Most aspiring actors would be thankful for the opportunities that the Disney Channel has to offer. For many celebrities, starring in one of the channel’s shows or films has paved the way to successful careers in Hollywood. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about other Disney stars never able to break out of the mould. So did getting a start on the Disney Channel make or break these young stars’ careers, and where are they today? Read on and find out.
1. Bella Thorne – BREAK
Thorne began her career as a child model. Her big Disney break came when she was cast alongside Zendaya on the dance-themed comedy, Shake It Up. What was surprising was what came next: the red-headed actress finished her career as a young Disney star, took off her mouse ears, and went from material intended for children to the utter opposite end of the spectrum.
While the actress found some success with music, she has become an extremely popular social media presence. She has also partnered with adult entertainment companies, and even directed an adult film. Despite shocking Disney fans, the actress has continued to find unique projects in Hollywood.
2. Raven-Symoné – MAKE
Raven-Symoné has practically grown up on television, beginning with her role as Olivia Kendall on the classic ’80s family sitcom, The Cosby Show. Several years later, the actress gained fans as a psychic teenager on the Disney Channel comedy That’s So Raven.
Critics and viewers were impressed with her performance. The actress even reprised her role on the reboot, Raven’s Home. Raven-Symoné has also created a successful music career, beginning with the Disney music-themed series The Cheetah Girls, and the release of her own albums. In 2015, the former Disney star served as a co-host on the women-led morning talk show The View.
3. Britney Spears – BREAK
Known as the “Princess of Pop”, when it comes to fame, Britney Spears is often considered one of the most successful former Disney stars. Spears grew up in a small Louisiana town, but soon left the bayou for the big-time when she was cast on The All New Mickey Mouse Club, a musical sketch comedy show. Industry executives realized her talent, and quickly signed her to a record deal.
While her music career was heating up, Spears began to make efforts to shed her “Disney image” with more provocative performances and music. This shift was followed by several well-publicized personal and legal struggles. Spears signed onto a successful concert residency in the Las Vegas hotel, Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. Fans have continued to worry about the pop star’s mental health after she was admitted into a mental health facility, taking an indefinite hiatus from the music industry.
4. Zac Efron – MAKE
If there’s one surefire way to shake off the innocent reputation of the Disney Channel, then it’s definitely by starring as one of the world’s most infamous serial killers, Ted Bundy. For Disney star Zac Efron, making the transition from child star to serious actor has not been without a fight.
The actor rose to fame as the basketball-dribbling and singing Troy Bolton in the Disney film, High School Musical. The successful 2006 film led to sequels, and Efron leapt to starring in major feature films. He’s attempted to move past his “Disney kid” image through a series of mature and darker roles such as The Beach Bum, and as serial killer Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
5. Vanessa Hudgens – MAKE
Vanessa Hudgens quickly rose to fame following her role as Gabriella Montez in the Disney Channel film High School Musical. Fans were kept on their toes regarding her relationship to onscreen and off-screen love interest, Zac Efron. Her sudden popularity resulted in Hudgens landing lucrative modeling contracts, and being cast in several films.
Despite being active in the film industry, Hudgens returned to her musical roots with acclaimed roles in the Broadway musical Gigi, and live versions of the musicals Grease and Rent. Fans of the multi-talented actress will be excited to know that she will be starring in the sequel to her Netflix movie, The Princess Switch, and will be working with the streaming giant and Lin-Manuel Miranda in an adaptation of the musical Tick, Tick…Boom!
6. Corbin Bleu – MAKE
Something magical must have been going on at East High. Not only did High School Musical stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens manage to find success, but so did their costar Corbin Bleu. In the secondary school-themed musical film, Bleu plays basketball player Chad Danforth.
Audiences enjoyed Bleu’s acting and singing, and the Disney star was soon offered role in a variety of the movie’s sequels and spin-offs. Keeping in line with his musical background, Bleu has performed in some of the biggest stage musicals, including In the Heights, Mamma Mia!, and Kiss Me, Kate. In addition to starring in feature-length films, Bleu will also star in the musical version of the film Catch Me If You Can.
