How Zendaya went from a Disney Channel star to a blockbuster darling

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Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman was born on September 1, 1996, in Oakland, California.

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Peter Kramer/AP Photo

The to-be actress was the only child of Claire Marie Stoermer and Kazembe Ajamu (né Samuel David Coleman), but she has five half-siblings on her father’s side. 

Although her stage name is just Zendaya — pronounced Zen-DAY-uh — her full given name holds important meaning for the star’s heritage. 

“I have my African first name, I have a middle name that is [my mom’s] middle name, which is French, but we did it African spelling, so it’s literally me in a name,” she told Us Weekly in 2016. “And then you have Stoermer, and then you have Coleman. I literally have, like, a timeline in history in my name.”

Her very first audition was for a school play.

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Valerie Macon/Getty Images

In 2016, Zendaya told W magazine that her first audition was for her school’s production of “James and the Giant Peach.”

“I tried out for the lead, but I ended up being cast as the silkworm. I didn’t have any lines, but you know what? I killed it,” she said. “I was a worm, but I was reacting and giving face, and I was the best dang silkworm there ever was.”

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She quickly got into dancing at a young age.

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Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

In the same 2016 W magazine interview, Zendaya said that dancing was one of her favorite hobbies as a kid. 

“As a kid, my main interest was dancing. When I was 8 years old, I was in a hip-hop troupe,” she said. 

Zendaya started her career as a backup dancer for Selena Gomez and as a Kidz Bop Kid.

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Jason Merritt/Getty Images

According to J-14, one of Zendaya’s first professional jobs was as a backup dancer for Selena Gomez in a Sears commercial.

“That’s a funny commercial because it’s so weird to think that later on — Ross [Lynch] was in it, Leo Howard was in it — and we were backup dancers, we weren’t even the lead kids,” she told the publication. “It’s funny where things evolved from and it’s cool to start small.”

Additionally, the star became a Kidz Bop Kid in 2009 on the “Kidz Bop 15” album — also alongside soon-to-be Disney Channel star Lynch.

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As a rising Disney star, Zendaya appeared on other shows and in original movies on the network.

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Disney Channel

Once she got her start on “Shake It Up,” Zendaya earned roles in Disney Channel original movies like “Frenemies” (2012) and “Zapped” (2014).

She also guest-starred on other Disney Channel shows, including “Good Luck Charlie” and “A.N.T. Farm.”

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In 2013, she released her self-titled debut album.

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Grant Pollard/Invision/AP

In 2012, when she was around 16 years old, she signed with Hollywood Records — previously the label of artists such as Gomez and the Jonas Brothers.

Her debut self-titled album was released a year later and peaked at 51 on the Billboard 200. The album featured the hit single “Replay.”

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The same year as her album debut, she competed on “Dancing With the Stars.”

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ABC

As a 16-year-old, Zendaya competed on season 16 of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” She and her partner, Ukrainian-American dancer Val Chmerkovskiy, took second place.

“I was happy that I made it that far and I think that’s the most important thing to take with me,” she told MTV News in 2013.

In 2015, she began starring on and producing the Disney Channel show “K.C. Undercover.”

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Disney Channel

After finishing her run on “Shake It Up,” Zendaya returned to Disney Channel in 2015 on “K.C. Undercover.”

“The only way I was going to come back to the Disney Channel was if I was in a position of more power,” she told Cosmopolitan in 2016 . “One thing that is really important to me is diversity on the channel. It’s hard as a young person of a different ethnicity or background to look at the TV and not see anyone who looks like you. Representation is very important.”

She also had specific conditions for how her character was presented on the show. 

“I wanted to make sure that she wasn’t good at singing or acting or dancing. That she wasn’t artistically inclined … There are other things that a girl can be,” Zendaya told Vogue in 2017. “I want her to be martial arts-trained. I want her to be able to do everything that a guy can do … But I also want her to be socially awkward, not a cool kid. I want her to be normal with an extraordinary life.”

That same year, she dabbled in the music industry a bit more.

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Big Machine Records

In 2015, Zendaya was featured on “Finding Neverland: The Album”  — the musical companion to the Broadway musical “Finding Neverland.” 

That same year, she appeared as Cut Throat in Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” music video.

She also called out a magazine for retouching her body and contributing to “unrealistic ideals of beauty.”

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Dia Dipasupil/GettyImages

In 2015, Zendaya posed for the cover of Modeliste magazine, but she wasn’t happy when she saw the photos come back with heavy touch-ups.

“Had a new shoot come out today and was shocked when I found my 19-year-old hips and torso quite manipulated. These are the things that make women self-conscious, that create the unrealistic ideals of beauty that we have,” she wrote on Instagram.

The caption continued, “Anyone who knows who I am knows I stand for honest and pure self-love. So I took it upon myself to release the real pic (right side) and I love it. Thank you @modelistemagazine for pulling down the images and fixing this retouch issue.”

Modeliste pulled the photos before the issue was published, and it also released a letter from the editor thanking Zendaya for addressing the situation. 

In 2016, she announced that she would be the new face of CoverGirl.

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Jason Kempin/Getty Images for GLAAD

At 19 years old, Zendaya became the face of CoverGirl.

