The Transformation Of Keke Palmer From Childhood To 28 Years Old

Keke Palmer can do it all. The multi-hyphenate star of "Nope" has conquered so many aspects of the entertainment industry that it's sometimes hard to keep them all straight; she's an actor, a singer, a talk show host, an author, and a business mogul, among many other roles we're probably forgetting. How does she do it all? Well, according to an interview with Andscape, she sets her ego aside and takes any project that meets some pretty simple criteria. "I'm like, are the people cool? Is the material good? Are they going to have lunch?" she asks herself. If so... "Let's go!"

It feels like the one-woman meme machine has been around forever, so looking back on her long and varied career can seem like a daunting task. Never fear; we've put Palmer's career highs on a timeline for you. Emphasis on "just the highs;" the woman's done so much that there's a lot more we couldn't fit here! Remember that time she hosted a show on Quibi? (Come to think of it... do you even remember Quibi?) Read on to track the transformation of Keke Palmer from childhood to 28 years old. Say it with us, now... Baby, this is Keke Palmer

She had a troubled relationship with her mom

The actor who would come to be known as Keke was born Lauren Palmer in 1993, per FamousBirthdays, and she grew up with siblings named Larry and Lawrencia. She initially started acting in commercials, and her career quickly took off, faster than she or her family ever anticipated. This caused some friction between Palmer and her mother Sharon, who managed her career; according to an appearance on The Dr. Oz Show, her difficult upbringing contributed in part to Keke later being open about having anxiety and depression.

"I'm so proud of you because I put you in this business not to cause you pain but to get money for college," her mother told her (via Yahoo). "I'm so sorry for any of the hardships or anything that you went through because I just wanted to do commercials so that we could save money for college."

"I don't know who needs to hear this, but forgive your parents," Keke wrote in a since-deleted tweet that she reposted to her Instagram. She later added, "My parents gave up everything for me. I will work till I can't no more to assure that their sacrifices weren't in vain." Sharon later appeared on "Good Morning America" alongside her daughter to talk about her daughter's most embarrassing childhood moments; we're glad to see they seem to be on good terms now!

She was a superstar speller in Akeelah and the Bee

Keke Palmer started acting when she was very young; in 2004, she had a small role as Gina's niece in "Barbershop 2: Back in Business," still credited as Lauren 'Keke' Palmer. Two years later, however, "Keke Palmer" the superstar burst onto the scene as the lead in the critically-acclaimed film "Akeelah and the Bee." In the movie, Palmer starred opposite acting legends like Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, playing a young speller from the south side of Los Angeles who goes all the way to the National Spelling Bee. She famously spells the word "prestidigitation," and Palmer herself never forgot how it goes. In a 2022 TikTok with Laron Hines, she proudly spelled the word and announced, "I never forget my lines!"

Back in 2006, a 12-year-old Palmer told NPR that she took the role in part because she was excited by the challenge of playing someone so unlike herself. Unlike the shy Akeelah, Palmer said, "I'm not afraid to be myself... me, myself, I didn't struggle with anything like that." Palmer would continue to "be herself" throughout her career, to the delight of fans everywhere; in other words, the role spelled great things for Palmer's future. Looking back years later for IMDb, she reflected, "It shaped the trajectory and path of my life."

Nickelodeon came calling in 2008

In Nickelodeon's series "True Jackson, VP," Keke Palmer played the titular character, a fashionable 15-year-old who finds herself Vice President of a clothing company. The series included a number of iconic guest stars, including Natasha Bedingfield, Victoria Justice, and Dev Patel, among many others. Over the course of the show, True throws fashion shows, dates a character played by Robbie Amell, and even travels to Peru in the series finale.

In 2020, Palmer looked back on True as one of her most iconic characters, and she reflected that she was proud of how important the show was to a lot of people. "As I've gotten older, I didn't realize how much of an influence that character had on young Black women, young millennials, young kids, just everybody," she told MTV. "Because it's like, yo, this is a young person living their dream."

After the show's cancellation, Palmer stuck with the Nickelodeon family. She went on to voice Aisha in more than a hundred episodes of Nick's "Winx Club" adaptation, and she also starred in a made-for-TV movie called "Rags" opposite other Nickelodeon stars like "Victorious" breakout Avan Jogia. She even hinted that a reboot of "True Jackson, VP" might be in the works in 2021, telling J-14, "It was one of the most impactful times of my life in good ways and hard ways, but it was something that changed my life forever." She added, "I'm very grateful for it."