7. Orlando Brown – BREAK
Like many child Disney stars, Orlando Brown ran into difficulty when his popular show ended. Brown had starred as Eddie Thomas on the successful Disney series That’s So Raven. Despite the show’s popularity, Brown found it difficult to transition from teen star to adult actor.
With few roles available, Brown began turning to a music career as a rap artist. Several years later, Brown ran into trouble with the law concerning his drug use and domestic battery. Unfortunately, the actor has continued to struggle with his sobriety, and has not returned to acting. His erratic public behavior, and what many consider shocking posts on social media, have fans worried for the Straight Outta Compton actor.
8. Selena Gomez – MAKE
Selena Gomez’s parents must have predicted their daughter’s fame when they named her after the late Tejano pop star Selena Quintanilla. The actress-singer, who got her start as a teenage wizard on Wizards of Waverly Place, was able to triumphantly navigate the transition from child to adult star.
After starring on the Disney fantasy comedy, Gomez extended her acting reach with films like Spring Breakers. She also released several chart-topping albums with massively popular hit songs, and has kept fans guessing about her relationships with some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities. Despite suffering from lupus and undergoing a kidney transplant, Gomez has not slowed down and continues to evolve as an artist.
9. Demi Lovato – BREAK
Demi Lovato shot to fame as Mitchie Torres on the popular Disney Channel film Camp Rock. Fans enjoyed the Disney star’s talent so much that Lovato left the show and pursued a singing career of her own. Although the actress-turned-pop star has had remarkable success as an artist, the path to fame hasn’t always been easy.
While professionally hitting the right notes, her personal life took a turn for the worse when Lovato revealed that she was struggling with addiction, eating disorders, and sobriety. Fans rallied behind the actress even after several relapses and subsequent overdoses. Although she continues to make music and tour, the actress is vocal about her lifelong battle with bipolar disorder and addiction. For many, however, Lovato has brought attention to important issues, and has found fame as a “body-positive” model.
NEXT: This Disney star’s transformation after taking off the mouse ears had fans’ jaws dropping.
10. Miley Cyrus – BREAK
In 2010, Miley Cyrus told the world that despite acting as the wholesome country singer, Hannah Montana, the real Cyrus just couldn’t “be tamed”. As the daughter of famous country crooner Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus got to enjoy her own taste of fame when she was cast as a regular teen by day, singer superstar by night. Little did fans know that they would soon see a very different side to the artist.
Cyrus quickly became the subject of media attention with her controversial performances, lyrics, videos, and personal life. Hollywood antics aside, Cyrus has cemented herself as a popular singer, and many of her singles have reached number one on the Billboard charts. The actress continues to explore creative endeavors, including being a coach on The Voice, acting, and becoming an activist for a variety of important causes.
11. Jake Thomas – MAKE
Known to viewers as Lizzie McGuire’s younger brother Matt, Disney star Jake Thomas has slowly but surely carved out a career of his own. Thomas played Lizzie’s sibling on the popular Disney Channel show Lizzie McGuire, and has gracefully moved into a series of adult roles.
In addition to working as a commercial photographer, Thomas has continued to pursue acting in the world of television with roles on Without a Trace and Cory in the House. The actor recently had fans in a sentimental frenzy when he organized the original cast of the Lizzie McGuire show to come together to reenact the show’s ground breaking episode “Between a Rock and a Bra Place” for online viewers. Thomas has agreed to join the potential series reboot.
12. Jake T. Austin – BREAK
Although actor Jake T. Austin got his big break on competitor network Nickelodeon, it was his role as young sibling Max Russo on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place that made him a fan favorite. The young actor soon starred in several other Disney productions before making his big-screen debut in Hotel for Dogs.
Unfortunately for the rising star, his career hit a speed bump when he was involved in a car accident while under the influence. His career was further hampered when he abruptly left his role on the family drama, The Fosters. While viewers were disappointed to see him go, Austin has expressed that he wanted to pursue other projects. Fans can look forward to seeing him in the upcoming thriller Adverse.
13. Lindsay Lohan – BREAK
Despite being only a teenager at the time, Lindsay Lohan had audiences doing a double-take in her famous and iconic dual role in the comedy The Parent Trap. Lohan became a Disney star while working for the channel, starring in both made-for-TV and feature films. While her professional life was blossoming, her personal life took a hit in the early 2000s. The actress began making the front pages of tabloids for what they deemed as excessive partying.
