We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10. The "Disney machine," huge in both net worth and influence, is notorious for catching kids young, making them humongous stars then releasing them into the open waters of mainstream media. Once the chord is cut, it's a toss up as to whether these freshly-baked celebrities will continue to grow their careers and join the ranks of the happy, healthy Hollywood royalty, or end up on the much longer list of child stars gone wrong. Or worse yet, gone nowhere at all.
Here's a rundown of the Top 7 highest climbers (and hardest fallers) of Disney's kin who made it out of the Magic Kingdom and found the grass greener on the other side of the moat. This isn’t a list of who’s the best, it’s a list of who is the biggest. So with that said, if Hillary Duff can make one quality film or move out of that Lizzie McGuire shadow a little more, then she could grab a spot.
7. Keri Russell One of several noted members of Disney's hit show The All New Micky Mouse Club in the early 90s, Russell managed to take her post-Disney career somewhere that garnered her even more attention. She bounced between bit roles until landing the lead in the WB classic "Felicity" in 1998. The show did well enough in the ratings to keep Russell in the limelight (and not to mention earn her a Golden Globe) after it ended its run in 2002. From there, Russell's been seen in a string of mostly quiet roles, like Waitress and August Rush in 2007. She'll be heard next as the voice of Wonder Woman next year, and next to Adam Sandler in the comedy Bedtime Stories opening Christmas Day. She may not be a tabloid regular, but she's alive (and most importantly, we know it).
6. Ryan Gosling Also managing to latch on to the rocket ship that was "The All New Mickey Mouse Club," Gosling went from struggling actor to teen star at a much steadier pace. Because he wasn't thrown into a boy band like Justin Timberlake or fellow co-star J.C. Chasez, he didn't achieve instant success. He made a few little-known appearances, including a stint as Young Hercules in the short-lived TV show. He starred next to Sandra Bullock in Murder By Numbers before his breakout role next to real-life girlfriend Rachel McAdams in the Nicholas Sparks weeper The Notebook. He earned an Oscar nomination for his 2006 performance in Half Nelson and was most recently attached to (and then publicly dis-attached from) Peter Jackson's upcoming drama The Lovely Bones, but he hasn't slowed down.
5. Christina Aguilara There was a time when the sultry Christina could barely be discerned from the other teen-pop blondes that emerged around her. But as soon as the MMC alum opened her mouth, the others became vocally irrelevant. Her voice is rich, smooth and stylish, a cross between greats like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Though her voice set her apart from her peers early in her career, her albums have been less frequent and much more contrasted. Her bubbly debut was followed by the much "dirrrtier" Stripped, where Christina merged in a new pair of chaps and not much else. The real high point came with 2006's Back to Basics, where the singer took on a retro-R&B sound that she pulled off brilliantly, establishing herself as an artist to be reckoned with. Though she's never had the tabloid touch rivals Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears seem to have perfected, she has remained in the spotlight ... and for all the right reasons.
4. Miley Cyrus Though she's the most recent star to bust out of the Disney box, the Nashville native is certainly one of the most prolific. Her Disney Channel show, Hannah Montana, is huge with older tots and tweens alike, because lets face it - what 10-year-old girl doesn't wish she was also a rock star? The series spawned several tours and soundtracks, and Miley released her first sans-Hannah soundtrack, 'Breakout,' this summer. Her songs See you again and 7 Things have both been pop hits, and if you don't count that little boo-boo in Vanity Fair earlier this year, she's been able to remain relatively scandal-free. Here's to hoping she makes it out of the Magic Kingdom before her shelf life runs out.
3. Shia LaBeouf With a string of wildly successful action flicks in his wake and the status of "most bankable" firmly planted on his shoulders, Shia LaBeouf can feel pretty good about his career. His brand of off-the-cuff humor managed to find a home outside of Even Stevens, the Disney Channel TV show that launched him into child stardom. He's managed to transition from teenage roles that often plague his mousy brethren (see Holes, Battle of Shaker Heights and Disturbia) and is now taking on more adult characters. Now that he's secured the coveted spot smack in the apple of director Steven Spielberg's eye, there's no limit to how high this modern day James Dean can climb.
2. Justin Timberlake The kid who once seemed just average as the squeaky leader of the biggest boy band in history has gone on to all but steal the "king of pop" crown away from Michael Jackson, he’s even proved himself as one of the best “Saturday Night Live” hosts. Timberlake, who also got his start on the MMC, was one of the key ingredients in the late 90s pop explosion, and has achieved a second wave of round success for his solo career. Who can forget 2006? It was the summer he and producer Timbaland brought 'SexyBack.' And sexy, like Timberlake himself, is here to stay. Plus, we are going to get more of Timberlake the actor, with the upcoming film The Open Road costarring Jeff Bridges and written/directed by Michael Meredith.
1. Britney Spears Yet another MMC alum (hey, a sweep's a sweep!), Spears had perhaps the most meteoric rise to fame of any Disney star (or any star period, by certain measure). She took the sweet southern innocence that charmed viewers of the MMC in the early 90s and turned up the sex factor for her solo music career. It worked ... kind of. Spears went on to become one of the top-selling female singers of all time, and just a few years later into one of the most well-documented train wrecks in tabloid memory. The ultimate cautionary tale, Spears found herself in and out of rehab, losing custody of her two kids during bitter divorce proceedings, and finally committed to a mental health facility before her parents intervened in a court-ordered conservatorship. Now that her life is back on track, she's poised to make the mother of all comebacks.
There’s the Top 7, now what should be in the Top 10?