Way before stars like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato became award-winning pop sensations, they graced our TV screens as lovably quirky Disney Channel characters. Hannah Montana showed us how to balance a double life, Sonny Monroe taught us that it was okay to be different, and then when the cameras stopped rolling, the actors were just as bubbly and carefree in real life (or so we assumed). Little did we know, though, that their experiences behind the scenes were often a stark contrast to the enthusiasm they showed on screen.
Quite a few stars have revealed that there are flaws beneath the network's squeaky-clean surface. For instance, some have opened up about the ongoing pressure to keep up a perfect image and simply feeling overworked. Meanwhile, others have mentioned feeling creatively stifled and being stuck with a kid-friendly label. Though we imagine that these actors are beyond grateful to Disney Channel for launching their huge careers, it hasn't stopped them from sharing all the downsides and speaking out against the channel.
The actress actually tweeted once that she wouldn't mind working with Disney Channel again. This understandably came as a surprise to some because, at one point, the network almost fired her over a bathing suit. In an interview, Bella explained that someone had taken a photo of her in a black lace-lined bikini, which her mom had gotten for her. But when the photo surfaced online, the network immediately wanted to cut her loose. The only thing that kept her hired, however, was the fact that she had so many loyal fans.
Bella recalled to Forbes: "They said, 'You're lucky that Bella has such a fanbase that we can't afford to fire her at this moment in time. But if she does one more thing, we will.'" ...WHOA.
Miley has always been outspoken about the toll her Disney Channel days took on her. She mentioned being put in a box, losing her sense of self, and feeling overwhelmed over having to constantly switch personas. So in 2013, when she announced her official "update" on Saturday Night Live about Hannah Montana being murdered, we actually understood why.
Miley once explained to Marie Claire: "I was told for so long what a girl is supposed to be from being on that show. I was made to look like someone that I wasn't, which probably caused some body dysmorphia because I had been made pretty every day for so long, and then when I wasn't on that show, it was like, Who the f**k am I?"
She may not have called the network out by name, but fans were quick to put two and two together when she mentioned working for a company that's known for "silencing" voices. In her interview, Rowan also noted that she's proud of the fact that most people don't recognize her from her show (Girl Meets World), but rather, from her activism.
She said to W Magazine: "I worked for a corporation for four years that is known for silencing and crafting your voice, so with that I just had to very much stand my ground and separate myself, which I think I did."
Joe once shared a lengthy essay about what it was really like to grow up as a Jonas brother and, apparently, working for Disney was beyond stressful. He opened up about having limited creative freedom, feeling pressured to never make mistakes, and being on a show that he didn't even find interesting.
Joe wrote to Vulture: "The thing about the show [Jonas] was that some of the writing on it was terrible. It just ended up being some weird slapstick humor that only a 10-year-old would laugh at... I had to shave every day because they wanted me to pretend like I was 16 when I was 20 (when the show was done, I cut my hair off and grew as much of a beard as I could). We went along with it at the time, because we thought Disney was our only real shot, and we were terrified that it could all be taken away from us at any moment."
Joe's brother, Nick, hasn't been as vocal about those intense Disney days. He's mentioned that the network made him "a role model to some extent" and even expressed gratitude for all the doors it opened for him. However, he also made sure to clarify in an interview with Seventeen that Disney Channel "doesn’t create role models, it creates characters."
Still, it seems like Nick prefers to focus on the positive. Regarding the close friendships he built with his fellow Disney Channel actors, he said to EW: "There's a camaraderie there, a sort of unspoken brother and sisterhood. If you want to talk about that graduating class of 2008, I'm really proud—it's a really good group."
Demi's had a bone to pick with Disney Channel on more than one occasion, including that one time when she called them out for joking about an eating disorder on one of their shows. She tweeted: "'I could just eat you up, well if I ate' - Disney Channel's Shake It Up.... What are we promoting here? #notfunnyATALL." But perhaps the most memorable was when she compared her experience to high school.
In an interview, she explained to E! Online: "[Nick Jonas and I] joked around that it was Disney High, except we all were shooting shows and really overworking. I joke that I sometimes have PTSD after leaving the channel, because if my schedule starts to get too busy, I rebel and I get b*tchy." Definitely doesn't sound like fun.
The Raven's Home star never fails to crack us up, but back when she did That's So Raven, she was actually pressured to get thinner. She admitted to Oprah Winfrey and OWN: "I lost weight to keep them people from talking to me. I got tired and irritated."
