Vanessa Anne Hudgens, who has been taking piano, dance and vocal lessons, begins performing in local theater productions such as The Wizard of Oz and The Music Man. Recognizing their daughter's passion for musicals and acting, Greg and Gina Hudgens relocate their family from Salinas, Calif. to L.A. so Vanessa can pursue acting professionally.
Hudgens, 13, makes her TV debut on an episode of the CBS comedy Still Standing before landing in the R-rated coming-of-age drama Thirteen. Appearing in the film with Evan Rachel Wood (right), she plays Noel, a pig-tailed, good-girl classmate of Wood's out-of-control character.
Hudgens tapes an episode of the Nickelodeon show Drake & Josh. After the taping, Hudgens, then 16, reportedly takes a nude photo of herself and sends it to show star Drake Bell (left). Bell's rep later tells PEOPLE, "Drake says he never received those photos." Nevertheless, the shot will surface on the web and cause an uproar two years later.
Tapped to star as brainy good girl Gabriella Montez in High School Musical, a new, made-for-TV Disney film, Hudgens meets and eventually begins secretly dating costar Zac Efron (right). Efron, also a relative unknown, will soon become a world class teen heartthrob. "We kind of hit it off in the very beginning," Hudgens tells CBS's The Early Show in 2007. "He's not a hard guy to get along with, so it's fun."
High School Musical debuts and becomes the highest rated program in Disney Channel history with 7.7 million viewers in its first U.S. broadcast. The soundtrack, on which Hudgens sings lead vocals in several songs, becomes the top-selling album of 2006. Nine original songs make the Billboard"Hot 100, including Hudgens' "When There Was Me and You."
Hudgens becomes the first High School Musical alum to release her own album, V, which peaks at No. 24 on the Billboard 200 album chart on the strength of the singles, "Come Back to Me" and "Say OK." That November, without Efron (he's filming Hairspray), Hudgens sets off on a 40-city concert tour with fellow castmembers, including Ashley Tisdale and Corbin Bleu.
While on vacation in Hawaii, Hudgens, 18, is photographed canoodling and kissing Efron, 19. Fans get a hold of the photos and chronicle the couple's vacation on YouTube with slideshows showing them kissing, building sandcastles and lying on the beach. Fans dub the new pair "Zanessa." Efron tells Rolling Stone, "The weird thing that no one expected about Vanessa is that underneath such a sweet girl...is a very, very sexy woman."
A record-breaking 17.2 million viewers tune into the premiere of High School Musical 2, in which Hudgens reprises her role as Gabriella. The summer-themed musical is the highest-rated basic cable broadcast in U.S. history, and the HSM2 soundtrack takes the No. 1 spot on Billboard. The New York Times calls the movie "a wonderful throwback, a candy-colored song-and-dance extravaganza set among teenagers for whom A.D.D. is rhythm and early-onset puberty is romantic comedy."
Efron and Hudgens open up to PEOPLE about their real-life romance. Although they have kept their relationship relatively low-profile, Efron says their fans would cause "chat-room pandemonium and teen magazine hysteria" over the silver bands they both wear.
Hudgens' clean image is threatened when a nude photo of her surfaces on the web. Her rep says the shot was taken privately, and Hudgens apologizes to her fans. While many speculate that she will be dropped from the film, HSM 3: Senior Year, Hudgens confirms that she is officially on board.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Courtesy Vanessas Hudgens; Disney; amazon.com; Michael Simon/Startraks; Todd Williamson/WireImage; inset: Splash News; ABC