The Cheetah Girls at 20: how the girl group changed Disney Channel

Trending 1 month ago 45

Twenty years ago, Raven-Symoné, Adrienne Bailon, Sabrina Bryan, and Kiely Williams starred successful The Cheetah Girls, a Disney Channel Original Movie that shaped a generation. 

Before the Cheetah Girls were brought to beingness arsenic a popular and R&B miss radical successful 2003, they existed connected the pages of Deborah Gregory’s Cheetah Girls book series. Gregory was sought retired by Hyperion Books for Children’s “Jump astatine the Sun” imprint, "which launched successful autumn 1998 with the mission of celebrating the African-American acquisition and culture."

Read more: The Spectacular Now: 10 years aboriginal with manager James Ponsoldt

Gregory’s archetypal Cheetah Girls book for the imprint hadn’t been published yet erstwhile her conception caught the attraction of producers. Debra Martin Chase, who co-executive produced the movie with Whitney Houston, told The Hollywood Reporter that Disney Channel rejected her archetypal imaginativeness of a Cheetah Girls TV show. “They said, ‘We can’t merchantability this. Basically, nary 1 is going to judge that these girls — these Black girls surviving connected Park Avenue — exist.’ I was furious. To his credit, Gary Marsh [former president of Disney Branded Television] said, ‘Look, I can’t power bid but I bash power the movies. If you crook it into a movie, I’ll marque it,’” Chase recalled.

The archetypal movie to beryllium advertised arsenic a Disney Channel Original Movie was Northern Lights starring Diane Keaton successful 1997, but DCOMs soon became overmuch much tween-centric. “Where we won was [when] we came and focused connected young people,” says Tina Treadwell, erstwhile VP of endowment development, casting and alternate programming astatine Disney Channel. That aforesaid year, Treadwell developed a bid of In Concert specials featuring erstwhile Mousketeers Britney Spears, *NSYNC, and different household names. In Concert ended, Treadwell explains, due to the fact that it was not “evergreen” and could lone beryllium rerun for truthful long. However, a movie oregon bid with archetypal euphony would person much longevity and could make synergy for Disney. 

“Every Monday, close aft 1 of these concerts would air, the income figures for immoderate creator it was would spell done the roof, aft millions of radical watched their unrecorded performance peculiar and heard astir their life,” says Steven Vincent, elder VP of euphony and soundtracks for Disney Branded Television. “So it was like, well, that's making a full clump of wealth for each of these outer companies, but really, possibly there's a mode to bash that and person it payment Disney and make our ain popular stars.” 

Jay Landers was elder VP of A&R astatine Walt Disney Records, looking to revitalize the statement successful the 2000s. He mentions that Annette Funicello was “fully synergized passim the institution earlier that word was wide used. So, I thought possibly the champion spot to get things going present astatine Disney Records would beryllium to crook the Disney kids, the stars from the Disney Channel, into singers.” The archetypal portion of the puzzle was Hilary Duff, whose popularity arsenic the prima of Lizzie McGuire was undeniable. “I made a woody with the Disney Channel to enactment retired a Lizzie McGuire soundtrack,” says Landers. Duff was besides included connected the archetypal Disneymania soundtrack earlier her debut Santa Claus Lane album. Though Landers’ program wasn’t fashionable astatine first, it worked — and the remainder is history.

Where Hilary Duff was Disney Channel’s archetypal large in-house solo artist, The Cheetah Girls were the archetypal radical to bring euphony to the forefront of the Disney Channel Original Movie brand.

Assembling a formed that reflected the diverseness of Gregory’s characters — and of Disney Channel’s viewers — was important. “It was benignant of a no-brainer that Raven would beryllium a portion of The Cheetah Girls, due to the fact that she was the look of the network. She sang, she danced, she acted, did each those things,” Treadwell says. Adrienne Bailon and Kiely Williams besides had a narration with Disney Channel, having appeared connected an occurrence of The Jersey while successful the miss radical 3LW. Solange Knowles was primitively going to represent Williams’ character, Aqua, but was incapable to proceed with the project.

The radical was completed with Sabrina Bryan arsenic Dorinda. Bryan recalls, “Being connected the transmission was similar the it thing. Of course, booking immoderate TV amusement would beryllium great. But the transmission was conscionable this epic extremity that I deliberation anyone that was auditioning had.” She remembers seeing Christy Carlson Romano connected the 21st level of the Disney Channel building, wherever auditions took place. “You're conscionable like, ‘Oh my gosh, she's made it. This is it,’” Bryan says. Although she was asked to work for each 4 parts, she connected with Dorinda and was thrilled to sing, dance, and act.

“On my idiosyncratic albums, it was much R&B and a small spot slower,” says Raven-Symoné. She enjoyed the popular elements successful the euphony arsenic she had the miss radical acquisition for the archetypal time. “Normally erstwhile I'm doing music, I person a full clump of feline dancers with me. So I'm utilized to that masculine energy. And I was like, ‘Okay, I'm going to beryllium the dude successful this scenario. Understood.’ It was amusive to beryllium capable to stock the signifier with different truly talented females and not person to clasp the value of the satellite connected lone my shoulders. I could stock the stage,” she says.

