Vanessa Hudgens' Stunning Transformation

Vanessa Hudgens stole our hearts when she starred in "High School Musical" in 2006, dancing and singing along to famous tracks many still know by heart today. The California native may have become a star on Disney Channel, but Hudgens started perfecting her craft over a decade earlier. The "Princess Switch" star knew she wanted to be a star from a young age, starting acting classes before she was old enough to attend kindergarten. 

She proved she could break the "Disney Curse" — the one where many actors find themselves far less relevant when they attempt to build careers outside of the Disney bubble. Hudgens has gone on to build an impressive resume filled with multiple Broadway gigs, as well as starring in several television shows and films throughout the years.

Nowadays, Hudgens is starting a new chapter. The actor is expecting her first child with her husband Cole Tucker, whom she met in 2020. Motherhood won't stop her from continuing to chase her dreams, however, as the "Spring Breakers" actor says there is no business like show business. "It's the thing that I plan on doing till the day I die! I love it so much. I will never jump ship," she told Now that she's ushering in a new phase in life, we're breaking down her journey from Disney princess to seasoned star.

Vanessa Hudgens is a California native

Vanessa Hudgens was born in Salinas, California, but she moved to San Diego alongside her younger sister Stella, where she spent much of her childhood. Her Filipino roots stem from her maternal side, as her mother immigrated to the United States in her early twenties. "I was definitely raised very American," Hudgens admitted during a press conference in 2023 (per NextShark). "Except for all the rice and the adobo and pancit," she added.

The "Beastly" actor admitted that she was incredibly close to her mother and sister growing up, so much so that her mom left her job as a secretary to spend more time with her daughters. "My mom kind of bounced around jobs because I would call her from my babysitter too many times that she actually got fired and became a mom full-time," she shared with Marie Claire.

Her mother's determination to start a new life in the United States has continued to inspire Hudgens' roles onscreen. So much so that the "Thirteen" actor is hoping her mother will share her story in a book one day so she can later adapt it into film. Hudgens revealed that it was hard to find women of her ethnicity onscreen growing up, something she hopes she can shine a light on using her platform today. "There are so many different stories that need to be told so that we are exposed to them and can have more empathy towards different people," she said in a Glamour interview. 

Hudgens started acting classes at just 3 years old

Hudgens' dreams of acting and singing began as early as three years old, and with the support of her mother, she and her family eventually moved to Los Angeles to help kickstart her career. "From the age of three, I loved performing so my parents put me in classes and one thing led to another," she explained in an interview with Marie Claire. Her passion was musical theater, and she got her start at the age of eight years old, performing in productions like "Evita," "Carousel," "The Wizard of Oz," "The King & I," "The Music Man," "Cinderella" and "Damn Yankees," according to Broadway World.

While Hudgens may be a household name today, the star admitted that she wasn't always accustomed to being center stage. "I grew up being the girl in the sidelines, singing the harmonies," she told Shape. "That was my musical theater upbringing. Some of my fondest memories are of being in the rehearsal studio, practicing." The "High School Musical" alum was dedicated to perfecting her skills, so much so that she even dropped out of the Orange County High School of the Arts and started homeschooling, which gave her more time to audition. 

She became a household name starring in the 'High School Musical' franchise

After starring in the critically acclaimed 2003 film "Thirteen," and "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" in 2006, Vanessa Hudgens got her big break when she played Gabriella Montez in the "High School Musical" franchise. The film first premiered on the Disney Channel in 2006 and became an instant hit, marking one of the most legendary musical adaptations of its time and leading to two more installments that shaped many childhoods around the world. 

 "High School Musical" told the story of a diverse cast all navigating their way through high school, finding themselves, their voice, and love through their school's musical theater program. Hudgens played one of the lead characters in the franchise, starring opposite Zac Efron and playing his love interest in the coming-of-age film. The franchise had an immense cultural impact, amassing over eight million viewers, a triple-platinum soundtrack, and a concert tour that racked in well over $30 million dollars.

Hudgens was just 18 years old when the film shot her into stardom, but she still remembers the sensation of having "fans shake our cars back and forth like we were the Beatles" (via Entertainment Weekly). Nearly two decades later since "HSM" premiered, Hudgens looks back with fond memories of making the film that has continued to touch generations. "That's the magic of musicals," she admitted on "The Kelly Clarkson Show," adding, "Musicals just have this legacy about them — they don't go out of style."

