Vanessa Anne Hudgens was born on December 14, 1988 in Salinas, California to her parents Gina Guangco and Gregory Hudgens. Her mother is Filipino and her father was of Irish, French, and Native American descent. She has a younger sister, Stella, who is also an actress. Vanessa began her interest in the arts at a young age, and by the age of eight, she started appearing in musicals. From there, her love for the arts flourished and she started taking her studies of acting, singing, and dancing more seriously. She has spoken about how influential it is to be raised in a family background of all musicians. She performed in musical such as The Carousel, The Wizard of Oz, and Cinderella, among others. Vanessa briefly attended the Orange County High School of the Arts before moving to Los Angeles to pursue her career; where she began to homeschool.
Vanessa began her career by appearing in an episode of the television “Still Standing” in 2002, as Tiffany. The same year, she appeared as Nicole on the series “Robbery Homicide Division“. In 2003, Vanessa starred alongside Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed in the drama film Thirteen, in which she played Noel. Despite the film only grossing $10 million worldwide, it received positive reviews by critics. USA Today called Thirteen the most “powerful of all recent wayward-youth sagas. Also that year, Vanessa would appear in an episode of “The Brothers Garcia“, playing Lindsey; as well as doing a commercial for Reese’s Puffs Cereal. Her long project in 2004 would be playing Tintin in the film adaption of the 1960’s television show Thunderbirds, which also starred Ben Kingsley and Bill Paxton. In 2005, Vanessa appeared in an episode of “Quintuplets“, as Carmen, before being a part of the television short “Keke & Jamal” playing the part of Camille.
Her breakout role would come quickly in the beginning of 2006 when the Disney Channel would premiere High School Musical, in which Vanessa acted opposite Zac Efron and Ashley Tisdale, as Gabriella Montez. The film, as well as the soundtrack, were instant successes; the film achieved 7.7 million views during its premiere and held onto the top spot of most watched film that year until The Cheetah Girls 2 premiered. The song “Breaking Free” rose to Number 4 on the US Billboard 100, as well as Number 9 in the UK. Later that year, Vanessa would appear in an episode of “Drake and Josh” as Rebecca, as well as a four-episode stint on “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” as Corrie. She would also be part of the music video for the song “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” from the High School Musical soundtrack before her debut song and video for “Come Back to Me” was released that year as well. Vanessa would be a part of Old Navy’s commercial for swimwear as well. Her debut album V released on September 26, 2006 and debuted at Number 24 on the US Billboard 200 Chart. 2007 began with the release of her second single “Say OK,” as well as two versions of the music video. High School Musical 2 would be released on August 17, 2007, in which Vanessa reprised her role as Gabriella Montez, and delivered with 17.2 million viewers in US, making it the most-watched Disney Channel Original Movie of all time. USA Today’s Robert Bianco awarded the film three stars out of four, saying High School Musical 2 was “sweet, smart, bursting with talent and energy, and awash in innocence”.
Her second studio album, Identified, was released on July 1, 2008 and released “Sneakernight” as the first and only single. After the commercial failure of the album, Vanessa parted ways with Hollywood Records. In October, High School Musical 3: Senior Year was released in theaters, where she would reprise her role as Gabriella Montez for a final time. The film earned $42 million at the box office in its first weekend, breaking the record for biggest opening weekend by a musical, previously held by Mamma Mia!. The film went on to gross $252 million worldwide, which exceeded Disney’s expectations. Vanessa would be a part of a back to school commercial for Sears, as well as commercials for Red by Marc Ecko and Neutrogena. In 2009, she would pay Sa5m in the film Bandslam, opposite Aly Michalka and Lisa Kudrow. Though the film was unsuccessful commercially, Vanessa was praised for her performance by critics. David Waddington of the North Wales Pioneer noted that Hudgens “outshines the rest of the cast, failing to fit in with the outcast narrative and making the inevitable climactic ending all the more expected. She would continue to star in commercials for Sears and Neutrogena that year as well. She would also voice a few characters in an episode of “Robot Chicken“.
