Then & Now: 20 Disney Channel Stars

By Rose Wythe

July 3, 2018

Seriously: Where would we be without the Disney Channel of 2008? From Hannah Montana to The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, from the High School Musical franchise to the Camp Rock franchise, from Wizards of Waverly Place to Sonny With a Chance… seriously, just look at how many TV shows and DCOMs turned your fave actors into the superstars of today. Plus, see where all of those supporting actors wound up — like did you know Rico from Hannah Montana is besties with Jaden and Willow Smith? Justin Russo from Wizards is married?! And finally, Jackson from Hannah Montana is now 41?! (Sorry, we had to.)

See all of your fave Disney stars then and now! 

1. Selena Gomez

Then: Selena Gomez kicked off her career (alongside Demi Lovato) on the kids show Barney & Friends before catapulting to stardom when she nabbed the lead role of Alex Russo on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place.

She also kickstarted her music career around the same time, releasing three albums under the name Selena Gomez & The Scene.

Now: Selena ditched The Scene, releasing two solo albums under her own name - 2013’s Stars Dance and 2015’s Revival

While she’s currently focusing largely on her career as an artist, she has appeared in movies like The Big Short, Spring Breakers, and more. 

Following a short stint in rehab — a reported attempt to focus on her mental health — she served as executive producer for the popular Netflix show Thirteen Reasons Why,"and will voice a character in 2019’s The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle.

2. Demi Lovato

Then: Demi appeared alongside Selena Gomez on Barney & Friends before starring in the Disney Channel TV movies Camp Rock and Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam. She then landed a leading role on Sonny With A Chance and released two albums (Here We Go Again and Unbroken) coinciding with her time on the show. 

Demi also made headlines for her public battles with an eating disorder, self-harm, and addiction, which landed her in rehab in 2010 after she punched one of her dancers in the face. 

Now: Demi is focusing on her music career and even earned a Grammy nomination for her album Confident. She released her sixth studio album, Tell Me You Love Me, in September of 2017. In June, she dropped a song called “Sober,” where she reveals she has broken her sobriety.

3. Miley Cyrus

Then: Miley became a household name when she starred as a teen pop star in the show Hannah Montana alongside her father, Billy Ray Cyrus. She also released several albums — both solo releases and more collaborative albums — becoming known for both her acting and musical careers.

Now: She continues to work on her music and acting careers, starred as a judge on The Voice, and is also known for her philanthropy — Miley founded the Happy Hippie Foundation, which works to "fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable populations.”

4. Bella Thorne

Then: Before nabbing the role of CeCe Jones on Shake It Up, Bella Thorne was a child model and played Ruthy Spivey on the TV show My Own Worst Enemy. She went on to appear opposite Mae Whitman in the film adaption of The DUFF.

Now: Bella starred in the TV series Famous In Love, which was canceled in June 2018 after two seasons. She also has a starring role in the 2018 adaption of Midnight Sun and released a track called "B*tch I’m Bella Thorne” in 2018.

5. Zendaya

Then: Zendaya became a household name with her role as Rocky Blue on the Disney Channel series Shake It Up. She also competed on the 2013 installment of Dancing With The Stars and released the song “Replay,” which landed at No. 40 on the Hot 100 chart. Her self-title debut album, meanwhile, dropped in 2013. 

Now: Zendaya starred as Michelle “MJ” Jones in the Spider-Man: Homecoming movie in 2017 and starred opposite Zac Efron in the musical The Greatest Showman. She’s set to appear alongside Ansel Elgort and Jake Gyllenhaal in the thriller Finest Kind, and will also star in the HBO adaptation Euphoria.

6. The Jonas Brothers

Then: The JoBros joined the Disney Channel family in 2008, when they all starred in the hit DCOM, Camp Rock, with Demi Lovato. After the movie’s crazy success, the Jonas Brothers had their own TV show for two seasons, called JONAS and subsequently, JONAS L.A. They also participated in Camp Rock 2, all while forging a music career as the Jonas Brothers, releasing album after album and hit after hit (“Burnin’ Up,” “Love Bug”) before going on hiatus in 2013.

Now: In 2012, Kevin and his wife, Danielle, had their own E! TV series, Married to Jonas. Nick pursued an extremely successful solo music career, with smashes like “Jealous,” “Chains,” and reinvented himself as, essentially, a super-smooth thirst trap. He also continued acting, first on the MMA show Kingdom, and even in movies like Jumanji. Joe also continued his music career, forming the band DNCE and taking the world by storm with “Cake by the Ocean.” He recently got engaged to Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner. And Kevin is still all about that tech life, working hard on various tech ideas and appearing on reality TV when he can (cmon, we all remember that Real Housewives of New Jersey episode.

7. Cole Sprouse

Then: Cole Sprouse started acting (along with his twin brother, Dylan) when he was eight months old. He was eventually cast as Ross Geller’s son, Ben, in the hugely popular sitcom Friends

Of course, he gained household recognition when he played the role of Cody Martin on the Disney Channel Original Series The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, alongside Dylan.

Now: After taking a short break from acting — he attended NYU from 2011 to 2015 — Cole was cast as Jughead Jones in the hit CW show Riverdale, a teen drama based on the "Archie" comics. Riverdale was recently renewed for its third season.

8. Dylan Sprouse

Then: Dylan shared roles in movies and TV shows with his twin brother Cole (the pair split the role of Julian in Big Daddy, for example) before being cast as Zack Martin on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and the spin-off The Suite Life on Deck.

