Vanessa Hudgens is our December coverstar. The former High School Musical idol and star of The Princess Switch and Tick Tick…Boom! speaks to GLAMOUR’s Jessica Radloff about her journey from teen icon to finding her true self…

Vanessa Hudgens has a plan. She turns 33 on December 14, and since it’s the first time in two years that she will be home in Los Angeles for the holidays, she knows how she wants to spend the occasion. “I’ll probably get all my friends together and throw a rave. It’s pretty standard,” she says rather nonchalantly. “Two of my best girlfriends are DJs, so I’m definitely locked in. I got connections.”

Does she ever. The actor/singer/producer has been in the public eye for the better part of two decades, has worked with the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Selena Gomez, and has amassed a social media following of more than 70 million fans. She is a Gen-Z and Millennial icon to a generation of women who grew up on Disney’s High School Musical, on which she was catapulted to global fame at the age of 18 playing the all-singing, all-dancing Gabriella Montez alongside Zac Efron’s Troy Bolton. Of the influence and impact of this generation-defining role she has said, “That’s beautiful that I got to create a character that is so ingrained in [fans] and a part of their childhood. It feels special to be a part of people’s lives like that.”

On her bios on Twitter and Facebook specifically, Vanessa’s mantra is front and centre: Be you. Do you. For you.

But who exactly is the real Vanessa Hudgens?

The California native is often seen laughing and giggling her way through press appearances, whether it’s talking about voicing the character of Sunny Starscout in the Netflix animated film, My Little Pony, or playing multiple roles in the royal/feel-good fantasy movies, The Princess Switch. She’s charismatic, happy and – to borrow a phrase from My Little Pony – sparkly.

But Vanessa is also complex, outspoken and private. A few times during our interview in a suite at the Chateau Marmont hotel in West Hollywood she wants to keep some topics to herself, whether it’s baseball game traditions (her boyfriend, Cole Tucker, plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates) or the role she really wanted but didn’t get. After almost 20 years of red carpets, photo shoots and interviews, she has her boundaries. Remember, Be you. Do you. For you.

“I feel like I’ve lived many, many lives just because I’ve been in this industry for so long,” she tells me after a festive photo shoot for our December digital issue. “I had big dreams and was so excited and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. You know, I think it takes time to get comfortable with yourself, like truly comfortable. I know the pandemic – like having to sit at home with myself and really work on my shadow self; those things you don’t really want to face – has forced me to grow because it’s uncomfortable. Those are the moments that challenge you and really force you to make an opinion as to who you are and how you want to present yourself to the world.” She adds, “I feel like I’ve had that moment multiple times throughout my life and it’s been evolving and changing just like I am.”

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