Zendaya made her debut dancing on the Disney Channel series "Shake It Up," but she’s shaken up her career even more over the years. She’s appeared on the big screen in more serious roles, started up a rumored romance with Tom Holland, and even brought up an important discussion regarding racism — and she’s still only in her early 20s.
The young actor landed her breakout role on the Disney Channel when she was only 12 years old. Believe it or not, it was the first show she appeared on — ever. "I just popped up out of nowhere," she told Allure. However, few may know that Zendaya’s childhood ambitions nearly set her on an entirely different professional path — away from the entertainment industry altogether. (Honestly, we can’t imagine anybody else starring alongside Zac Efron in "The Greatest Showman." He even once told Norwegian FilmWebTV that she’s his favorite on-screen kiss.)
Zendaya is a vegetarian
Animals have always held a special place in Zendaya’s heart. In fact, she still remembers the exact moment she found out where meat comes from. It was that very day that the performer decided to become a vegetarian. However, it wasn’t easy for the then-11-year-old. The very first week she gave up meat, she had recurring dreams about hamburgers falling from the sky. "And I still remember the dream so clearly," she told People. Luckily, these nightmares eventually ended, and the actor has remained a vegetarian ever since.
There was one time, however, when the actor was asked to eat meat. While Zendaya starred as Rocky on her first television show "Shake It Up," one episode revolved around meatballs. This was something she simply couldn’t stomach — literally. At that moment, she spoke with the show’s writers. "We decided to make Rocky a vegetarian as well," she explained during an interview with PETA. The switch certainly made these meaty scenes much easier for her to handle.
Though Zendaya has always been able to stick to her vegetarian lifestyle, it still isn’t so easy sometimes. "I am a vegetarian who doesn’t like vegetables too much," she told Us Weekly. "Makes it challenging!"
The performer had to repeat kindergarten
Since both of Zendaya’s parents are teachers, school seems like something this actor should have easily aced. However, that wasn’t always the case. "I did kindergarten twice," she admitted to Us Weekly — but it’s not for the reason you may think.
Reciting the ABCs was no sweat for young Zendaya, but when it came time for social interaction, Zendaya wasn’t comfortable around the other kindergarten kids. To help get her out of her comfort zone, her mother told Vogue that she had her repeat the grade. Crazy enough, even to this day, "I’m a very shy, introverted person," Zendaya admitted — which is hard to believe when you’re watching her act on-screen.
Even when the young actor initially broke into show business, she had to work hard on opening up off-screen. "In this industry, I had to learn how to do small talk and stuff," she explained to GQ. "Because I guess I would kind of come off cold to people because I didn’t really know how to start conversation." It definitely doesn’t seem like a problem for her now!
Mattel created a Barbie doll for Zendaya
When Zendaya was 19 years old, she accomplished something that many little girls can only dream of: having her own Barbie doll.
Shortly after her Oscars appearance in 2015, Mattel came calling, asking to replicate the outfit she wore that evening for a special edition of their doll. "Literally down to my pinkie ring," she told Vogue, and it was a pretty big deal for more than one reason. Earlier that year, her Oscars’ hairdo had been publicly criticized on an episode of "Fashion Police." Not only was Zendaya upset by the racist remark made on the show, but her fans were equally as offended. When she got the supportive call from Mattel, "I was so excited that Barbie wanted to diversify their brand," she told W Magazine.
From that day forward, this entertainer seemingly changed the toy industry for the better. "When I was little I couldn’t find a Barbie that looked like me," she wrote on Instagram. "My … how times have changed."
She was once a backup dancer for Selena Gomez
Sure, we’ve all seen Zendaya moving and grooving on the Disney Channel’s "Shake It Up." Yet, many fans may not know that she was once a backup dancer for another famous star from the kids’ network.
Way back in 2009, Zendaya showed off her dance moves in a Sears commercial which starred Selena Gomez. "That’s a funny commercial because it’s so weird to think that later on — Ross [Lynch] was in it, Leo Howard was in it — and we were backup dancers, we weren’t even the lead kids," Zendaya later told J-14. "It’s funny where things evolved from and it’s cool to start small." And, speaking of small, she started dancing when she was quite small, too.