The soundtrack for The Cheetah Girls was released August 12, 2003. “We weren't adjacent definite if we were going to bash a soundtrack medium due to the fact that it was benignant of the archetypal one. And past it was like, ‘Well, if we're ever going to bash one…’” Vincent says. “‘It's archetypal music. We've got 4 oregon 5 songs and past a mates of licensed songs that we tin adhd to the album. You know, let's conscionable spot what happens.’ And the statement was connected committee to beryllium partners for that. But cipher knew what this was going to be.”

Greg Cham worked arsenic a euphony supervisor alongside his brother, the precocious euphony shaper Ray Cham. The duo had years of manufacture acquisition and had worked with Disney Channel connected the 2002 DCOM Gotta Kick It Up! Greg remembers that for The Cheetah Girls, “Everyone progressive with the task had a peculiar benignant of thought of what the euphony should dependable like.” It was important to onslaught the close equilibrium betwixt popular and R&B. Destiny’s Child, En Vogue, and TLC were inspirations.

“Ray ever had a location studio, truthful each of the pre-production took spot successful those studios. And I'm beauteous definite helium recorded each of the unrecorded instrumentation successful his studio, arsenic well,” Greg says. “The lone happening that we recorded extracurricular of his workplace were typically the group's vocals. And we worked with Tal Herzberg, amazing, amazing, astonishing engineer.” The Cheetah Girls recorded astatine Herzberg’s workplace successful Studio City. The movie was changeable successful Toronto.

In the precise archetypal country of the film, The Cheetahs execute “Together We Can,” written by Will Robinson, Steve Lee, and Walter Turbitt. The energetic fig rolls on with pulsating rhythms and imaginative lyrics: “Together we tin sprout the moon, halt the rain, adjacent thrust a hurricane.” The opus was primitively written for Inspector Gadget 2 but had not been utilized successful that film.

“We came up with what we thought was truly a cool, fun, up-tempo, vibey song,” says Robinson, who remembers laughing with his co-writers arsenic they created these “zany, wacky lyrics” for the Inspector Gadget installment. About a twelvemonth later, Brian Rawlings, erstwhile VP of euphony publishing astatine Disney, called him astir utilizing the opus for The Cheetah Girls, with a fewer lyric rewrites. Robinson was invited backmost arsenic a co-writer for The Cheetah Girls 2, moving with Jamie Houston connected “Amigas Cheetahs.”

“Cinderella” had different lives earlier it became a Cheetah Girls song. It was primitively sung by an planetary miss radical called i5, past by the Swedish miss radical Play (whose “Us Against the World” had been featured connected Lizzie McGuire).

Lindy Robbins co-wrote the popular deed and came up with the lyrics and melody successful her car, a capella. Robbins says, “It conscionable popped into my head, which is however I constitute astir of my songs. They conscionable travel to me.” Kevin Savigar worked connected tracks and helped formulate chords, mounting the country with minor-key arpeggiated accompaniment. Jay Landers was successful interaction with Debra Martin Chase and helped “Cinderella” find its mode to The Cheetah Girls. In versions sung by different miss groups, the chorus includes the line, “I don’t wanna beryllium similar Snow White waiting for a handsome prince to travel and prevention me.” For The Cheetah Girls, that enactment was changed to “I don’t wanna beryllium similar someone waiting for a handsome prince to travel and prevention me.”

“[Roy E. Disney] had this very, precise hard-line cognition that the Disney characters should not admit each other, that they should each beryllium successful abstracted universes,” says Landers, explaining that this mentality carried implicit to the popular song. Despite the change, the lyrics person stood the trial of time. 

Filming “Cinderella” for the endowment amusement audition country made a immense content connected Sabrina Bryan. “There weren't a batch of radical successful the audience. We were creating the vigor of that euphony wrong the 4 of us. Really it was conscionable the unit that was successful the audience,” Bryan remembers.

Raven-Symoné’s ma saw the magic successful “Cinderella” close away. “She loves ‘Cinderella’ truthful overmuch that she watched and listened to that opus connected repeat,” Raven-Symoné says, singing a spot of the chorus. “It was truthful absorbing due to the fact that erstwhile I was singing it, I didn't perceive the words. I conscionable sang it due to the fact that I knew I had a occupation to bash and I had to get it done. I spell backmost present and I'm like, ‘Oh, snap. Talk astir miss power.’” 

The radical adjacent sings “Girl Power,” by Ray Cham and Rwaana M. Barnes, erstwhile they’re trying to get a grounds woody with Jackal Johnson. A glimmering soft enactment is juxtaposed with rich, percussive bass – a cleanable operation for chic but almighty teen stars.

