Zendaya Through the Years: From Disney Teen to Euphoric Leading Lady

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The Age of Zendaya is upon us. The actress, who turns 23 on Sunday, September 1, has already left her mark on the Disney Channel, the DWTS dance floor, the Billboard Hot 100 and the world of fashion, and now she’s branching out into more adult fare with the HBO drama Euphoria.

“There was no strategic plan,” she told The New York Times in June 2019, reflecting on her career evolution. “After shooting The Greatest Showman and Spider-Man, I went back to my Disney show, which is kind of like going to college and then having to go back and do the same grade over and over again. Not that I didn’t appreciate having a job. But it’s like you turn a switch on and do it, and then you get turned off and go home. I wanted more.”

She also faced a steep learning curve, as Euphoria is a far cry from the family-friendly fare of her career beforehand. On the critically acclaimed show, she plays Rue Bennett, a 17-year-old recovering from drug addiction.

“I was really nervous because I wanted to do well. It’s like going from nothing to everything — there were no steps in between,” she told the newspaper. “That’s why people think it’s such a stretch for me to play this character. There’s a lot of people who probably think I can’t do it because they don’t truly understand my personality. And I get it: I’m a Disney kid. There’s a lot to prove.”

Now she’s straddling two demographics, venturing into TV-MA content while still fielding job offers for “the corny stuff,” as she told the Times. “It’s cool,” she added. “I feel like I can do [Euphoria] and still have another world outside of it where I can do family movies and fun things like that. I’m trying to break the habit of using the F-word now because I use it so much as Rue, and in life. I’m about to go on tour for Spider-Man. It’s a wonderful family movie. I can’t be dropping F-bombs.”

Scroll down to relive Zendaya’s life and career so far.


After growing up in Oakland and appearing in productions at Oakland School for the Arts and the Berkeley Playhouse, Zendaya got national exposure as a featured performer in the Kidz Bop version of Katy Perry’s “Hot n Cold.”

Kidz Bop


The actress got her big break when Disney Channel cast her as Rocky Blue in Shake It Up, which became the channel’s second highest-rated premiere in December 2010.

Piers Allardyce/Shutterstock


Zendaya’s small-screen film debut came with Disney Channel’s Frenemies, in which she played a teen locked in a “geek vs. chic” competition with Bella Thorne’s character.

Todd Williamson/Invision/AP/Shutterstock


The California native nearly reigned victorious in Dancing With the Stars’ 16th season, losing the mirrorball trophy to Kellie Pickler in the season finale.

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP/Shutterstock


Zendaya returned to Disney Channel to play teen spy K.C. Cooper in the sitcom K.C. Undercover, later revealing she got the character’s name changed. (“Do I look like a Katy to you?” she told Vogue.)



Zendaya finally hit the big screen in 2016 after Marvel cast her as Michelle in Spider-Man: Homecoming, a high school classmate of Peter Parker (Tom Holland).

Odette Martin/Shutterstock


Not only did Zendaya play trapeze artist Anne in 2017’s The Greatest Showman — with Zac Efron as her love interest — but she also contributed to the film’s soundtrack with her single “Rewrite the Stars.”



The actress’ career got another boost in 2018 when Tommy Hilfiger named her as the brand’s new global women’s ambassador and announced the Tommy x Zendaya capsule collection.



Zendaya reached a new chapter of her filmography with the 2019 premiere of the HBO drama Euphoria. Less than a month after the racy show’s premiere, HBO greenlit a second season.

Courtesy of HBO