Words by A.R. Shaw
Photography by DeWayne Rogers
Stylist: Luxury Law
Hair: Nina Rose
Makeup: Allan Avendano
Zendaya couldn’t control her laughter. During an exclusive photo shoot with rolling out at McCadden Space Studio in Los Angeles, she began teasing her stylist, Luxury Law, for borrowing an article of clothing from a person who just happened to be on set. Her stylist made a makeshift turban out of the person’s neck scarf.
Zendaya found herself amused by the random act and joked that her stylist would borrow a stranger’s shoes, car, or dog in order to get the perfect look.
“Hey, you don’t need your dog do you? If not, [Luxury Law] would just borrow him for a second,” Zendaya joked as a woman walked past the studio with her puppy in tow.
It was the one moment of teenage banter at a photo shoot in which Zendaya was strictly about her business.
When the cameras were on, she never lost focus. The actress, singer and dancer posed with the confidence and grace of a seasoned model. Effortlessly, she portrayed an array of emotions with her body and facial expressions — a skill that often takes years for even the most prominent celebrities to perfect. When she’s in her zone, there’s nothing to suggest that she isn’t a 27-year-old trapped in the body of 17-year-old kid.
The last 10 days must have been a whirlwind for Zendaya. She began last week by traveling across the nation to promote her new Disney film, Zapped, which premieres June 27.
By midweek, it was announced that she would be the new face of Madonna’s fashion line, Material Girl. And the week ended with adulation and controversy after it was revealed that Zendaya got the coveted role in an upcoming biopic based on the life of the late, great Aaliyah.
It’s a dream role for any actress to portray such an iconic figure. During our interview, she took a moment to explain how she was inspired by Aaliyah. “I’m inspired by a lot of Aaliyah’s music and her sound and her look,” Zendaya said. “Her voice was soft and she had a wide range of fans because of her look and sound. I definitely look up to her.”
Twitter critics came up with ludicrous reason as to why she didn’t deserve the part. Cultural blogger and former Vibe Vixen editor Starr Rhett shared her thoughts on the negative Twitter reactions.
“The backlash that Zendaya received was silly but predictable,” Rhett says. “I think Zendaya may have gotten backlash because she’s young and many of Aaliyah’s fans, who are in their mid to late 20s and 30s, may not know who she is [yet]. Think about it; she beat out some stiff competition with whom we are definitely more familiar. So keeping that in mind, I have faith that she will do a good job.”
If the naysayers had taken a moment to research Zendaya’s past, they probably would have thought twice before sending out reactionary tweets.
The 17-year-old starlet isn’t just some kid who obtained stardom by chance. She was a member of one the nation’s most accomplished theaters before achieving her big break with Disney.
Zendaya’s first introduction to the arts came via the California Shakespeare Theater in Oakland, California. Before the age of 10, she found herself immersed in the literary works of William Shakespeare.
“My mom worked at the California Shakespeare Theater when I was very young,” Zendaya revealed. “I grew up around theater. I was that weird 8-year-old that was into Shakespeare and wanted to sit and watch rehearsals for hours. I was very intrigued by acting and everything that world had to offer. I think that’s when I first realized I had a passion for theater.”
Her work in the theater led to her getting the lead role in the Disney show, “Shake It Up!” After three years on the award-winning show, Zendaya signed on as the lead in the new Disney film, Zapped.
In the film, Zendaya plays a teen who discovers a dog training app that allows her to control the unruly boys in her life. She says it’s a film the entire family can enjoy.
“Although the concept is out there a little bit, I wanted to make it real so that everyone could connect with the storyline,” Zendaya said. “My character realizes that you have to love people for who they are and understand their circumstances. Although it’s a little far-fetched, it’s really cute and fun for the family. I think everyone will enjoy it and will be able to relate to it. Everyone can find a character that they find similar to themselves. That’s what I think people will take from this movie.”
Zendaya will also star in the upcoming Disney TV show, “K.C. Undercover.”
But while acting is Zendaya’s first love, her passion is in music and dance. She proved that she has the ability to delve into each realm of entertainment seamlessly. She finished second on “Dancing With the Stars” while practicing half the amount of time as her competitors. Due to her age, she could only rehearse for short periods of time because of school obligations.
On the music front, her single, “Replay,” is certified platinum and has garnered more than 56 million views on YouTube. Music allows Zendaya to showcase more of her personality outside of TV and film.
“People already think about me based on my Disney background and they already assume certain things about me,” she says. “I wanted to give the dopest and coolest music you’ve ever heard that is family friendly, and you’re going to like it. I did that and I’m very proud of it. I found a way to make music that I like and that I would enjoy that is family appropriate. I wanted to create music that was edgy and mixed with R&B and pop. I wanted to create a sound of my own that people would enjoy without it being vulgar. I think some of the best artists in the world, like Michael Jackson, don’t have to curse or do something crazy just so they can get people to enjoy their songs.”
Zendaya has implemented that same principle when it comes to fashion. Her style is chic without being oversexed or raunchy. During New York Fashion Week, she appeared on a multitude of fashion blogs because of her unique style and modellike figure. The exposure led to her to being more accepted by the fashion community and it introduced her to a new audience.
“A lot of people didn’t know me before that week,” Zendaya shares. “It was really cool that people who may have never heard my song or seen my TV show connected with me through a different form of art, which was fashion. We really took advantage of that week. Even if we were just walking down the street, we were going to wear the most fabulous outfits while walking down the street. That’s what me and my stylist did. We went out there and conquered fashion week. It was a great week for me.”