The Best Disney and Nickelodeon Pop Stars, Ranked – Vulture

In a sea of talent, whos going to make it all the way to Britney-like icon status? Photo: Getty Images

Over the past two decades, Disney and Nickelodeon have rocket-launched young talents to superstardom with TV shows, movies, and record deals. Some teens take a step back after working throughout their childhood, while others continue on to become some of the worlds biggest pop stars. Following the legacy of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera, new kids on the block like Ariana Grande, Zendaya, and Sabrina Carpenter occupy headlines and timelines. Instead of there being just a few kids making it after Disney, former child stars are now ubiquitous in pop culture. Theyre on the red carpet at Cannes. Theyre breaking records set by the Beatles. And especially as Disney expands its network across cable, film, and streaming, theyre able to propel themselves from project to project. In a sea of talent, whos going to make it all the way to Britney-like icon status?

Back in 2015, Vulture assessed which of the new Disney/Nickelodeon class had leveraged their child-star fame into powerhouse careers as adults. Since then, the stakes have changed, quarter-life crises have taken hold, hiatuses have come and gone, and new stars, like Olivia Rodrigo, have come to play. Its time for another update! These are the current best former child stars of the moment, ranked from least to most powerful.

Child-Star Highlights: The quirky girl Dylan Sprouse crushes on in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, then the incomparable Sharpay Evans in High School Musical. Tisdale also voiced Candace on the animated show Phineas and Ferb.

Adult Highlights: She has maintained her career with guest spots and voice-acting gigs. In 2010, she starred in Hellcats with Aly Michalka. In May 2019, she released her first album in ten years, Symptoms, and she was in the cast of Carols Second Act.

Chart Stats: Outside of her HSM hits, Tisdales song He Said She Said peaked at No. 58 in 2008.

Notable Deals: Tisdale partnered with BH Cosmetics to create her makeup line, Illuminate.

Power Move: Keeping the voice-acting checks coming with Disney long after High School Musical and Suite Life were over.

Power Miss: Tisdales music career hasnt taken off as hoped.

Bottom Line: Tisdale is fun and refreshing to see onscreen, but she isnt toppling the charts or breaking down box offices.

Child-Star Highlights: Justice went from being a recurring character on Zoey 101 and iCarly to having her own musical show, Victorious.

Adult Highlights: Though her music career has stalled, she was in Summer Nights with Lana Condor and Analeigh Tipton. She also has a pretty successful, uh, career as a meme thanks to this old interview in which she was overshadowed by then-co-star Ariana Grande and was not having it.

Chart Stats: Her highest Hot 100 hit was Freak the Freak Out from the Victorious soundtrack. No solo-chart data.

Notable Deals: No active deals, but she isnt afraid of a little Instagram sponcon.

Power Move: Getting on three Nick shows in seven years.

Power Miss: Ending her music career just as co-star Grande was beginning hers.

Bottom Line: Justice is an icon for older members of Gen Z but is more often remembered for being a meme.

Child-Star Highlights: After playing a recurring character on Wizards of Waverly Place, Mendler starred in her own show, Good Luck Charlie, and then, as these things go, the Disney Channel original movie (DCOM) Lemonade Mouth. She then recorded her 2012 debut album, Hello My Name Is

Adult Highlights: Mendler continues to make pop music. She starred in Father of the Year with David Spade and Netflixs Merry Happy Whatever with Ashley Tisdale.

Chart Stats: Ready or Not from Hello My Name Is was certified gold and peaked at No. 49.

Notable Deals: Mendler has no active deals, but she previously worked in philanthropy.

Power Move: Hitting the child-star trifecta: guest spot, TV show, original movie.

Power Miss: Leaving Hollywood Records after just three years and before the release of her second album.

Bottom Line: The song Ready or Not lives on as a 2010s bop, but thats about it.

Child-Star Highlights: The front kid for the fictional but also real but definitely made-up group the Naked Brothers Band and the star of its eponymous TV show.

Adult Highlights: Wolff swept the teen romantic comedies for a time with Stuck in Love, The Fault in Our Stars, and Paper Towns. He also played Light Turner in Netflixs adaptation of Death Note. Lately, he has pivoted to drama and horror with the upcoming films Mainstream and Body Cam. Nat and his brother, Alex, continue to make music together.

Chart Stats: Both Naked Brothers Band soundtracks peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard 200.

Notable Deals: None at the moment.

Power Move: Solidifying his presence in the John Green expanded universe (Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars) but moving on before becoming typecast.

Power Miss: Not getting on Riverdale. He could totally be Jughead.

Bottom Line: Both Wolffs still have the potential for stardom, especially as Gen Z grows up and leans into nostalgia.

Child-Star Highlights: After appearing on Disneys Austin & Ally, Carson starred in the DCOM Descendants series, based on the popular book series. Its essentially this generations High School Musical.

