Just a Seventeen Year Old Girl


Timing is very important. Especially when publishing a blog about entertainers in the music industry. October of last year I tentatively scheduled a post featuring young Disney triple threat artist Zendaya, fresh off the release of her new album at the time. In the eleventh hour I decided to make a change and went with a more prominent story. The decision paid dividends as Zendaya is really trending much more today, even more than her successful run to second place on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. Last month, June 16, 2014 to be exact, it was announced that Zendaya would play Aaliyah in a new Lifetime TV biopic movie titled Aaliyah: Princess of R&B.

On the surface this news seemed to be wonderful. Aaliyah was such a great talent who died tragically at the young age of twenty-two. Even though young in age her life story begs to be told. In addition the casting of Zendaya would seem to fit, as she lists Aaliyah as one of the artists who influenced her to embark on a career in the entertainment industry. However, in this age of social media, fans of Aaliyah turned out with tweets of criticism over the choice of young Zendaya for the role. All the negative remarks prompted Zendaya to respond with tweets of her own. “She’s been an inspiration and influence in my whole career, her talent still shines brighter than ever, all I wanna do is honor her.” “Show how much she accomplished in only 22 years….she’s beautiful inside and there will never be another Aaliyah, I just hope to share her.” “I’m just a 17 year old girl who got cast to play one of her biggest inspirations #positive.”

The negative tweets were not the only bad news for young Zendaya and the Lifetime production company. Aaliyah’s family was reportedly also against the film. TMZ reported that Aaliyah’s uncle and manager Barry Hankerson, was not happy about the film and planned to prevent Lifetime from using any of her music in the movie. As all of this news quickly made it to major news outlets, I knew the time had arrived for me to feature young Zendaya Coleman. Of course as just about every one else wanted to discuss Aaliyah and her family, I thought that some people would like to know more about Zendaya.

Zendaya Coleman was born in Oakland, California where she quickly was introduced into the entertainment world, modeling for Macy’s, Mervyns and Old Navy. She then attended the Oakland School for the Arts and it was here that she developed a passion for acting. She continued to study her craft at the CalShakes Conservatory program and at the American Conservatory Theater. Zendaya also spent three years dancing with Future Shock Oakland, a hip hop dance troupe, and two years dancing hula with AHA, The Academy of Hawaiian Arts. She auditioned in November 2009 for the role of Rocky Blue to join the cast of Dance Dance Chicago (later changed to Shake It Up!).  Zendaya hosted Make Your Mark: Ultimate Dance Off 2011. Her first movie role was in the 2012 film, Frenemies, a Disney Channel Original Movie. On February 29, 2012, “Something to Dance For” was released as a promotional single for Live 2 Dance. For the soundtrack Zendaya also recorded three other songs: “Made In Japan,” “Same Heart”, and “Fashion Is My Kryptonite”, released as promotional single. In September 2, 2012 she signed to Hollywood Records.

It was the year 2013 that Zendaya started to take on projects that would expose her to an audience other than pre-teens and teens. First, as I mentioned earlier she had a very successful run on Dancing with the Stars. Second, her debut single, “Replay” was released as the albums lead single on on July 16, 2013. The song debuted at number seventy-seven and reached peak of forty on Billboard Hot 100, making Replay her first Top Forty and was certified platinum by RIAA.  Third, Zendaya filmed a movie titled Zapped, which was released June 27, 2014. Last, Zendaya’s self-titled debut album was released on September 17, 2013 by Hollywood Records and debuted on the Billboard 200 at number 51, selling around 7,458 copies in its first week.

All of Zendaya’s work left her firmly entrenched as a multi-talented entertainer preparing for something big. Although there would be a couple of Disney projects on the horizon, the big thing in Zendaya’s future would have to be the Aaliyah movie role. The backlash from Aaliyah’s fans, and more importantly her family would prove to be difficult to overcome.

I listened to an interview with Jomo Hankerson, Aaliyah’s cousin and son of her manager/uncle Barry Hankerson. It was insightful because he mentioned he and the rest of Aaliyah’s family had no problem with Zendaya being cast in the role of Aaliyah. The problem was with the project and the lack of research and input from Aaliyah’s family members to really make an accurate account of her life. Jomo Hankerson made a very good argument against this particular project. As for Zendaya, she will continue to work as both actress and vocalist. I’m positive she will give us a lot more music in the future. After all, like she said, “I’m just a seventeen year old girl.” Indeed, but growing up fast!

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