Disney Stars Who Became Social Media Stars
Disney and social media are a perfect match. The behemoth company started the careers of many young, talented entertainers, and the online phenomenon caters to the young.
This dynamic continues to grow. Disney has expanded the reach of its empire with properties like Marvel, Star Wars and its own streaming service, Disney+. At the same time, social media has become part of our everyday lives.
As a result of the connection and evolution, many young Disney Channel celebrities have found social media stardom. These are the Disney stars who became the biggest social media stars.
Note: Disney stars who became famous before the social media era, like Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, weren't eligible for these rankings.
20. Bridgit Mendler
Born: Dec. 18, 1992 (Washington, D.C.)
Career highlights: Three-time Kids Choice Award Favorite TV Actress nominee, two-time MTV Europe Music Awards nominee, two-time Teen Choice Awards nominee, eight-time World Music Awards nominee
Instagram followers: 1.7 million
Bottom line: Bridgit Mendler's Disney breakthrough came after she landed a recurring spot on "Wizards of Waverly Place." That led to a starring role in her own show "Good Luck Charlie," which ran five seasons.
Mendler also starred in the Disney movie "Lemonade Mouth" and made her post-Disney leap with a guest-starring spot on "House" before starring in the NBC sitcom "Undateable" and the Netflix series "Merry Happy Whatever."
Mendler's solo album "Hello My Name Is…" was released in 2012 and sold over 200,000 copies, and the single "Ready or Not" was certified platinum.
19. Sofia Carson
Born: April 10, 1993 (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
Career highlights: Two-time Teen Choice Award nominee, Radio Disney Music Award nominee
Instagram followers: 16.4 million
Bottom line: Sofia Carson's breakthrough role came as one of the stars of Disney's "The Descendants" film series. That got her a break as a guest star on another Disney show, "Austin & Ally."
Carson went on her own in the last few years, first with the Freeform series "Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists" in 2019 and the Netflix movie "Feel the Beat" in 2020. She also made a sci-fi movie produced by Michael Bay, "Songbird," in 2020.
Carson has made three "Descendants" films playing Evie, the daughter of the Evil Queen.
18. Olivia Holt
Born: Aug. 5, 1997 (Germantown, Tennessee)
Career highlights: Teen Choice Awards winner, three-time Teen Choice Awards nominee, Radio Disney Music Awards nominee
Instagram followers: 4.9 million
Bottom line: If you don't know who Olivia Holt is yet, you probably will in the next few years. She's poised to be a breakout star in both television and film.
Holt starred on a pair of Disney television shows from 2011 to 2015 — "Kickin' It" and "I Didn't Do It" before transitioning to a singing career, where her 2017 single "Generous" was a No. 1 hit on the U.S. Billboard Dance chart.
Holt got back in the acting game in a big way with Marvel's critically acclaimed television series "Cloak & Dagger" in the lead role of Tandy Bowden/Dagger, then as the lead in the Freeform series "Cruel Summer" in 2021.
17. Sabrina Carpenter
Born: May 11, 1999 (Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania)
Career highlights: Two-time Radio Disney Music Awards winner, four-time Radio Disney Music Awards nominee, iHeart Radio Music Awards nominee
Instagram followers: 25.7 million
Bottom line: Pennsylvania native Sabrina Carpenter is one of the youngest stars to make the list at just 21 years old, even though she's already been in the business for a decade.
The niece of famed voice actor Nancy Cartwright — the voice of Bart Simpson — Carpenter received her first acting credits on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "The Goodwin Games." She nabbed her breakthrough role in 2013, when she was cast as one of the leads in "Girl Meets World" — the "Boy Meets World" reboot on the Disney Channel.
Carpenter also has released four studio albums and was the opening act on Ariana Grande's 2017 tour.
16. Dove Cameron
Born: Jan. 15, 1996 (Bainbridge Island, Washington)
Career highlights: Emmy Awards winner Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series, Kids' Choice Awards winner, three-time Teen Choice Awards nominee, three-time Kids' Choice Awards nominee, MTV Movie & TV Awards nominee
Instagram followers: 41.9 million
Bottom line: Dove Cameron found herself in two largely successful properties for Disney in the 2010s. She played Mal in "The Descendants" film series and won an Emmy Award playing both roles on the hit show "Liv and Maddie" from 2013 to 2017.
