(Updates with apology, Disney statement, Teen magazine)
By Gina Keating and Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES, Sept 7 Vanessa Hudgens, the star of the wholesome, made-for-kids TV movie hit "High School Musical," apologized on Friday for a nude photo of her on the Web and Walt Disney Co. said it was sticking by the performer.
Some parents of her young fans voiced dismay over the photo, which shows Hudgens, 18, smiling and standing naked directly in front of the camera.
"I want to apologize to my fans, whose support and trust means the world to me," Hudgens said in a statement issued about a day after the photo surfaced. "I am embarrassed over this situation and regret having ever taken these photos. I am thankful for the support of my family and friends."
In a statement, Disney (DIS.N) said it hoped Hudgens had learned a valuable lesson. "Vanessa has apologized for what was obviously a lapse in judgment."
A Disney representative said the photo would not affect its decision to cast Hudgens in the third film of the "High School Musical" franchise and that negotiations for the cast and creative team were continuing.
Earlier on Friday, a representative for Hudgens confirmed the image was of Hudgens but said it "was taken privately."
"It is a personal matter and it is unfortunate that this has become public," the representative said in a statement.
Hudgens has starred in "High School Musical" and "High School Musical 2" as Gabriella, the sweet, innocent science geek whose romance with athlete Troy, played by Zac Efron, is chronicled in the two hugely popular made-for-television movies on the squeaky-clean Disney Channel.
Hudgens and Efron, who date in real life, were so chaste on screen they did not even kiss until the end of the second film, a climactic moment marked by fireworks going off behind them.
The two movies form the cornerstone of one of Disney's most lucrative franchises for preteen girls and a third is planned for release to theaters next year. The second film debuts on Disney Channels in other countries this weekend.
'VERY PRIVATE PERSON'
In a Teen magazine interview released earlier this week, Hudgens described herself as "a very private person" with "very good morals" who enjoyed serving as a role model.
"I've been brought up with very good morals and I'm not going to go out and do something I don't want other kids to do," she said in the article.
But some parents of young fans were outraged by the photo, saying it tarnished Hudgens' image.
"She's damaged," Renee Rollins-Greenberg, a Los Angeles mother of two, told Reuters. "She's got this teeny-bop audience, young preteens and younger, who are admiring her and thinking she's this wonderful, pure innocent person. Eighteen is awfully young for this kind of display."
"I'm devastated because I have an 8-year-old for which I now have to have an explanation," said another Los Angeles-area mother, Rosie Konkel. "She's always looked at this character as a very smart and proper young lady."
"High School Musical 2" debuted on Disney Channel last month to a record audience of 17.2 million viewers to become the most-watched individual program in cable TV history.
The show's soundtrack debuted at No. 1 on national album sales charts, where it has remained for the past three weeks, selling nearly 1.2 million copies.