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Former Disney star Christy Carlson Romano on finding her voice away from Hollywood: ‘I was fearful of leaving’

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Christy Carlson Romano is thriving after disappearing for a moment in order to figure her life out following her days as a child star. 

The former Disney Channel actress, 39, has since reemerged in Hollywood with her own blueprint, becoming a recognizable face and outspoken voice for a generation of fans who grew up flipping through channels before stopping on “Even Stevens,” where Romano played Ren Stevens, the big sister of Louis Stevens, played by Shia LaBeouf.

In the early-2000s, Romano could also be heard voicing the crime-fighting high school cheerleader “Kim Possible” in the animated series and had many roles in her career that allowed her the opportunity to step away from the industry, attend college and work on Broadway while living off her Coogan Fund – an industry trust fund – for the better part of four years as she figured out what direction to take in her life.

“It’s funny because it’s a good problem to have when you’ve been the kind of person who has said yes to everything,” Romano said of going away and being difficult to track down after she made her way back to the business. “Now it’s like, I’m kind of the master of my own destiny when it comes to the content I’m creating and the time I want to put into it because I’ve got two little kids and I kind of want to be there for them.”

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Now residing in Austin, Texas, Romano spends most of her days caring for her young daughters and creating content on her YouTube channel while peeling back the deep layers of her own rise and fall and that of her industry friends on the “Vulnerable” podcast. 

She also speaks with the actors and actresses behind showbiz’s most iconic animated voices on the “I Hear Voices” podcast which Romano hosts with Will Friedle – who fans will remember as lending his voice to Ron Stoppable on the coming of age Disney cartoon.

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Christy Carlson Romano and her husband Brendan Rooney. Romano lives in Texas with her Marine husband, who as she puts it, "is the advocate I always needed."

Christy Carlson Romano and her husband Brendan Rooney. Romano lives in Texas with her Marine husband, who as she puts it, “is the advocate I always needed.”
(Bobby Bank/WireImage)

“I never would have thought of living in Austin and making YouTube content in the middle of a park,” she quipped of the shifted and balanced life she now lives with her husband, Brendan, a former United States Marine “who kind of looks like my old crush Leo DiCaprio.”

Romano previously revealed in a YouTube video on her channel that she “made millions” then lost it all after her Disney career, explaining that she blew much of her earnings on intangible purchases. She hadn’t even bought a home and later ended up in debt.

“I never would have thought of living in Austin and making YouTube content in the middle of a park.”

— Christy Carlson Romano

“I really regret not investing my money wisely,” the voice actress said in the video. She had also once admitted to receiving a book deal that earned her around $1 million – but lamented blowing it all in the same year on various purchases and a psychic to whom she paid “a bunch of money.”

Romano told Fox News Digital when she finally left Hollywood, a weight was lifted as she meandered through life with much more clarity and credited her struggles for shaping her into the mother and content creator she is today.

Fox News Digital spoke to Romano about navigating the pitfalls of showbiz as a child star, how Tinseltown is not as “glamorous” as it looks and her life in Texas with her Marine husband, who as she puts it, “is the advocate I always needed.”

Former Disney Channel star Christy Carlson Romano told Fox News Digital she was "fearful" of leaving California while working as a young actress in Hollywood.

Former Disney Channel star Christy Carlson Romano told Fox News Digital she was “fearful” of leaving California while working as a young actress in Hollywood.
(KRYSTAL EVE PHOTOGRAPHY)

Fox News Digital: Did you ever feel like you would get to this point where you’d be this comfortable putting yourself back into the limelight with “Christy’s Throwback Kitchen” and of course the other lifestyle projects you’ve consumed yourself with?

Christy Carlson Romano: Thank you. I mean, it was a learning experience for me because I had been so quiet for so long, and so it was a learning experience to finally get that kind of engagement you get when you start to strike it. When you’re not hitting the numbers, everyone’s quiet, but when you start standing up for something and you start hitting the numbers people are like, ‘Oh, she’s got a point of view,’ then I think that’s when you start to hear a lot of like feedback. 