Adult Highlights: She has made her way to Disneys teen channel, Freeform, playing Ava Jalali in the canceled Pretty Little Liars spinoff, The Perfectionists.

Chart Stats: Carsons highest place on the charts came from the Descendants soundtracks Rotten to the Core.

Notable Deals: Earlier this year, she started a campaign with UNICEF for International Womens Day.

Power Move: Segueing from Disney star to Freeform star.

Power Miss: Although Carson has put out singles, were still waiting for a debut album from her.

Bottom Line: When that album does come through, fans of Camila Cabello, Ariana Grande, and more will likely be into it.

Child-Star Highlights: Holt went from aDisney XD show to a DCOM and finally to her own comedy series, making music along the way.

Adult Highlights: Now she stars in the Marvel Comics Freeform show Cloak & Dagger.

Chart Stats: Her EP, Olivia, peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart.

Notable Deals: She became a brand ambassador for Neutrogena in 2016.

Power Move: Securing a role on a Marvel show.

Power Miss: Only releasing two solo singles since 2017.

Bottom Line: Starring in Freeforms first MCU TV show has got to land her somewhere big next.

Child-Star Highlights: Lynch starred in the Disney series Austin & Ally as well as the Disney Channels Teen Beach Movie.

Adult Highlights: He was actually really, really good playing the high-school-age titular serial killer in the movie My Friend Dahmer, and he played Kiernan Shipkas normie boyfriend in Netflixs The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Chart Stats: With his band R5, Lynch has had two albums and two EPs break into the Billboard 200. His musical work for Austin & Ally has gone Top 200 twice, with one of the shows singles making it into the Hot 100.

Notable Deals: So far, his biggest deal was a Danimals ad he did with Bella Thorne.

Power Move: Getting that Netflix money.

Power Miss: Hes got a pretty clean slate, so maybe its that Danimals commercial.

Bottom Line: Lynch is still deeply in Who territory, but he seems like a nice, unproblematic boy you can give a sponcon deal and a supporting role to.

Child-Star Highlights: Carpenter began her career at Disney singing for two soundtracks. Then she landed a role on the Boy Meets World sequel, Girl Meets World and continued to sing for Disney even after the show was canceled. She and Sofia Carson starred in Adventures in Babysitting together.

Adult Highlights: Now shes focusing on her own music, recently releasing surprise single Skin in time to capitalize off of her rumored beef with Olivia Rodrigo. Carpenter made her Broadway debut as Cady Heron in Mean Girls in March 2020, but her run was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, she produced, starred in, and performed a single for the Netflix movie Work It. Her first project with her production company, At Last, will be a musical take on Alice in Wonderland, which she sold to Netflix for seven figures, per her Forbes 30 under 30 blurb. Yep, that too.

Chart Stats: Her song Almost Love peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Top 40.

Notable Deals: No deals, just focused on being a triple threat.

Power Move: Skipping movie musicals and focusing on her own music.

Power Miss: The unfortunate cancellation of Girl Meets World.

Bottom Line: Carpenter will not be going anywhere anytime soon.

Child-Star Highlights: Wolff starred with his older brother, Nat, in the Nick series The Naked Brothers Band, and then the brothers recorded as the band Nat & Alex Wolff. (Cant shake those Disney ampersands!)

Adult Highlights: Wolff is amassing a respectable film career, including the Jumanji franchise, My Friend Dahmer (with his fellow child star Ross Lynch), and horror smash Hereditary.

Chart Stats: Wolff has made it to the Billboard 200 albums chart twice with the Naked Brothers Band soundtracks. They also had one Hot 100 single.

Notable Deals: Yet another member of the Dannon Danimals yogurt-sellers club.

Power Move: The face-to-desk panic attack in Hereditary alone should secure acting work for him for years.

Power Miss: He was not the Wolff brother chasing manic pixie Cara Delevingne in Paper Towns, so hes good! (Though you can bet Nat isnt complaining about that John Green money.)

Bottom Line: Safe. Steady. Good Actor. Hes the Wolff bro with the cheek mole.

Child-Star Highlights: Cameron is part of the new, new set of Disney stars and leads the companys small-screen film franchise The Descendants. She also starred in the Disney Channel seriesLiv and Maddie, for which she won a 2018 Daytime Emmy.

Adult Highlights: She appeared in NBCs broadcast of Hairspray Live! and starred as Cher Horowitz in an Off Broadway run of Clueless: The Musical. There was also her recurring role in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Chart Stats: All three full-length albums she is featured on, from Liv and Maddie and The Descendants, charted on the Billboard Top 200; the first Descendants soundtrack even reached No. 1. Cameron was also part of a pop duo called the Girl and the Dreamcatcher, but that lasted about as long as she dated the other half of said duo. After an EP and a few singles, the band (i.e., the relationship), broke up.

