Walt Disney has always had a gift for making mega-stars, no doubt helped by being one of the world’s most prestigious entertainment conglomerates. Putting aside the barrels of money available to each production, actors bagging roles find themselves gifted with an instant career high and a bright future.
The Disney channel is a cable and satellite television network serving as the flagship of Disney Channel’s Television Group, itself a linchpin of The Walt Disney Company. It began broadcasting in 1983 with sitcom Still the Beaver (Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow, et al.) and quickly demolished rival efforts to supply TV shows to the niche pre-teen and young-adult markets.
During the noughties, the channel was at the leading edge of great shows like That's So Raven, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and Hannah Montana, all of which amassed a baleful of fans. And the stars of these shows became big names; they were the lifeblood of the machine. Some even managed to carry this fame through to adulthood. But others weren’t so lucky. Actors like Orlando Brown and Mitchel Musso, for one reason or another, weren’t able to keep the momentum going and dimmed from sight.
Good or bad, we all had our favorite actors. But have you ever stopped to wonder what they might be doing now? Needless to say, comparing who they are now with how we remember them may come as a bit of a shock. After all, those child actors aren’t kids anymore. They’ve grown up. Take a look at 15 of the hottest former Disney stars to see what we mean.
15 Annabella Avery "Bella" Thorne
Bella Thorne was born in 1997 and began her acting career appearing in an uncredited role as a sidelines fan in the 2003 film Stuck on You. Four years later, when she was ten years old, she secured her first major television role when she joined the recurring cast of Dirty Sexy Money in the show's second season. She quickly became a sought-after actress and more productions followed.
Disney head-hunted her for their new production of the sitcom Shake It Up in which she took the role of Cece Jones, an impulsive and street-smart girl. Shake it Up ran for three seasons from November 7, 2010 to November 10, 2013. Although it wasn’t critically acclaimed, the show amassed healthy viewing figures. Currently, the most watched episode of the series is "Start It Up" with 6.2 million viewers. The episode "Weird It Up" is the least watched episode, scoring 2.5 million viewers, according to Wikipedia.
14 Demi Lovato
Demetria Devonne Lovato was born on August 20, 1992. Like Deborah Ryan, Lavato originally starred in Barney & Friends and rose to fame shortly afterward when Disney grabbed her for their new channel. At the age of 16, she starred in the Disney TV production Camp Rock and off the back of this promptly released a debut solo single called “This Is Me,” which hit number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. The success of the film and her increasing popularity undoubtedly gave rise to other projects.
In 2009, Lovato was cast in Disney’s Sonny with a Chance as the eponymous Sonny Munroe. The series follows the experiences of teenager Munroe, who becomes the newest accepted cast member of her favorite live comedy television show, So Random! As such, the show was written in the style of a show within a show and followed Munroe’s adventures around So Random! and Mackenzie Falls.
13 Adrienne Bailon
American singer-songwriter and TV personality Adrienne Eliza Houghton (nee Bailon) first gained popularity as one of the members of American girl group 3LW. The group had some success between 1999 and 2007 but proved, if nothing else, to be a launchpad for Bailon’s own acting and singing career. At age 20, she joined Disney in their production of The Cheetah Girls; the group was created by Disney and was made famous by the original film and sequels.
In addition to her singing, Bailon joined Disney’s hit productions That's So Raven and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody starring alongside Orlando Brown, Anneliese van der Pol, T'Keyah Crystal Keymáh, and Rondell Sheridan. That's So Raven ran from January 17, 2003 and ended on November 10, 2007. Prior to its cancellation, the series had been nominated for two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children's Programming.
12 Hilary Duff
Hilary Erhard Duff was born in 1987 and began her acting career at a young age. At the age of 14, she joined Disney’s Lizzie McGuire and playing the lead role soon gained fame as a teen idol. The series ran from 2001 until 2004 and was a smash hit with young adults. The success of the show even led to a movie adaptation. Lizzie McGuire featured an animated version of the title character performing a soliloquy; the animated moments were filtered throughout the show's live-action sequences.
Duff continued to work with Disney on numerous shows and later began work on a solo album, which ultimately, was released through Walt Disney Records. Soon afterward, Duff’s success and talent were noticed by other corporate entertainers, and she was signed to Hollywood Records for her second studio album, “Metamorphosis,” in 2003. The album achieved critical and commercial success, topping the Billboard 200 and selling over three million copies in the US alone.