She made some Joyful Noise

After "True Jackson, VP" ended, Keke Palmer returned to her movie-star roots in a 2012 film called "Joyful Noise." As in much of her career, Palmer got the chance to work opposite acting royalty — this time, she held her own in a leading role alongside Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah, and Kris Kristofferson. Palmer played Latifah's daughter Olivia in the movie, and her character was one of the standout members of a gospel choir gearing up to compete at a national level.

Palmer had nothing but glowing things to say about her co-stars; the film marked her second role alongside Latifah, with whom she starred in "Barbershop 2: Back in Business." She especially spoke highly of working with Parton. "I just expected her to be a little bit guarded, but she wasn't at all," she gushed to HuffPost. "She's like a mother. She made fudge bars for everyone on set."

The film also required Palmer to sing, including a cover of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." In an interview with The San Antonio Current, Palmer said she was somewhat intimidated by the big shoes she had to fill. "I was really happy and excited and nervous about it because it is a Michael Jackson song," she said. "No one can do Michael like Michael can." However, she added that she was happy with the way the cover turned out. She should be; it reached #7 on Billboard's Christian Digital Song Sales chart.

She made history by hosting a talk show in 2014

The powers that be in Hollywood eventually realized that Keke Palmer is not just a television actor or a movie star; she's a personality. Accordingly, BET took a chance on the budding superstar and gave Palmer her own talk show, "Just Keke," which aired daily throughout the summer of 2014. Topics of conversation included everything from texting vs. calling all the way up to Keke's opinions about the N-word, and guest stars like Fifth Harmony, Raven-Symoné, and Ty Dolla $ign made appearances. During one memorable episode, Palmer's celeb crush Michael Ealy surprised her on set, leading to the host scrambling over the couches to get away.

At only 20 years old, the move made Palmer the youngest talk show host in television history (per USA Today), and she told "The Tom Joyner Morning Show" (via WTLC) that the show was important to her because she wanted to spark conversation. "This is a place where we can all talk and have a sense of community and not judge one another, but actually come to an understanding of things together," she said.

Unfortunately, the talk show was not to last; after 20 episodes, the show was not renewed. She initially planned to resurrect it on a different network in 2016, according to HipHopHollywood, but that didn't materialize, either. Not to fear, though; Palmer would continue to flex her hosting muscle numerous times in the years to come.

She played Cinderella on Broadway

In 2014, Keke Palmer added another honor to her already-impressive list of credits: starring on Broadway. Palmer became the first Black actor to take on the role of Cinderella in Disney's smash-hit musical of the same name, stepping into the glass slippers made famous on television by another Black icon: Brandy. "I feel like the reason I'm able to do this is definitely because Brandy did it on TV," she told the Associated Press (via HuffPost). "In me doing this, it shows everybody that everything is possible." Vanity Fair noted that this may seem daunting for many young stars, but not Palmer; she was nothing but excited. She told the magazine, "Thinking about that [audience] gives me energy. Seeing that many people in the audience, who you can't recognize, that's what excites you and gets you pumped."

Though she recognized the significance of taking on the part as the first Black woman to do so, she told Essence that she disliked that this fact was even noteworthy. "I hate saying it was a huge deal that I was the first African-American to ever be a part of this musical. It's great, but I also want people to feel like it's crazy, because it shouldn't always be this way." However, she added, "I loved that my little brother and sister got to watch this show and actually see a diverse world just like the one around them."

Keke Palmer proved she could be a scream queen

In 2015, Keke Palmer joined the buzzy cast of Ryan Murphy's "Scream Queens," starring alongside actors like Emma Roberts, Ariana Grande, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Palmer played Zayday Williams, co-president of the sorority alongside Roberts' Chanel Oberlin, and the character was a fan-favorite on a series full of them. Years later, when Palmer went viral for listing her credits on Twitter, one fan pointed out that she'd left something off the list. "you are also the first black President of Kappa!!! periooooodt!!" they tweeted.

Palmer told Cosmopolitan that this was her first horror role, but that she loved the genre when she was younger. "I definitely grew up being a very big fan of horror, but as I got older, the gore is [sometimes] too much for my mind, so I've had to back up off it," she said, adding that she had become a fan of "American Horror Story" and its creator, Murphy.