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Like, I had a few people do like funny parodies of my actual vlogs, so people started to kind of mimic that and it was in good fun. And I think the thing is that you have to understand that if you’re going to put yourself out there, not only is there going to be some criticism, which I’ve been very lucky to kind of have not a ton of, you know – I kind of pride myself on being unproblematic. And so the fact that I was able to touch a lot of people’s hearts with the content meant a lot to me. And, you know, I don’t have to just look at all the negatives. I can choose to look at all the positives, which, I’ll tell you there was a lot more positive support when I finally started to kind of do my own thing than there was any kind of negativity.

“There are so many things I could have done with my life outside of the business. I didn’t have to live in California, that’s for one. I shouldn’t have felt fearful of leaving.”

— Christy Carlson Romano

Fox News Digital: How would you describe your relationship with paparazzi back then when you were most recognizable because you weren’t regularly snapped in public as much as many of your peers?

Christy Carlson Romano: I was out. I just never got that paparazzi exposure, which I think helped people before social media. And I think that’s why the paparazzi were important to some degree to kind of keep people’s names out there. You know, before Instagram and before Twitter, there was only MySpace and Facebook, and MySpace was mostly for new music if you were verified so like you weren’t able to keep your name out there if you weren’t on a show. So the way that people had to do that was to either do Maxim and FHM [For Him Magazine] or they were going to look cute and go out and have a few drinks and talk s–t, I guess. 

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But I never really got swept up, even though I went out and I was hoping that my point of view could come across – because one thing I will say about paparazzi, is that I do have respect for the fact – not necessarily for some people who violate certain kind of [rules] when it comes to the kids and stuff – I’ve never had to experience that, but I’m sure you understand… that stuff I would never condone. But what I will say about it is this, at least before social media, the paparazzi gave you an opportunity to speak your mind if you had a moment to talk about it. So, there was that. I never did that and I was never part of that.

Christy Carlson Romano has two video podcasts in addition to her daily video blog series.

Christy Carlson Romano has two video podcasts in addition to her daily video blog series.
(KRYSTAL EVE PHOTOGRAPHY)

Fox News Digital: How did you avoid some of the pitfalls that really come with being a child star and what did you learn from growing up so young in the business when being vulnerable in the ’90s and early-2000s was so looked down upon? 

Romano: OK, so great question. A lot to unpack there. So basically, I have to say sometimes I’m the most famous-unfamous person I know which is the best kind of famous to be, especially because I didn’t avoid the pitfalls. I actually had quite a few of them. Now, maybe not all of them, right? I was never strung out. I was never yachting or anything like that. But I definitely understand what it’s like to have a lot of things going on in your twenties and not have a lot of support and inspiration to kind of pull yourself through that. 

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“If you feel like you have to be there, it’s not as glamorous as people think it is if you have to be in that bubble.”

— Christy Carlson Romano on Tinseltown

So you kind of become really depressed and you kind of just try to find ways of coping. And I tried a lot of different things, you know. I tried Buddhism, you know, Scientology, like, you name it, I was at least looking into it. I’m not saying I went on the road all the way. You’re simply searching for answers in every single way that you possibly can and definitely in a lot of codependent relationships and stuff like that. And it’s sad, you know – like when I look back on it, I really wish I could get that time back.

There are so many things I could have done with my life outside of the business. I didn’t have to live in California, that’s for one. I shouldn’t have felt fearful of leaving because I wouldn’t have gotten a call to come back, or I lost an audition that would have made… you live in so much fear thinking ‘I can’t leave.’ And a lot of my friends that are still in the industry and working, they still feel that way. They can’t leave, they’ve got to be there just in case, you know. And it’s like, great, I’m glad that you’re still working and you’re still doing your thing, but you have no independence when you have to stay in California. If you feel like you have to be there, it’s not as glamorous as people think it is if you have to be in that bubble.

Christy Carlson Romano said she once "made millions" from her days as a Disney starlet before losing it all.

Christy Carlson Romano said she once “made millions” from her days as a Disney starlet before losing it all.
(KRYSTAL EVE PHOTOGRAPHY)

Fox News Digital: Do you remember experiencing any types of criticism as a young performer from anyone and thinking to yourself, ‘They have no idea what I’m going through right now?’