Cameron released a studio album in 2019, "Bloodshot/Waste," and landed two plum acting roles in the last year, first on the Apple+ series "Schmigadoon!" and the live-action version of "The Powerpuff Girls" on the CW.
Cameron also has done work for Disney in its most lucrative property — Marvel — with a recurring role on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" and voice work as Gwen Stacy/Spider Gwen on several animated Marvel movies.
15. Debby Ryan
Born: May 13, 1993 (Huntsville, Alabama)
Career highlights: Nickelodeon UK Kids Choice Awards Best Television Actress winner, two-time Kids Choice Awards nominee, Teen Choice Awards Best Actress nominee
Instagram followers: 16.8 million
Bottom line: Debby Ryan is one of those entertainers that never took a day off on the way up. She was a role player for Disney on "The Suite Life on Deck," then "The Suite Life Movie" and "Radio Rebel" before landing her own hit show "Jessie."
Ryan's hard work paid off with the show and her own band, The Never Ending, who went on tour with Fifth Harmony.
Ryan's career took somewhat of a hit trying to make the leap from Disney star to mainstream when she took the series lead in the Netflix series "Insatiable," which was savaged by critics and canceled after two seasons.
14. Olivia Rodrigo
Born: Feb. 20, 2003 (Temecula, California)
Career highlights: Time 100 Phenoms Award winner
Instagram followers: 7.7 million
Bottom line: When one of the other stars on this list, Jake Paul, was fired from the Disney Channel television series "Bizaardvark," it was Olivia Rodrigo who stepped in and filled his spot.
Rodrigo made the most of her opportunity and was cast in the Disney+ "High School Musical" television series. The youngest star on the list at just 18 years old, Rodrigo is already in her third season of "High School Musical."
She also has a hit with her song "drivers license" after it reached No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her social media reach now includes TikTok, which so many of these stars are desperate to make inroads on.
13. Hayley Kiyoko
Born: April 3, 1991 (Los Angeles, California)
Career highlights: MTV Video Music Award Push Artist of the Year winner, MTV Video Music Awards Best new Artist nominee, British LGBT Awards Artists of the Year nominee, MTV Europe Award Best New Act nominee
Instagram followers: 1.8 million
Bottom line: Guest-starring roles on "Wizards of Waverly Place" and "Zeke and Luther" led to a breakthrough role in the Disney Channel movie "Lemonade Mouth" for Hayley Kiyoko.
Kiyoko's 2018 album "Expectations" reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, although she already had two songs on the Billboard Hot 100 from her time working on Disney properties.
Kiyoko is also considered one of the entertainment industry's leaders for the LGBTQ community after coming out as a lesbian in 2018. She dedicated her win at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards to LGBTQ women of color.
12. Kevin Jonas
Born: Nov. 5, 1987 (Teaneck, New Jersey)
Career highlights: American Music Award winner, two-time Grammy Awards nominee, MTV Video Music Award winner
Instagram followers: 4.8 million
Bottom line: Kevin Jonas is the oldest of three siblings in the Jonas Brothers band, who became superstars with the 2008 Disney Channel film "Camp Rock" and its subsequent sequels.
Kevin was back in the spotlight after the band returned to the spotlight with the "Happiness Begins" album and accompanying documentary "Chasing Happiness" in 2019.
If you're looking for stats, the Jonas Brothers measure up with anyone on this list as far as musicians. Two of their albums reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and they had 19 songs crack the Billboard Top 100.
11. Ross Lynch
Born: Dec. 29, 1995 (Littleton, Colorado)
Career highlights: Three-time Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Award Favorite TV Actor winner, three-time Teen Choice Award winner, Radio Disney Music Award winner Best Music Video
Instagram followers: 9.7 million
Bottom line: Few Disney stars have made the move to serious roles and mainstream pop culture as deftly as Ross Lynch.
Lynch got his break with the Disney Channel television series "Austin & Ally" and Disney's "Teen Beach Movie." He won Favorite TV Actor three times at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards.
Lynch separated himself from the pack with a pair of roles in 2017 and 2018 — first in a critically acclaimed turn as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer as a teenager in the film "My Friend Dahmer," then a starring role on the hit Netflix series "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina."
