Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, there's a good chance you've heard of Zendaya. This actress, singer, dancer, and model has taken the entertainment business by storm ever since she got her big break as Rocky Blue on the Disney Channel show Shake It Up. She blew us all away as an acrobat in The Greatest Showman, won legions of fans after her stint on Dancing With The Stars, and regularly slays the fashion game at events like the annual Met Gala and the Oscars. Seriously - is there anything Zendaya can't do? So far, we haven't found anything!
But how did Zendaya get to the pretty amazing place she's in today? You'd have to look to her childhood to find that out! She started out in the entertainment business at a pretty young age - all in all, she had a very eventful childhood! There were a lot of different influences in Zendaya's childhood that led to her becoming the superstar she is today. Thing is, most people focus on Zendaya's present rather than her past! Luckily for you, we've gathered together a bunch of little-known things about this star's younger years to give you a bit of an insight into her background. Read on and enjoy!
20 Zendaya's Parents Gave Her A Pretty Meaningful Name
There are a couple of pretty important things to note about Zendaya's name. Firstly, as Allure notes, it's pronounced Zen-DAY-uh, not Zen-DIE-uh! There's an important distinction to be made there! The star told Teen Vogue that a lot of people think her name is "more fancy than it is", hence why they try to rhyme it with "papaya".
Secondly, the origins of Zendaya's name are pretty meaningful.
According to Complex, her parents, Kazembe Ajamu Coleman and Claire Stoermer, named her after the word for "to give thanks" in the Zimbabwean Shona language. Although Zendaya goes by just her first name professionally, her full name is Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman.
19 She Has Older Half-Siblings And Was Born An Auntie
Although Zendaya is the only child born to both of her parents, she has a lot of half-siblings on her father's side - five of them, to be precise! As Heavy notes, these three sisters and two brothers are all from Zendaya's father's previous relationship and are quite a bit older than their famous little sister. In fact, Zendaya was actually born an auntie - she has nieces and nephews who are older than her! One such niece, Enzenia Coleman, is around a year older than Zendaya, and the two are very close. Zendaya told Complex that Enzenia is the "closest person" to her and that the two regularly hang out in Los Angeles.
18 She Describes Her Upbringing As "Humble"
These days Zendaya is a bona fide star living in what Observer once described as a "$1.4 million mansion". According to Allure, her home has three balconies, five bathrooms, and a three-car garage. Impressive stuff, especially considering Zendaya bought the property aged 20! She admits that this new home is very different from her childhood residence, telling Allure that her upbringing was "humble".
She grew up in Oakland, California, in what she describes as a "not-so-amazing neighborhood".
Still, Zendaya has frequently stated that she had a very happy childhood and that her humble beginnings make her appreciate her stardom that little bit more.
17 She Was So Shy As A Child That She Had To Do Kindergarten Twice
Whether you've watched Zendaya soaring across the screen in The Greatest Showman or singing and dancing on Shake It Up, it's hard to imagine that she's actually a super shy person. She exudes such confidence when she's performing! However, in an interview with Glamour, the star revealed that her shyness was so crippling when she was younger that she actually had to repeat kindergarten. It was a necessary step to ensure that she was on the same level socially as her peers! To this day, Zendaya admits that she's not exactly a social butterfly or a party girl: she told Allure that she prefers nights in with her family to going out with friends.
16 She's Been An Activist Since The Age Of Six
As well as garnering fame for her singing, dancing, and acting skills, Zendaya has become well-known as an activist. For example, as Refinery29 reported at the time, the star received near-universal praise for her defiant response to Giuliana Rancic's comments regarding her dreadlocks at the 2015 Oscars.
However, activism isn't just something Zendaya has become passionate about in adulthood.
Speaking to Glamour, Zendaya revealed that her first experience of activism came when she was just 6 years old!
At this time, Zendaya and her two close friends lobbied their school principal to put on a play celebrating Black History Month. The play went ahead, with Zendaya portraying Bessie Coleman.
15 She Watched Disney Channel A Lot As A Child
As the majority of Zendaya fans will know, this actress and singer got her big break on the Disney Channel show Shake It Up, starring alongside Bella Thorne in one of the lead roles. The role was a dream come true for Zendaya, not just because it was her first major TV stint but because she'd grown up watching the Disney Channel herself! Speaking to Complex, Zendaya revealed that she watched Disney shows "a lot", and that they ultimately inspired her to enter the acting industry herself. She couldn't imagine herself doing anything else as a career - and luckily, she doesn't have to!
