Vanessa Hudgens has come a long way since High School Musical. She’s solidified herself as a serious actress, with smash hit roles in films like Spring Breakers and Gimme Shelter, and recently found a lucrative niche in lighthearted holiday specials. But with fame comes scrutiny, and Hudgens has also gotten herself into her fair share of controversy.
1. Commercial Success
Hudgens got her big start in a surprising way. She only landed her first commercial after her friend couldn’t make the audition and recruited Hudgens in her place. Obviously, the casting directors saw her, loved her, and hired her for the role. From there, she got more and more gigs, and the rest is history. Bet that friend regrets bailing now!
2. Teen Dream
When Hudgens starred in High School Musical, she also kick-started her love life. While playing Gabriella Montez, Hudgens met Zac Efron, who was playing her on-screen love interest Troy Bolton. Soon enough, sparks flew behind the scenes as well, and Hudgens and Efron started dating. Sadly, they were in for a heartbreaking end.
It can be hard for a Disney star to break free from their child-friendly persona. Well, Hudgens found a big way to do it, starring in Harmony Korine’s scandalous Spring Breakers— and Hudgens’ time on set brings new meaning to the word “bizarre.” Apparently, James Franco went full method factor or his part and insisted on staying in character for the whole movie, which made one scene in particular very awkward.
4. Never Again
By the end of filming, Hudgens admitted she didn’t even get to know the real Franco at all. Maybe this is why when it came time for their intimate scene together, Hudgens said it was one of her worst experiences on set. She was incredibly uncomfortable and put her foot down after, admitting, “It was very nerve-racking for me. I told my agent that I never want to do it ever again.”
5. Carving out a Controversy
Hudgens’ next relationship was with rising star Austin Butler, who earned feature roles in series like The Shannara Chronicles. But in 2017, the couple got into some very hot water. While hiking at a national forest in Arizona, the pair decided to write their names on a rock wall and then post it on social media. This…was not a good idea. They got a hefty fine for vandalism.
6. The Hero We Deserve
Hudgens rescued her adorable little dog Darla in the most literal sense. Austin Butler’s mother would always see a dog on her neighbors’ balcony who was stuck out there with no food or water for hours on end. She finally had enough and told the neighbors she would take the pup if they couldn’t care for her. But when did Hudgens take over? Well, here’s where the tragedy starts.
7. This One’s for You, Mom
In 2014, Austin Butler’s mother Lori tragically passed when the actor was still in his early 20s. Both Hudgens and Butler mourned her passing, with Butler tweeting, “Lori Butler, my mom, my hero, & my best friend passed this morning. Lets all celebrate her.” That’s exactly what he and Hudgens did, including taking on her little dog Darla in her memory.
8. Distance Destroys
When Hudgens falls in love, she commits intensely. So it’s no surprise that the actress says she has a secret weapon for juggling a long-lasting relationship with her constant travel: “FaceTime, good communication, respect and trust.” But apparently that only goes so far, because she and Butler ended up having a spectacular breakup.
9. Boy Problems
Butler and Hudgens dated for a whopping 8 years total, which is an absolute lifetime in Hollywood years; there were even rumors they were engaged. The longer it lasts, though, the sadder it is when it ends. When they called it quits in early 2020, the world was shocked—but the reasons were obvious to anyone who cared to look.
10. If You Love Something, Let It Go
According to sources close to Hudgens and Butler, long distance eventually just became too much for the young couple. These sources also claim that we might not have seen the last of the pair, since they have a very strong bond that won’t be broken easily. Though that sounds like a drama-free split, there are some clues that all was not right in paradise…
11. Hitch Your Wagon to My Star
When celebrities date each other, it’s difficult if one of them breaks through while the other stays behind. Hudgens has earned her lasting fame, but Butler recently got cast in an upcoming, high-profile Elvis biopic. Some pop culture experts have suggested that this imbalance of star-power threw the couple off. But that’s not even the juiciest part.
12. Revenge Body
When Butler and Hudgens broke up, the split made huge headlines not just on its own terms, but because of Hudgens’ unforgettable reaction. Right after the breakup hit the papers—as in, literal hours after—Hudgens was walking the red carpet for the Bad Boys for Life premiere in a very extra, bridal-esque dress. Basically, it seemed like a triumphant middle finger to the “kept” life.
