Which Cheetah Girls movie is your favorite? They’re all quite different. The first one, set in New York, isn’t so much a musical as it is a music-driven DCOM. All the music takes place during rehearsals, performances, or other intentional singing moments. This film was directed by Oz Scott and adapted by Alison Taylor from Deborah Gregory’s books. The Cheetah Girls 2 was directed by Kenny Ortega; Alison Taylor and Bethesda Brown are credited as writers, along with author Deborah Gregory. The Cheetah Girls: One World was directed by Paul Hoen, with a screenplay by Dan Berendsen. Debra Martin Chase executive produced all three movies, and her late producing partner Whitney Houston joined her on the first two.
Before Miley Cyrus became Hannah Montana, The Cheetah Girls went from fictional characters to a real performing act. Deborah Gregory, a Fashion Institute of Technology graduate and seasoned journalist, was approached by Disney’s Hyperion Books in 1998 to write a series for a diverse young audience. Hollywood reportedly learned about the Cheetahs quickly. By 2001, the author was signing a contract to grant Disney film and television rights to her books. After the first movie (starring Raven-Symoné, Kiely Williams, Sabrina Bryan, and Adrienne Bailon) and its accompanying soundtrack were released in 2003, Adrienne, Kiely, and Sabrina were featured on the 2005 Disneymania 3 album as The Cheetah Girls.
Sabrina Bryan told the International Business Times, “We were kind of becoming a real music group… We did a Christmas album. And then they’re like, ‘This is so good. We want to do a Christmas tour, would you guys be interested?’ We were like, ‘Okay,’ and we went on a Christmas tour.” The Cheetah-licious Christmas album was followed by a highly-anticipated sequel DCOM, The Cheetah Girls 2, with a new soundtrack in 2006. Raven told the Orange County Register at the time, “I think Cheetah Girls started the whole musical situation, and High School Musical really blew it out of the water. So I wanted to come back and really show that we were kind of the first ones to do it.” Set and filmed in Barcelona, the movie was a full-fledged musical with stunning vocals and dance numbers. It was also Raven’s final film and music project with the group. Raven has since shared more details on what happened behind the scenes — she told Kiely Williams that she felt “ostracized” on the set of The Cheetah Girls 2.
What happened next for the remaining three singers was The Cheetah Girls’ 2006-2007 The Party’s Just Begun Tour across the United States. (While the first Cheetah Girls movie soundtrack reportedly sold 2 million copies by 2007, the second album had sold 1.3 million by that time.) I was in the audience in Jacksonville, Florida when Miley Cyrus opened for The Cheetah Girls as Hannah Montana. It’s incredible to think about that concert now — two separate acts, both featuring real pop stars who were created from fictional ones. While on tour, Kiely Williams told the Los Angeles Times, “I think girls like us because we’re different — you know, our backgrounds, our cultures, the texture of our hair, the things we like — and that’s like them and their friends. That’s the way it is today, and they like seeing that in us.”
In a move that reminds me of The Pussycat Dolls, The Cheetah Girls released an album titled TCG in 2007. Disney Channel frequently played the music video for their single “Fuego.” TCG was the group’s last studio album separate from the movie franchise. 2008 was the final year of the Cheetahs as we knew them. Sabrina, Adrienne, and Kiely performed their best Bollywood dance moves for one more DCOM, The Cheetah Girls: One World. Like the second movie, this colorful, musical installment came with a full soundtrack album. Where movie #2 gives us the energizing and empowering “Strut,” movie #3 similarly reminds us to “Dig a Little Deeper.” Barcelona’s spicy, romantic “Dance with Me” duet between Dorinda and the Count (sung by Drew Seeley) is followed by Mumbai’s “Dance Me if You Can” — a competitive throwdown between an Indian choreographer and Dorinda and the Cheetahs. Both films also display the girls singing through tough decisions, as led by Galleria in “Over,” then with Chanel in “What If.” Every Cheetah movie gets a big finish: “Cheetah Sisters” in the first, “Amigas Cheetahs” in the second, and “One World” in the third.
These DCOMs and their music connected to fans deeply. While we weren’t all competing for recording contracts or starring roles, many of us were young women eager to achieve dreams of our own. We saw the Cheetahs deliver an incredible five-year run. By 2009, Adrienne Bailon confirmed to Just Jared Jr., “I think that the brand has now come to an end.” She also said her favorite Cheetah song was “No Place Like Us,” from the third movie. Who knows whether or not a Cheetah reunion is in the future? As long as the growl power legacy is honored with a cheetah-licious story, I’d love to see it!