Photo courtesy of Zendaya
Born in Oakland, Calif. on Sept. 1, 1996, Zendaya grew up around the California Shakespeare Theater in nearby Orinda, where her mother worked as the house manager. In addition to training at the theater company’s student conservatory program, and later performing in numerous stage productions, she helped her mom seat patrons and sell raffle tickets to benefit the organization.
While attending the Oakland School for the Arts, Zendaya starred as a young Ti Moune in “Once on This Island” at the Berkeley Playhouse before enjoying her breakout role as the male character Joe in “Caroline, or Change” at Palo Alto’s TheatreWorks. She subsequently honed her craft at both the California Shakespeare Conservatory program and the American Conservatory Theater, adding such classics by the Bard of Avon as “Richard III,” “Twelfth Night” and “As You Like It” to her stage credits.
Zendaya, by the way, means “to give thanks” in Shona, a Bantu language native to Zimbabwe. Besides acting, the versatile young talent has served as a fashion model for Macy’s, Mervyns and Old Navy, and as one of the back-up dancers in a Sears commercial featuring Selena Gomez.
Zendaya now resides in Los Angeles with her family and Midnight, her pet giant schnauzer, and her interests include singing, dancing and clothes designing.
Here, she talks about “Shake It Up,” her hit Disney Channel sitcom where she co-stars opposite Bella Thorne as Raquel “Rocky” Blue, half of a comedic duo trying to dance their way to superstardom.
Hi Zendaya, thanks for the interview.
No, thank you, Kam. It is my pleasure.
What interested you in “Shake It Up?”
Well, I would say that “Shake It Up” was a chance for me to do two things I really love: acting and dancing.
Tell me a little about the show.
It’s a buddy comedy based around dance. It’s about two best friends Rocky and CeCe who live out their dream as background dancers on a show called “Shake It Up Chicago.” They have to navigate life as young teens going to school and dancing on the show.
How would you describe your character, Rocky?
Rocky is such a sweet girl. She really cares for people and always wants to help her friends. She is a very good student who really works hard, and she is a dedicated friend to CeCe who often talks her into doing things they shouldn’t. Rocky is a bit more shy and unsure of herself, and sometimes does more following than she should.
What message would you say the show is trying to deliver?
“Shake It Up” definitely teaches kids about the importance of reaching for your dreams and setting high goals. It also teaches great lessons about friendship and family.
What do you enjoy the most: acting, singing, dancing or modeling?
Wow! I couldn’t choose between all of those things! I love acting and dancing on “Shake It Up,” and I am currently in the recording studio working on my music. And one of my dreams is to walk down the runway during fashion week!
When is your debut album being released, and what type of music is on it?
Well, I am not sure of when my album will be released but my music has a lot of different sounds. I’m a hip hop/R&B girl at heart, but I love pop music as well, and I even have an affinity for country music. So I would say my music might have something for everyone.
Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
I’m never asked what I love to do outside of the arts. My answer would be sports. I was actually supposed to be a basketball player, not an actress. My parents had me playing basketball on competitive teams when I was in kindergarten. Even though my heart belongs to the arts, I’m a tomboy at heart, too.
Are you ever afraid?
Yes! I am scared of spiders! And I still get a little afraid every time I have to do something new or have to get out in front of a big crowd. The first time I sang “Swag It Out” live, I was really scared.
Are you happy?
Yes, I am. This is my dream, truly. I grew up watching “That’s So Raven” and “Lizzie McGuire,” and I said to myself that I could do that one day, and here I am. This is a dream come true and I am just ecstatic to be here living out my childhood dreams.
The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
I am reading the book that I just did a book trailer for. It’s called “From Bad to Cursed.” It’s really creepy and good. And the last book I read for school was “Animal Farm,” but I didn’t really like that.
What is your favorite dish to cook?
I am really good at making Top Ramen. I also love it when my mom makes vegetarian lasagna for me.
Who is your favorite clothes designer?
Chanel all the way! Just because not only do they have timeless pieces, but since it is the epitome of class and elegance.
When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
I just see me, an ordinary girl. I know my life is not typical, but I have tried to stay really grounded and true to myself. My family really helps me with that.
If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
It would be to go back in time and meet Michael Jackson and work with him.
The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
Determination. No matter what field, determination will surely get you to the top.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
A: Surround yourself by positive people who will help you reach your goal and support you. And B: Go for it!
How do you want to be remembered?
As an awesome, hardworking and caring artist, who loves what she does.
Born in Atlanta, Ga. on Dec. 10, 1985, Raven-Symoné Christina Pearman got an early start in showbiz when she was signed by the Ford Modeling Agency while she was still in diapers. After appearing in TV ads for everything from Cool Whip to Jello, she was invited to join the cast of "The Cosby Show." She's best known for the Emmy-nominated comedy series "That's So Raven" on the Disney Channel where she played the title character Raven Baxter, a teenager who periodically has psychic visions of the future.
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"She understands that this is a princess who is African-American," said Alford, who is black and lives in Virginia. "But do I think it's a big deal to her? No."
Princess Tiana debuted in "The Princess and the Frog" in New York and Los Angeles last month, and grown-ups have certainly been buzzing. But for many little black girls growing up with Malia and Sasha Obama in the White House, the historic nature of Tiana's debut in Disney's mostly white princess lineup doesn't quite seem to register. More »