Zendaya got her start at the age of 8 in a hip hop group called Future Shock Oakland. "After that, I did Hula, random I know," she explained to Dream Magazine. "But hip hop is definitely my strong suit."
Here’s why Zendaya doesn’t use her last name
Zendaya fell in love with acting at a very young age, and her stage name was something that came easily to her. (After all, how many Zendayas do you know?) Though she only goes by her first name today, "I was born Zendaya Marie Stoermer Coleman," the actor explained in a video by "I Am An Immigrant," but there’s a reason many people haven’t heard her use her last name. "I [dropped my last name because I] just thought it was cool, like Cher or Prince," she admitted to Allure, proving she was always destined for show business!
In an interview with Popstar!, the actor explained the origin of her unique name. It turns out, Zendaya is a combination of both her parents’ heritages. The name is derived from an African word meaning "to give thanks" that was slightly changed to also honor her mother’s German background.
Behind the scenes, though, "everyone calls me Daya," she told Glamour.
Watching Shakespearean plays inspired her to pursue acting
Many young kids aren’t necessarily into Shakespeare, but his plays are actually what made Zendaya start thinking seriously about acting. That’s because throughout nearly her entire childhood, her mother worked at the California Shakespeare Theater in Oakland, California. During every show, her young daughter would sit in the back row with her snacks as she watched in awe what was happening on stage. "I was like, ‘I love this,’" she told People. "’I don’t know what they’re doing, but, like, I want to do that. I want to be up there,’" and that was when the acting bug bit her — and hard.
When it came time to try out for her very first production, Zendaya even landed her first stage role in a Shakespearean classic. "My first part in a play was one of the witches in ‘Macbeth,’" she told Us Weekly.
Zendaya designed a clothing collection with Tommy Hilfiger
Zendaya may be a dancer, singer, and actor, but, in 2019, she became more than just a triple threat when she added fashion designer to her long list of accomplishments. It was that year that Tommy Hilfiger personally asked the 22-year-old to design a collection with him. "He promised me that I would be able to be as creative as I wanted and truly execute my vision, whatever that vision may be, down to the font on the packaging," she told InStyle.
Their fall collection, appropriately called Tommy x Zendaya, consisted of classic pieces (in true Hilfiger fashion) with vintage-inspired clothing items as well. Though the young actor wasn’t born until the ’90s, many pieces even gave a nod to a much different decade — the ’70s — which Zendaya designed herself. "I’ve always been inspired by the effortless glamour of all of it," she explained to USA Today.
Unfortunately for fans, the limited-time collection is no longer available today.
She was originally on track to become a professional basketball player
Long before she was ever interested in acting, Zendaya had a much different passion she wanted to pursue. "I was actually supposed to be a basketball player, not an actress," she admitted to The Bay State Banner. In fact, she had been playing the sport competitively since kindergarten — up until she booked a spot on the Disney Channel.
Growing up, Zendaya’s parents always encouraged her to play basketball. Both of them played the sport as kids (her mother is way over 6 feet tall, and Zendaya is quite tall herself), and, as a family, they even did a competitive camp every summer together. In addition, "my dad was my P.E. teacher," Zendaya told Essence. "So I definitely didn’t have a break because his classroom was the gym at the school."
While her parents had always hoped she would end up in the NBA, the young actor eventually realized there was something else entirely that she wanted to do with her life. "I was over it. I was like this is not for me," she told Essence. "I want to go play on the stage. I want to act," and we all know how this story ends.
Harry Potter is Zendaya’s favorite film franchise
Like many of us Muggles, Zendaya’s favorite way to unwind after a busy day is to turn on her favorite film. Her go-to is one she’s seen a million times, too. "People say I’m crazy, but I watch ‘Harry Potter,’ like, once a day," she admitted to InStyle. "It’s just calming to me." She turns to the magical series most often after an extremely emotional day on set.
For example, anyone who’s watched Zendaya in "Euphoria" can only imagine how intense her workdays are, and the role has had a big effect on her personally. That’s when all the movies about the boy who lived life as a young wizard were constantly on repeat in her house. "I used to watch them to get through the first season of ‘Euphoria,’" she explained in another interview with InStyle.
