| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES The wholesome image of Vanessa Hudgens, star of the made-for-kids TV movie hit "High School Musical," was under fire on Friday because of a nude photo circulating on the Internet, creating a new publicity challenge for the Walt Disney Co.
A representative for actress Vanessa Hudgens confirmed on Friday that the image is of the 18-year-old performer. The picture shows her smiling and standing naked directly in front of the camera in what appears to be a bathroom.
"This was a photo which was taken privately," Hudgens' representative said in a statement. "It is a personal matter and it is unfortunate that this has become public."
A Disney representative had no comment about whether the appearance of the photo would affect the company's decision to cast Hudgens in the third film of the "High School Musical" franchise.
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 actually date in real life, were so chaste on screen that 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 pre-teen girls and a third is planned for release to theaters next year. The second film debuts on Disney Channels in other countries starting this weekend.
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 pre-teens 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 on August 17 to a record-shattering 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.
(Additional reporting by Sue Zeidler)