Film and TV

A Ranking of the Music Careers of the High School Musical Cast, For No Particular Reason

Their majesties Zac and Vanessa, before they were dethroned by Olivia Rodrigo and the ex who inspired a Grammy.
Their majesties Zac and Vanessa, before they were dethroned by Olivia Rodrigo and the ex who inspired a Grammy. Kiyoshi Ota/Getty
When the first film in Disney’s High School Musical saga dropped in 2006, it completely changed the landscape of teen stardom. It launched its then-mostly unknown cast into the stratosphere of fame that few low-budget, made-for-TV movies ever had before or ever will again. The Disney machine, ever with the dollar signs in its eyes, jumped at the opportunity to offer its new stars record deals to further capitalize on tween idol worship.

When High School Musical: The Musical: The Series premiered on Disney+ almost 15 years later, the tradition continued, and a whole new generation of young pop stars emerged from the franchise. Whether you watch the show or not, it’s hard not to be aware of the real-life relationship drama between leads Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett and the music that resulted from it, such as Rodrigo’s chart-topping, Grammy-winning album Sour, and presumably some of Bassett’s songs, too. Time will tell what kind of impact these new kids will leave on the music industry, but until then let’s look at the original cast’s offerings and whether they still hold up.

Honorable Mentions: Monique Coleman and Zac Efron
Only two people from the main cast of High School Musical did not shoot their shot at pop stardom. One was Monique Coleman, who played the supporting role of science whiz Taylor, and who didn’t sing at all in the first movie. Not an ideal start to a music career, but the consistent, decidedly non-musical roles she’s had since don’t betray any hard feelings.

Leading man and newly crowned teenage dream Zac Efron, however, was too big to fail. He could’ve dropped an album where he only belched the alphabet and it probably would’ve fared better than some of the other entries here. Though he’s stayed true to his roots by starring in movie musicals such as The Greatest Showman and Hairspray (and their chart-topping soundtracks), he’s humbly turned down multiple offers to produce an album over the years, citing a desire to leave room for more deserving artists. He also went on to play Ted Bundy. They say if you listen closely, you can still hear the sound of Radio Disney executives weeping.

4. Lucas Grabeel
Grabeel played the role of Ryan, the brother and sidekick of Ashley Tisdale’s villainous Sharpay. The character quickly became a fan favorite, thanks to Grabeel’s charming performances with “What I’ve Been Looking For” and “Bop to the Top” as well as the fact that he’s widely interpreted as one of Disney’s first gay characters. If labels at the time had been aware of this potential, who knows what could’ve been. What actually was, however, was a soundtrack single for a Fox and the Hound sequel you didn’t know existed, and a small handful of original songs. We listened to all of it so you don’t have to.

3. Corbin Bleu
With Zac Efron out of the running, someone had to jump in and take up the heartthrob pop star mantle. Enter Corbin Bleu, who played Efron’s best friend and armpit hair model Chad. Bleu’s music career started strong, with his debut single “Push It to the Limit” lodging itself into millennials' brains and never leaving, playing on a loop in the darkest crevices of our minds long after the last time we actually listened to it. But Bleu pushed his success as an artist to its limit, as the album had no other charting singles. He later took a page from Efron’s book by finding his niche in musical theater. And by musical theater, we mean, of course, Hairspray.

2. Ashley Tisdale
Unlike most of her co-stars, Ashley Tisdale was not a teenager when High School Musical came out. This meant her debut album Headstrong was allowed to be horny. Her single “He Said, She Said” was notably censored by Radio Disney, swapping out the word “touching” for “chilling,” giving her music the kind of PG-13 scandal tweens crave and parents tolerate. Her Headstrong Tour Across America, according to some Flickr archives and a Spanish-language Wikipedia page, appears to have also happened. Despite these successes, her subsequent albums underperformed, and she has mostly stuck to voice acting since. (At this point we felt obligated to check and no, Tisdale has not been in a production of Hairspray. Yet.)

1. Vanessa Hudgens
The original High School Musical trilogy never had its own Olivia Rodrigo, but it did have Vanessa Hudgens, an icon of her own generation. Her debut album, V, is the best album anyone in this cast ever made, and it's not close. Lead single “Come Back to Me” transcended the kind of pop Disney was putting out at the time, and could’ve held its own against contemporary hits had it been promoted properly. (It did peak at No. 55 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and the album was certified gold.) Her sophomore record, Identified, was also received favorably, though it is now best remembered for its captivatingly stupid single “Sneakernight.” Hudgens has been out of the pop game since then, but has, like many of her cast mates, continued performing in movie musicals, most notably in Fox’s Grease Live! and the recent adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…Boom! She also starred in those princess, Christmas, Netflix-made movies and in a very bad take about Coachella being canceled at the beginning of the pandemic.
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