The stunning transformation of China Anne McClain

If you’ve watched the Disney Channel any time since 2011, you’ve probably seen China Anne McClain in something. The Disney mainstay has been with the family channel for quite some time, appearing in shows like A.N.T. Farm, and starring in films like How to Build a Better Boy and the wildly popular Descendants franchise.

While McClain may be best known for her Disney Channel roles, they’re far from the only ones on her impressive resume. McClain has dozens of roles under her belt, including starring on the TV show House of Payne for more than half a decade and portraying a superhero on the TV show Black Lightning. If you haven’t been following McClain since her early days, you may be surprised to hear just how far back her acting career goes. Either way, you will appreciate taking a look at how the actress has changed over her successful career — McClain has grown up in front of our eyes, evolving into a stunning, down-to-earth celebrity, and an all-around impressive young woman.

From child star to Hollywood darling, here’s a closer look at the stunning transformation of China Anne McClain.

China Anne McClain always knew she wanted to perform

China Anne McClain has always wanted to be a performer, but that doesn’t mean that she always planned on becoming an actress. 

As it turns out, McClain originally set out to become a singer. In fact, McClain has revealed that she’s always had musical talent, telling Rolling Out that she dreamed of becoming a singer from the tender age of 3. It’s easy to understand why the star caught the singing bug so early. After all, her dad is a music producer, and her mom is a songwriter — so making music is in McClain’s blood.

McClain’s parents nurtured her love for music, and the budding young musician even started singing before she was speaking in complete sentences. She said that music was constantly playing in the McClain household when she was growing up, keeping her wholly immersed in her passion throughout her formative years. “I could barely talk, but that’s what made me who I am and that’s what gave me the love of music that I have today,” McClain told Rolling Stone

China Anne McClain comes from a close-knit family

China Anne McClain and her family are obviously very close, if social media photos are any indication –  and it seems they have been a constant source of inspiration and motivation for the star throughout her career. 

In addition to her musically inclined parents and her younger brother, Gabriel McClain, the actress has two sisters who are also music-loving actresses in their own right — Sierra and Lauryn. And by the looks of it, these two have a special bond with China, who is the second youngest of the McClain siblings.

While some might assume that there is competition or, at the very least, some professional jealousy among the McClain sisters — they swear that this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the sisters told Essence that family always comes first in the McCain household, and they’re always cheering each other on as sisters. McClain said that they see a win for one person in the family as “a win for the whole family,” adding, “We’re all bringing back a trophy to the same house.”

China Anne McClain was just 5 years old when she landed her first acting role

China Anne McClain is definitely a rising star — which makes perfect sense, considering she’s been putting in the work for years. 

McClain has been acting for most of her life, landing her first role — a small part in the 2005 The Gospel – when she was just five years old. The force-on-the-rise played Alexis in the film, which starred Boris Kodjoe and Idris Elba. And in an exciting twist of events, the film turned out to be a family project. McClain’s sisters, Sierra and Lauryn, also landed small roles in The Gospel as kids singing in a children’s choir.

While McClain had always thought she had wanted to be a singer, being in The Gospel opened up a whole new world for the young performer. McClain told Glitter that after landing the role, acting became “a true love” of hers. Of course, that true love turned out to be her true calling. After appearing in The Gospel, McClain landed an uncredited role in Madea’s Family Reunion – and went on to land even bigger roles from there.

China Anne McClain credits Tyler Perry with preparing her for an acting career

While China Anne McClain had already had a couple of roles under her belt by the time she starred in Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, the sitcom was the turning point for her acting career. 

For the first time, she was really able to envision herself not just pursuing acting as a hobby, but actually turning her love for acting into a full-fledged career. McClain credits show creator Tyler Perry with preparing her for a professional career in the acting industry, telling Variety the famous producer taught her “pretty much everything” she knows about the business.

“He taught me how to ad lib, get into a scene and be part of a comedy, since he’s a comic genius,” said McClain, who was only seven when she landed her House of Payne role. And considering she spent six years on the House of Payne set, it’s safe to say McClain learned plenty of worthwhile showbiz lessons from Perry.

China Anne McClain had to grow a 'tough skin' when she moved to Los Angeles from Georgia

China Anne McClain might be well on her way to being a huge Hollywood star now; however, this gal has Georgia roots.

