been honest about that."
So retitling her hit sitcom to "Hannah Montana Forever" for its final season, which begins 8 p.m. Sunday on the Disney Channel, is a bit of a misnomer. The theme of the season will have high school senior Miley Stewart debating whether she wants to continue living a double life as alter-ego Hannah Montana.
Along the way in this quest for enlightenment, there will be guest stars galore, including Heidi Klum, Vicki Lawrence, Ray Liotta, Angus T. Jones, Sheryl Crow, Christine Taylor and Dolly Parton.
In many ways, ending the series is cathartic for Cyrus. Admittedly, she's at a personal and professional crossroad as she transitions from teen star to respected adult performer. Ridding herself of Hannah will be one way to be taken more seriously, and choosing her next projects carefully will be the next.
"Can't Be Tamed," her dance-heavy CD released last month, is also a bid at stretching herself. Critics have been harsh, and a music video, which is visually dark and has Cyrus literally spreading her wings, has many fans scratching their heads as to its significance.
After "Hannah," Cyrus said she wants to do films with more meat and will seek out indie film roles created to expand her talents.
For now, though, she has to get past her image as the squeaky clean Hannah, the role that made her a star. If she keeps putting herself in compromising positions, such as the case with those legs-spread-in-a-short-skirt photos posted by Perez Hilton recently, she'll have no trouble being regarded as an adult but also taking the consequences that go along with that.
Parton, who has had her share of scandals, can identify with Cyrus's plight.
"Miley and I are like a little piece of each other," Parton said recently. "We both started out young and had to learn how to handle the business side of things fast."
The media is too harsh on Cyrus, Parton said. She's still a girl who is growing up very publicly. She deserves slack.
"We don't want her to grow up," Parton said. "We want to hold on to our little children. We don't want to let Hannah Montana go.
"That's not Hannah Montana now. That's Miley."
Cyrus' first adult step was making the grow-up decision to end the series now. Her contractual ties to the show ended in the past season, and Cyrus could have walked away then. But she considered what an investment she and her fans have in the character.
"It's the right time to end the series because I've been working since I was 11," she said. "We never wanted to call this a kid's show because it's always been more of a family show.
"There's only so much you can do. You don't want the characters to grow up too much so the younger audience can't watch the show anymore.
"Also, you don't want to go back and make it so young that you lose the older fans you have. I think we did come down to the point where there wasn't much we could do with the characters."
Cyrus was left with the decision on whether to come back for a final season to say goodbye or drop the series altogether. Billy Ray Cyrus, her father, said he left the decision entirely up to her.
After considering her options, Miley Cyrus decided she wanted closure for her character and her fans.
"We didn't want (the season) to be a cry fest because it's not," Cyrus said. "Life will go on, just like everybody else's life goes on. We made (the season) about the happiness of a new chapter.
"It is the end, but it's also the beginning of something new."