13. Into the Shadows
Hudgens might have gained fame in the teen classic High School Musical, but most people don’t realize the beginning of her career looked a lot different. Her first film role, which she did before High School Musical, was in the edgy Thirteen. As Hudgens recalled, “I wanted to be the indie girl and just do really dark dramas.” That’s a far cry from teen bops.
14. The Big Leagues
When Hudgens starred alongside Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys for Life, she spilled all the behind-the-scenes details about working with superstars. Apparently, both Smith’s and Laurence’s trailers were absolutely massive, and the craft food services were unbelievable. As she revealed, “There’s so much variety and so many different snacks.” Get me on that set now!
15. The Queen’s Blessing
Internet queen Beyoncé helped Hudgens convert to feminism. She admitted in an interview to being “on the fence” about feminism at first, saying feminism tends to have the “reverse effect” of its intentions. Seeing powerful women like Beyoncé convinced her otherwise. Well, we’re just glad to have you with us, Ness.
16. All in This Together Again
Exes Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron recently reunited once more—professionally, of course. On April 16, 2020, Hudgens, Efron, and the rest of their High School Musical cast-mates starred in an at-home singalong together on ABC for the Disney Family Singalong special. Now, this is the kind of content we crave and need right now.
17. Father Knows Best
It’s not all bright lights, glamorous photoshoots, and fantastic fashions for Vanessa Hudgens. Few people know about her darkest moment. In early 2016, Hudgens’ father Greg succumbed to cancer, leaving his little girl vulnerable and mourning. Yet even amidst all this sadness, Hudgens managed to do something that made audiences’ jaws drop.
18. The Show Must Go on
The very day after Hudgens’ father passed, she was due to appear on the Grease: Live show as Rizzo. Literally anyone else would probably have bowed out, but not Hudgens. Instead, in the same moment she announced her father’s passing on Twitter, she also confirmed she would still be in the show, and dedicated her performance to him. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house that night.
19. It’s in the Blood
It seems like talent runs in the Hudgens family. Every one of her grandparents was a musician! Guess we know where she gets it from.
20. Little Body, Big Voice
Anyone who’s seen High School Musical knows that Hudgens has a set of pipes on her, even if she hasn’t used them as much in recent years. She was actually classical trained from an incredibly young age, and was singing Italian opera songs when she was just eight years old. In fact, she was so into singing, she even considered another kind of fame entirely…
21. Idol Without Idol
According to Hudgens, when she was around 15 years old, she was desperate to audition and maybe even win the hit TV show American Idol. There was just one big thing in her way: The minimum audition age for Idol is actually 16 years old. But by the time she hit 16, Hudgens had already landed High School Musical and, well, it didn’t seem so important anymore.
22. One-Song Pony
When Hudgens went in for her first audition for High School Musical, she sang Robbie Williams’ “Angels,” and did well enough to advance to a second round. But this is where disaster struck. Hudgens was green enough that when she went into the second try-out she…still sang Robbie Williams’ “Angels.” The producers looked at her like she was crazy, and she had to think fast.
23. Since You’ve Been Wrong
According to Hudgens, when the producers heard the Williams song again, they said, “Uh, yeah, that was good, but do you know anything else?” Luckily, Hudgens had a Kelly Clarkson song in her back pocket, and performed it for them instead. Clearly, the slip-up didn’t matter on the casting couch, and they gave her the High School Musical role anyway.
24. Hard Body
For her role in the action film Sucker Punch, Hudgens went to extreme lengths to look the part of the hard-living, hard-punching Blondie. She even trained with Navy SEALs for months—but it led to a total break-down. Hudgens said that they trained her so hard, she cried by the end of each workout. I’ll stay on my couch, thank you very much.
25. Do You Want a Piece of Me?
Hudgens may have a good-girl image, but she’s gotten into her fair share of trouble. When she was 19 years old, music producer Johnny Vieira sued the starlet for reneging on a deal to pay him a share of her earnings after he helped turn her into a star. Though she eventually settled the case outside of court, it hung over Hudgens’ reputation.