But that wasn't the only thing that Raven got bugged about. Apparently, Disney Channel also made her quit her tanning habit. She said during the OWN documentary Light Girls: "When I had my own show, I used to tan three or four times a week in a tanning bed to get darker... [One of the lighting guys] goes, 'Raven, I need you to stop tanning. You're getting too dark, and we have to relight the whole entire show.' I was like, 'Sorry. I was just trying to be pretty.'"
Shia once revealed that Disney Channel actually tried to get him to do music, but he had no interest in following that path. Plus, he felt that he never really fit in at the network.
Shia said to MTVNews: "I went a whole different route. I never came out with a music thing, even though [Disney will] push you that way... I didn't just want to be a churn-'em-out guy. I never really felt like I fit in there. From the moment I got there, all my friends were [making fun of me], like, 'Dude, you're at the Disney Channel!' It was kind of embarrassing."
Selena was understandably eager to distance herself from Disney Channel after being constantly pressured to be the "good girl." In an interview with The New York Times, she revealed that she wasn't really happy while she was there.
Selena said: "I knew deep down that this wasn't what I wanted to do—being exhausted of forcing something that wasn't right. I had to have moments where I was crying and I was like, 'Why am I not in love with what I do?' I was forced to get very uncomfortable for a while in order to make the decisions I made."
If you're still confused about why the Suite Life of Zack and Cody spin-off suddenly ended, it turns out it was because Disney refused to work with the twins and give them creative freedom. Dylan noted that when he and his brother pitched an idea for where the show could go, they weren't taken seriously. But about a year later, Disney executives approached them again and essentially recycled the twins' idea as their own. To add insult to injury, they had no intention of giving the brothers any producer credits.
Dylan said in a YouTube video: "They’re like, 'Well, we said no to your idea, let us pitch you our idea that we came up with for the next season … Zack goes to work in Miami with Cody, they go to this hotel, and there’s this kid who has a single dad and you guys raise him up like he’s this prodigy of yours' ...Cole and I turned to each other and we basically laughed in their faces and walked out. And that was the last meeting we had with Disney."
There's a reason why Cole took such a long break from acting before he landed the role of Jughead Jones. He and his twin were practically acting since birth, then they went through a whopping six seasons of two hit shows on Disney Channel. Cole expressed to EW that while he was grateful, working on Suite Life was quite draining.
“There was a feeling of machination; I felt like an automaton. I needed to take a break and step outside myself… I needed a dose of reality and I needed to see myself in a more objective point of view. And now I think I can enjoy [acting], which is a really fundamental part about being an actor.”
The actress took to Twitter to debunk a rumor about her being up for Hannah Montana. Rather, she intended to headline a spin-off of another show that never even aired. But then she added a cryptic line about something awful that Disney did to her...
She tweeted: "I wasn’t up for HM. I had my own show, a spin-off of Raven, that competed against HM during same pilot season. If you want real drama, ask what Disney did to me on Camp Rock that I’ve had to keep secret this whole time." Now we're dying to know what really happened!
Back when she was doing Gigi on Broadway, the actress had tons of High School Musical fans waiting for her to sign their merch. But when she came out, she reportedly refused to sign anything that was related to the DCOM classic. Page Six apparently heard her say: "I'll only sign Gigi programs. I won't sign any of that High School Musical stuff." We're guessing she doesn't have that many fond memories of her Disney Channel days...
You probably remember her as the bratty cheerleader from A.N.T. Farm, but the actress was more than happy to break free of Disney's grasp when that show ended. She mentioned that she wanted to tell more realistic stories about troubled girls, which she could never do at Disney.
Stefanie explained to J-14: "It was hard being a preteen and having to sugarcoat everything all the time. That's one of the hardest things, not being able to express myself in a certain way or being stuck having to promote something or say something you don't believe in. It's kind of hard after a while when you are feeling things and having a rough time in your personal life and you can't express your emotions through your work."
It may have been his breakthrough role, but Zac isn't exactly proud of his Disney Channel roots. While on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, he playfully suggested that High School Musical wasn't even worth watching. And in another interview, he shared that he sometimes wants to beat his old character up.
He said in Men's Fitness: "I step back and look at myself and I still want to kick that guy's *ss sometimes. Like, f*ck that guy. He's done some kind of cool things with some cool people — he did that one thing [Neighbors] that was funny — but, I mean, he's still just that f*cking kid from [High School Musical]." SMH.