She made the announcement via Instagram, and she later told Teen Vogue, “Covergirl celebrates powerful, beautiful, and strong women of different races and ethnicities. It’s inspiring. I’m thrilled to be part of the diversity and expansion of beauty.”

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Zendaya worked on a few more music projects with other artists in 2016.

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Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

In February 2016, she dropped a single titled “Something New” featuring Chris Brown.

Later that year, she also appeared in Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” visual album.

“It was beautiful because it hit on so many points, not just about feminism or empowerment but it talked about heartbreak and healing all at the same time,” she told Seventeen of working with Beyoncé. “It touched on cultural and societal issues … It was so empowering as a black woman to watch it and be a part of it.”

She released her own clothing line, Daya by Zendaya.

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Phil Mccarten/Invision/AP

Zendaya first launched the line in 2016, and, the next year, she released her second collection.

“This time around I wanted it to be a little more wearable,” she told Vogue in 2017. “I guess you could say [it’s] elevated streetwear — something that’s easy to dress up and dress down, comfortable and realistic for your everyday person.”

She also said that she worked to make the line “gender fluid” and affordable so it was more accessible for everyone. 

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Some of her last few forrays into the music industry took place in 2017.

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Atlantic Records

In February 2017, she also collaborated with Latin pop singer Prince Royce on the song “X.”

In August, she starred in Bruno Mars’ “Versace on the Floor” music video.  

Zendaya was cast in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017), her first feature film.

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Chuck Zlotnick/Sony Pictures Entertainment

In 2017, Zendaya joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as Michelle, or MJ,  in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

It was her first feature-film role, and she starred alongside Tom Holland and Jacob Batalon.

That same year, she starred in the hit movie-musical “The Greatest Showman” (2017).

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20th Century Fox

Zendaya joined the star-studded cast of the highly praised musical “The Greatest Showman.” She stunned fans as trapeze artist Anne Wheeler alongside stars like  Zac Efron and Hugh Jackman.

The production was nominated for best original song at the 2018 Oscars for “This Is Me.”

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In 2018, Zendaya became an ambassador for Lancôme.

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Rachel Murray/Getty Images

She joined other actresses, including Lupita Nyong’o and Julia Roberts, as a global ambassador for the beauty brand. 

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That same year, she added voice acting to her long list of talents.

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Robert Marquardt/Getty Images

In 2018, Zendaya voiced characters in the animated films “Duck Duck Goose” and “Smallfoot.”

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In 2018, the biographical thriller “A White Lie” was announced.

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David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

In 2018, Sony’s TriStar Pictures acquired the rights to “A White Lie,” which centers on the first African-American woman to graduate from Vassar College in the 1890s.

Zendaya is set to star as Anita Hemmings in the film, which is based on the novel “The Gilded Years” by Karin Tanabe, and she’s set to produce it alongside Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine production company. 

No date has been set for the film’s release. 

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In 2019, Zendaya said she was stepping away from music for a bit.

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ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images

Zendaya told Paper magazine in 2019 that she was stepping away from music to focus on her acting career.

“I think the [music] industry takes a little bit of passion away from you,” she said. “It sucks you dry a little bit. What I thought I wanted, it’s not what I want anymore, [especially] when I think about what I had to deal with in the music industry.”

She also shared advice for anyone who is looking to break into the industry. 

“If anyone asks my number one advice, for [the entertainment] industry in general but mostly the music industry, it’s look over those contracts, every single word, and don’t sign anything that isn’t worth it to you,” she added. “You are worth more than they will say that you are.”

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She also reprised her role in the sequel “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (2019).

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JoJo Whilden/Sony Pictures

In 2019, Zendaya returned as MJ in the Marvel sequel “Spider-Man: Far from Home.”

The actress appeared on the second season of Netflix’s “The OA.”

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Netflix

She played a character named Fola on the Netflix original series in 2019. 

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Zendaya was cast as Rue on HBO’s gritty teen drama “Euphoria.”

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HBO

In 2019, Zendaya snagged the lead role on the HBO original series alongside actor Jacob Elordi.

Her character, Rue, struggles with anxiety, depression, and drug addiction on the series, so the actress posted a trigger warning on Instagram before the show was released. 

“Just a reminder before tonight’s premiere, that ‘Euphoria’ is for mature audiences. It’s a raw and honest portrait of addiction, anxiety and the difficulties of navigating life today,” she wrote. “There are scenes that are graphic, hard to watch and can be triggering. Please only watch if you feel you can handle it.”

The second season premiered at the beginning of this year, and the show was renewed for a third.

2021 brought more major movies to the actress’ filmography.

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Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

In 2021, Zendaya starred in the two-person cast of the Netflix original drama “Malcolm and Marie” alongside John David Washington.

In the summer of that same year, she voiced Lola Bunny in “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”

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She appeared in the long-awaited “Dune” (2021) adaptation.

A picture of Zendaya in "Dune."
Warner Bros.

The successful actress joined the cast of another major film franchise, “Dune,” based on the book series by Frank Herbert.

She played Chani, and she’s set to return to the role for the second installment in 2023. 

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Zendaya became MJ again for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021).

MJ and Spider-Man jumping off a platform in "Spider-Man: No Way Home."
Sony Pictures

The actress returned to the successful superhero series in 2021 for the latest sequel, “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

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