Greg Cham recalls, “There was ever the tendency from the statement to marque definite that each miss had the due magnitude of clip successful each opus arsenic a feature.” That extremity is accomplished successful “Girl Power,” giving each Cheetah a closeup changeable connected her designated line. “Interestingly, it was a small spot of the kid mentation of Sex and the City successful that immoderate girls saw themselves arsenic a Galleria, immoderate saw [themselves as] much of a Dorinda. Because the girls were precise chiseled characters,” Vincent says. 

From its enchanting descending standard connected the soft to its wicked electrical guitar solo by Rob “Fonksta” Bacon, “Cheetah Sisters” is the eventual finale to this Cheetah chapter. Brian Rawlings asked Jamie Houston to travel connected committee to constitute a taxable opus rapidly for deadline purposes; Houston wrote “Cheetah Sisters” successful a day, archetypal creating the melody, past the lyrics, past singing the demo himself.

After speechmaking the script, Houston explains, “I knew that it was, ‘these girls were a squad and they were gonna take connected the satellite together’ benignant of thing.” Two decades later, the opus is an anthem.

Greg Cham says manager Oz Scott “made definite that the tone of the opus was evoked successful the film.” The finale occurs close aft the feuding Cheetahs – coincidentally clad successful coordinating Cheetah-print tracksuits – enactment unneurotic to rescue Galleria’s dog, Toto. Their nighttime show lets the play physique to a crescendo. Toto is saved, and the girls are astir to spell their abstracted ways erstwhile Galleria starts singing, “There’s a clip erstwhile we each choose…”  The girls decorativeness her condemnation 1 by one, launching into precocious choreography and stunts. Their punchy declaration echoes passim Disney Channel history: “We’re Cheetah Girls, Cheetah sisters.”

“By the extremity of the movie, they went retired into the streets of New York and abruptly we had a large finale,” Vincent says. “It benignant of past acceptable the array for things that followed and adjacent acceptable the array for the 2nd and 3rd movie, which became break-into-song movies.” 

Brian Rawlings says, “You deliberation astir wherever we were erstwhile MMC happened and the endowment that was connected that amusement that we fto permission Disney and spell to different grounds companies and spell connected with their careers. That's wherever we were astatine the Disney Channel successful 1991.” Everything changed successful the 2000s, and Rawlings considers each measurement “an iteration much than it is simply a implicit redirection.” There were gradients of philharmonic engagement successful DCOMs, adjacent close aft The Cheetah Girls, with Stuck successful the Suburbs and Pixel Perfect. 

The remaining 4 songs connected The Cheetah Girls medium are Hope 7’s optimistic (and lovably 2000s) “Breakthrough,” Christie Mac’s tenderly-sung “End of the Line,” Char’s stylish “Girlfriend” (Raven-Symoné’s favorite), and a rap spoof called “C’mon,” for the endowment amusement competitors Sonic Chaos.

Those progressive successful the 2003 DCOM and its soundtrack hold that The Cheetah Girls made High School Musical possible. Raven-Symoné says, “I emotion being first. I'll conscionable accidental that. It's a large happening to person that condemnation of, ‘You paved the way.’ It's absorbing due to the fact that not lone were we music-forward, but we were besides brownish and Black.” 

Sabrina Bryan says, “What I emotion the astir is to present spot the girls that were tiny girls backmost past that are brag ladies present and doing what they wanted erstwhile they were small watching us. Like, whenever that spark came successful their mind, to cognize that we were a small spot down that sparkle of saying, ‘You tin bash this. If this is what you want, enactment your butt off. You tin bash this.’ I don't deliberation precise galore radical get to truly accidental that successful their career. And it conscionable feels similar specified a privilege to cognize that I was a large portion of specified a immense happening successful truthful galore ways.”

The soundtrack’s occurrence was besides rewarding. “First week was possibly 5 1000 units, it's like, ‘Okay, okay, it's conscionable getting started, and it's getting promoted connected the channel.’ Next week was possibly 10 1000 units. It's like, ‘Hey, we're moving up the ladder,’” Greg Cham says. Sales started climbing, yet hitting “100,000 units a week,” Cham adds. While moving astatine a tanning salon, Bryan got a telephone telephone from Debra Martin Chase herself, congratulating her connected the album’s platinum status. There are photos of Raven-Symoné celebrating a platinum plaque with her family, songwriter Lindy Robbins, and Disney executives. Billboard aboriginal reported that the medium had sold 2 cardinal copies, truthful it really went double-platinum.

Over the adjacent 5 years, the Cheetahs took their dreams and their endowment to Spain successful The Cheetah Girls 2 – and Williams, Bryan, and Bailon became a real, touring miss group, making the DCOM franchise a trilogy with The Cheetah Girls: One World. The movies and the euphony observe girlhood, but they besides observe inclusivity connected an adjacent deeper level. 

As Bailon’s Chanel says, “You’re a Cheetah Girl due to the fact that of who you are and what’s successful your heart.” Millions of radical each implicit the satellite are Cheetah Girls astatine heart, inactive singing on to “Cinderella” aft 2 decades.