In 2010, Vanessa returned to the stage to perform as Mimi Marquez in RENT at the Hollywood Bowl. Her next film would come in 2011 opposite Alex Pettyfer in Beastly, based on Alex Flynn’s novel by the same name. The story is a reiteration of The Beauty and the Beast, story where played the role of Lindy Taylor, the story’s Belle. Both Vanessa and Alex were recognized as ShoWest Stars of Tomorrow, even though the film received negative reviews and only grossed $28 million worldwide. Later that year, Vanessa played the role of Blondie in the female-led fantasy action film Sucker Punch, directed by Zack Snyder. The next year, Vanessa played the role of Kailani in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, a sequel to the 2008 film Journey to the Center of the Earth. The film also starred Josh Hutcherson and Dwayne Johnson. She would star alongside Selena Gomez and James Franco in Spring Breakers, where she played Candy. The film is about four college girls holding up a restaurant to fund their spring break vacation in Florida. Vanessa released the song “$$$ex,” which was produced by Rock Mafia, to coincide with the film.
2013 brought Vanessa into more mature and dramatic roles; first was Gimme Shelter, where she played Agnes Bailey, a pregnant teenager flees her abusive mother in search of her father, is rejected by her stepmother and is forced to live on the street. Her next film, also that year, was playing Cindy Paulson in The Frozen Ground, also starring Nicholas Cage and John Cusack; and played Cereza, Sofia Vergara’s daughter, in the Danny Trejo film Machete Kills. Vanessa would also star in the Spike Jonze-directed short film Choose You. In 2015, she earned the title role in a production of Gigi, which opened at the Kennedy Center from January 16th – February 12th before it went to Broadway on April 8th. Her next film would be released in October, where she played Lorelei in the comedy horror film Freaks of Nature, starring Nicholas Braun and Mackenzie Davis. In 2016, Vanessa played the role of Rizzo in Fox’s live broadcast of Grease. Her father passed away from cancer the day before the performance and decided to dedicate the performance to him. She appeared in the 2016 remake of The Black Eyed Peas video for “Where Is The Love?”
In 2017, Vanessa appeared on the Shawn Hook song “Reminding Me” and also starred in the music video. She would next portray the role of Emily Locke on the television show “Powerless”, which was based on DC comic book characters, but unfortunately it was canceled after one season. The next year, she starred alongside Nina Dobrev for the film Dog Days, in which she played the role of Tara. Vanessa would next appear on Phantoms’ song “Lay with Me” and was featured in the music video as well. She began appearing in a few episodes of the Comedy Central television show “Drunk History”, in which she played Joan of Arc, Marge Callaghan, and the Mata Hari in three separate episodes. Later that year, her first Netflix film, The Princess Switch, was released. Vanessa played the roles of Stacy De Novo and Lady Margaret, who switch lives for a couple of days to get away from their own lives. Next, she would play Zoe, Jennifer Lopez’s daughter, in Second Act. 2019 began with starring alongside Mads Mikkelsen in the Netflix action drama Polar, a film about a retiring assassin finding himself on the receiving end of a hit, as Camille. Vanessa became Maureen Johnson for Fox’s 2019 live performance of RENT before her next film hit Netflix, which was The Knight Before Christmas, where she played the role of Brooke. She also served as an executive producer for the film. In 2020, Vanessa portrayed Kelly in the third Will Smith/Martin Lawrence film Bad Boys for Life. The film ended up grossing over $424 million worldwide at the box office.
Vanessa will reprise her roles as Stacy and Lady Margaret in The Princess Switch: Switched Again, which is currently is post-production. She is also currently filming an adaption of the Jonathan Larson autobiographical musical Tick, Tick… Boom!, as Karissa, which also stars Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, and Jordan Fisher and directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Vanessa has been a spokesperson for companies such as Sears, Old Navy, Neutrogena, Marc Ecko, and Candie’s. She regularly volunteers for charitable activities, including Best Buddies International, Lollipop Theater Network, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the VH1 Save The Music Foundation. She is also featured in A Very Special Christmas Vol.7 disc which benefits the Special Olympics, She has also been a part of Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C).