When you think of Raven-Symoné, in your mind you may see the adorable, chunky-cheeked Olivia from The Cosby Show. But snap out of it. In reality, she’s a savvy, modern-day teen TV star whose credibility and cachet with 9-to-14-year-olds help drive the billion-dollar Disney machine.
“It’s an honor that Disney picked me to open a door for them,” says 17-year-old Raven (formerly known as Raven-Symoné), now the star of her very own top-rated sitcom, That’s So Raven, and the movie The Cheetah Girls, both on the Disney Channel. “I just want to represent my people well. I’m not going to be ghetto on the show. I don’t want people to think that’s all we can do.”
Well, there’s no chance of Raven’s blowing it, says movie producer Debra Martin Chase, who chose the actor to star in The Cheetah Girls. “She has that intangible thing—the It factor people always talk about,” Chase says. Thanks to four years on another sitcom, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, and leading roles opposite Eddie Murphy in the Dr. Dolittle films, Raven has become a bona fide player in Hollywood.
Before the show—originally called Absolutely Psychic—even aired, Disney executives revamped it and bumped her up from a supporting role to its star. Now the show is in its second season. And Disney has tapped Raven for the lead in next year’s feature release All-American Girl, in which she inadvertently saves the president and becomes a national hero.
It’s not uncommon for a media conglomerate to hype a teen star: Disney did the same for its former protégé 16-year-old Hilary Duff, turning Lizzie McGuire into a franchise. The MTV network propelled the career of Mandy Moore, 19, the pop star-turned-actor, and Amanda Bynes, 17, got her big break on Nickelodeon as the star of her own teen variety program. (These names may mean squat to you, but mention them at the playground water fountain, and you’ll be cooler than a stolen hall pass.) But as an African-American girl, Raven is a rarity in young Hollywood.
And while she plays an adolescent clairvoyant whose visions always land her in trouble, the Atlanta native insists she’s the same girl you’ve known for years. “I’m the girl next door,” she says. “I’ve always been there. But now you really see me.”
Photo Credit: George Lange
This former Cosby show cutie is now a Disney diva.