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Hilary Duff: Can she go from Child Star to Adult Icon

The typical hot blonde superstar follows a predictable timeline. She releases an album and poses, wide-eyed and innocent, on the album cover and publicity photos. Then she releases a second album and removes a few layers of clothing. When questioned by journalists, she gives a response carefully scripted by her PR people: she’s “proud to be a woman” (so proud she’s baring at least one of two breasts, and thinly disguising a few other “womanly” regions as well); she’s “exploring her sexuality” (as is the rest of the world when she poses naked on a magazine cover). This was the trend started at the turn of the millennium by blonde ingénues Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, respectively; two former teen idols who today are more popular amongst dirty old men than the young women they’re supposedly role-modeling for. The more albums the said blonde bombshell releases, the less important the actual music seems to become, as said blonde bombshell gradually transforms into an amateur porn model who happens to record platinum-selling albums on the side. Frankly, it’s gotten a little old.

Enter Hilary Duff. Some people watch her movies; some listen to her music. Many do both; even more do neither. But, regardless of the extent to which Hilary Duff corresponds to our personal tastes, we all have to agree on one thing: as far as blonde bombshells go, she’s a breath of fresh air.

Years after her emergence as the star of Lizzie Maguire, Hilary Duff still manages to charm hearts worldwide. You may not like her music—indeed, you may not even be sure which bubblegum pop song she sings—but you can’t help but like HER. You may not buy her CDs, but you sure hope your little sister does. Hilary Duff is charming, polite, perky… and innocent. She’s the pretty, perfect girl you wanted to dislike in high school, but couldn’t because she was just so damn nice. She’s the girl you can’t help but wish only good things for.

But just how did Hilary Duff manage to stay so darn nice? How, after all these years in the spotlight, did she manage to leave her clothes on? How does she get away with playing the girl-next-door when similarly aesthetically pleasing songstresses who, let’s face it, have sold a helluva lot more records started stripping for the cameras long ago? What’s Hilary Duff’s secret?

To understand, we must first dig way back into Hilary Duff’s past, into a place called Texas—which, by the way, has a history of spawning musical greats. (FYI: Jessica Simpson and Beyonce both grew up here.) Hilary Duff called the cultural Mecca of Houston her home for the first several years of her life. It was here that she and big sister Haylie were born to Bob and Susan Duff, and first decided on their careers in show business. Stardom wasn’t in the Duff sisters’ blood. During their childhood, their mom was a homemaker and their dad ran a chain of convenience stores. But the theatre bug bit both sisters early on in life. Both took acting lessons and performed in local productions of The Nutcracker ballet. The Duff girls showed such promise even at an early age that their mom decided to relocate them to California, while Daddy Duff stayed home to mind the convenience stores.

Like many actors, both Hilary Duff and Haylie Duff suffered bad auditions and rejections. Eventually, though, both were gracing television screens nationwide during commercial breaks. Hilary Duff was the first to move on to bigger things. After a few uncredited extra roles, Hilary Duff eventually landed a supporting role in a TV movie called The Soul Collector. You and I may not remember it, but Hilary Duff sure does: the role earned her a coveted Young Artist Award for "Best Performance in a TV Movie or Pilot (Supporting Young Actress)".  

In 2000, Hilary Duff got her first real shot at fame: a role in the pilot for the cleverly-titled NBC sitcom Daddio. Remember it? Me neither, but again, Hilary Duff probably does. She was dropped from the cast even before the pilot aired, and was just about ready to give up on acting altogether when fate stepped in. A week later, she was cast as the lead in the family comedy Lizzie Maguire. Hilary Duff played the title role, a clumsy middle-class teenager on the clumsy road to adulthood. Hilary Duff filmed a whopping sixty-five episodes, earning millions of young fans along the way. The show eventually ended, but Hilary Duff did have a chance to revisit the role in 2003’s The Lizzie Maguire Movie. More importantly, her fans were here to stay.

