“It’s been really cool going from my first year being there to present, to the second year performing and now my third year hosting. I’m 100 percent down with it,” says Zendaya, understating her ascending role at the Radio Disney Music Awards.
This weekend she’s set to serve as master of ceremonies at the annual event and it’s a tribute to the 18-year-old that she’s maintained her laidback style as the spotlight continues to brighten around her career as an actor, recording artist and fashion icon. Her positive attitude makes all the sweeter her role center stage at this year’s Radio Disney Music Awards — which will include performances by Nick Jonas, Becky G, R5, Fifth Harmony, Natalie La Rose, Sabrina Carpenter, Shawn Mendes, Sheppard, Tori Kelly and Rachel Platten. Disney will also honor Jennifer Lopez with the Hero Award in recognition of her work with children’s organizations including Boys & Girls Clubs of America and her own Lopez Family Foundation.
“This is an event for many kinds of people to enjoy together — adults, kids — I want them to feel like they are all part of the production,” Zendaya tells Billboard of her goal for the night.
Though Zendaya won’t be performing this year (“I’ll be so focused on hosting, I didn’t want too many jobs and too much stress. I want to be able to relax and have fun with it,” she says), she will still have her hands full with what she calls “as many wardrobe changes as possible.”
So does she have a favorite outfit lined up?
“We don’t even know what I’m going to wear yet, it’s still up in the air. I probably won’t know until the day before,” she says.
Helping her keep cool backstage will be her parents, who she calls the “bomb diggity.” As in, they understand her, keep her grounded and help massively in juggling her day-to-day activities. “They handle my schedule. So I get to do my job and the fun part — which is the art,” she says.
Currently, Zendaya’s art includes a starring role as a high school student-turned-spy-in-training in Disney Channel’s K.C. Undercover, which she also co-produces and marks her second hit for network, following the long-running Shake It Up. She also finished second in Dancing With the Stars in 2013, the same year she released a self-titled album on Hollywood Records and has since launched her own clothing line.
Though she admits finding time to work on new music is a challenge these days, she’s taking it all in stride. “I’m into making quality music, making a sound that’s going to last. And that’s not going to be easy, but the best things are worth the wait,” she says. “I’m really working more on my writing and plan on taking my time.”
Current collaborators include Timbaland (who Zendaya calls “Uncle Tim”), Babyface and, she says, “some other really great producers that aren’t yet as big as those producers but one day they will be.”
It’s no surprise the vibe in the studio is relaxed. “Honestly, we just go in there and create whatever feels good, but it’s all generally in the urban R&B area,” she says. “That’s definitely the sound I love and love to listen to and be a part of.”
But don’t box in this multifaceted artist. She has a long list of other musicians she’d love to work with, including some surprising names.
“Other than Beyoncé, of course, there’s people like Rihanna, Nicki… I also want to collaborate with Rascal Flatts, I really love country music. Even a reggae artist. Honestly, I want to tap everything but bring my urban and R&B to that world,” she says.
Zendaya inadvertently tapped a lot of attention after E! on-air personality Giuliana Rancic first offended then apologized to Zendaya after calling out her red carpet look at the Golden Globes on Fashion Police. Zendaya pal Kelly Osbourne exited the show soon after the incident, followed by Kathy Griffin, sending the series into a swift hiatus. Fashion Police is slated to return in September and Zendaya hopes positivity will be its main accessory.
“I hope they are able to do things more positively, whether that be with commentary or generally taking it to a more empowering level,” she says. “Honestly, I’m especially for women being on each other’s side. There’s a difference between constructive criticism and saying things that are purposefully mean or meant to hurt someone and break them down, or saying something that’s not appropriate and not being socially aware.
She continues, “I wouldn’t expect it to be a change overnight. But they should realize after this that words are just as powerful as anything and they do damage and hurt people. You have to teach yourself to do better, you have to learn from it.”
For her part, Zendaya is keenly aware of the influence she has on her fans. “I take it very seriously,” she says. “I don’t consider myself a role model because I’m not playing a role. I consider myself a real model. I’m not pretending to be anyone but Zendaya. It helps that I’m just a good kid.”
The 2015 Radio Disney Music Awards will be held at the Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live in Los Angeles and air on Disney Channel on Sunday, April 26, preceded by preshow and red carpet coverage.