Zendaya Coleman—known to most as “Zendaya”—is a quadruple threat: actress, singer, dancer, and even a writer. In her first two decades of life, she managed to amass credits in stage, screen, and song that most people spend a lifetime trying to build. As Zendaya spreads her wings from teeny bopper media to mainstream movies like The Greatest Showman and the Spiderman franchise, she shows no signs of slowing down into “old” age. Take a second look at these prodigious facts about Zendaya.
1. A Second Chance at Family
The girl who would be simply known as “Zendaya” was born Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman on September 1, 1996. She is her mother’s only child, but has five older half-siblings on her father’s side.
2. The Best of All Worlds
Zendaya is biracial, with African-American ancestry on her father’s side and German-Scots descent from her father’s mother.
3. Just Grateful to Be Here
Her name derives from the word “Tendai,” which is the Shona (an ethnic group in Zimbabwe) name for “to give thanks.”
4. The Mother of All Opportunities
Born in Oakland, California, Zendaya had a head-start in finding a performance platform. In fact, she grew up performing at the California Shakespeare Theatre, where her mother was a house manager.
5. A Hollywood Co-Op
While still attending the Oakland School for the Arts, Zendaya was already building her stage credits. Among her many performances in this era include the role of Little Ti Moune in Once on This Island and her breakout theatre role as Joe in Caroline, or Change, where she played a male character.
6. Dancing Through Hoops for You
For three years, Zendaya was part of the Future Shock Oakland dancing group. When she was just eight years old, the young performer worked with the group, doing both hip-hop and hula dance performances.
7. To Be or Not to Be Famous
Building upon her Shakespearean beginnings, Zendaya was an avid Shakespearean performer while she finished her training at the American Conservatory Theatre. During this time, she was featured in Shakespeare plays from As You Like It and Twelfth Night to Richard III.
8. A Future Role Model
A look can say a thousand words: for much of her early career, Zendaya worked as a fashion model for brands like Macy’s, Mervyns, and even OId Navy.
9. Not Playing Around So Much These Days
One of Zendaya’s earliest exposures to youth broadcasting was as a model for an iCarly toys advertisement.
10. I Have Your Back and Your Future Headlines
In another early encounter with Disney, Zendaya worked as one of Selena Gomez’s back-up dancers in a Sears ad. The lesson: never underestimate the background players.
11. Just Kidding
You can also find Zendaya in one of those famous Kidz Bop advertisements. Specifically, Zendaya performed a cover of the Katy Perry song “Hot n Cold” for Kidz Bop 15.
12. Small Screen, Big Future
Zendaya’s big TV break was in the Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up. In 2009, she originally auditioned for the lead role of Cece Jones. Unfortunately—for Zendaya at least—the part eventually went to Bella Thorne. On the bright side, Zendaya was cast in the supporting role of Rocky Blue. More fortunately, the show launched to 6.2 million viewers—the second-biggest show premiere in Disney Channel’s 27-year history—and launched Zendaya’s screen career.
13. From Friends to Frenemies
Zendaya didn’t get her first movie role until 2012’s Disney Channel Original Movie, Frenemies. In this avant-garde—by Disney standards—film of three intertwined stories, she plays an avid online magazine editor alongside her Shake It Up co-star, Bella Thorne.
14. Not Too Young to Give Your Twinkle-Toes a Shakedown
In 2013, Zendaya became the youngest contestant ever to participate in Dancing with the Stars. At only 16 years old, she finished as runner up behind American Idol’s Kellie Pickler.
15. From the Mouths (and Publishing Houses) of Babes
When she was still just sixteen years old, Zendaya published her first book. Titled Between U and Me: How to Rock Your Tween Years with Style and Confidence, it was an advice book about “everything from fashion to friendships to following your dreams!”
16. Move Over, James Bond
After the cancellation of Shake It Up, it was finally time for Zendaya to take the lead. In 2014, she debuted in her own Disney Channel sitcom, K.C. Undercover, where the actress played the titular undercover teen spy.
17. Zendaya Take the Wheel
In addition to playing the lead, Zendaya played an active role in writing and producing K.C. Undercover. The sitcom was originally titled Super Awesome Katy. It was under Zendaya’s advice that her character be renamed to “K.C” from “Katy Cooper,” in addition to changing fundamental parts of her personality.
18. Clean, Clear, and Through With Your BS
In 2015, Zendaya was caught in an Oscar scandal involving her hair. Television personality Giuliana Rancic made comments about Zendaya’s hair smelling like “patchouli oil” and “weed” on the Oscar red carpet; which many people considered to racialized and mocking of Zendaya’s dreadlocks. Zendaya addressed Rancic’s “joke,” clarifying that many Black people have “locs” in their hair and have nothing to do with narcotics.
19. Perfectly Plastic
To honor Zendaya’s hair—and defense of it—Mattel produced a Barbie styled after the actress and her Oscar red-carpet look.
20. Not Out of Step with the Past
Zendaya is the face of her own shoe collection. In August 2015, she released the line as “Daya,” after her nickname in childhood.