11 Christina Aguilera
American singer-songwriter and actress Christina Aguilera originally tried to get into Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club when she was 11 years old. The franchise didn’t take her in because she was too young, but two years later, she tried again and that time was successful. During her time on the show, she sang and performed comedy sketches and as a 13-year-old gained a healthy fan base. Riding the crest of the wave the following year, she recorded her first song “All I Wanna Do” with Japanese singer Keizo Nakanishi.
The Mickey Mouse Club was an American variety television show that aired intermittently between 1955 and 1996. The show was initially broadcast in 1955 and ran for four years on ABC then again from 1977 to 1979. The format included child actors and guest stars with regular features such as newsreels, cartoons, and comedy segues. It was a proving ground for many of the child actors who are still working in the industry today.
10 Christina Milian
Born in New Jersey in 1981, Christina Milian became an asset to the music industry. But prior to her success in the studio, she was also a host for Disney Channel. Her first major acting role would've been to join The Mickey Mouse Club, something Disney was keen to have her involved with. However, she didn’t accept and opted instead to star as a reporter on Movie Surfers.
After living in Los Angeles for six months, Milian happened to move into the same apartment as Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins -- the supremely successful songwriter and producer. Jerkins got an idea about Milian when he was working with a boy band, and when the two got together to busk, Jerkins was bowled over by her voice, and they soon began working together. Milian then worked with Jerkins at his studio and, in doing so, connected with influencers from the US record industry. It proved to be a valuable experience for the rising star.
9 Ashley Tisdale
As a child actress, Ashley Tisdale featured in over one hundred advertisements. When she turned 20, she landed the role of Maddie Fitzpatrick on the Disney Channel series The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. It was a part that would bring her both fame and idol status. Her coming of age was confirmed when she landed the role of Sharpay Evans in the High School Musical franchise a year later.
The success of the films also led to Tisdale signing with Warner Brothers Records. She subsequently released her debut album, “Headstrong,” in 2007. It was a commercial success (although not critically so) gaining gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). One allmusic.com contributor said of the album, "Her voice is pleasant enough, but it's not especially distinctive, and she's not helped by a batch of songs that aren't nearly as charming as High School Musical's tunes.”
8 Deborah Ann "Debby" Ryan
Born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1993, Deborah Ryan is an actress and singer. She had been acting on stage since she was seven before joining Barney & Friends in a DVD special of Barney: Let's Go to the Firehouse. After a nationwide headhunt by Disney for its new channel programming, Ryan was snapped up and first starred in an episode of Wizards of Waverly Place in Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana, appearing as Bailey Pickett. The following year, in 2010, she starred in the Canadian-American TV teen film 16 Wishes.
16 Wishes was the one true springboard for Ryan. It had big viewing numbers, and Wiki claims it was the “most watched cable program on the day of its premiere on the Disney Channel.” With such a big following, the movie also attracted the attention of industry professionals looking to cast Ryan in mainstream and independent theatrical films. Her future was secure.
7 Raven-Symoné Christina Pearman
American actress and television personality Raven-Symoné Christina Pearman first appeared on television in 1989 on The Cosby Show as 4-year-old Olivia Kendall. Afterward, she starred in Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. But it was in 2003 that she began to work with Disney, to which she attributes most of her success. She starred in That's So Raven, the Disney Channel series, until 2007, playing the lead role of Raven Baxter -- described by bbc.co.uk as “a psychic teenager who tried her best to keep her psychic powers a secret.”
Raven later found success as a recording artist and already had a band of followers. In 2004, at the age of 19, she released her third studio album called “This is My Time.” The album turned out to be her best-selling solo work to date and hit the Billboard 200 at number 51. One year after That's So Raven ended, she dropped a 4th album, “Raven-Symoné.” This didn’t do so well, peaking at just number 159 on the Billboard 200.
6 Miley Cyrus
Born Destiny Hope Cyrus in 1992, Miley Cyrus has had a bag of mixed fortune in her career but always seems able to come back fighting. Her first real hit with audiences came when she claimed the role of Miley Stewart in Hannah Montana in 2006. 14 years old at the time, Cyrus also became a teen idol, and her success looked unstoppable. Off the back of such a following, Disney cast her in its feature film Hannah Montana: The Movie.