Which was a good thing, because somebody needed to buy those albums! Yes, to be fair, Hilary Duff did continue to act, including in some highly acclaimed productions, such as Cannes and Sundance favorite Human Nature. But none of these acting roles brought her the celebrity that singing did. She started out by singing some stuff for Lizzie Maguire, and then recorded a Christmas album. Her huge break, however, was the 2004 album Metamorphosis. With it, Hilary Duff metamorphosized from a teenage TV star into a serious songstress, hitting number one in both Canada and the United States with such soul-stirring ballads as So Yesterday. She sold old out every concert on her tour for that album. Take that, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera! (Both of whom, by the way, still had last-minute tickets available for their shows that same year.)

Shortly after, Hilary Duff became a businesswoman. She started a clothing line, appropriately titled Stuff by Duff. This stuff was so successful with Hilary Duff’s teenage fans that she eventually had to evolve the stuff to include furniture and accessories.

Hilary Duff has since gone on to release other albums, most notably Most Wanted and Dignity. Dignity, recently released, has hit number three in both the United States and Canada. Will it match the success of Metamorphosis? Time will tell. Until it does, let’s go off on a tangent and dig into Hilary Duff’s private life a little…

In 2002, Hilary Duff was on her way to becoming a Teen Hottie Princess, so it was only fitting that she would date the reigning Teen Hottie Prince: Aaron Carter. Once known only as “the cute Backstreet Boy’s cute little brother,” Aaron Carter had become an artist in his own right. But their relationship was not all candy and sweet text messages. Aaron Carter had left another Teen Queen-in-the-making, Lindsay Lohan, to pursue a relationship with Hilary Duff. He then cheated on Hilary Duff with an unknown underage vixen. A brief rumor circulated, saying that Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan were feuding over the conniving Carter, but word has it the two have now mended ways. Hilary Duff has even gone so far as to call Lindsay Lohan “fun.” (But please, Hilary Duff, don’t have TOO much fun with Lindsay the Lush… if you fall off the wagon, there’ll be no more good girls in show business left!)

In 2004, Hilary Duff acquired another prestigious boyfriend: Good Charlotte singer Joel Madden. The two dated for two years, during which the media tried to turn Hilary Duff into the next Jessica Simpson, quoting Hilary Duff as bragging about her virginity. Later, Hilary Duff claimed all of the statements attributed to her were false. She had not commented on her virginity status in any interviews—and didn’t comment on it during this rebuttal, either. She may not even have had time to, because a new problem arose on her horizon: she found herself the not-so-proud recipient of not one, but TWO, stalkers. One was a 19-year-old Russian known simply as Max; the other was a paparazzi pest named David Joseph Klein.

No, in late 2006, all was not flowers and sunshine in the world of the Delightful Ms. Duff. She and Joel Madden quite literally feared for their lives. This suspicious Max character ended up getting arrested in early November after claiming he was going to kill Hilary Duff that very weekend. Good thing, too, because he sounded like a bit of a creep: he admitted to court officials that he came all the way to the U.S. for “the sole purpose of meeting and becoming romantically involved” with Hilary Duff! Either Mad Max had not yet heard of Joel Madden, or the concept of playing hard-to-get had not yet reached his neighborhood in Russia. Either way, Max is now serving jail time.

Ironically, by the time Max’s sentence was read, Joel Madden had broken up with Hilary Duff and had struck up a romance with famous-for-being-famous Nicole Ritchie. Around this time, Hilary Duff started showing the faintest hints of a dark side; she publicly called Nicole Ritchie a “skank.” Fans forgave Hilary Duff. After all, she’d been through a lot recently. Furthermore, Nicole Ritchie WAS a skank. Besides, Hilary Duff quickly redeemed herself. She donated 200,000 meals to Hurricane Katrina refugees in her birthplace of Houston. She received very little media attention for this gesture, which suggests she clearly did it not for media buzz, but out of the plain, simple goodness of her heart. Can anyone NOT love Hilary Duff?

Okay, so we haven’t figured out exactly why she’s so darn sweet. But, really, who cares why? The important thing is, there’s still one teen idol out there Grandma can approve of. The closest thing to scandal Hilary Duff has ever been involved with was when she got a little tipsy at a club the other month and lead her gay male friend into the women’s bathroom. Wouldn’t all moms love it if this was the worst thing their daughter did in her life? Hilary Duff is that one little extra weight that tips the scale of skeptical early-thirties women worldwide in favor of having children in the age of Britney Spears, after all. Because as long as there are Hilary Duffs in this world, there’s hope in this world, as well.