The Disney Channel has a "machine" set up to churn out the teen stars. They perform this through TV shows, films, and a record division (many of their stars both act and sing). The “machine” is great at what it does, as many mainstream entertainers have risen up out of it throughout the years. Stars in their stable have a squeaky-clean, wholesome reputation, and they are required to be good examples to children who tune in.
The thing about kid stars, however, is that they, in the long run, grow up. What's more, when they grow up, they need to re-set themselves as grown-up performing artists. They can't get by on simple childhood charm any longer. That requires a face shift. The simplest approach to accomplishing this is to choose parts and jobs which will show them from a completely different angle (not like in Disney movies): more sexy, attractive, daring, and cool.
Annette Funicello was a star of the 1950s Disney TV series The Mickey Mouse Club. She grew up to be a movie star – one of those rare Hollywood celebs that remained clean cut, the girl next door, and then the wonderful mother. Since that time, Disney has grown up a number of other celebs, and some pretty hot ones. Here are 15 of them.
15 Demi Lovato
Born in New Mexico and then raised in Texas, Lovato began her acting career, along with Selena Gomez, as Angela in the Barney and Friends TV series. She was picked up by Disney for a role in the short series As the Bell Rings and later auditioned for and got starring roles in Disney’s TV film Camp Rock and series Sonny With a Chance.
Music was probably always Lovato’s first love and she has now recorded 5 albums and a number of hit singles (“Let it Go” from Frozen hit number 38 on the charts). Her newest venture is her own record label, a joint venture with Nick Jonas. In between recording and appearances, she managed to put in two seasons as a judge on the American version of The X Factor with salaries of $1 and $2 million respectively.
Philanthropy has been a big part of Lovato’s life. She was bullied in school and finally graduated high school, having been home-schooled. She supports anti-bullying organizations and was recently presented with the GLADD Vanguard Award for her promotion of LGBT rights.
14 Nick Jonas
Jonas actually began his singing/acting career on Broadway as a child actor in Annie Get Your Gun. But he had been singing for quite a while and even had a minor hit with a Christmas song he recorded with his father. He and his brothers formed a band, the Jonas Brothers, and signed on with Columbia Records who dropped them pretty quickly.
Disney picked up Jonas and his brothers for a Disney Channel short series, titled Jonas Brothers: Living the Dream, in 2008 while they toured. They then starred in the movies Camp Rock and Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, which Disney released in the summer of 2010.
Since 2010, Jonas has been on his own, by choice, and has released a number of singles and albums. He is also starring in the DirectTV series Kingdom and The Fox comedy horror series Scream Queens.
Jonas’s latest album, titled Last Year was Complicated¸ was released on June 10 of this year. He and former Disney co-star Demi Lovato, have formed their own record company.
As a Type I diabetic, Jonas has been a strong supporter of organizations that research childhood diabetes.
13 Miley Cyrus
Anyone who was a “tween” in March 2006 will remember the debut of Hannah Montana, a Disney created star who was a normal girl by day and rock star by night, aided and abetted by her dad. This was not Cyrus’s first acting role, but it was her first as a singer/actor combo. The show and the songs were such a hit, that Disney released an album soundtrack, also featuring a duet with her real-life dad, Billy Ray Cyrus.
Cyrus has come a long way since then, and the road has not been without its bumps, including a pretty controversial appearance at the MTV VMAs in 2013. That appearance and the music she has produced since have taken her from a beloved tween idol to a full-fledged adult in a very adult world.
Several album releases have been well-received and Cyrus has 10 singles from those albums that have reached the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 list. She was also ranked within the top 100 celebrities of Forbes Magazine in 2010 and was listed by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people in 2008 and 2014.
Cyrus has become well known for two things – her stated gender fluidity and her charitable contributions. All of her known relationships, including the long-term on-and-off again one with Liam Hemsworth, which is currently back on. She was named the 14th largest celebrity contributor to charities and causes by the Do Something organization in 2013 and gives generously to groups and research in AIDS, to the Ronald McDonald Foundation, Kids wish Network, and has provided concert earning for relief to natural disaster victims in Haiti and Japan.
12 Zac Efron
Zac Efron, at age 11, auditioned and got a small singing role in the on-stage musical, Gypsy. He moved on to screen roles, most of them small until he landed a part in the TV series Summerland, in 2004. At that point, he was noticed by Disney and cast in High School Musical, 2006, and its sequel in 2007. Efron became an immediate hit with a loyal fan base and went on to star in Hairspray, 17 Again, The lucky One, and Charlie St. Cloud.
Efron’s movie credits have continued with roles in almost every genre of film – his latest being Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, due for release in July. From his starring role in the TV series Baywatch, comes a role in the full-length feature film of the same name, due for release in 2017.
Efron’s life has not been without its challenges. He entered rehab for alcohol and drug abuse in 2013 and has remained sober since. In 2014, he made the papers for a fight with a Skid Row homeless man but was not charged.
11 Shia LaBeouf
LaBeouf was born into poverty and, to get relief, became a bit of a standup comic in the streets of his neighborhood. He actually began to play comedy clubs by age 10, and, as he describes it, he had “disgustingly dirty” material and a “50-year-old mouth on a 10-year-old kid.” He found an agent in the Yellow Pages. His motivation for becoming an actor? He says it had nothing to do with acting and everything to do with his family being broke.