Romano: One hundred percent. So basically, even though I don’t talk to Shia LaBeouf or Hilary Duff or – there’s a lot of people that I’ve worked with that I don’t speak to. It’s weird because like when we see each other – if we’ve seen each other – there is a bond there that you can’t really deny. Because if you’re one percent of one percent in having those kinds of life experiences, it’s such a specific thing that you go through that you really do understand each other in a very, very intimate way. And most of them are busy sort of doing their own thing with their own brands and a lot of them are not in a situation that I’m in, which is, sober, stepped away from the industry because I wasn’t working a lot and I wanted to do things for myself. Like, my path is so different from everyone else that I worked with. And that’s neither good nor bad – there’s no comparison. 

“I think that people assume that child stars know how to manage their money and that they squandered their opportunities.”

— Christy Carlson Romano

It’s just fascinating to see – like, when you go to high school, go to college, and you look back, like, ‘Oh my gosh, so-and-so is a mechanic or so-and-so joined the military, but so-and-so has OD’d [overdosed] – all these things happen to people you used to know. And you look back at it, and you’re like, ‘Holy cow, look at all they’re doing. I never would have thought that that person is doing that well and married.’ You know what I mean? It’s crazy to see that, and that’s how it feels. It feels like there’s a time when you kind of come up with people and in Hollywood, this always kind of happens when generations of Hollywood come up with each other and they all kind of do their own thing, but if you get them all in a room – I just hosted the 90s Comic-Con in Hartford, Connecticut, and it was like that man! (Laughs).

Like, when I was in the green room, you had Nick Carter talking to Melissa Joan Hart. People were just talking to each other because they knew each other, and even they said it during my panels – I hosted the panels, every single one – and they would come up and be like, ‘Yo, this is like summer camp!’ Because it’s just seeing everybody, and they’re all bonded in their own ways with their own stories and stuff. So for me, I was a little bit out of that generation because I’m the face of the fans of the 90s. But it was still really cool to witness it and to see what it was like for them to see each other too. 

Christy Carlson Romano stars as "Ren Stevens," and Shia LaBeouf stars as "Louis Stevens" on "Even Stevens" on the Disney Channel. 

Christy Carlson Romano stars as “Ren Stevens,” and Shia LaBeouf stars as “Louis Stevens” on “Even Stevens” on the Disney Channel. 
(Photo by George Lange/Disney Channel via Getty Images)

Fox News Digital: Who were some of your childhood crushes growing up and if you had ever met any of them, what was that moment like?

Romano: So I definitely fan-girled over Nick Carter at the 90s Comic-Con. I was actually live on Instagram when Nick Carter came into the room and my hands started shaking, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, you guys!’ And I was freaking out on Instagram Live about it, and it was the most genuine reaction I think I’ve had in decades. And funny enough, I was talking to him very casually, and it was as if he wasn’t Nick Carter anymore. You sometimes have to meet your heroes or whatever just to kind of demystify that for you. And I’ve never been the kind of person that’s played into that. So if I meet my fans, I’m very much like as if they’re part of my family, and I’ve got great fans. They’re never rude to me, and they don’t come at me weird. So I’ve been very blessed with the people that do support me are very, very good people.

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I was into Leo DiCaprio. Those are my crushes. And it’s funny because I look at my husband and he kind of looks like DiCaprio. [Laughs] I circled around back, you know? I was watching some really random stuff growing up – like I watched ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ with my mom and Mary Tyler Moore had a very wholesome approach to comedy that I kind of brought with me subconsciously. And she had big brown eyes and brown hair and a bubbly personality, but kind of Type-A and Mary Tyler Moore was an icon. You know, I think she really, in the early, early ages for me, was one of my inspirations. But that’s only because my mom would put on ‘Nick at Night’ and I would watch her growing up. And then and then in terms of whoever else I was looking up to, it was hard because when I came onto the scene, there wasn’t a lot of children’s programming on. 