While the Peach State was quite a welcoming place to grow up, McClain didn’t find the same to be true for Los Angeles, California, where she and her family moved once the careers of the McClain siblings began picking up steam. Moving across the country was a huge adjustment for rising star, who had to learn how to deal not only with the stress and pressure that came with her blossoming acting career — but the ups and downs of adapting to life in a new, cutthroat city, as well. 

“In Georgia, everybody knew everybody. It was a fun place to be,” McClain told Patch, saying everybody in her home state was “so sweet.” She continued, revealing, “But in Los Angeles it’s more brutal. It’s the place where everything happens.” Added McClain, “My parents have taught me to have tough skin and to let stuff roll off my back. And it does.”

China Anne McClain guest starred on several Disney shows before landing her own

China Anne McClain is undoubtably a star in her own right. However, before she took centerstage, the multitalented performer cut her teeth as a guest star on multiple Disney Channel shows.

McClain kicked off her Disney Channel career in 2009, when she played the role of Isabel on the Hannah Montana episode, “Welcome to the Bungle.” Following her Hannah Montana appearance, McClain scored a three episode guest arc on the Jonas brothers show, Jonas, in 2010. And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, McClain appeared on two episodes of Wizards of Waverly Place the very next year. 

These guest appearances on the beloved network were all positive experiences for McClain — despite rumors about the strict rules Disney stars have to follow. The actress told Tribute that everyone she encountered on the sets of Hannah Montana, Jonas, and Wizards of Waverly Place was “so sweet” to her — with Nick Jonas even giving her a guitar when she appeared on Jonas. “I can’t choose [a favorite show], they were all really really fun,” McClain revealed. Talk about a dream come true!

China Anne McClain loved being able to show off her singing and acting chops on A.N.T. Farm

Perhaps China Anne McClain’s most famous role is the one in which she played a character with the same name — err, almost the same name. 

In 2011, McClain landed the leading role of musical prodigy Chyna Parks on the Disney Channel show A.N.T. Farm, a show about students at an “Advanced Natural Talent” school for gifted kids. According to the star, as soon as she saw the script for A.N.T. Farm, McClain knew the role was perfect for her because it would allow her to show off both her acting and her music chops. “I knew I was going to get the best of both worlds,” she told Variety, gently calling to mind her time on Hannah Montana.

A.N.T. Farm aired for three seasons from 2011 to 2014 and ended up being a turning point for McClain, establishing her as a bona fide Disney star. It also opened the door for McClain to lend her voice to other Disney projects, including the soundtrack for the nature documentary Chimpanzee and the Tinker Bell movie Secret of the Wings.

China Anne McClain was excited to play a villain for the first time in Descendants 2

China Anne McClain joined her fellow Disney Channel stars in the beloved Descendants franchise in 2017 with her role in Descendants 2, returning in 2019 for Descendants 3. McClain plays Uma in Disney’s Descendants – the daughter of the infamous sea witch, Ursula, from The Little Mermaid. Not only was joining the Descendants cast another chance for McClain to show off her impressive skills — it also gave her the opportunity to shake up her good girl image by playing a villain for the first time.

McClain looked at the new opportunity as an exciting challenge, especially since Ursula is one of her favorite movie villains. McClain told FSM Media that she found it “cool to play a villain,” explaining that everyone has pent-up feelings they want to unleash sometimes. “[Uma] has always bottled up feelings that she randomly unleashes on people and is not sorry for it at all,” McClain said.

As McClain told But First Joy, she also enjoyed being able to express her love for singing and dancing with her role in the Descendants franchise.

China Anne McClain felt 'honored' to join the cast of Black Lightning

China Anne McClain landed the role of a lifetime in 2017 when she was cast as Jennifer Pierce in the CW show Black Lightning. 

On the show, McClain plays the teenage daughter of superhero Black Lightning, who discovers that she has inherited her dad’s power of manipulating electricity. McClain told Rolling Out that it was “an honor” to join the cast of Black Lightning, which premiered in 2018, and to help tell the story of “one of the very first African American superheroes.”

McClain told Glitter that she was also excited to join the show because it features the very first portrayal of a Black superhero family on network TV. And while Black Lightning is science fiction, McClain said in an interview with CBR that she loves how realistic it seems because it explores teen life and family life in an authentic way. “It’s very realistic, and there’s a character for everyone to latch onto and be able to relate to,” she revealed.

China Anne McClain's music career is thriving

Fans of China Anne McClain are well aware of just how talented the young actress is. In addition to her successful acting career, she also has a successful singing career. We’ve gotten a glimpse of her musical talents on shows and films like Jonas, A.N.T. Farm – but McClain has done much more with her music than simply contribute to soundtracks.