26. A Purse Too Far
Hudgens was so famous and so rich at the beginning of her career, it led to one embarrassing and out-of-touch moment. A confirmed shopaholic, Hudgens once admitted to maxing out her credit card on a single purchase. She was in Cartier buying an expensive piece of jewelry, and her card got declined because the amount was so massive. So what did she do? She just pulled out her other card with a higher limit. Stars: They’re not like us.
27. Ms. Frizzle Stands up
It may be hard to believe, but Hudgens used to get bullied while she was in high school, and the mean kids even gave her a cruel nickname. They called her “Frizzhead” and teased her for her thick hair. I think it’s safe to say that in this case, those kids were just jealous. According to Hudgens, she dealt with the mistreatment by never lowering herself to their level.
28. Home Alone: Hudgens Edition
Hudgens’ career has been truly diverse, and she’s recently found success in a series of Christmas movies like The Princess Switch and The Knight Before Christmas. When it comes to her future plans for these franchises, Hudgens is aiming high: In an interview, she said she’d love to do a Christmas film with Macaulay Culkin. Can we make this happen, Netflix?
29. Finding the Light
Though it’s not something she hides, you might not know that Hudgens is actually very religious. It wasn’t always that way: Although her family raised her Catholic, it never really clicked for her—until, that is, she started dating Austin Butler. Before Butler, Hudgens said she felt “mean” and away from God. After him, well, she developed a new and somewhat controversial holy habit.
30. Hip and Holy
While dating Butler, Hudgens started going to the Hillsong mega church, an establishment frequented by young and hip A-list stars like Justin Bieber and Hailey Bieber. The California chapter is particularly popular, and Hudgens and Butler were right in the middle of it. Hudgens claims she likes how “epic” Hillsong feels. But not everyone is into the church…
31. The Dark Side of the Light
A follower who recently left Hillsong had some disturbing things to say about the establishment. They claimed that it pushes “aspirational wealth” and “classism” on parishioners. The source even labeled Hillsong as “Evangelical elitism” and called it “cultish.” Now that Butler and Hudgens have broken up, we’ll see if one of them gets to “keep” the church.
32. Oops, I Did It Again
Hudgens apparently didn’t learn anything from her botched High School Musical audition, because she made another blunder when it came to her film Bandslam. Even though it was a musical movie, she somehow forgot that she needed a song for the audition, and had to come up with one on the spot. She randomly chose “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse, but it obviously worked out for her.
33. Foot, Meet Mouth
The actress recently came under fire for some disturbing comments she made. One night on Instagram Live while talking about COVID-19, she said, “Like, I respect it, but at the same time, like, even if everybody gets it, like, yeah, people are gonna die. Which is terrible, but like, inevitable?” It was not her proudest moment, and she apologized immediately after.
34. The SIMple Life
If you’ve ever wondered what a movie star does in her spare time, it’s probably similar to what you do: game. Hudgens is a big fan of the reality simulator The Sims. Her sister introduced her to the game, and she got hooked on the world-building aspects. This led to a pretty sweet perk: EA Games even made Hudgens her own official downloadable Sim!
When she’s not playing The Sims, you’ll find Hudgens indulging in a much wilder obsession. She loves raves, and is a big fan of EDM music festivals. As she said in an interview, “There’s nothing better to me than having a heavy, trance-y bass going with a smoke machine going in a warehouse with lasers. That’s my ultimate jam.”
In November, 2019, a run-of-the-mill karaoke night got a huge plot twist: Hudgens showed up to sing songs. Not only that, she graciously performed her High School Musical hit “Breaking Free” with one of her fans, and also took the time to sing the Evanescence song “Wake Me Up.” Classic. I mean, talk about getting FOMO.
37. The Part of a Lifetime
Vanessa Hudgens’ mother always wanted her to play strong female leads, with the french female fighter Joan of Arc specifically on that list. Well, Hudgens actually got the chance to play Joan of Arc…but not in the way her mother probably hoped. She played the strong female on an episode of Drunk History. Hey, no small parts, right?