10. Demi Lovato
Born: Aug. 20, 1992 (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
Career highlights: Five-time People's Choice Award winner, , ALMA Award Favorite TV Actress Comedy winner, two-time Grammy Awards nominee, MTV Video Music Award winner, three-time Radio Disney Music Awards winner, 14-time Teen Choice Award winner, seven-time World Music Awards nominee
Instagram followers: 102.4 million
Bottom Line: Demi Lovato
Few young stars have come under as much scrutiny as former Disney star Demi Lovato, a New Mexico native and daughter of a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
Lovato was famous by the time she was in her early teens thanks to her roles in Disney's "Camp Rock" films alongside the Jonas Brothers, which Lovato used as the stepping stone to a music career that's seen six albums land on the Billboard 200 chart and 33 songs in the Billboard Top 100.
Lovato has been candid about her struggles with addiction issues and mental health, which are documented in the 2021 YouTube reality series "Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil."
9. Joe Jonas
Born: Aug. 15, 1989 (Casa Grande, Arizona)
Career highlights: Kids' Choice Award Favorite Actor winner, two-time American Music Award winner, two-time Grammy Awards nominee, three-time Billboard Music Award winner, MTV Video Music Award Best Pop winner
Instagram followers: 12.7 million
Bottom Line: Joe Jonas
Another Jonas brother made the list. And for good reason. Middle brother Joe Jonas shot to fame alongside brothers Nick and Kevin in Disney films and television shows featuring their band.
Joe Jonas went on his own after his band went on hiatus, and he formed another successful band, funk group DNCE, winning an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist in 2016 and a Billboard Top 10 hit with "Cake by the Ocean."
One interesting aside about Joe Jonas. He's married to "Game of Thrones" and "X-Men" actress Sophie Turner.
8. Vanessa Hudgens
Born: Dec. 14, 1988 (Salinas, California)
Career highlights: Three-time Teen Choice Award winner, two-time People's Choice Award nominee, MTV Movie Awards nominee, five-time Radio Disney Music Award winner, Kids' Choice Awards Favorite Actress winner
Instagram followers: 40.5 million
Bottom Line: Vanessa Hudgens
Vanessa Hudgens shot to fame as one of the stars of Disney's "High School Musical" film series, starring in the original and its two sequels.
Hudgens turned her focus solely to acting after the end of her time on the Disney films, and it paid off in a big way. In the last decade, she's starred in four films that have grossed at least $60 million at the worldwide box office, including two ("Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" and "Bad Boys for Life") that grossed more than $300 million.
7. Bella Thorne
Born: Oct. 8, 1997 (Pembroke Pines, Florida)
Career highlights: Teen Choice Award Choice Movie Villain winner, ALMA Awards Favorite TV Actress Comedy nominee, three-time Young Artist Award winner, eight-time Teen Choice Award winner
Instagram followers: 24.4 million
Bottom Line: Bella Thorne
Bella Thorne has ventured about as far from her Disney roots as you can in the entertainment industry. The former star of the television series "Shake It Up" was nominated for several awards for directing the adult film "Him & Her" in 2019.
It will be interesting to see if Thorne can land a breakout film role in the next few years. She's had several supporting roles on hit Netflix movies in recent years, including "The Babysitter" and its sequel and "You Get Me."
6. Jake Paul
Born: Jan. 17, 1997 (Cleveland, Ohio)
Career highlights: Two-time Teen Choice Award winner, Radio Disney Music Award winner
Instagram followers: 15.1 million
Bottom Line: Jake Paul
Few celebrities in recent memory have been as hated as Jake Paul, who became famous on social media in the late 2010s for filming prank videos and posting them online, which led to a breakthrough role in the Disney series "Bizaardvark" for two seasons.
Paul was fired from "Bizaardvark" in 2017 after he was charged with criminal trespass and unlawful assembly in connection with his pranks, but it did little to slow his fame.
Via his social media presence (brother Logan Paul is also a social media star) and his nascent boxing career, Jake Paul has become one of the most well-known celebrities in the social media age.
5. Keke Palmer
Born: Aug. 26, 1993 (Harvey, Illinois)
Career highlights: Emmy Awards Outstanding Entertainment Talk Show Host nominee, six-time NAACP Image Award winner, two-time BET Award winner
Instagram followers: 10.5 million
Bottom Line: Keke Palmer
Keke Palmer has the most tenuous Disney connection of any of the stars on this list. She recorded songs for several Disney film soundtracks and filmed a high-profile Disney pilot titled "Keke and Jamal" that the studio declined to take to series.