His break came with a role in Disney’s TV series, Even Stevens. From there he landed a role in the movie Holes, and the rest, as they say is “history.”
Think Transformers. LaBeouf has starred in every one of them, along with roles in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Lawless, The Company You keep, Nymphomaniac, and Fury. For the past couple of years, he has been involved in public performance art.
LaBeouf’s personal life has certainly been interesting. From ramming his car into a neighbor’s that was blocking his entry into his parking garage, to fighting, to public drunkenness and being banned from a restaurant for peeing on the wall. He has since sought treatment for alcoholism.
10 Justin Timberlake
Hard to believe that Timberlake is 35 years old. He began his career on the New Mickey Mouse Club along with other notables such as Lindsay Lohan and Christina Aguilera. From there he rose to fame primarily as a singer, with his band NSYNC and then as a solo artist. Two of his singles, “Cry Me a River” and “Rock Your Body” won Grammies.
In 2008, Justin set his music career aside to focus on acting, starring in The Social Network, Bad Teacher, In Time and Friends with Benefits.
Back to music in 2013, he released two albums, “The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2.” From those, he launched several international tours.
Timberlake dated some of his fellow Mickey Mouse Club stars but ended up marrying Jessica Biel, with whom he is currently working on a film. He has also opened up three restaurants and a clothing line, William Rast, with a childhood friend.
Timberlake has been a huge supporter of the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children and is a vocal progressive Democrat and supporter of Barack Obama.
9 Christina Aguilera
Aguilera was already singing in talent shows by age 6 and finally made a national appearance on the show Star Search. Disney found her and enrolled her in the New Mickey Mouse Club, a show that lasted two years. But it was enough to launch her, along with Britney Spears, JC Chasez, Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling. In 1998, she was again tapped by Disney to sing “Reflection” for its movie soundtrack for Mulan. From there she got a contract with RCA records. Hot singles followed, including “Genie in a Bottle” and “What a Girl Wants.”
Adding to her fame were a performance at the Super Bowl halftime show and then winning a Grammy for “Best New Artist” with her song “Come on Over Baby.”
With a lull in her recording career, Aguilera joined the judging group of the TV series “The Voice” and released a duet single with Adam Levine, “Moves Like Jagger.”
Aguilera took leave from The Voice in 2014 to work on her 8th album and is starring in Nashville an ABC prime time soap.
8 Anne Hathaway
Hathaway began her acting career in high school with many awards. From there she joined a Fox Television series, Get Real, which did not last long. But it was long enough for Disney to find her and give her a leading role in its film the Princess Diaries. From there she went on to star in several other Disney productions and receive the Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie Actress in the comedy category.
The transition to adult roles began in 2005 with Havoc, Brokeback Mountain, and The Devil Wears Prada. Her films and awards continued throughout the first decade of the 21st century. In the last six years, she has had starring roles in The Dark Knight Rises, Les Miserables, Rio 2, Interstellar, The Intern, and as the White Queen for the second time in the newest Alice Through the Looking Glass film. Along the way she picked up an Academy Award for best supporting actress in Les Miserables.
7 Selena Gomez
Gomez began her celebrity career as a child actress on the Barney and Friends TV show as a child. From that point, she landed small roles in other television shows but it was Disney that really launched her. She was first given parts in Disney channel shows, Hannah Montana and The Suite Life of Zach and Cody but her talents in both acting and singing resulted in her own Disney show, The Wizards of Waverly Place.
Her singing career began with Disney but graduated into her own band and a recording contract with Hollywood Records. Two albums went gold. Additional acting and albums continued, while she ended her relationship with Hollywood Records and fired her manager (who were also her parents). Several hit singles have since followed and Gomez remains a singing sensation today.
6 Ryan Gosling
Born in Canada, Gosling became a fan of American action movies at a young age – so much so that he once took a box of knives to school and began throwing them at classmates after watching First Blood. Obviously, he was suspended for the behavior.
His first break came when he was cast as a member of the New Mickey Mouse Club. As he explained it, “I went through puberty in a theme park.” When that show folded, he got other roles and moved to Los Angeles to star in the teen series Young Hercules. After other supporting roles, he achieved a breakthrough in 2001 with the starring role in The Believer. His major break came, however, when he starred opposite Rachel McAdams in The Notebook. From there he starred in other films and won both Academy Award and Golden Blog nominations for Best Actor.
2012 was a big year for gosling – roles in Crazy, Stupid Love, Drive, and the Ides of March. By 2013 he was writing the film Lost River and then starred in The Big Short.
Gosling is involved in a number of causes – AIDS research, animal protection, and poverty relief. He is also quite a jazz guitarist.
5 Britney Spears
When Britney Spears first audition for the New Mickey Mouse Club, she was rejected as being too young. Undaunted, she continued with voice and dance lessons until finally being cast. When the show closed, she moved on and sought a recording contract, which she got. From that point forward, she was determined to make her name in the music business. Her first two albums, Baby One More Time and Oops!...I Did it Again were huge hits and earned her the title, “Princess of Pop.”