Hudgens' on-screen love interest became her off-screen boyfriend

Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron's on-screen love affair became an off-screen reality when the two co-stars began dating while filming "High School Musical." The pair met while auditioning for the musical in 2005, and their connection was instantaneous. "We created a bond right from the start," she told People. "We were like, 'We're doing this, it's us or nothing.'" The two stars quickly became the "it couple" for millions of their fans worldwide, and while their love connection was evident, their relationship wasn't publicly confirmed until Efron starred as Hudgens' love interest in the music video for her 2007 track "Say OK." 

"Zanessa" was officially born, but the two co-stars continued to play coy about their personal lives during the late 2000s. While two matching silver rings on their right index fingers and plenty of PDA told a different story at the time, Hudgens and Efron rarely gave fans the inside scoop about their relationship. "He's an amazing guy," Hudgens told People in 2007. 

After five years together, the two ultimately called it quits in 2010, with their respective buzzing careers causing a fracture in their connection. "Long-distance relationships are hard no matter what. When you don't have face-to-face time, it's just different. Having an iPhone helped, but it just wasn't the same," Hudgens said of their time together (via People). 

Her nude photo scandal rocked the world

The Disney Channel weathered one of its biggest scandals when Vanessa Hudgens' nude photos were leaked to the press at the height of her fame in 2007. In September of that year, photos of the star posing nude surfaced on various blogs, prompting a giant controversy and questioning her stake in the "High School Musical" franchise. It was unknown how Hudgens' private photos were released, but she was thought to be the victim of some sort of Internet hacking at the time. 

Shortly after the scandal, Hudgens released a statement saying, "I want to apologize to my fans, whose support and trust means the world to me. I am embarrassed over this situation and regret having ever taken these photos. I am thankful for the support of my family and friends." A representative for the Disney Channel also spoke out on the incident, saying, "Vanessa has apologized for what was obviously a lapse in judgment. We hope she's learned a valuable lesson." At the time the photos were released, "High School Musical 2" was set to premiere just a month later. While talks of Hudgens being ousted from the third installment circled the internet, the network ultimately stood by the star and she reprised her role as Gabrielle Montez for "High School Musical 3."

Hudgens was the victim of another photo leak in 2009, as well as 2011. "It was a really traumatizing thing for me," Hudgens told Cosmopolitan UK. "As an actor, you completely lose all grip of your own privacy and it's really sad."

Hudgens' Disney background made it difficult to find edgier acting roles

Breaking the Disney mold wasn't an easy feat for Vanessa Hudgens. The "French Girl" star admitted that while "High School Musical" launched her career, it also put her to the test when she sought out edgier roles. "'High School Musical' was a fantastic journey, but it completely derailed me from where I originally saw my career going," Hudgens told The Guardian. "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."

The actor made it a point to specifically turn down parts that had any connection to the innocent, "nice girl" type of character that she had been accustomed to. "['High School Musical'] made it a lot harder for me to go after the things that I really wanted," she told Collider, adding that she was searching for "really gritty, tough, dramatic roles."

Eventually, Hudgens landed the role of Candy in the 2012 film "Spring Breakers," featuring her as part of a wild group of girls on vacation who get bailed out of jail by a drug dealer. "I feel like 'Spring Breakers' definitely hit the nail on the head, because obviously it is those things that I love," she told Collider, adding that she was overjoyed to work with director Harmony Korine. "That was just a really wonderful moment for me to be like, 'Okay, I finally did it,'" she added.

She dated Austin Butler for nearly a decade

Zac Efron wasn't the only love interest Vanessa Hudgens met while filming "High School Musical." The actor also met Austin Butler on the set of the film back in 2005, but the "Elvis" star didn't end up snagging a role in the franchise, instead debuting in its spinoff, "Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure." 

Butler and Hudgens were first spotted together in 2011, about a year after she split with Zac Efron. The pair made their official red carpet debut the following year at the premiere of "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island." While they kept quiet about their relationship for years, Hudgens made a sweet Instagram tribute to Butler in 2014, posting a photo of them together for the first time. "Yesterday was the love of my life's birthday. Happy birthday to the man with the kindest heart, beautiful soul, crazy talent and best looks I've ever seen," she wrote at the time. 

The pair supported each other through some of their most difficult moments, including Butler's mother's death in 2015 as well as when Hudgens lost her father in 2016. While whisperings of an engagement had circulated beforehand, the couple eventually went their separate ways in 2020. A source told People at the time that their hectic schedules caused a strain in their relationship, but Hudgens has remained private about the reasons for their split. "I've also been through two very long life-changing relationships, and no one really knows what happened except for me," she told Nylon, adding, "When I write my memoir, it'll be amazing."