Her work began to be affected. She was called “irresponsible and unprofessional” on set, leading many filmmakers to pass on casting her. Years of substance abuse, legal woes, and poor role choices took their toll on the Mean Girls actress. While she has sought professional help, Lohan has slowly worked herself into new roles: as hotel and club owner, slowly delving back into the world of music and film.
14. Emily Osment – MAKE
Making the transition from childhood star to full-fledged actress seems to have been much smoother for Emily Osment than her costar Miley Cyrus. The two starred on the Disney show Hannah Montana, in which Osment played Lilly Truscott. While her costar has continued to grab headlines, Osment has taken a different, less publicized path.
The young Disney star has continued to be active in both the television and music industries. She has voiced a character for Family Guy and starred on the shows Young & Hungry and The Kominsky Method. The actress has also continued developing her musical talent under the name Bluebiird.
15. Mitchel Musso – BREAK
Navigating fame while moving from child star to an adult career with more serious roles can be challenging. One actor who can attest to that is Mitchel Musso. The actor gained popularity as Oliver Oken on the Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana. He later lent his voice talent to other shows like Phineas and Ferb and Pair of Kings.
His success came to a halt when he was arrested for a DUI. The arrest caused him to lose his role as host on the Disney Channel show PrankStars. Fans became concerned after the once-popular Disney star also posted several incoherent and cryptic messages on social media. Since his arrest, the actor has stayed out of the media spotlight. He still maintains friendships with his Hannah Montana costars, even posting pictures from one of their reunion dinners.
NEXT: Was this teen Disney star able to navigate the rough waters of adult fame?
16. Brenda Song – MAKE
Unlike many of her Disney star peers, Brenda Song has been able to carefully create a new path for herself in Hollywood. Song made the transition from child model to actress after being cast in Disney films such as Get a Clue, Stuck in the Suburbs, and Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior.
Her most popular role on the network was as London Tipton, a wealthy heiress on the hotel-themed comedy, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. Following that show, she landed a role in the critically acclaimed movie The Social Network. The actress has continued to act, most recently in the film Changeland and the Netflix psychological drama Secret Obsession. Fans can see her return to television with her role in the Hulu show Dollface.
17. Christina Aguilera – BREAK
As a child, Christina Aguilera was known as “the little girl with the big voice”. Just a young teen, Aguilera was already belting out classics on The All New Mickey Mouse Club, leaving audiences stunned. Her powerful voice garnered the attention of music executives, and she was selected to sing the theme song to the Disney animated film, Mulan.
Her career was launched in earnest, and she released “Genie in a Bottle” and other gargantuan hits. From there, Aguilera began to go to what some considered extreme lengths to shed her good-girl reputation. What followed was a racy and controversial single, “Dirty”. The risqué costumes and suggestive lyrics became part of Aguilera’s stage persona. Although Aguilera is still producing music, many fans feel that her overtly racy image has damaged her career.
18. Hilary Duff – MAKE
Long before emojis could be used to express our feelings with a cartoon, there was Lizzie McGuire and her cartoon alter-ego. On the Disney channel hit Lizzie McGuire, Hilary Duff played a teenager navigating life. Fans enjoyed seeing the cartoon interpret McGuire’s inner thoughts, and many of the show’s themes resonated with audiences.
After the success of Lizzie McGuire, Duff focused on her music career, releasing several iconic pop songs. While Duff found success in films, fans were excited to see her come back to the small screen as a recurring guest on Gossip Girl, Raising Hope, and Two and a Half Men. She secured a permanent role in the TV Land hit Younger, and is in talks to star in a Lizzie McGuire reboot.
19. Lalaine – BREAK
While Hilary Duff gracefully made the shift from Disney screen queen to Hollywood actress, the same can’t be said for her costar, LaLaine. The actress, formerly known as Lalaine Vergara-Paras, played Duff’s best friend on the Lizzie McGuire show. The actress tried to break into the music industry, but was unsuccessful.
Lalaine also suffered professionally when she was not cast in the movie remake of her show, The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Following the show’s finale, Lalaine experienced several run-ins with the law, and was arrested for drug possession. Today, the actress chooses to focus on her art and music while staying largely out of the spotlight.