Spears’ rise to fame resulted in a career production of eight albums, concert tours, and lots of personal issues. She was highly criticized by Christian groups for her racy outfits and magazine photos; she married and then had that marriage annulled within 60 hours; she ultimately married dancer Justin Federline, had two children and then divorced.
Spears’ erratic behavior and obvious substance abuse brought her to family court on a number of occasions, and Federline was ultimately awarded full custody of the kids. She underwent rehab, one session court ordered and involuntary, and her father and an attorney were put in charge of her affairs.
Still, Britney Spears is a musical wonder and worldwide hit. She has now confirmed that she is recording her 9th album and in May of this year performed a medley of her greatest hits at the Billboard Music Awards.
4 Ashley Tisdale
Tisdale began her acting career with TV commercials and performances at a local Jewish Community Center. At age 8, she was cast as Cosette in Les Miserables and then a role in a traveling production of Annie.
Disney picked her up for a role in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody which she played for three years. She then assumed a starring role in High School Musical and began work on her debut album, Headstrong with Warner Bros. Records.
She continued her relationship with Disney for a long time, returning for High School Musical 2 and then High School Musical: Senior Year in 2007 and 2008. Awards began to pour in. In 2010, Disney again cast her for a High School Musical spin-off. Another album, Guilty Pleasure was released in 2009.
Another collaboration with Disney occurred in 2014 in the television film Cloud 9, but this time, Tisdale was the executive producer. She also produced Young and Hungry, an ABC Family comedy series. She is currently working on additional series for Internet release.
Tisdale is involved in several charities and in 2013 announced that 30% of the revenue from her latest single, “You’re Always Here,” would be donated to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
3 Hayden Panettiere
At age 11 months, Panettiere began her career in TV commercials. She moved on to child roles on daytime soap operas and then starred in the Disney film Remember the Titans at age 10, in 2000. Since then, she has starred in an NBC science fiction series (Heroes), and is still currently starring in the musical drama series, Nashville. Another notable role was that of Amanda Knox in the true story Amanda Know: Murder on Trial in Italy.
Other films have included A Bug’s Life, The Object of My Affection, and a small role in Message in a Bottle. In 2011 she appeared in Scream 4 and received great reviews. Other credits include voices for characters in animated films.
In 2015, Panettiere began another role in Custody.
Most of Panettiere's singing career has been connected to her acting roles. She was nominated for a Grammy for the title song of A Bug’s Life and since then has recorded other singles for Disney features, Tiger Cruise, The Dust Factory, Ice Princess and the cover for Cruella De Vil. She has also recorded several singles for the TV series Nashville.
Engaged to the heavyweight boxer, Vladimir Klitschko, Panettiere gave birth to their daughter. Suffer from post-partum depression she checked herself into a facility, and returned for treatment this past May.
Panettiere's life has also involved a lot of activism – social and political. She is huge animal rights activist, a supporter of Ronald McDonald charities, and joined her husband in a protest in Kiev against the Russians in 2013.
2 Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Talk about a prolific actor. This fellow has played an amazingly diverse number of roles from an orphan who sees angels in the Disney film Angel in the Outfield to a cop in The Dark Knight Rises, to a love-struck young man in the acclaimed comedy 500 Days of Summer.
Among TV credits is a starring role in 3rd Rock From the Sun, but he left acting in 1996 to attend Columbia University. Back into acting, he has since starred in at least 14 major films, again in the huge variety of roles.
In 2013, Gordon-Levitt starred in a feature film Don Jon which he wrote and received an Independent Spirit Award.
A unique venture is the collaborative production organization hitRECord. Anyone can upload their works, collaborate with others. When any of the contributions makes money, the organization splits the revenue 50/50. To date, the organization has published books and records and taken some of its productions to film festivals.
1 America Ferrera
Best known for her role in the hit TV series Ugly Betty, for which she received both Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards, Ferrera’s acting career began at age 7 with a small role in a school production of Hamlet. From that point on, despite her mother’s disapproval, Ferrera knew she would be an actress. Her mother was a supervisor of housekeeping for a Hilton Hotel, and her father, who divorced her mom, moved back to Honduras, where he died in 2010.
Because there was not much money in the household, Ferrera paid for acting lessons by waiting tables and babysitting. She ultimately went to college on a full scholarship; however, her career forced her to take time off for a number of years. Still, she was successful in college studies and actually met her husband there.
Her professional acting career began in 2002 when she appeared in the Disney Channel TV movie, Gotta Kick It Up! From there she went on to star in a few films and some episodes of TV series until she landed the lead role in Ugly Betty, which ran from 2006-2010.
Ferrera returned to film after the end of the series but in March 2015, it was announced that she would be cast in a new NBC sitcom, Superstore.
In 2013, Ferrera graduated from USC after 10 years of starts and stops. She is also politically active, heavily involved in the Voto Latino movement, an effort to get Latinos registered and out to vote.
They’re all grown up now, these Disney child stars. And while all have become celebs as adults, their lives and careers have become far more diverse than the pretty kid-next-door roles they all once played.