14 She Was Teased In School, But It Didn't Really Bother Her
Like many children and young people, Zendaya sadly faced more than her fair share of teasing during her school years.
However, according to People, the star has revealed that being made fun of didn't really affect her,
as she was confident enough in herself to brush the bullies' harsh words off. Zendaya has recognized that not every child can deal with bullying in this way, though - she's a prominent anti-bullying activist to this day. Speaking to Glamour, Zendaya recalled an incident in the fifth grade when she hadn't acted to stop a classmate from being bullied. Ever since then, she's made it her mission to step in and advocate for bullied children whenever she can.
13 Her Mom Worked In The Theatre Business
The fact that Zendaya caught the acting bug at a young age is in no small part thanks to her mother's career choices. According to Glamour, while Claire Stoermer's main profession was teaching, she also held a second job at the California Shakespeare Theatre! Zendaya would frequently accompany her mom when she went to work, and quickly found herself becoming fascinated with all things performing arts. She admitted in an interview with Allure that she didn't understand what most of the actors were saying in the archaic Shakespeare plays, but she knew that she wanted to be in their place one day.
12 She Attended Oakland School Of The Arts
When it became clear that Zendaya's goal was to pursue a career in performing arts, her parents decided that the best option for her education was an arts-based approach. After all, attending one would help her to reach her career goals more than a regular school would! As Axs notes, Zendaya attended the Oakland School for the Arts - although she later left when she moved to Los Angeles to star in Shake It Up.
She particularly studied acting and dance, although the school includes more academic subjects in its programme too.
Zendaya clearly values the power of education: in 2014, she acted as an ambassador for the educational organization Get Schooled!
11 She Performed In Hip Hop And Hula Dance Groups
Long before she was killing it in the ballroom on ABC's Dancing With The Stars, Zendaya was an expert in two very different types of dance. According to Entity Mag, two of the star's childhood hobbies were hip-hop and hula dancing! She told W. Magazine that she spent time in a bona fide hip-hop troupe starting from the age of 8, with this being her main interest at the time. She then moved on to spend two years training with the Academy of Hawaiian Arts - this being where the hula dancing came in. Zendaya truly is a woman of many talents!
10 She Once Starred In A Kidz Bop Music Video
Remember Kidz Bop, that company that created child-friendly versions of everyone's favorite pop songs? Well, believe it or not, Zendaya once starred in a music video for the company when she was a kid!
According to Buzzfeed, a young Zendaya starred in the music video for the Kidz Bop version of Katy Perry's Hot 'N Cold all the way back in 2009!
Although it wasn't Zendaya singing on the track, she did a great job of miming into a flashy golden microphone and dancing her heart out on-camera. In 2014, a slightly embarrassed Zendaya confirmed on Twitter that it was definitely her in the video.
9 Before She Made It Big, She Was A Backup Dancer In A Sears Commercial
Another of Zendaya's early gigs as a child performer came in a TV advert for the department store Sears. As HuffPost notes, she wasn't the only future superstar in this ad, mind! Zendaya actually performed as a backup dancer for fellow future superstar Selena Gomez! Speaking to J-14 about the commercial, Zendaya admitted that it was nice to remember her humble showbusiness origins, as it shows her how far she's come. She's nobody's backup dancer these days, that's for sure! Considering Zendaya's fashion line is now actually stocked in Sears, we'd say she's pretty much made it to the top.
8 As A Young Performer, She Starred In A Number Of Shakespeare Plays
Remember how we mentioned that Zendaya's mom used to work at a theatre that put on a lot of Shakespeare plays? Well, watching so many of the Bard's works from the sidelines clearly had an impact on Zendaya herself!
According to HelloGiggles, she eventually started taking on small parts in Shakespeare plays herself.
The future superstar took on a few more theater roles as a child and young teenager - Entity Mag reports that she starred in a production of Once On This Island at the Berkeley Playhouse. Likewise, she made an appearance at Palo Alto's TheatreWorks in the play Caroline, Or Change. It's a pretty impressive resumé!