20. Keke Palmer – MAKE
Most fans recognize Keke Palmer from the popular film Hustlers, but few can remember that the actress once starred in the made-for-television Disney movie, Jump In! In the film, young Palmer stars as Corbin Bleu’s love interest, Mary. Her jump rope skills soon had Hollywood skipping to cast her in films like the Ice Age sequels and Joyful Noise.
Palmer continues to act, but has also branched out into the talk show world. In 2014, the actress hosted her own show called Just Keke on the BET network. In 2019, she joined the daytime talk show Strahan and Sara, changing the name to Strahan, Sara, and Keke to commemorate her permanent role as third host.
NEXT: Which Disney star had a particularly rough time adjusting after taking off his mouse ears?
21. Shia LaBeouf – BREAK
When most fans saw their deeply beloved Disney star staring out from his mug-shot, they were stunned. Actor Shia LaBeouf, who became a household name by playing naughty younger brother Louis Stevens on the show Even Stevens, has had a bumpy ride in Hollywood.
After the success of his show, LaBeouf moved onto films, landing a coveted role in the blockbuster Transformers. But then the actor landed in some hot water regarding the law, and struggled with substance abuse. Thankfully, LaBeouf has made strides to improve his career and image. The critically acclaimed actor, in addition to being a performance artist, now chooses to star in more independent films, as well as becoming a filmmaker himself with the release of his film, Honey Boy.
22. Zendaya – MAKE
For actress and model Zendaya, going from tween sitcom to front-page fashionista has been a seemingly effortless journey. The model-turned-actress first came about the Hollywood scene through her role as dancer Rocky Blue on the Disney channel series Shake it Up!
Filmmakers quickly spotted her potential, and soon the actress was starring in big-budget films like The Greatest Showman, as well as Spider-Man spinoffs. Zendaya returned to her television roots with the controversial HBO series Euphoria. The critically acclaimed show has propelled Zendaya to the new heights of absolute superstardom. In addition to acting, the Disney star has been active in the fashion world, appearing as the face of Tommy Hilfiger and Lancôme cosmetics.
23. David Henrie – BREAK
Despite starring on Wizards of Waverly Place, actor David Henrie couldn’t magically get himself out of trouble. The actor had found success as Selena Gomez’s costar on the Disney channel show about magically-inclined teens. As the show ended, Henrie had a hard time making the transition to adult star.
Following the series finale, Henrie worked on smaller projects, including other Disney films. In 2018, he was arrested after allegedly bringing a loaded gun to Los Angeles International Airport. The seemingly anomalous event had fans concerned for the actor’s mental state. The incident caused Henrie to apologize for his action. Henrie recently made news with a viral video of his young daughter speaking, and a brief cameo in a music video alongside his Wizards of Waverly Place costars.
24. Justin Timberlake – MAKE
It’s hard for many fans to imagine that JT was once donning the Mickey ears as a cast member on the variety sketch show, The All New Mickey Mouse Club. As part of the cast of other soon-to-be Hollywood stars, the young Justin Timberlake serenaded the crowd, and made audience members laugh with his talent. Following his success on the show, Timberlake was signed to the group *NSYNC, which became one of the most successful boybands in history.
Wanting to explore a solo career, Timberlake released his chart-topping singles “Like I Love You” and “Cry Me a River”. Since that moment, Timberlake has found success not just in music, but in film, fashion, and the sports world as an investor. Often called the “Prince of Pop”, Justin Timberlake has blazed a new trail in the transition from Disney star to pop star.
25. Ryan Gosling – MAKE
Before he was making women swoon as Noah in The Notebook, Ryan Gosling was just another Disney star on the The All New Mickey Mouse Club. Sharing scenes with other future stars like Keri Russell and Britney Spears, the young Canadian actor sparked Hollywood’s curiosity.
While he received high levels of praise for his roles in indie films, Gosling’s career truly took off with the release of the romantic drama, The Notebook. The role not only resulted in him winning legions of adoring lovesick fans, but paved the way to his Hollywood stardom. Today, Gosling is considered one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and critically acclaimed actors. He’s married to actress Eva Mendes.
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