From The Jonas Brothers to Ashley Tisdale, What Are The Millennial Disney Stars Up To Now?
With each new generation, there is a new generation of celebrities, carving out similar spaces in pop culture to the stars that came before them, but changing the roles and lines just enough, as John Mulaney once put it, "to show that time had passed." Those who came before us had Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp, we have Zac Efron and Cole Sprouse.
Combine this effect with the effect of the Disney Channel, which became a major content house just before our childhoods and started churning out stars like Britney Spears (she's free!) and Justin Timberlake, and what you have is a potent recipe for instant nostalgia. Because guys - the Disney Channel stars of our childhood are all grown up now. Even Zendaya is a full-fledged movie star now, and she was definitely the cutoff between Millennial and Gen Z Disney Channel.
So you all know what's coming next - here's what all those late Millennial Disney stars are doing now.
Then: Zac Efron was the star heartthrob of all our childhoods when he starred in High School Musical. He didn't even know how to sing at first - they had someone sing his part for the first movie, and he learned how to for the second one.
Fast Forward: Zac Efron went on and continued to be Hot In Many Films, including the hilarious 17 Again, the sad Charlie St. Cloud, to a litany of frat boy comedies like Neighbors and That Awkward Moment, to playing opposite Hugh Jackman and Zendaya in the musical film The Greatest Showman.
Now: Most Recently, Efron played Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile - which is quite a turnaround from his Troy Bolton days. He's also currently working on pre-production for a remake of Three Men and a Baby.
Then: The other half of the Millennial Danny and Sandy, Vanessa Hudgens shot to fame after starring as Gabriella in High School Musical. She went on to star as Gabriella in the next two films as well - and to start dating her co-star, Zac Efron, for a while.
Fast Forward: No, she and Zac are not still together. After HSM, Hudgens released a couple of albums (including one single called "Sneakernight") to moderate success. She then decided to return to the stage, starring as Mimi in a production of the musical Rent. She also played Rizzo in the Fox production of Grease Live.
Now: Aside from doing the starring voice in a My Little Pony movie and continuing in Netflix's incredibly successful Princess Switch franchise, Hudgens is starring in the recently premiered film Tick, Tick...Boom! about the creation of the musical Rent. She plays Karessa in the film.
Then: Ashley Tisdale was already an established actress before her Disney days, even once touring with Les Miserables as Cosette. She became a Disney star on the show The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, but, as with many others on this list, it was her role in High School Musical that cemented her fame. Tisdale played the fabulous Sharpay Evans in the movie, and several sequels.
Fast Forward: Sharpay Evans is STILL an iconic character from HSM - perhaps the MOST iconic. She even got her own movie, Sharpay's Great Adventure, which gave the sometimes-villain a proper redemption arc. Aside from that, though (and voicing big sister Candace in Phineas and Ferb), she's been slowly stepping behind the scenes, taking on more producer roles and working on her own music.
Now: Tisdale's work life is likely on pause for now, because she just had a baby! She and her husband Christopher French welcomed their daughter Jupiter Iris on March 23, 2021. That said, you can still watch her as a panelist on The Masked Singer.
Then: Brenda Song was in a few things before she was London Tipton on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, including Disney Channel's Phil Of The Future. She also starred in the Disney Channel Original Movie Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior.
Fast Forward: Song broke out as an adult actress with a starring role in The Social Network. She also had a very brief stint on the Fox sitcom New Girl as one of Winston's girlfriends (and while she doesn't stick around, her cat, Ferguson, does, for the rest of the show.)
Now: Song still does some work for Disney, providing the voice for the character Anne Boonchuy on the animated show Amphibia. She also stars as Madison Maxwell in the Hulu dramedy Dollface.
Dylan & Cole Sprouse
Then: These guys were famous way before Disney. Dylan and Cole Sprouse got their start in the movie Big Daddy with Adam Sandler, and due to child labor laws making it easier for twins to play one child, continued to get TV roles after that. Cole was eventually hired to play Ross' son Ben on Friends, appearing in seven episodes from season 6 to 8. They got Suite Life when they were seven, and by 2007 they were the two wealthiest children in the world.
Fast Forward: They went on to star in the spin-off series Suite Life On Deck as teenagers, moving the show away from the hotel and onto a cruise ship. There was talk of them going back to the hotel for another series and showing a new kid the joys of living there, but when Disney refused to offer the twins a producer credit for their idea, they walked, and moved on to more serious roles. They attended to NYU from 2011 to 2015.
Now: Cole Sprouse is still acting, starring as Jughead Jones in the popular drama Riverdale. Dylan, meanwhile, went a different route: He is now a co-owner and brewmaster of the All-Wise Meadery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He just. Decided he likes making meads.
The Jonas Brothers
Then: The Jonas Brothers were the hottest boy band in the world until One Direction came onto the scene. They had "Burnin' Up," "Year 3000"...and that HAIR. They weren't the greatest actors in the world, more suited to sketch comedy than anything else, but Joe did a decent job when he starred in Camp Rock.
Fast Forward: The Jonas Brothers famously broke up in 2012, after coming back from a two year solo-career-focused "hiatus" and promising another album. Kevin Jonas got married and got his own reality show, Married to Jonas, Joe Jonas started the band DNCE and wrote "Cake By The Ocean," and Nick Jonas starred in the 25th Anniversary concert production of Les Mis as Marius, then got buff and broke everyone's brains when he released "Jealous."