There were not a lot of other people that you would want to look up to. There was Paris Hilton and Britney Spears – they were kind of in their heyday when I started doing ‘Even Stevens’ so that’s why I think a lot of people look to my generation of Disney stars as like the OG generation. It was Lee Thompson Young who I was friends with from New York and then Raven [Symoné] came and Hilary [Duff] came, and it started to grow that whole class of Disney stars grew within a couple of years. And that influence was kind of locked in right then and there. So I didn’t have a lot to look up to, and I think that’s probably why when people say that they looked up to my characters, it means so much to me that I have that legacy.

Christy Carlson Romano of "Kim Possible" and "Even Stevens" speaks at the Disney+ Pavilion at Disney’s D23 EXPO 2019 in Anaheim, Calif.

Christy Carlson Romano of “Kim Possible” and “Even Stevens” speaks at the Disney+ Pavilion at Disney’s D23 EXPO 2019 in Anaheim, Calif.
(Photo by Charley Gallay)

Fox News Digital: What is a common misconception that people have attached to child stars?

Romano: I think people think that they’re wealthy. I think that people assume that child stars know how to manage their money and that they squandered their opportunities. Generally, you’re not making that much money, especially if you’re working for Disney and Nickelodeon because you can make decent money, but a lot of that money goes back into your career. You have to displace yourself from your family wherever you live unless you’re from California, which is rare. And so then you’re putting your mom up, you’re putting your parents up, and you’re living with your parents – your guardians, and you’re paying for rent. You’re paying your commissions to your agents, your talent manager, which is like 30 percent. 

“Generally, you’re not making that much money, especially if you’re working for Disney and Nickelodeon because you can make decent money, but a lot of that money goes back into your career.”

— Christy Carlson Romano

Hopefully, your Coogan Fund is kicked in so that you can at least have a little bit of money saved away, which is why the Coogan Fund is so important because it actually helped me pay for my college, and then I had a little bit left because I left college after I did Broadway and I had a little bit left, and I actually lived off of my Coogan Fund for, I want to say four years. 

So it actually, I’m really an advocate for financial literacy now because that stuff is really important. And it’s just one of those things where I think people assume they’re rich, and they’re not unless they start to do the YouTube influencer stuff, which is cool, because then they can empower themselves. They can say, ‘Here is my rate’ because the big corporations make money off the kids and that’s cool – that’s what the game is. But at the same time, they don’t really have control over that. So that’s why it’s kind of good for them to be able to have influence. It’s just a matter of how they’re using it as well. 

Christy Carlson Romano said her daughters have a long way to go before she allows them to jump into the showbiz spotlight.

Christy Carlson Romano said her daughters have a long way to go before she allows them to jump into the showbiz spotlight.
(KRYSTAL EVE PHOTOGRAPHY)

Fox News Digital: At what point do you even think about having a conversation with your daughters about them getting into the business if they’ve ever expressed a desire to do so? How do you lay out the ground rules?

Romano: It’s hard to say because when kids are young they have the best shot at becoming famous, and then from there, it’s a matter of coasting that. I would imagine that I’d probably be one of the best people suited at taking my daughters into a healthy space with all of that. But it is a tremendous amount of commitment from me to do that for them – and I’m just trying to kind of navigate my career right now. 

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Honestly, to be perfectly honest with you – I’m trying to kind of bring my brand back to life. Now, if I’m at a point where I feel like they have enough signs of readiness, we will approach it sort of as a family because now I have my husband involved, and he’s extremely smart, and he’s going to be launching his own influencer agency because he does all my deals, and he’s learned so much. 

“He’s a former Marine and he doesn’t take guff from anybody.”

— Christy Carlson Romano on her husband

He’s a former Marine and he doesn’t take guff from anybody. He is the advocate I always needed, so I have that in him. So if we’re going to do it as a family, it’s not just going to be me being Kris Jenner. I’m not going to be a one-woman show. It’s going to be a whole family thing that we choose to do for them. And, we’re setting them up – they’ve got verified Instagram accounts, but they’re privatized. It’s not like we’re trying to throw them into the fold, as much as we’ll give them the opportunity when it makes sense. Right now, it does not make sense. 

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We’re going to take it day by day because right now, one of them is potty-training and the other one is just starting school. Like, ‘Here’s the camera to put in front of your face.’ That’s not where we’re at. (Laughs).

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