It's a good thing Palmer got some practice in the genre with "Scream Queens;" a few years later, she went on to lead the cast of the standalone third season of MTV's similarly-titled "Scream," based on the classic slasher franchise. On TRL Top 10, she teased, "MTV is not ready for this new 'Scream' we got coming to y'all." She noted that her "auntie" Queen Latifah was producing the show, reuniting Palmer with her frequent collaborator after starring together in "Joyful Noise."

She had the world gagging in 2016

Keke Palmer has given the world so much, including the catchphrase she injected into the culture in 2016: "the gag is..." In a much-discussed appearance on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," Palmer explained her snapchat popularity to the politely-confused host, clarifying her frequent use of the phrase "the gag." She told the audience, "Whenever you're crazy, just put 'the gag' in there, and it's all fine." Sensing that Meyers had no idea what she was talking about, she added, "It's the catch. It's the coup, it's the catch, it's... the one thing." An example included, "I sent my ex-boyfriend a hundred text messages and he didn't reply... but the gag is, he still loves me!"

The meme spawned thinkpieces galore; after Vulture called it "a fun new saying," MTV clarified that the phrase actually has deep roots in Black gay culture. Should straight, white people be saying it? What about merely posting an image of Palmer's face while she delivered her catchphrase, signaling "the gag is..." to those in the know?

If you'll excuse us... the gag is, Palmer didn't seem to care about the larger conversation around the phrase she had adopted as her own. Instead, ever the businesswoman, Palmer turned it into a mockumentary the following year. "That's The Gag" was an eight-episode scripted webseries built around the meme; its official description said the show "is (very) loosely based off of Palmer's real life experiences in this zany industry called showbiz."

Hustlers was a smash hit

In 2019, Keke Palmer had one of her highest-profile film roles in a while: she starred in Lorene Scafaria's "Hustlers." In a stacked cast that included Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B, and Constance Wu, Palmer's character Mercedes provided some of the most reliably-funny moments in the movie. That humor is exactly what drew Palmer to the role, in fact! She told Shondaland, "What attracted me was the way that her lines read as the comic relief. I was really excited to dive into that because I do a lot of that stuff on my Instagram page, with my skits and sketches. But I've never done it on this kind of platform."

Palmer was also well aware of just what a career shift this role represented for her. Though Palmer had been famous for going on 15 years by the time "Hustlers" was released, a film role like this after a decade spent mostly on television represented a certain amount of growth. "I definitely feel like this is kind of a pinnacle for me. I think people will see me in a different light after this movie," she told Nylon.

"Hustlers" was a critical and commercial success; according to Box Office Mojo, it grossed over $150 million worldwide, making it by far the most successful film Palmer had been a part of to date.

She said 'sorry to this man'

While promoting her role in "Hustlers," Keke Palmer accidentally went mega-viral. Her press tour took her to the Vanity Fair offices, where she participated in their "Lie Detector Test" series. Wearing a cream-colored blazer, her hair slicked back and two hoops dangling from her ears, the magazine hooked the star up to a lie detector. They asked her a series of questions that ranged from factual to deeply-personal.

Palmer ran into trouble, however, when the proctor slid a photograph across the table. "Would you say that True Jackson, VP was a better VP... than Dick Cheney?" he asked her. Palmer looked shocked, muttering, "Who the hell is...?" And then: she said the words that would go down in internet infamy. "I hate to say it. I hope I don't sound ridiculous... I don't know who this man is," she began. "I mean, he could be walking down the street, I wouldn't... I wouldn't know a thing. Sorry to this man."

The Internet couldn't get enough. "Sorry to this man" became a meme, a pithy way to dismiss someone not worth your time... as Cheney was, plainly, not worth Palmer's. In 2022, Palmer revisited the moment with Vanity Fair, and she confessed that she still didn't know the man. "I didn't even honestly do the research," she said. "I left him where he was at."

She returned to her hosting roots on GMA

Thanks to her talent as a talk show host, Keke Palmer was tapped to anchor the third hour of "Good Morning America" in 2019. Retitled "GMA3: Strahan, Sara & Keke," the show consisted of Palmer interviewing guests and introducing segments alongside cohosts Michael Strahan and Sara Haines. "I never necessarily saw me doing a show like 'Strahan, Sara & Keke' in the future," Palmer told Harper's Bazaar, looking back at her short-lived time as a talk-show host on "Just Keke." She added, "I just knew that that was going to be the beginning of a whole new aspect of creativity for me."

