Billy Ray Cyrus has danced himself into a precarious position.
On the success of his first single, "Achy Breaky Heart," Cyrus has become a sex symbol and one of the most loved and loathed performers in the country."Achy Breaky" topped both country and pop charts (and after four months has just now begun to sink from the Billboard Hot 100). His album, "Some Gave All," has been the country's No. 1 album for three months.
The video for "Achy Breaky" (plus a lot of dance contest promotions) turned the dance Cyrus does while singing the song into a national craze.
Then the tabloids descended.
Rumors abounded that he was a former Chippendales dancer more interested in promoting his hunk appeal than his music. Fellow country performer Travis Tritt launched a few anti-Cyrus barbs. Then tabloid reporters discovered that Cyrus has an out-of-wedlock baby son.
In a telephone interview from Austin, Texas, Cyrus says he has nonetheless been enjoying a rare few hours to relax without having to travel to his next show, rehearse or record.
While critics and listeners can argue about Cyrus' talents, few can question his commitment to succeed.
For three years the Flatwoods, Ky., native - who turned 31 on Aug. 25 - drove to Nashville nearly every week to try to break into country music. His life was a primer in persistence.
"I'd go get me a room at Shoney's (motel on Music Row) and get in the Yellow Pages and call anybody that said `managers' or `records' at the end of their title," says Cyrus.
"Ninety-nine percent of those were dead-end streets or not even streets at all, but Thomas Edison said the `most important ingredient in success is failure,' and I had many, many more failures than successes. But every time you conclude a way that won't work, you're one more closer to the one way that will."
What eventually did work was Cyrus' convincing country manager Jack McFadden to add him to his roster. McFadden won Cyrus a contract with Mercury Records.
The company took the unusual approach of promoting Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart" video at country dance clubs before the song was released to radio stations. Dance club patrons began calling radio stations to request the song, which sent programmers scampering for copies.
"When I first heard `Achy Breaky Heart' it hit me like a universal hit," says Cyrus. "I was raised on everything from Pentecostal music to Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, to Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Bob Seger music, and when I heard `Achy Breaky Heart' it hit me like everything in between.
"And I didn't know what the rest of the world would think. I would be lying to say that I could foresee this."
While he loves the success, he admits he was surprised by the negative events that happened because of it.
Cyrus says he hopes everyone in America now realizes that the Chippendales rumor is false. "It's absolutely a lie. And even if I would've been (a Chippendale dancer), I never would've lied about it in the first place. I mean, what would there be to hide?"
While Cyrus rode out that bombshell, he defused the next one before it exploded. He announced the existence of his son himself.
"I was going to try to keep his life as behind the scenes as possible, and then one of the trash magazines went down and was trying to take pictures of him - which they did - so I said, `Well, I'll just have to take matters into my own hands.' I just went to a legitimate source, one of the morning TV shows and told everybody and spoiled their story.
"I have a baby son, a beautiful baby son. I'd like for his life to experience as much normalcy as any little boy growing up in the United States. I'd like for him to go out and play football and baseball and not have to worry every time he hears the click of a camera behind his shoulder that it's some snoopin' piece of trash trying to put his face out in front of millions of people where it doesn't belong.
"I signed my name on a contract on Mercury Records and I opened my life up and my face up to the world, but my baby son - he did not, nor did my mother or father or my ex-wife."
Cyrus must take some blame, though, for bringing his ex-wife, Cindy Smith, into the spotlight. Cyrus gives Smith co-writer credit on his next single, "Where'm I Gonna Live?"
"Yeah, because she was kind enough to set my stuff out in the yard one morning at about 4:30 in the pouring rain," says Cyrus. "We're getting ready to film the video in Nashville ... and what I'm gonna do is reconstruct the exact scene of how the song came down, and it should be interesting."
Cyrus says Smith loves the song and is a good friend now that they're no longer married to each other. "She's rootin' for me, and I'm rootin' for her," says Cyrus.
Cyrus' current single "Could've Been Me" is moving up the country charts, but "Achy Breaky Heart" still hasn't run its course.
"Just when you think it's done all it can do ... ," says Cyrus. "Now it's the No. 1 song in Australia on the country music chart, and now it's going up their pop charts, too. They tell me in Russia that they play `Achy Breaky' before they have their meals. I'm serious. I've been doing a lot of overseas interviews, and I hear the strangest things."
One thing that does get Cyrus riled is when he's called "an overnight success."
"That is the most inaccurate statement that anyone alive could possibly make," says Cyrus. "I worked many, many years - over a decade - with every ounce of my body, mind and soul to make this thing happen. I just gave everything that I have, including true love and my home and a lot of very important things I give for this dream. So anyone who would call me an overnight success is badly mistaken."