21. Heading Off to Better Names
In addition to “Daya,” Zendaya bore a few more colorful nicknames from her childhood. To her friends, she is still sometimes known as “Big Head” (with affection, we hope) and also “Marie” to her parents.
22. Off Limits (for Now)
Surviving as a young star takes boundaries and discipline. Case in point: Zendaya wasn’t allowed to date until she turned 16. If you ask the busy actress, she was fairly ok with this.
23. A Chip Off the Old Block
One of Zendaya’s biggest pet peeves is chipped nail polish. She can’t stand the look of it.
24. His #1 Fan
Michael Jackson was Zendaya’s favorite singer. She even performed the King of Pop’s song “Leave It Alone” for her (successful) Shake It Up audition.
25. Play Ball with Alternative Careers
Both of Zendaya’s parents worked as teachers. If she hadn’t gone into performing, Zendaya has often said that she would have gone into education just like her folks. Or she’d become a basketball player. One of the two.
26. Into the Spiderverse
Zendaya made her feature film debut as MJ in Spiderman: Homecoming (2017). Originally, she had no idea that she was screen-testing for a role in the Marvel movie, instead thinking it was a generic teen comedy.
27. Not One to Cause a Storm
Zendaya was considered for the role of Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016). However, she passed on the mutant part, which went to fellow actress Alexandra Shipp. (Ironically, Shipp also replaced Zendaya for the lead role in Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B).
28. Talk About Great Expectations
At 5’10”, Zendaya is tall—but she doesn’t come close to her parents. Her father is 6’2” while her mother stands even taller at a whopping 6’4”.
29. Better Luck Next Time
Zendaya was almost cast in the titular lead role of Alita: Battle Angel (2019). The part went, instead, to Rosa Salazar.
30. Born to Be an Aunt
Zendaya’s paternal half-siblings are significantly older than her. How much older? Zendaya had nieces and nephews by the time she was born.
31. Not a Clean Getaway
Zendaya admits to being a bit of a slob. In fact, her bedroom is allegedly a pigsty. Who has the time on her schedule?
32. Teenage Nightmare
In 2019, Zendaya made her premium cable debut as the lead in Euphoria, HBO’s first teen drama. It was even produced by Canadian-born rapper Drake! She plays the role of Rue, a 17-year-old who struggles with drugs and pathological lying.
33. Put Your Money Where Your Hope Is
Zendaya was an ambassador for the faith-based charity, Convoy of Hope. All of the proceeds from her 2013 song with John Legend, “All of Me,” went to the association.
34. Remember Where You Came From
In 2017, Zendaya purchased a $1.4 million home in Los Angeles, California. Not bad a bad starter home for a girl who grew up in—her words—a “humble” and “not-so-amazing neighborhood.”
35. Meat Me in the Middle
As of 2016, Zendaya is a vegetarian. She had doubts about meat since the age of 11, after she passed by a slaughterhouse and struggled to reconcile her meat consumption with the killing of animals.
36. The Heartbreak Kid
Zendaya is notoriously private about her love life. She did, however, admit to being in a long-term relationship from 2012 to 2016. All she would say about it: “It was my first love…it wasn’t a good ending.”
37. Caught in a Web of Delusion
Fans have been eager to conspiracy-theorize a relationship between Zendaya and her Spiderman co-star Tom Holland. The rumors began in 2017 and refused to die with the release of the sequel, Spiderman: Far from Home. Nevertheless, both Zendaya and Holland have denied being anything more than friends.
38. To Busy to Swing a Break (or Web)
In 2017, a magazine used an alleged shared vacation between Zendaya and Tom Holland as “proof” of an illicit relationship. In a quick Twitter rebuttal, Zendaya laughed: “Wait wait…my favorite is when it says we go on vacations together HA! I haven’t been on a vacation in years!”
39. Some Roles Shouldn’t Be Played
In 2014, Hollywood was aflame with why Zendaya would pass on the lead role in the upcoming Lifetime network biopic, Aaliyah: The Princess R&B. As an up-and-coming Disney star and singer in her own right, Zendaya seemed like a good fit. However, she turned the part down because of (1) low production values, (2) “complications with the music rights,” and (3), most affectingly, the lack of support from the real Aaliyah’s family, who lost their daughter from a plane crash when she was just 22.
To quote Zendaya: “I tried my best to reach out to the family on my own, and I wrote a letter, but I was unable to do so; therefore, I felt not really morally OK with moving forward with the project.”
40. Say Her Name
In 2014, Zendaya’s first name began to rise in popularity among newborn American babies. Now, she ranked “only” at No. 892, but it was impressive for a name that had just debuted in the top 1000.
41. Lips to Beat Them All
In 2017, Zendaya made her trapeze debut as Anne Wheeler in The Greatest Showman. Zac Efron ranked his screen kiss with Zendaya as the best he ever had. Bonus reminder: both Zendaya and Efron got their stardom starts on the Disney Channel.
42. It’s Always the Quiet Ones
Zendaya had to repeat kindergarten because she was that shy. Performing helped her overcome the debilitating shyness. Today, Zendaya admits that she’s still not exactly a social butterfly, at least offstage and offscreen.