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Vanessa Hudgens' High School Musical Fame Came At A Hefty Cost

In 2006, the Disney Channel original movie "High School Musical" became a pop culture phenomenon. Almost eight million viewers tuned in to watch the family-friendly film, making it one of the most popular original movies in the channel's history. The "High School Musical" soundtrack was a global bestseller and went triple platinum that same year. Reflecting on the film's long-standing triumph, Vox writer Aja Romano noted, "'High School Musical' arguably single-handedly led to the cultural resurgence of musicals in the modern era."

Once the movie premiered, leads Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron essentially transformed into Disney superstars overnight. A television sequel, "High School Musical 2" aired the next year, followed by a 2008 theatrical release of the final and third film, "High School Musical 3: Senior Year." During its run, the franchise reportedly grossed $680 million in retail sales. Throughout it all, Hudgens was a highly recognizable face across the globe. To this day, she remains a beloved member of the "High School Musical" legacy, as seen in its continued resurgence on social media platforms like TikTok. As Hudgens herself said in an interview with ETOnline, "The fact is kids are still watching it. Kids are still being introduced to it. I just saw 'Gotta Go My Own Way' is trending on TikTok... It never dies, thanks to you guys!"

At the same time, Hudgens has revealed that her widespread "High School Musical" success came with significant drawbacks — some of which she had to grapple with for a long time.

High School Musical inadvertently derailed Hudgens' career

During an interview with The Guardian, Hudgens reflected on her "High School Musical" role and her sudden rise to fame in the mid-'00s. In her estimation, "'High School Musical' was a fantastic journey, but it completely derailed me from where I originally saw my career going." She explained, "I always wanted to be the indie girl; I always wanted to be in the movies where I'm playing a drug addict or a stripper or a prostitute. That was my goal since I was, like, 11."

Instead, Hudgens initially made a name for herself in the Hollywood industry as the soft-spoken and shy Gabriella Montez. While working for Disney, the actress notably had to lean into her family-friendly image or risk damaging her reputation. In 2007, she received backlash and criticism after nude photos of her were released without her consent. Back then, Hudgens was forced to issue an apology. While speaking to Yahoo in 2020, she shared that the entire experience was "really traumatizing."

Ultimately, Hudgens has forged ahead to create a career for herself on her own terms. Not only did she subvert expectations with her role in the 2012 indie hit "Spring Breakers," but she also returned to theater in 2016, receiving praise for her performance as Rizzo in "Grease: Live." Currently, she has cemented herself as a rom-com lead in Netflix's "The Princess Switch" franchise. While Hudgens may have reservations about her professional past, she has certainly proven herself in Hollywood.