Back in the early '80s, a film studio decided to get ahead of the game and produce TV shows aimed at 9- to 16-year-olds. TV network The Disney Channel began broadcasting in 1983 and championed new stars in front of new audiences. Ingenious! Remember Zak Efron, Hilary Duff, Shia LaBeouf, and Lindsay Lohan? Big names, big followings, big viewing. Walt Disney had cornered the pre- and early-teen market and was making big money.
Having started out as a “family channel,” Disney was keen to promote its trendy new stage as the platform for actors displaying all the clean-living fun and morality of the folks watching back home. But this was something the young actors joining the franchise hadn’t counted on. Executives had no qualms about getting rid of anyone who showed signs of being an anti-social brain case. One minute you’re gold, the next, fool’s gold.
And when the contract does come to an end, what happens then? Is the future brighter than Cola and Pop Rocks? Doubtful, especially if it all fell apart due to a $2,600 a day cocaine habit. In the ensuing confusion, the victims have to fend for themselves, and some people are better at doing this than others. Some win, some lose, and some get hospitalized.
Let’s have a look at 15 Disney TV stars who, while not taking a wrong turn, nevertheless faded into total obscurity and are now no longer talked about. The moral of the story? Get a decent agent.
15 Alana Austin
Very little is known about this 35-year-old American actress, but it wasn’t always like that. Back in 2001, she starred in Disney Channel’s hit movie Motorcrossed, which arrived more or less in the middle of a healthy and rambunctious TV and film career. The film focuses on a girl called Andrea Carson, who loves motocross but is unable to take part because according to her pop, she's "just a girl." In the end, she decides to disguise herself as her brother and participate in the race, acing the championship and staking a claim for women’s equality.
But Alana Austin’s success was short-lived. By 2006, just five years afterward and having been in the industry for around ten years, she retired. Enter the soon-to-be Doctor Austin. Yes, she shifted focus to something more serious. The last anyone heard, she was dissecting bulls' eyes at the University of Southern California.
14 Tiffany Thornton
Here’s a face familiar to anyone who watched Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place back in 2007. Tiffany Thornton was a well-known example of Disney’s clean-living ethos; being a wholesome Christian Texan, she was lapped up by the machine. From 2004 to 2014, Thornton appeared in over 10 TV shows, including Hannah Montana and Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil. After Sonny with a Chance ended in early 2011, it was replaced by So Random! Thornton reprised the Tawni Hart role and landed squarely with the franchise.
But soon afterward, pregnant with husband Christopher Carney’s first child, Thornton dropped out of the limelight and began concentrating on bringing up babies. She’s done one or two things since but nothing on the scale of what we’re used to. Word is, since last year, she’s been working as a recruitment advisor for Champion Christian College, Arkansas.
13 Ashley Tisdale
Arriving on the scene from an affluent background doesn’t always guarantee you success. At 21, Ashley Tisdale became Sharpay Evans with the High School Musical franchise, and her performance earned her and Disney a great deal of praise. In fact, the first film of four was the network's most successful of 2006 receiving 7.7 million viewers for its premiere. Encouragingly, with the success of High School Musical, Tisdale was then offered a recording contract with Warner Brothers records.
But it turned out Tisdale’s subsequent foray into singing was not as successful as her time acting in front of the screen. Although her albums were a meritorious commercial success, they failed to impress the all-important critics. Since 2015, Tisdale has resorted to promoting her clothing, sportswear, and cosmetic lines to supplement her income. Despite her reportedly making a third album with husband Christopher French, the world isn't waiting for it with bated breath.
12 KayCee Stroh
Another star of High School Musical, KayCee Stroh was 21 when she first featured as hip-hop dancing nerd Martha Cox. IMDb contributor KennaKay writes, “This brainiac's secret passion is hip hop! She loves to pop and lock and jam and break!” She then had a continuing role in two episodes of Disney’s The Suite Life of Zack & Cody as Leslie, a member of London and Maddie’s volleyball team. But since 2011, we haven’t seen much of her at all.
She and husband Ben Higginson have two daughters, Zetta Lee and Lettie Louise, and judging by the looks on their faces, the two are keen to concentrate on nurturing the new arrivals. Stroh has appeared in one movie since, namely Holly, Jingles and Clyde 3D, but the movie has been in production since 2013 and no one has heard anything about its release. Perhaps, this is the much-anticipated start of Stroh’s return.