7 Her First Step Into Showbusiness Was As A Model
Although Zendaya's true showbusiness passions have always been acting and dancing, she actually broke into the industry using a different talent: her modeling skills. According to Insider, she worked as a young model for the likes of Macy's, Mervyn's and Old Navy. Zendaya's connection to Macy's doesn't end with her modeling gigs, though. SheKnows has highlighted the fact that in 2011, she appeared in the iconic Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! She cropped up on the Build-A-Bear float, and delighted her fans with a performance of her then-new single, "Dig Down Deeper". As the Walt Disney Company itself noted, its stars have a long history of appearing in the parade - and Zendaya got to join their ranks!
6 Her Parents Always Encouraged Her To Follow Her Performing Dreams
It's pretty clear from all of her interviews that Zendaya is very close to her parents. While her mother and father are, as Heavy notes, divorced, they've remained close for the sake of their daughter - and they've always supported her dream of becoming a performer.
In fact, for a long time, Zendaya's dad was her manager!
Speaking to Allure, Zendaya revealed that her parents drove her to all of her auditions and always encouraged her to work hard to achieve her goals. They've always been her support system, and Zendaya very publicly thanked them for all that they'd done for her on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
5 She Was Just 12 Years Old When She Auditioned For 'Shake It Up'
Aside from The Greatest Showman, perhaps Zendaya's most famous screen credit is the Disney Channel show Shake It Up. While she was 14 years old when the show first aired, Zendaya admitted to Complex that she was just 12 when she auditioned for Shake It Up - and around the same age when she moved to Los Angeles to take on the part. Despite her young age, Zendaya was totally committed to getting the part. Luckily for her, Disney decided that she was the right person for the part of Rocky Blue - and the rest, as they say, is history!
4 When Zendaya Accepted Her Role In 'Shake It Up', She Had To Leave Her Mom Behind In Oakland
While the role of Rocky Blue of Shake It Up was an amazing career opportunity for 12-year-old Zendaya, it came with a cost. The star told Allure that while her dad was able to pack up and move to Los Angeles with her when she started work on the show, her mom had to stay behind in Oakland and continue working to support the family.
This was obviously pretty difficult for Zendaya, who admits that she missed her mom a lot at this time.
However, things worked themselves out in the end! After two years of working on Shake It Up, Zendaya was earning enough money to support her family, meaning her mom was able to quit her job and move to L.A. too.
3 At 16, She Negotiated Her Way Into A Producer Role On Disney's 'K.C. Undercover'
After Shake It Up aired its last episode aired its last episode in 2013, a lot of people assumed that Zendaya's Disney Channel career would be coming to an end. However, that was far from the truth! Instead, Zendaya began fronting a totally new show, K.C. Undercover. As Cosmopolitan notes, by this point, she'd become such a prominent Disney Channel star that she was actually able to undertake some serious negotiation regarding her role. Zendaya served as a co-producer throughout K.C. Undercover's run, and would have refused to take part in the show if she hadn't had a bit of extra control over it. You go, girl!
2 She Wasn't Allowed To Date Until She Was 16 - But She Didn't Mind
Just like the majority of celebrities, Zendaya has had to deal with a lot of speculation regarding her dating life over the years. When she was a teenager, this aspect of fame wasn't exactly an issue, though: Zendaya admitted to Glamour that she wasn't allowed to date until she was 16 years old! She didn't mind, though - she was totally okay with the rule.
In recent years, Zendaya has become a bit sick of all of the press speculation about her love life - and who wouldn't?
She told Complex that pretty much every guy she's spotted with becomes the subject of dating rumors, which must be pretty frustrating.
1 Zendaya's Mom Hired A Teacher To Travel With Her Daughter On Press Tours
For the vast majority of child stars, pursuing a "traditional" high school education simply isn't possible. They're way too busy nailing auditions, filming TV shows and movies, and going on press tours to even think about attending classes! For this reason, a lot of starlets have tutors who travel with them - and Zendaya was no exception. According to Glamour, Zendaya's mom hired a teacher who didn't just give the young star the odd lesson or two in her Disney Channel trailer: she went on all of Zendaya's press tours with her too! Even though Zendaya's career path seemed to be set in stone even from her childhood, she still took the time to get a strong education.