Hudgens' returned to musical theater

Vanessa Hudgens eventually made her way back to musical theatre when she made her Broadway debut in 2015. The actor starred as the lead character in the revival of the musical "Gigi," a coming-of-age story about a Parisian woman who is being groomed to serve as a secret mistress for wealthy men with social status. Ultimately Gigi ends up capturing the eye of a bachelor, transforming her life and making her question her position in her family's business.

In 2016, Hudgens revived the role of Rizzo in the production of "Grease: Live!" which premiered on Fox. Her stellar performance drew rave reviews, especially since her father died of cancer the night before she took on the role. "Tonight, I do the show in his honor," Hudgens tweeted before the musical aired. Her emotional performance of the ballad "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" hit home for many fans who were inspired by her courage to commit to the performance. "Vanessa Hudgens is performing a principal role in a live TV musical, barely a day after losing her father. Truly, hats off. #GreaseLive," one fan tweeted.

Hudgens' return to the stage marked a full-circle moment for the star, who told Wonderland, "I feel the most fulfilled when I get to tell a story on a stage. I just love the format of musical theatre — that's where I grew up, where I found my own footsteps — and it feels like the most organic thing for me to express myself with."

She launched multiple businesses

In addition to commanding the stage, Vanessa Hudgens knows her way or two around the business world. The "Rent: Live" star started her own business, a company that offers natural electrolyte-infused cactus water called Caliwater, in 2021. The entrepreneur was inspired to start the venture after struggling to hydrate herself, telling Shape she has a hard time drinking plain water and has fainted from dehydration twice before.

The actor also started Know Beauty alongside artist Madison Beer in 2021, which offers cruelty-free skin care products as well as water filtration solutions. "We both have had such a long skincare journey. We were like, 'There should be an easier way to approach skincare, something that allows you to know what is right for your personal skin, because it's different for everyone,'" Hudgens told Harper's Bazaar of teaming up with Beer. Their line of products also includes a DNA cheek swab, which is sent to specialists to analyze and specifically designed to curate the perfect skincare regime based on the customer's unique complexion.

While Hudgens doesn't plan to stop her career in show business anytime soon, her entrepreneurial career keeps her busy in between roles. "I'm proud to have companies I believe in and that I want to share with everyone," she told Shape. "Working on them is a fun, creative expression for me that doesn't rely on getting the next [acting] job."

Hudgens went official with Cole Tucker in 2021

Out of all the places Vanessa Hudgens could find a romantic partner, Zoom isn't the first place many would think of. Think again, however, as the former "High School Musical" star admitted that she first laid eyes on Cole Tucker in 2020 while participating in a video session on the site. "Me and Cole met on a Zoom meditation group. Very random, yes," Hudgens shared with Entertainment Tonight. "Zoom, you've got to love it." The pair met about a year after the actor had split with Austin Butler and went Instagram official on Valentine's Day in 2021.

"He's just kind of perfect for me. I am [happy]. I really am," she told Entertainment Tonight in 2021. Hudgens has supported Tucker at several of his MLB games, snapping photos with the athlete while he works as a free agent playing shortstop and outfield. The two went on to get engaged in February of 2023, and tied the knot later that year in an intimate beach ceremony in Tulum, Mexico. 

"It's just easy. We're like the same person, very much the same person, but with different interests," she told Entertainment Tonight of their relationship. "We have the same spirit, I think. We're both just energetic. We want to have a good time, easy, goofy. It's cool."

She debuted her pregnancy at the 2024 Oscars

Vanessa Hudgens debuted a lot more than expected at the 2024 Oscars Award Show. The former Broadway star took to the red carpet in a revealing sheer black outfit, showcasing that she was expecting her first child with Cole Tucker. The translucent dress revealed a black two-piece outfit underneath, highlighting her growing belly that she happily cradled while posing for photos. Hudgens told the Associated Press that she was more than happy to announce her pregnancy at the esteemed event, saying, "It was really special. It's a very special time in my life right now." 

Some fans couldn't help but make a "High School Musical" reference over the exciting news, with one fan tweeting, "She broke free & went soaring, flyyyyiingggg too close to the sun." Another relished in the fact that Hudgens is pregnant at the same time as her former Disney co-star Ashley Tisdale, who is expecting her second child with her husband Christopher French. "Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale both being pregnant at the same time oh my gosh my high school musical-loving teen self is in tears," one user wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

As of the time of writing, Hudgens has yet to confirm her due date or the gender of the baby. Boy or girl — let's hope her newest edition loves "HSM."