Yes, Hilary is a household name.
Not the Hillary that may be running for president, but the superstar that everyone on the planet under the age of 18 knows. To say that her career is booming would be a major understatement. She has not only conquered the television and film industries, but now she is also a recording artist. Last year, her debut album on Hollywood Records, “Metamorphosis,” was No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in the week of its release, and its single “So Yesterday” topped the pop singles chart. “Fly” was recently named No. 30 on America’s Top 40, naming it one of the most played songs for the last 12 months. She has crisscrossed the country, performing to sold-out crowds and has sold millions of records. Her mantle is filled with awards. In fact, she broke the attendance record in March at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo with an audience of 73,800. She’s a genuine star; she’s 17 and has only had her driver’s license for a year. When she flashes a smile at you, you know you’ve been flashed. It’s one of the most beautiful smiles around, and the day we talked, she was just back from the dentist. She had chipped both of her front teeth on microphones. “I’m doing all these performances, dancing and jumping all over the stage,” she says, “and I forget about my microphone hitting my teeth.”
How did all this happen in what seems to be such a short period of time? Hilary Ann Duff was born here in Houston on Sept. 28, 1987, to Robert and Susan Duff. She and her older sister, Haylie, are sixth-generation Texans – and their Texas roots are very important to them.
“I do love Texas … it’s such a special place,” Hilary says. “My sister, mom and dad are my best friends, and family means everything to me. Whatever success I have had is because we work together as a team, and we work hard.
“Haylie is my idol and my best friend,” Hilary continues. “She’s only three years older than me; and when we were growing up, whatever she did I wanted to do. If Haylie danced, then I wanted to dance. If Haylie sang, I wanted to sing. It was Haylie who came home one day and said she wanted to be an actress. At first, I thought that was a stupid idea. Then one day, I went with her to an audition, and I began to find acting challenging and motivating. I was probably 8 or 9 years old.
“When I was 7 years old, in the first grade,” she recalls, “I had a speech impediment. The school suggested that I get speech therapy, and my mom was absolutely opposed to the idea. Instead, without ever telling me why, she started me in voice lessons. That’s when I realized I loved to sing. Within a month my “speech impediment” was gone. Another thing I realized was that while I had always been very shy, when I sang, I wasn’t shy at all.
“I was in Memorial Drive Elementary about a year and a half – I guess I was about 9 when Mom packed us up, and we were off to Los Angeles,” she explains. “I know a lot of people thought we were crazy, and there was even some negative criticism of my family. Home school and tutors is where we landed, and believe it when I tell you we worked hard. My dad stayed in Houston, and we visited there and at the ranch in Bastrop, Texas, as often as we could, and he came out here as much as he could. There may be a chance that he’ll move out here soon.” She is thrilled at the prospect.
Susan Duff handles not only the duties of mother and mentor, but is also the manager for both of her daughters. I first met the family when Haylie starred in “Dreams in the Attic,” which was shot in Galveston. Shelly Duvall starred as the owner of a costume shop, and I played her assistant who changed costumes all day long. Susan was on the set every day, always trying to help everyone in any way possible. The close relationship between mother and daughters and the great respect that they showed each other was obvious.
Hilary appeared in the 1997 women’s western, “True Women,” and in 1998, when she was 10, she starred as the good witch, Wendy, and Casper’s best friend in “Casper Meets Wendy,” also starring Shelly Duvall and Teri Garr. Next was an appearance in “The Soul Collector.” The big break and Hilary’s first major success came in 2001 with the Disney Channel television series “Lizzie McGuire.” The show also marked her singing debut, with “I Can’t Wait” – one of the songs from the platinum, million-selling “Lizzie McGuire” soundtrack. Though the “Lizzie” show has been on hiatus now for almost four years, it is still rated No. 1 in its time slot.
In 2003, Hilary starred in three feature films, “Cheaper by the Dozen” with Steve Martin, the comedy “Agent Cody Banks” with Frankie Muniz and her own starring vehicle “The Lizzie McGuire Movie.” She also filmed “Raise Your Voice,” in which she starred with Rita Wilson and John Corbett. Released last summer was the romantic comedy feature “A Cinderella Story” with Chad Michael Murray.