11 Lalaine Vergara Paras
While having not entirely disappeared off the face of the planet, Lalaine’s TV appearances are very much a thing of the past. She gained a following with the roles of Abigail "Abby" Ramirez in Disney’s You Wish! and Miranda Sanchez in Lizzie McGuire. But when she decided to pursue a career in the music industry, things took a tumble. She released an album and even signed a record deal with Warner Brothers, but things went "crazy" from then on and left fans bewildered.
You guessed it! During the "dark years" (her words, not ours) of 2007, she was charged with -- and pleaded guilty to -- possession of crystal meth. She also admitted to having issues. After she completed a drug treatment program, the charge was struck from records, but that doesn’t always mean the same from the public domain. Since then, she’s been involved in two films and a handful of web series, but her profile as the cute Miranda has more or less been wiped from the national consciousness.
10 Jennifer Stone
Wikipedia doesn’t mention Jennifer Stone’s retirement from the entertainment industry, but we know different. The star of Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place was a new species of household flame. Year after year, sweet Harper Finkle wowed little people -- and some big people, too -- with her bright dress-sense, crazy hair bands, and pyro-spectacular red locks. Then, riding the crest of the wave, she went on to star in ten more TV shows winning nominations and awards.
That should've meant a solid showbiz foundation for Stone, but after the show ended in 2012, despite a further handful of other credits, she seemed to be in a hurry to find something more substantial with which to entertain herself. Needless to say, she chose to ditch the world of showbiz for a true college experience. In 2013, Stone entered Glendale Community College and has since earned an associate’s degree in nursing.
9 Ashlie Brillault
Born in San Francisco in 1987, Ashlie Brillault made her own contribution to the world of showbiz with her portrayal of Lizzie Mcguire’s nemesis, Kate Sanders, in the hit TV show. Her mean character notwithstanding, Brillault’s own popularity was unfolding backstage, and she was amassing fans. Played to perfection by Brillault, Kate Sanders was, according to online zine Bustle, “Lizzie’s friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend [and] one of the best adversaries the Disney Channel ever gave us.”
So with this in mind, you might have thought Brillault’s future with the franchise was bright. It wasn’t, but even if it had been, she had other things in mind; having played the part so well, the now 30-year-old caused a hefty crumb of commotion when she promptly retired from acting. And like a superheated plume of gas, she disappeared into the stratosphere never to be seen again (although if you need a civil rights lawyer, you may just catch a glimpse).
8 Brenda Song
2014 appears to be the date on which Brenda Song vanished from existence. She appeared in one or two TV pilots but nothing solid. Last year, she appeared as minor character Angie Cheng in American medical drama television series Pure Genius, but the show was then canceled by the network after one season. There's one more olive branch for Song, though, in the shape of a talent holding deal with Fox for an undisclosed project.
This is all in stark contrast to the fame and fortune of her early years with Disney. As some of you may recall, Song played the lead role of London Tipton in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and The Suite Life on Deck, which happened to be one of the channel’s longest continuous characters. Ah, if only things were as easy now as they were then. In her heyday, she was quoted on the subject of being a role model to kids as saying, “Oh goodness, I hope I can set a good example. If I can do it, anyone can. I'm living my dream every single day.”
7 Adam Lamberg
After starring as Gordo in Disney’s The Lizzie McGuire Movie and numerous TV series, 32-year-old Adam Lamberg has vanished off the radar. Despite being involved in two productions since 2003, he seems to have unofficially retired from the entertainment industry. Why? Perhaps it was his own choice, or maybe he saw a murder of crows above him and took it as an omen. Either way, Gordo has been consigned to the past along with the posters of his gigantic mop of hair.
Another possibility is that he just got bored with the whole idea of acting and wanted to do something proper with his life. That would explain recent sightings of him majoring in geography at University of California, Berkeley. Apparently, he also works as a development associate at the Irish Arts Center in New York City while he completes his studies. Needless to say, he’d be welcomed back to Disney with open arms.
6 Vanessa Hudgens
Since 2015, 28-year-old American actress and singer Vanessa Hudgens has had a degree of mixed fortune. She took on the lead role in a new production of Lerner and Loewe's Gigi, but for whatever reason, the show closed after only five months of performances. Then, she starred in a 2016 performance of Grease: Live aired on Fox, which, by all accounts, was a hit. But after that, she was cast for a TV comedy series titled Powerless, which was canceled after one season.
