News Column

Disney princess Zendaya is eager to make her own kind of career

November 5, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 05--Zendaya, like so many young fans, says she used to cry at the sight of Miley Cyrus. But not for the reasons you might expect.

"I would watch 'Hannah Montana' and cry because she was on the screen, she was doing what she wanted to do, and I wasn't," Zendaya, 17, recalls. "Ever since I was little, I knew what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be."

Those goals included following much of the same path as so many other Disney starlets. Zendaya (whose last name is Coleman) amassed her own tween fanbase as the star of "Shake It Up," one of the Disney Channel's highest-rated sitcoms. The show, which plays on her extensive dance background, comes to a close Sunday, the same day Zendaya headlines the 18th annual Children's Festival at The Woodlands Pavilion.

"It's a bittersweet thing," she says. "It kind of reminds me of if you're a senior and you're heading off out of (high) school. At the end of the day, I have to grow up and whatever, but it's also kind of sad. You're gonna miss your classes, your teachers. It's the same kind of feeling. But we have other things to explore.

"I'd never really been on a television set or a show. I learned everything from that show: cameras, lighting, what it is to write and produce. And I got that very early. I was pretty lucky."

The logical next step, then, is music. Zendaya released her self-titled debut album in September under the Hollywood/Disney banner. It would have been easy, and probably more successful, for her to go the perky pop route. But the songs are rooted in slinky R&B and dance grooves, more in line with the nuanced '90s groove of Aaliyah and TLC. She cites Michael Jackson and Beyonc as influences and claims to know every single one of Tupac's lyrics.

"My voice is soft. I'm not a belty kind of singer. (Aaliyah) always kind of stayed in that tone. And also her style -- she mixed a tomboy and feminine thing. It's a cool look and a cool thing to kinda bring back and make my own," Zendaya says.

"I didn't want to just be a pop singer and create super poppy music. There's so much of that out in the world already. It's important to come out strong, especially if you're young. It has to be that much extra. I just wanted to show people what I could do, make my own sound, everything down to the cover art. I wanted it to be very representational of who I am as an artist and a person. Kind of mature but still catering to all my fanbase."

The album's first single, "Replay," is a nice surprise -- a nuanced blend of electro-pop and nuanced R&B. The dance-heavy video has earned more than 25 million YouTube views. She also got a big boost earlier this year as a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars," finishing second to "American Idol" singer Kellie Pickler. (As good as Pickler was, Zendaya was one of the best hoofers in the show's history, ranking alongside Nicole Scherzinger and Sabrina Bryan.)

And just in case you were wondering, there will be no twerking or swinging nude on a wrecking ball anytime soon, thank you very much.

"I think everyone has to make that 'transition' -- but I'm just growing up," Zendaya says. "I'm not trying to lose my fans. I think I'm just growing up with them. It's easy to mature and become a young lady and become your own artist. Just do it appropriately and authentically."

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