Now: Our dear boys are all happily married to absolute foxes, and the band came back together in 2019 with the hit single "Sucker" (about their love and devotion to their wives, making girls swoon yet again.) They just released the Jonas Brothers Roast on Netflix, which was every bit as hilarious as promised - and all of this put together seems to be ushering in the New Era Of Jonas.
Then: Demi Lovato was a brand new actor when they starred as Mitchie in Camp Rock opposite Joe Jonas, and EVERYBODY was jealous. They went on to get their own Disney Channel show, Sonny with a Chance, and to release solo albums (and also to have beef with half of the other Disney gals.)
Fast Forward: Lovato became an incredibly successful musician after leaving Disney, releasing what is now a total of seven successful albums, which included hits like "Skyscraper," "Heart Attack," and "Sorry Not Sorry."
Unfortunately Lovato has also had serious mental health struggles. She was quite open about her struggles with an eating disorder, and about her recovery after a relapse and subsequent overdose with opioids in 2018. They nearly died, and had several health complications after, including multiple strokes and a heart attack.
Now: Demi Lovato is back and better than ever. They just came out as nonbinary this year, just ahead of the release of their album Dancing With The Devil. Lovato is now an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ issues, especially when it comes to the trans community.
Then: Selena Gomez was one of the child stars of the show Barney & Friends in the 90's, before she was ever cast as Alex Russo on Wizards of Waverly Place. The show was a major hit for Disney, and Gomez' acting skills were one of the main driving forces. She was also in several Disney Channel movies during that time, including Another Cinderella Story and Princess Protection Program.
In pop culture, she was also famously known for dating Justin Bieber in their teenage years.
Fast Forward: After Wizards of Waverly Place ended, Gomez continued to find success in both acting and music. She became the main voice actor in the film franchise Hotel Transylvania - now getting a fourth installment - and has also been pumping out top 40 hits like they're nothing. "Come & Get It," "Hands to Myself", "We Don't Talk Anymore", and "It Ain't Me" are just some of her biggest singles.
Now: Gomez has also recently been trying out the role of producer: She was behind the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why and Living Undocumented, and she now not only stars in, but also produces, Apple TV's hit series Only Murders In The Building.
As far as her love life goes, Bieber is definitely way behind her, but there ARE rumors that she's dating Chris Evans.
Then: Miley Cyrus - daughter of famous country musician Billy Ray Cyrus - as Hannah Montana was a phenomenon. The show captured the attention of millions of young girls in a way that only a story about a pop singer and horse girl living a double life could. It got to be so much that she more or less BECAME Hannah Montana, on-screen and off. Her albums flew off shelves and her concerts were sellouts. She slowly began breaking out of the Disney role as she reached adulthood, releasing singles like "Party in the U.S.A." and "The Climb," but the teen idol label was hard to shake.
Fast Forward: Though she acted in the movie Last Song, which debuted to mixed reviews, most of Cyrus' post-Disney career has been musical. She broke away from that label hard when she performed a slightly sexed-up number, "Can't Be Tamed," and the video was compared to artists like Lady Gaga. The song was a deliberate attempt to be taken more seriously - and it sort of worked.
Then, she broke away more with the release of the "Wrecking Ball" music video, in which she rode a wrecking ball naked. On the same day, she performed with Robin Thicke on the VMAs, a performance which has since become infamous. (On that day, Miley Cyrus was no longer Hannah Montana.)
Now: Though she's no longer engaged to her longtime fiance Liam Hemsworth, Miley is doing great. Her new album Plastic Hearts debuted this year and has been a huge success. Cyrus has been slowly working to enter the pop and rock genre, a steep departure from her early country music days.
Then: Corbin Bleu has been acting since he was two. First it was commercials, then it was a Broadway play (when he was six). He moved from New York to LA after that, and was cast in a whole bunch of movies with celebrities like Tim Allen and Ben Stiller. By the time he made it to the role of Chad in High School Musical at age 17, he already had a more extensive resume than some adult actors.
Fast Forward: After the success of HSM, Bleu starred in the Disney Channel Original movie Jump In! He released a couple of albums and starred in a couple more films, but none of them really took off or gained traction. He did, however, find success on Broadway: He was Usnavi in Lin Manuel Miranda's In The Heights (as in the part that Lin himself played originally), was in the much-anticipated revival of Godspell, and starred in Holiday Inn and Kiss Me Kate as well.
Now: Bleu is actually returning to the screen for the Holiday season - you can see him in the Lifetime Christmas movie A Christmas Dance Reunion this Friday, December 3. He's also doing voiceover work for the upcoming Disney/Pixar Cars spinoff series, and will be playing jazz musician Cab Calloway in the upcoming film Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story.
Then: Alyson Stoner was the cute, spunky little sister character that everyone loved. Though she never had her own show, she captured everyone's hearts with her roles in Cheaper By The Dozen, Sonny With a Chance, Camp Rock, Suite Life, Step Up, and more. She also voiced Isabella in Phineas and Ferb. She was also the co-host of Mike's SuperShort Show, a segment on Disney where they'd tell kids about upcoming movies during commercial breaks.
Fast Forward: Stoner started shifting her focus to music as she got older, and then to dancing. She's appeared as a background dancer in several famous music videos, including several for Missy Elliot. She also voiced the character Opal in seasons three and four of The Legend of Korra, the sequel series to Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Now: Stoner came out as queer in 2018 on in a Teen Vogue article, stating that she likes dating people of all genders and doesn't want to label her sexuality at the moment. Aside from that and her dancing career, she also still does voiceover work, from Isabella to guest roles in shows like Voltron and The Loud House.