Now: Dylan earned a video game degree from NYU and started his own business called All-Wise Meadery, located in Brooklyn.

9. Brenda Song

Then: Brenda appeared in several commercials and TV roles before starring in the 2002 Disney Channel Original Movie Get A Clue. She was eventually cast as London Tipton in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and its spin-off show The Suite Life on Deck.

Now:  Brenda went on to appear in the movie The Social Network in 2010 and had recurring roles in the TV shows Scandal and New Girl. She is set to join the cast of Station 19, and will appear in several episodes. 

10. Ashley Tisdale

Then: Ashley was best known for her Disney Channel roles as Sharpay Evans in the High School Musical Franchise, plus her Suite Life character — the super bubbly shop assistant Maddie, who tolerated London (Brenda Song) and was friendly with Zack and Cody. She’s also released three albums — and voiced Candace on Phineas and Ferb until 2015.

Now: Ashley continues to act — mainly through voice work and recurring roles on television shows. She also launched Illuminate Cosmetics, a beauty line that her fans have been buying up. Ashley wed musician Christopher French in 2014. 

11. Zac Efron

Then: Oh, Zac Efron. Though he starred on shows like Summerland before his High School Musical days, it was the HSM franchise that became his breakout role and immediately cemented him as one of Hollywood’s hottest heartthrobs. Everything we’ve seen Zac in over the years (Hairspray, 17 Again, Charlie St. Cloud) just makes him even more attractive.

Now: Though Zac still acts in blockbusters (see: Baywatch), he has also gone the indie route (The Paperboy, plus the upcoming film in which he stars as notorious serial killer Ted Bundy). He’s also revealed that he sought treatment for addiction and is now sober. Plus, anyone who saw Zac in The Greatest Showman still knows that he’s a triple threat.

12. Vanessa Hudgens

Then: Vanessa Hudgens rose to fame thanks to High School Musical, and her real-life coupling with Zac Efron for a time. (Long live #Zanessa). In addition to the wild success of the HSM franchise, bb v also released the earworm, “Sneakernight,” a pop song about getting ready to go out and hit the town and is still a bop to this day.

Now: Vanessa has been dating Austin Butler for actual years and years, all the while honing her craft, particularly on Broadway. She starred as the titular character in Gigi and then went on to absolutely slay in the live production of Grease! as Rizzo.

13. Corbin Bleu

Then: Corbin Bleu’s triple threat status was cemented throughout the HSM franchise, so it’s no surprise he went on to go compete on Dancing With the Stars, as well as star in numerous other DCOMs.

Now: Since Corbin took it to Broadway to star in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, that’s where he’s stayed for a while, most recently starring in the Broadway production of Holiday Inn. 

14. Debby Ryan

Then: You totally know Debby Ryan from her Disney Channel roles on Suite Life on Deck and, later, “Jessie.”

Now: In addition to acting, Debby also formed the band The Never Ending, where she got to open up on Fifth Harmony’s Reflection tour.

15. Kyle Massey

Then: Kyle was most well-known for his role as Cory Baxter on That’s So Raven, which led to his very own spin-off, Cory in the House

Now: Kyle competed on Dancing With the Stars, and is also the younger brother of Zoey 101 star Christopher Massey — who was once the target of Lil Twist’s assault (Twist was a close friend of Justin Bieber at the time).

16. David Henrie

Then: David Henrie had several onscreen roles before playing the part of Justin Russo on Wizards of Waverly Place. He also appeared opposite Taylor Lautner and Adam Sandler in the movie Grown Ups 2 and starred in the 2014 ABC show Mind Games

Now: He married former Miss Delaware Marie Cahill in 2017 and was cast as a young Ronald Reagan in the 2019 movie Reagan. Psst: He’s still good friends with Selena Gomez.

17. Emily Osment

Then: Emily Osment, younger sister of Sixth Sense actor Haley Joel Osment, played her most famous role as Hannah Montana’s bestie Lily throughout the series. 

Now: She later had starring roles in R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, the Freeform movie Cyberbully, the Lifetime film A Daughter’s Nightmare, and has done numerous voiceovers for Family Guy. She currently stars on Freeform’s Young & Hungry.

18. Moisés Arias 

Then: Moisés Arias is best known for his portrayal of the always-scheming Rico on Hannah Montana.

Though he had some small roles before that, Hannah Montana was undoubtedly his breakout — when he was only 12 years old.

Now: After Hannah Montana, the boy best known as Rico took up photography, becoming besties with Kendall and Kylie Jenner and Jaden and Willow Smith.

Additionally, he went on to have recurring roles on TV shows like The Middle and Jean Claude Van Johnson.

Most famously, however, he voiced antagonist Antonio in Despicable Me 2.

19. Jason Earles

Then: Jason played the roles of Jackson Stewart on Hannah Montana and Rudy Gillespie in the Disney XD show Kickin’ It. He also appeared in the movies National Treasure and American Pie Presents: Band Camp.

Now: He married Katie Drysen on August 12, 2017.

20. Mitchell Musso

Then: Mitchel Musso starred in three Disney Channel series: Hannah Montana, Phineas and Ferb, and the Disney XD show Pair of Kings. He also served as host for the show Prankstars, and released a self-titled debut album on June 2, 2009.

Now: He was written out of the show Pair of Kings and PrankStars was canceled after Mitchell was charged with a DUI suspicion in 2011. He went on to play the lead role of Tucker in the 2016 comedy Characterz

PHOTOS: Getty Images

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