Notable Deals: She has been known to do social spon for brands like Fiat and SugarBearHair, the hated rival of beauty blogger Tati Westbrooks nutraceutical brand.

Power Move: Taking the name Dove Cameron after being born Chloe Celeste Hosterman. Only a person who truly bets on herself can elect the name Dove.

Power Miss: The direct-to-video R. L. Stines Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls.

Bottom Line: Cameron has steadily racked up credits across film, TV, and the stage, and while she continues to close out her Disney contract, she has put out independent music of her own and stated plans for more. She has also amassed an impressive social following, which helps with the ever-important #clout consideration. Cameron has a lot of potential. Lets see what she does with it when the golden Disney handcuffs are off.

Child-Star Highlights: Making five albums with the Jonas Brothers between 2006 and 2010, appearances in both Disney Channel Camp Rock movies, and being the JoBro with the least-hectic public image.

Adult Highlights: The much-praised Jonas Brothers reunion album, Happiness Begins (on which he sings solo!), and the accompanying documentary, Chasing Happiness, about the trios road to reconciliation and return to the spotlight. Kevin also has two kids, which is nice for him.

Chart Stats: The Jonas Brothers have had two albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, with 19 songs cracking the Hot 100. Sucker, the lead single from Happiness Begins, was the bands first to hit No. 1.

Notable Deals: At the height of their first wave of fame, Kevin appeared with his brothers in ads for brands like Target and Xbox 360. On a smaller scale, they were once slinging Breakfast Breaks foods.

Power Move: Chilling in the suburbs with his family while his brothers kept the Jonas fires burning through their solo projects proved he could leave fame behind and pick it back up again whenever he wants.

Power Miss: The E! docuseries Married to Jonas, which was mostly about him and his wife just living in New Jersey.

Bottom Line: Kevin is going to keep riding this JoBro train all the way to the bank until he decides to cool his heels back in Jersey again.

Child-Star Highlights: Ryan worked her way up the Disney ladder, going from the series The Suite Life on Deck to the original movies 16 Wishes, The Suite Life Movie, and Radio Rebel, and then her own Disney show, Jessie. (A true Disney workhorse, Ryan also appeared on other network shows like Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place.) She was featured on Mouse House soundtracks, then started her own band, the Never Ending.

Adult Highlights: Touring with Fifth Harmony as part of the Never Ending is pretty good, and then theres her controversial show Insatiable.

Chart Stats: Shes just doing it for the love of singing, all right?

Notable Deals: None so far, which seems pretty surprising.

Power Move: Having her Netflix show ripped to absolute shreds by critics which created enough of a sensation to get it a second season. Congratulations, haters. You played yourselves. (She also gives a damn good hilariously unhinged performance on the show, for whatever its worth.)

Power Miss: Her highly promoted Netflix show that was marketed primarily with her celebrity appeal getting torched by reviewers. But hey, she still gets to cash those checks.

Bottom Line: Bless the Who queens.

Child Star Highlights: Rodrigo cut her teeth on the Disney Channel series Jake Paul got fired from, Bizaardvark, and then got upgraded to the Disney+ show High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, where she also wrote and performed music.

Adult Highlights: Well, shes not exactly an adult yet, but the 17-year-old Filipina American just released her first solo single, drivers license to viral success.

Chart Stats: drivers license debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. All I Want, her TikTok viral love song from HSMTMTS, reached No. 90 the same week.

Notable Deals: Does a Taylor Swift endorsement count?

Power Move: Dropping her breakup ballad before co-star and rumored ex Joshua Bassett could drop his.

Power Miss: Shes young, she has the rest of her life to make some mistakes.

Bottom Line: With the star-making power of both Disney and TikTok behind her, Olivia Rodrigo established herself as a Gen-Z icon with a single song and a swirl of gossip. Shes got the whole worlds attention now.

Child-Star Highlights: Thorne starred in the Disney series Shake It Up opposite Zendaya as well as the Disney Channel movie Frenemies. She also put out two EPs and was an outstanding high-school mean girl in The Duff.

Adult Highlights: She led the show Famous in Love for its two seasons on Freeform and has starred in quite a few horror movies. She has also kind of worked backward and parlayed her film and TV fame into social-media celebrity.

Chart Stats: Two of Thornes songs have climbed into the Billboard Hot 100.

Notable Deals: Thorne considers herself a mogul and has her own makeup and apparel lines. She also started a label in 2018 called FF Records (for Filthy Fangs), which mostly involves Thorne, her sister, and her friend/ex-girlfriend/enemy, the YouTube personality Tana Mongeau. And she was also one of those Dannon Danimals child-star pitchpeople.

Power Move: Bitch Im Bella Thorne, which really cemented her DGAF status.

Power Miss: Maybe being instrumental in the cancellation of her own show, Famous in Love.

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The Best Disney and Nickelodeon Pop Stars, Ranked - Vulture

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