For years, McClain performed in a girl group with her sisters, Sierra and Lauryn, launching a now-defunct website to showcase their talents in 2005, as noted by Filmbug. Singles from the McClain sisters — whose group was aptly named McClain — include “Rise” and “Go.”

Unfortunately, the McClain group doesn’t appear to have released anything since December 2014, when they released a song titled “The Holiday Song” under the name McCLAIN from McCLAIN Records. These days, the girl group appears to be on hiatus as the McCLain sisters focus on their respective acting careers. However, Lauryn still regularly posts music on her Instagram account, Sierra’s vocal talents can be heard on the show Empire, and McClain has flexed her vocal talents in the Descendants franchise.

China Anne McClain enjoys portraying 'strong female characters'

China Anne McClain has a knack for picking incredibly fierce female characters to portray onscreen, as fans of the star have likely noticed.

From bad girl Uma in the Descendants franchise to the super powerful Jennifer Pierce in Black Lightning, McClain serves up some serious girl power whenever she’s onscreen. According to the star herself, she’s drawn to powerful characters. In fact, McClain revealed in an interview with Tribute that one of the things she loved most about her role in Disney’s How to Build a Better Boy is that the film “focused on two strong independent girls.” 

The fact that McClain has portrayed so many fierce girls and women throughout her career is not by accident. McClain is determined to take on such roles and likes bringing empowered characters to life, telling J-14, “I just love playing strong female characters.” McClain added that, as an African American woman, it is especially important to her to portray powerful Black women on the screen. “I think that it’s really cool that you get to see that on TV,” the star told J-14.

China Anne McClain finds being a role model for young women 'a little intimidating'

China Anne McClain is certainly a wonderful role model for young girls everywhere. However, that’s not to say the star wasn’t initially a bit intimidated by the idea.

While some former child stars have claimed being a Disney star ruins your life, McClain’s image has remained upbeat and without scandal throughout her career. Unsurprisingly, the fact that she’s played so many wholesome characters on the Disney Channel has made McClain a positive role model for young women, but the actress prefers not to think about that too much. “That’s a little intimidating, to be honest, when it’s said,” McClain told J-14 about setting an example for young girls through her role on Black Lightning. However, the star added that it’s much less intimidating “once you start shooting the show and you actually get into it.” McClain told J-14, “You realize that you can only do what you can do.”

Describing what it’s like to be a role model, McClain revealed to J-14, “It’s about learning from your mistakes, and trying to tell other girls that it’s okay, and that you can always be better.”

The death of China Anne McClain's friend, Cameron Boyce, had a huge impact on her life

Although China Anne McClain has led a seemingly charmed life complete with a wildly successful dream career, her young life has not been without tragedy. In fact, the 2019 death of her fellow Disney Channel star, Cameron Boyce — who was only 20 years old when he died in his sleep from an epileptic seizure — had quite the impact on McClain. 

As fans know, McClain and Boyce had starred together in the Descendants franchise, although they had known each other ever since they both appeared in the 2010 film Grown Ups. McClain told J-14 in 2017 that one of the reasons she was so excited to join the Descendants franchise was because she was thrilled to reunite with Boyce. “It was so great getting to work with Cameron again,” she said.

After Boyce’s untimely death. McClain opened up about the devastating loss of her dear friend in a heartfelt Instagram video, sending condolences to his loved ones. “I lost, my best friend … my closest friend, my longest friend,” she said. McClain continued, “I will never again have a friend like Cameron.”

China Anne McClain started a production company with her family

China Anne McClain is poised to totally takeover the world — but first, she plans to dominate Hollywood. In 2014, McClain told Tribute that she saw herself wanting to pursue acting and singing for the rest of her life, “just hopefully on a higher level.” As it turns out, part of that “higher level” seems to be trying her hand at producing. 

In 2017, McClain was executive producer on the horror film Ten, in which she also portrayed the character Meg. And in a 2019 interview with Star News, McClain announced that she and her family had started their very own production company. “[We’re] working on a TON of different projects that mean a lot to us personally,” the star revealed. She added that, while she is “open to a variety of projects” in the future, her family “will probably be producing it.”

It’s clear that with her talent, passion, and dedication, the sky is the limit for McClain. We’re definitely looking forward to watching her career unfold even more!

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