38. Did I Do That?
Hudgens loves to do her own stunts, but it doesn’t always work out. One time, a stunt led to a really embarrassing blooper. During a big action scene in Bad Boys for Life, Hudgens accidentally smacked herself in the forehead with her prop gun! She said of the incident, “I love pushing my physical boundaries […] but literally only I would do that.”
39. The Hero’s Journey
Hudgens rang in her 30th birthday in one of the most magical ways possible. The star had a Middle Earth themed party! As a big fan of Lord of the Rings, Hudgens wore a metallic crown, had her guests sit around a candle-decorated table, and had everyone dress in Medieval-inspired pieces. She even drank red wine from a goblet, natch.
40. Smooching Behind the Scenes
Hudgens’ first on-screen kiss was apparently not one to remember. She shared it with her co-star Zac Efron while they filmed High School Musical, though it was left on the cutting room floor. Then both Efron and Hudgens entirely forgot about the moment! When an interviewer asked them about it, their director Kenny Ortega had to jokingly remind Efron, “You seemed to enjoy it.”
41. Young Money
Like her or not, it’s hard to deny how successful Hudgens’ career has been. She was on Forbes’ richest list in 2007, and a year later, she was number 20 on Forbes’ highest earners under 30.
42. Inked up
Hudgens has a couple of tattoos. On her side is a naked angel, which she calls the Divine Feminine. The tattoo stands for the connection of consciousness, nurture, intuition, and empathy. She also has a small sunflower tattoo on the side of her breast.
43. Tastes Like Chicken
Hudgens appeared on an episode of Running Wild With Bear Grylls, a show that sees celebrities team up with Grylls to survive in the wild. On the show, Hudgens helped catch, cook, and eat a snake! How’s that for doing your own stunts?
44. Getting $exy
When Hudgens decided she wanted to break out of her good little Disney image, she really did not hold back. As part of the promotion for Spring Breakers, she released a song titled “$$$ex” in a bid to cement herself as an “adult” star. The video also featured steamy scenes from the film. Well, that’s one way get away from an image.
45. Lovers in a Dangerous Time
In 2010, Efron and Hudgens crushed the hearts of fans everywhere when they broke up after a 5-year relationship. Considering they were both teenagers when they met, this is an incredibly long time to date. But it was far from a fairy-tale. Hudgens even remembered getting into such a huge fight on one of the HSM sequels, the director was worried they’d have to stop filming. And that wasn’t all.
46. That’s My Man
Dating Zac Efron wasn’t easy for Hudgens, and there was one thing she absolutely couldn’t stand. Female fans would often ogle Efron or even chase after him. As Hudgens later confessed, “Girls were running after him, and I was giving them death stares.” Eventually, their time just ran out…but the heartache wasn’t over for Hudgens.
47. Exposed to the World
In 2007, Hudgens got embroiled in her biggest scandal yet. In case you don’t remember, infamous intimate photos of the starlet leaked, showing her in lingerie and then in the buff. This was upsetting enough, but it had even bigger consequences: Hudgens worried Disney would drop her from High School Musical 3. Disney didn’t, but their response might have been even worse.
48. The Blame Game
2007 was a strange time. Back then, if a starlet’s private photos got leaked, it was somehow their fault. While Disney didn’t drop Hudgens from High School Musical, they still “sympathetically” added, “We hope she’s learned a valuable lesson.” Right, because it was all her doing. And this was just the beginning of Hudgens’ nightmare.
49. Double Trouble
Unfortunately, another set of Hudgens’ private photos leaked just two years later. It was as if someone was specifically targeting her, so Hudgens got bitter revenge. She hired lawyers to get the photos taken down, and then went right to the source, suing the website that had originally uploaded them. But the question on everyone’s minds was: Who were the photos intended for? Well, we’ll get to that…
50. Saved by the Bell
According to one rumor, Hudgens sent her original set of NSFW photos to Drake Bell of Drake and Josh; she had recently guest-starred on an episode of his show. If this is true, it’s even more scandalous than it seems. At the time, Hudgens was still in a relationship with Zac Efron. For his part, Bell claims he never received these photos.