Actress and singer Zendaya first came to fame in 2010 with the television comedy ‘Shake It Up.’ She went on to star in big-budget films like ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ and ‘The Greatest Showman.’
Who Is Zendaya?
Zendaya started acting as a child, appearing in productions at the California Shakespeare Theater and other theatrical companies near her hometown of Oakland, California. She landed her first television gig in 2010 on the popular tween comedy series Shake It Up and released her self-titled debut album in 2013. After another Disney series, K.C. Undercover, Zendaya transitioned to film with Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Greatest Showman in 2017, before putting her wholesome image behind her with the drama Euphoria.
Born on September 1, 1996, in Oakland, California, actress and singer Zendaya came from a theatrical background. As the daughter of a stage manager, she spent much of her youth hanging around the California Shakespeare Theater. She also trained in its youth program and appeared in some of its productions.
During her days as a student at the Oakland School for the Arts, Zendaya landed a number of roles in local theatrical productions. She also honed her craft at the American Conservatory Theater and the Cal Shakes Conservatory. Zendaya had an interest in dance as well. She was a member of the Future Shock Oakland dance group for several years and studied hula dancing at the Academy of Hawaiian Arts.
In addition to her theatrical work, Zendaya had some early success as a model, working for companies such as Macy’s and Old Navy. For a Sears commercial, Zendaya performed as a backup dancer for Selena Gomez. She eventually decided to use only her first name professionally. “Zendaya” means “to give thanks” in the language of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
Movies and TV Shows
‘Shake It Up’
In 2010 Zendaya saw her career take off with the debut of Shake It Up on the Disney Channel. The then-14-year-old performer described the show to McClatchy-Tribune Business News as “a buddy comedy about two best friends who dream of becoming professional dancers and finally get their chance when they get to audition for their favorite show.”
Zendaya and her co-star, Bella Thorne, became tween idols to their young fan base. The songs they performed on the show, including “Something to Dance For,” were hit downloads with their target audience, and their two characters became so popular that they even inspired their own fashion line.
‘A.N.T. Farm,’ ‘Good Luck Charlie,’ ‘Frenemies’
Outside of her hit show, Zendaya lent her voice to the animated television movie Pixie Hollow Games (2011). She also made guest appearances on such series as A.N.T. Farm and Good Luck Charlie, and starred with Thorne in the 2012 television movie Frenemies.
In 2013 Zendaya made the switch from the imaginary dance show to the popular televised competition Dancing with the Stars. She was paired with professional dancer Val Chmerkovskiy on the show, and competed against such celebrities as Andy Dick, Kellie Pickler and Aly Raisman. Her previous experience, however, didn’t prove to be much help. As she told Good Morning America, “I’m really used to hip hop dancing … So I kind of have to forget what I know and restart all over again.”
‘K.C. Undercover,’ ‘Spider-Man,’ ‘The Greatest Showman’
After Dancing With the Stars, Zendaya starred in the Disney comedy K.C. Undercover for three seasons before making a splash on the big screen in 2017 with Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Greatest Showman, playing the role of Anne Wheeler alongside Hugh Jackman in the latter.
In 2018 Zendaya lent her voice to two animation films: Duck Duck Goose and Smallfoot. She then reprised her role as Michelle “M.J.” Jones in Spider-Man: Far From Home in 2019.
Distancing herself from her Disney image, Zendaya signed on for the starring role of Rue in the HBO series Euphoria. Based on the turbulent adolescent years of creator Sam Levinson, the show generated buzz ahead of its June 2019 debut for its graphic depictions of teen drug use and sexuality.
Speaking to The New York Times about the show’s provocative content, Zendaya said, “I don’t find it that shocking, to be honest. People will. I kind of accepted the fact that it would be polarizing. … Whether people like it or not, it’s real. I’m telling somebody’s story. Just because it’s not happening to you doesn’t mean it’s not happening all the time, every day.”
In November 2019 the actress was honored as Best Drama TV Star, for Euphoria, and Best Female Movie Star, for Spider-Man: Far From Home, at the People’s Choice Awards. She won the Emmy for Best Lead Actress at the 72nd Emmy Awards in September 2020, making her the youngest person ever to win that category.
Zendaya at the Variety Power Of Young Hollywood at TAO Hollywood on August 8, 2017, in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage
Music and Book
Zendaya signed a recording deal with Hollywood Records in 2012 and unveiled her self-titled studio album the following year. Although her follow-up album has yet to materialize, she released the single “Something New” with Chris Brown in 2016, and paired with Zac Efron to contribute “Rewrite the Stars” to The Greatest Showman soundtrack.
In 2013 Zendaya became a first-time author with Between U and Me, in which she shares advice for her young fans.