Her recent run of bad luck may have nothing to do with two lawsuits filed against her by agents from her past, but that debacle probably didn’t help her reputation (one of the claims was a revenue and royalty dispute arising from her recording career while she was a child). But the real reason probably centers on her just being down on her luck. Either way, we haven’t heard much from this former High School Musical hottie, and it doesn’t look as though we will anytime soon.
5 Orlando Brown
Right up until 2007, Orlando Brown had a glittering career in showbiz. Brown, now 29, peered into the industry as a kid in American sitcom Coach (1995) and found he had a talent for pretending to be someone else. He went on to star in countless films and TV series and is known for his role as Edward "Eddie" Thomas in Disney’s That’s So Raven.
But Brown was not up to speed with how quickly shows came and went, and come 2007, he found himself at a loss. He has since given his voice to WordGirl, but that’s about it. And to make matters worse, he’s been in trouble with the police on more than one occasion, which hints at a downward spiral. He’s probably now better known for being charged with “misdemeanor domestic battery, obstruction of justice, drug possession with intent to sell, and having contraband in jail” as mirror.co.uk points out.
4 Morgan York
Best known for the crimped hair and bespectacled face of Sarah in Disney’s Hannah Montana, Morgan York earned a decent living when she was a kid. Between 2006 and 2010, she starred in 11 episodes of the show and earned herself a cult following. But in complete disregard of this, she dropped a bombshell when the show ended by announcing she was retiring from the industry and never going back.
It turns out York’s decision was not as reckless as some thought at the time. She since graduated from a literature course at the University of Redlands in 2015 and is currently working on publishing her own Young Adult books, something she had wanted to do for a long time. So, while we won’t see her on screen anytime soon, there's a distinct possibility that we’ll be reading one of her books. The bereaved will probably find this of some consolation.
3 Amy Bruckner
It’s no secret that after starring in Phil of The Future and Jake Long, the 26-year-old Amy Bruckner has been taking it easy. She played Pim Diffy between 2004 and 2006 in Phil of the Future, which was a lukewarm American science fiction sitcom by Disney and also two character voices for the American Dragon animation. Things were looking good back then. But she’s only been in one film since The Assault (2014), and we’re still trying to piece together the events that led to her disappearance.
In a 2015 interview with Huffington Post, she explained she “took a break from acting for about six years to study human rights and feminist theory at NYU, and even backpacked through Europe, too.” Ah, that explains why she hasn’t been seen, and here’s hoping she makes a comeback pretty soon. Perhaps her sabbatical was just a convincing segue for a hero’s return to our TV sets.
2 Mitchel Musso
Having been nominated for a shared award by the Young Artist Awards for his collaboration in Hannah Montana, Mitchel Musso, we would've thought, might have staked a claim as the dish of the day. But here’s where things get interesting. Disney loved Mitchel Musso, so much so they gave him a role in the Montana movie, then Pair of Kings and PrankStars. The channel knew that kids couldn’t get enough of him and that in classrooms and campuses around the States, he’d be talked about.
But, when at the age of 20, Musso was pulled over and charged with a DUI, the channel dropped him like mercury on a cold day. He was effectively culled, his character written out of the two shows he was working on and with a warning he’d never work for Disney again. He was earmarked as one of the bad eggs of the channel, and while others who found themselves in similar predicaments were able to recover their careers, Musso never seemed to be able to.
1 Cara DeLizia
The big break for 33-year-old Cara DeLizia came with Disney’s So Weird. She played Fiona "Fi" Phillips, an adolescent girl obsessed with the paranormal. And it was from the success of this TV series that DeLizia enjoyed the majority of her other roles, including Libby Grant in the Ghost Whisperer and Kaitlin Howard in Close to Home -- both successful and both with a seemingly bottomless supply of adventures. But due to her wanting to pursue other interests, Disney replaced DeLizia for the third and final season of So Weird.
In 2012, DeLizia finally announced her retirement from acting, but it came as no surprise. According to reports, she now serves as the executive director of the Pou Timoun Foundation, a community of individuals committed to creating a better future for children at Foyer de Sion orphanage in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti. Go, Cara! That sounds like a much more worthwhile pursuit.
Sources: hollywood.com, teenvogue.com, nickiswift.com