Cyrus has had real success as a soloist. After her start in Disney, she went on to sign a record deal with Hollywood Records. “Meet Miley Cyrus,” her debut studio album, was certified triple-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. She dropped her second album “Breakout” in 2008 and launched her film career as a voice actress in the animated film Bolt.
5 Jennifer Love Hewitt
American actress and TV producer Jennifer Love Hewitt started out in commercials before landing the role of Robin in Disney’s Kids Incorporated. She played the role from 1989 to 1991, after which she joined Fox and starred in its uber-successful teen drama Party of Five. By this point, she had already found fame. Her appearance in the live-action video short Dance! Workout with Barbie released by Buena Vista was a stepping stone to bigger theatrical releases.
Hewitt starred in supernatural drama Ghost Whisperer from 2005 to 2010, winning two Saturn Awards in the process. She later starred in The Client List from 2012 to 2013 and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the pilot version. From 2014 to 2015, she starred as Special Agent Kate Callahan on the CBS crime drama Criminal Minds.
4 Bridgit Claire Mendler
Bridgit Claire Mendler was born in 1992. At the age of 12, she was cast for the US dubbing of animated Indian film The Legend of Buddha alongside Dwayne Tan. She was a prolific actress in her teens and starred in films such as The Clique, Alice Upside Down, and Labor Pains. The Disney channel signed her up five years later to feature in Wizards of Waverly Place playing Juliet van Heusen.
The Wizards was a valuable experience for Mendler, who was then headhunted for other Disney productions. She was subsequently cast as Teddy Duncan for Disney series Good Luck Charlie (2010 to 2014). Like many others, she's also had a great deal of success as a solo artist. Her music is generally “pop and reggae fusion and has features of R&B, funk and hip hop soul.” In an interview, she said she prefers to escape the traditional pop and dance-pop by adding other elements. "I have funky, R&B tendencies when I write by myself.”
Known more often these days simply as Zendaya (rather than Zendaya Coleman), this American beauty was scooped up by Disney at the age of 14. From 2010 to 2013, she starred in Disney Channel’s sitcom Shake It Up as Rocky Blue, a book-smart girl with a passion for dance. She's since starred as the same character in Good Luck Charlie and the Shake It Up crossover Charlie Shakes It Up. Her success in these early productions paved the way for Coleman’s ongoing career.
She's played one of the lead roles in the TV film Frenemies and has also starred in three feature films. She provided the voice of Fern in the Pixie Hollow Games and also appeared on the American 6-episode reality television series PrankStars as herself in the episode Walk The Prank. Additionally, credits include Sequoia Jones in A.N.T. Farm, and she's recently been seen as MJ in the Marvel Studios blockbuster Spider-Man: Homecoming.
2 Britney Spears
When she was eight years old, American singer-songwriter and actress Britney Spears auditioned for a role in the revival of The Mickey Mouse Club. Casting director Matt Casella rejected her as too young, but her talents were relayed to NYC talent agent Nancy Carson, who took a vested interest in the young girl. Carson was taken with Spears's voice and attitude and suggested she enrolled at the Professional Performing Arts School. It wasn’t long until the talent that we know and love today shone through.
Then, in December 1992, at 11 years old, Spears was finally cast in The Mickey Mouse Club alongside Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, and Keri Russell. After the show was canceled in 1996, she returned to Mississippi and took up studies at McComb's Parklane Academy. Her grounding in the early works of Disney and her experience she gained allowed her to assail the world.
1 Lindsay Lohan
Born in NYC in 1986, Lindsay Lohan is an American actress and singer who became a fashion model at the age of just three. She modeled for Calvin Klein Kids and Abercrombie and appeared in over 60 television commercials. By the time she was 10 years old, Lohan was playing Alexandra "Alli" Fowler in the television soap opera Another World, and Soap Opera Magazine said she was already considered a “show-business veteran.”
As well as starring in numerous Disney films, Lohan featured in two Disney television movies: Life-Size alongside Tyra Banks and Get a Clue, where she played a teenage high school student who investigates a mystery after one of her teachers goes missing. She was accordingly given the unofficial title of Disney’s golden girl. However, after recent reports of heroin and cocaine addictions, we can only assume Disney has since tried to keep distance.
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