And if you’re not a fan of the franchise, don’t expect an invitation over to Zendaya’s house either "because it’s going to be on," she joked to the magazine.
One of her first jobs was a Kidz Bop music video
Way before Zendaya ever appeared on the Disney Channel, you may have seen her dancing in a Kidz Bop music video for Katy Perry’s single "Hot N Cold." Yet, while we all know that Zendaya has some serious skills when it comes to singing, in the video, "it wasn’t actually me singing as a kid," she admitted to Fashion Magazine.
Zendaya was hired to be strictly one of the dancers on set. It seems as though all of the kids cast were some of the best in the business, too. Surprisingly, Zendaya was extremely nervous to move and groove alongside them, especially since it was one of her very first gigs. To try and top their talent, "I decided to do a front flip," she explained. "Never did one before in my life, other than inside my living room playing around. Thank God I landed it! It could have been terrible."
It was Zendaya’s idea not to wear any makeup in Spider-man: Homecoming
For being in an industry that’s all about the glitz and glamour, Zendaya isn’t all about it when it comes to acting. When she was cast as Michelle in her first movie "Spider-Man: Homecoming," it didn’t make any sense to her why a young teenager would be wearing makeup. "When I was 15, I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup in school," she told Variety (via Yahoo! News), so, because of that, she didn’t wear any at all to her audition. Funny enough, director Jon Watts didn’t even recognize her. Without being all glammed up, "she looked like a completely different person," he admitted to Vogue – and, apparently, she’s not the only celeb who looks unrecognizable without makeup.
Audiences everywhere have loved Zendaya as the sarcastic character, and she’s truly enjoyed playing her. "I also like that I don’t really have to do anything for hair and makeup," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "I just get to walk in and walk out," which may just be the best job in the business.
Her dog has his own social media accounts
Zendaya may be her dog Noon’s No. 1 fan, but, it turns out, this miniature schnauzer has thousands of them who follow him on Twitter and Instagram. Today, he has over 3,000 Twitter followers, and, as he says in his Instagram bio, "woofplexity is key."
The actor adopted the puppy in 2015, and he lives just as much of an incredible lifestyle as his owner. He’s had the pleasure of meeting the famous Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan and even boarded his first private jet back in 2017 — something a lot of us humans have never had the pleasure of doing.
While his online presence may not come as too much of a shock (considering lots of proud pet parents post photos of their fur babies online), it may be even more surprising that when it comes to his Twitter account, "I don’t run it," Zendaya revealed during an interview with Vogue. We’d assume it was Noon himself, but, you know, he doesn’t have thumbs.
Zendaya does her own makeup for events
Celebrities have access to the very best makeup artists in the business. Zendaya, on the other hand, likes to do her own makeup for events. Why? "I’ve had so many makeup horror stories," she told Vogue, and one of the worst of them has been not having makeup that matches her skin tone. "I would be orange," she told Byrdie.
However, it hasn’t all been bad. After working with various makeup artists, Zendaya has learned a few tricks of the trade. Between that and YouTube, she quickly figured out how to perfect her own makeup and taught herself how to do everything from contouring to creating the perfect cat eye.
While Zendaya has always looked effortless on and off the red carpet, her beauty advice may be even more inspiring. "I would say my beauty philosophy is that there are no rules," she told Byrdie, which makes all of us feel a lot better about our own makeup routines.
She’s one of the youngest actors to ever win an Emmy
Fans can all agree that Zendaya is incredible in "Euphoria," and the rest of the world took notice in 2020. That year, the 24-year-old became the youngest person to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Though it was a well-deserved award, the actor herself was in awe of her accomplishments. She even kept the trophy in her bed when she went to sleep that night. "Not even gonna lie!" she told GQ. "It was just nice to roll over and see her. She was pretty. Just beautiful. Glowing!"
As she accepted the award virtually alongside her family and friends, Zendaya seemed to be at a complete loss for words. "But I just want to say that there is hope in the young people out there," she said, and it certainly seems like it. After all, Zendaya herself is just getting started.