When her co-hosting gig was announced on the show on her birthday, Palmer told her co-hosts, "I'm so happy. You guys have always embraced me, since I first came on just, y'know, being a guest." Haines smiled and assured her, "You're easy to embrace, sweetie." 

Unfortunately, "Strahan, Sara & Keke" didn't survive the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was canceled in 2020. While fans wondered if Palmer's involvement in that summer's Black Lives Matter protests might have had something to do with the show's lack of renewal, the star took to Instagram to dispute the speculation. "I hate the narrative that if you speak your mind as a black person that you will in some way be punished," she wrote. "If anything my speaking out showed the corporations I work with how important my voice is."

She's a pop star, too!

In addition to being a television star, a movie actor, a standout on stage, and a reliable event host, there's another aspect of Keke Palmer's career worth mentioning: she's a popstar, too! Her highest-charting solo single, "It's My Turn Now," was released all the way back in 2007; however, in addition to numerous well-received soundtrack singles and collaborations with artists like Jason Derulo, Palmer has continued to pump out fun, danceable R&B jams on her own. In other words, her music has matured and transformed as she has; she even launched her own label, Big Boss Entertainment. "It's about empowering myself," she told Billboard, because, "I always felt exploited."

Her most mature effort to date was released in 2020, a project called "Virgo Tendencies" made up of two separate EPs. The first EP, especially, received positive reviews from critics including This Is RnB. She looks stunning on the purple-hued cover, showing off a more sultry side to the singer than most fans were familiar with. In an interview with Pride.com, Palmer explained that the music echoed the space she found herself in while quarantining due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "Both of these projects came out of me really having the time to focus solely on the music and put my thoughts into what I wanted to say," she reflected. "I'm really proud of how it came about because I feel like there's music on there, but there's also this overall thread of humor." 

Keke Palmer got animated in Lightyear

Keke Palmer is no stranger to voice acting. She was on Nickelodeon's "Winx Club" for years, and she starred as Maya on the Disney+ reboot, "The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder." In 2022, however, she took on her most high-profile voice-acting role yet when she played Izzy in Pixar's "Lightyear." The character is a hapless young upstart who wants to be a Space Ranger alongside Buzz, and they team up over the course of the film to fend off dangerous robot invaders.

In an interview with Looper, Palmer revealed that the cast recorded their parts individually and that the overall script had been hidden from them. "I trusted the process," she said, adding that she was very impressed with the final film. "I admired from a point of view, outside of being an actor, but also loving film and loving the creation of great storytelling," she added.

The film was mildly controversial in certain circles (per Forbes) because it featured a kiss between two women, the grandmothers of Palmer's character. Palmer noted that a lot of Disney fans are members of the LGBTQ+ community, telling i News, "100 per cent, I think it is progress." While she clarified that increased representation in film can't fix all the world's problems, she added, "I think the way that it's illustrated in the film is normal... we're just depicting life and love the way that exists in our world."

Nope ruled the box office in 2022

Jordan Peele's "Nope" was released in the summer of 2022, and while the sci-fi horror film's plot was shrouded in secrecy ahead of its debut, whoever was in charge of the film's publicity must have realized they had a secret weapon: Keke Palmer. After starring in "Lightyear," the Summer of Keke continued thanks to her dynamite performance on the "Nope" press tour. Palmer kept her fans laughing, from a crackerjack, instantly-viral impression of her "Akeelah and the Bee" co-star Angela Bassett, to a meme-worthy moment where she failed to recognize "The X-Files" leads Mulder and Scully.

In "Nope," Palmer plays Emerald Haywood, co-owner of a ranch that rents horses to Hollywood productions. She and her brother OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) stumble on a shocking discovery in the sky, and the film spirals out of control from there. The character is queer, and Palmer told The Washington Post that she liked playing into that aspect of the role. "I really love having a character that redefines what people think about women," she said. "[Masculinity and femininity] played into my balance of what strength looked like for Emerald, because she's not just strong. She's soft. I think that's also important as a Black woman; I don't want to be one-note." You can call Keke Palmer a lot of things, but "one-note" sure isn't one of them.