She recently completed another romantic comedy, “The Perfect Man,” where her character is a teenage girl searching for the perfect partner for her single mom. Another comedy she is filming, “Outward Blonde,” has her playing a character much like Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.” In it, she’s a teenager from New York who, after failing gym class, is sent to an Outward Bound program.
Her favorite movies thus far have been “Raise Your Voice” and “The Perfect Man.” But I hear the most excitement in her voice when she talks about a movie project she started in April, co-starring sister Haylie, titled “Material Girls.”
Anything pertaining to Hilary Duff is so hot, it has even surprised Hilary. Her fashion line of clothes for young teens, called Stuff by Hilary Duff, is in Target stores around the country. Hilary has a lot of input with the designs and is quick to remind me that these are for much younger teens than herself at this point in her life. There are Hilary Duff fashion dolls – a TV Star doll, Rock Star doll or Movie Star doll.
On any given day, you might flip through the channels or pick up a magazine and find Hilary winning the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Actress, Hilary and Haylie winning the award for “Best Sister Style” at Us magazine’s celebration for the “Young, Hot Hollywood Style” Awards, Hilary co-hosting the popular television show “The View” for a week, Hilary and Haylie’s national commercials, Hilary hosting MTV award shows, Hilary being interviewed by Jay Leno or David Letterman, or Hilary being ranked No. 72 in “The Celebrity 100” report by Forbes magazine.
Not that a 17-year-old needs to think about it that much, but when asked about a beauty regime, she says, “I think it’s really important to exercise, but I don’t have a specific program. When I can, I like to walk and jog. Generally, I try for a balanced diet, but I do like my junk food. I try to clean the makeup off my face thoroughly and drink lots of water. That’s about all I have time for.”
This is a young woman who has been blessed with the solid foundation of a loving family, a mom and dad who have instilled basic, faith-based values that have produced down-to-earth, grateful and open-hearted daughters who are dedicated to helping others. Hilary and Haylie joined other young performers as charter members of Kids with a Cause to create programs that improve the quality of life for disadvantaged children. Hilary is very active in the group, participating in fund-raising events and visiting children in hospitals around the country. Hilary has designed T-shirts to benefit Kids with a Cause and Ocean of Love. She has also been named the youth ambassador for Return to Freedom, a refuge to preserve the last of America’s wild horses.
I ask if she has a favorite thought or saying that motivated her. She thinks about this for awhile and says, “You know that old saying – about seeing the glass half full instead of half empty? I’m always remembering how lucky I am – thousands know my music. I have a nice house, car, beautiful clothes – the best family in the world. I’m really lucky.
“But recently, I was on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show,” and I’d had a pretty bad morning. Normally, I’m a very positive person, but I was tired, stressed, not at home, not comfortable. I was walking around with a bowl of cereal, dropped it and broke the bowl. Suddenly, I saw a hummingbird on the windowsill and snapped right out of that bad mood. I told the story to Ellen, who told me she had the same kind of morning. Seems Ellen was grumbling and rushing, and suddenly, she saw two ducks land in her back pond. She told me she snapped right out of it. We laughed about it! I try to remember all the time how lucky I am – and I picture the glass half full.”
When I ask Hilary about the toughest part of her job, the response is quick: “Well, the saddest thing for me is sometimes I’m struggling and pushing, and people aren’t happy for me. There’s a lot of negativity out there. And, of course, the lack of privacy – that’s hard to get used to. Also, it’s change, changing the perception of Hilary, the “Lizzie McGuire” character, into the Hilary I am today. It’s not just me, all of us have to change and evolve in life, and sometimes it’s not easy. My singing career has helped me a lot. The “Metamorphosis” album contains many songs that I can really relate to now.”
Quickly she is able to define the best part of her job. “The success,” she says, “and the creativity! And it’s all because of my mom, dad and sister. We did this together. We made it happen. Dreams do come true.” Yes, Hilary Duff is a superstar, she’s 17, and she’s an all-American, girl-next-door, dream of a human being. Maybe this is the Hilary that will run for president one day! H