Although Zendaya is nowadays known worldwide only by her first name, this actress, dancer and singer was born Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman on September 1st, 1996, in Oakland, California. Her name is of African (Zimbabwe) origin and means “to give thanks.” She is the youngest of six children born to parents working as teachers, though her mother used to run a theater in the actress’ natal city.
Zendaya started performing from a young age. She began to participate in school plays with friends, and later on worked alongside her mother in the California Shakespeare Theater, where she was inspired to pursue her own career in show business. Her artistic streak didn’t just include acting—when she was just 8 years old, she joined a hip hop dance troupe called Future Shock Oakland, and she also learned the hula at the Academy of Hawaiian Arts. Her earlier years were focused on theater roles, starring in some of Shakespeare’s most popular stories, such as Richard IIII and As you like it.
After graduating early from high school, Zendaya started working as a fashion model (sparking a passion for the fashion world that would follow her throughout her career,) and she was also a backup dancer in commercials and music videos. Her breakout TV role came in 2009, when she successfully auditioned for a role in Disney Channel’s upcoming sitcom Shake It Up—which featured the lives of two teen girls dreaming of becoming professional dancers—and was cast as part of the protagonist duo. The series was a success and had a three-season run, catapulting both Zendaya and her co-star into fame, both becoming teen idols amongst the show’s young fanbase. She continued to star in Disney productions over the course of these years, which marked her debut appearance in a TV film (Frenemies, 2012) and several guest appearances on other series for the same network. In 2013, she was the youngest person at that time (at age 16) to participate in the popular dancing televised competition, Dancing with the Stars. She later returned in 2013 to Disney to star in K.C. Undercover for three seasons. During this time she also released her first self-titled solo album with the single “Reply”, reaching the Top 100 Billboard. She was also a guest judge on Project Runway and Project Runway: Under the Gunn.
Zendaya’s big screen debut was the 2017 Marvel superhero film Spider-Man: Homecoming, then followed up by the live-action musical The Greatest Showman, with both films performing well at the box office. She also tested her voice acting skills in the animation features Duck Duck Goose and Smallfoot in 2018.
Her next big role for a TV series—now moving away from her previous sweet and naïve roles—was as the lead on Euphoria, produced by HBO, for which she also contributed to the soundtrack. She earned several accolades for her performance on this series, including a Primetime Emmy Award. She also continued to star in the newest Spider-Man trilogy, which further cemented her status as a rising international star. In 2021, she joined the impressive cast of the sci-fi production Dune, based on the popular book by the same name. Euphoria’s second season premiered in 2022, increasing her popularity and making her the youngest two-time nominee in Emmy history for her role as an executive producer and musical contribution to the show’s soundtrack.