No. 3: Miley Cyrus

Few can boast membership in the The Year’s Most Searched Person on Yahoo!. In fact, since 2001, it’s been Britney Spears‘ club, although she let Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson step in front in 2004, and Megan Fox in 2009. (Michael Jackson’s death propelled him to the No. 1 slot.)

Now it’s Miley Cyrus‘s turn. She has been working hard for the distinction, as she celebrated her last year as a minor. Or, more accurately, she was mapping a shortcut to adulthood in 2010: She scored the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, played the romantic lead in a Nicholas Sparks movie, and taped the end of her Disney show, “Hannah Montana.”

Growing pains and gains
When you’re a billion-dollar business, though, there are bound to be growing pains. The singer re-recorded Bret Michael’s “Nothing to Use” as a duet, but the suggestive lyrics (“We both know better than this, still we can’t resist / Slowly get undressed”) set off a firestorm of criticism. Her appearance on “American Idol” as a mentor received mixed reviews. Critics were even less kind to her film, “The Last Song.” Then a leaked video of her dance grind at age 16 with gay “So You Think You Can Dance” judge Adam Shankman set off another furor.

There was little doubt that Cyrus was leaving childhood without a backward glance. Her “Can’t Be Tamed” video (with that $25,000 corset) raised eyebrows but also topped iTunes charts. She dished in Teen Vogue about how she and beau Liam Hemsworth were “both deeper than normal people — what they think and how they feel.” (The pair, who co-starred in “The Last Song,” broke up twice in 2010.)

From Hannah to Miley
Cyrus (and those outraged parents) may not have needed to worry about offending her young fans. According to the New York Times, many preteens and teens had already moved on. One 11-year-old echoed critics when she weighed in on Cyrus’s “Can’t Be Tamed” video: “It was weird … I feel like she acts 25. She looks so old. She is too old for herself.”

Then again, trying to be older than your years is something only a teenager would do. Declared the Washington Post, “At some point soon, the parents of America are going to have to let Miley Cyrus go.” Judging from her determination, she’s not waiting for anyone’s approval, but from the sales figures and her online following, she seems to have garnered some approval anyway.

Family breakup
Her biggest wish in turning 18 wasn’t for a big blowout (although she had one), but for a family get-together. Just weeks before her November 23 birthday, parents Billy Ray and Tish Cyrus announced their divorce after 17 years of marriage — a shock to a child of any age.

How much of their marital troubles was due to building their daughter’s career has been a subject of a lot of speculation, including, reportedly, from Miley herself.

–Vera H-C Chan