Palmer's talent was there for the whole world to see when she generated Oscar buzz with her starring role opposite Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett in "Akeelah and the Bee" in 2006.
Palmer starred in the Nickelodeon series "True Jackson, VP" before starring in "Cinderella" on Broadway along with a dizzying array of film and television roles and an Emmy Award nomination as the host of the talk show "Strahan, Sarah and Keke."
4. Nick Jonas
Born: Sept. 16, 1992 (Dallas, Texas)
Career highlights: Golden Globe Award Best Original Song nominee, two-time Kids' Choice Award winner, two-time Teen Choice Award winner, three-time People's Choice Awards nominee, Radio Disney Music Awards nominee, CMT Music Awards nominee Performance of the Year
Instagram followers: 30.4 million
Bottom Line: Nick Jonas
Alongside older brothers Joe Jonas and Kevin Jonas, Nick Jonas shot to worldwide fame as a member of the Jonas Brothers band in the late 2000s, and they became the stars of Disney's "Camp Rock" film series and a pair of television shows based around the band.
After the band went on hiatus, Nick Jonas went to work carving out a successful career as a solo artist and an actor. His 2016 album "Last Year Was Complicated" peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
He also had a supporting role in two "Jumanji" films that grossed $1.8 billion and was in the critically acclaimed television series "Kingdom" as an MMA fighter.
3. Selena Gomez
Born: July 22, 1992 (Grand Prairie, Texas)
Career highlights: American Music Award Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist winner, MTV Video Music Award Best Pop Video winner, 18-time Teen Choice Award winner, 11-time Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Award winner, People's Choice Award Favorite Animated Movie Voice winner, eight-time Radio Disney Music Awards winner
Instagram followers: 222 million
Bottom Line: Selena Gomez
Selena Gomez's career arc is like few in the history of entertainment. She shot to fame as the star of Disney's "Wizards of Waverly Place" from 2007 to 2012 but you can't pin her fame to any one industry.
At one point the most-followed person on Instagram, Gomez also has starred or had a key supporting role in films that have grossed over $2 billion at the worldwide box office and sold almost 10 million albums.
As if all of that wasn't enough, she's also the executive producer of the hit Netflix series "13 Reasons Why" and will produce and star in the upcoming Hulu series "Only Murders in the Building" alongside comedy legends Steve Martin and Martin Short.
2. Miley Cyrus
Born: Nov. 23, 1992 (Franklin, Tennessee)
Career highlights: Golden Globe Awards Best Original Song nominee, Grammy Awards Best Pop Vocal Album nominee, two-time Billboard Music Award winner, 17-time Teen Choice Award winner, three-time MTV Video Music Award winner, MTV Movie Award Best Song winner
Instagram followers: 128.7 million
Bottom Line: Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus was the face of Disney's billion-dollar "Hannah Montana" franchise in the late 2000s and early 2010s as social media exploded around the world.
The daughter of country music artist Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus grew more famous as she left her signature role behind. She has more albums in the top five of the Billboard 200 album chart than any female in the 21st century, and she's had eight No. 1 singles.
Cyrus, who has an estimated net worth of $160 million, also has one of the greatest pop ballads of all time with the song "Wrecking Ball," and her 2013 album "Bangerz" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album.
Born: Sept. 1, 1996 (Oakland, California)
Career highlights: Emmy Award Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series winner, three-time People's Choice Award winner, Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Actress nominee, Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Actress in a Drama Series nominee, three-time BET Awards nominee, MTV Movie & TV Awards nominee
Instagram followers: 91.6 million
Bottom Line: Zendaya
At just 24 years old, Zendaya is already one of the biggest stars in the world, and there's really no telling the heights her career can reach moving forward.
Zendaya shot to fame alongside Bella Thorne as the stars of the Disney television series "Shake it Up" from 2010 to 2013, then as the star of her own Disney Series "K.C. Undercover" from 2015 to 2018.
In 2021, she became the youngest winner of an Emmy Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for her role on HBO's teen drama "Euphoria," and plays one of the main characters in the "Spider-Man" film series, with the first two films grossing over $2 billion at the worldwide box office.
Her next film is one of the most anticipated of 2021 — a lead role in Academy Award-nominated director Denis Villeneuve's version of the sci-fi novel "Dune" set for release in October.
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