Those who grew up on Disney Channel in the early 2000s may remember Christy Carlson Romano from some of her hit roles: the try-hard older sister from “Even Stevens,” the voice of the iconic “Kim Possible” or even the hard-nosed drill sergeant in “Cadet Kelly.”
Now, more than a decade later, Romano has stepped out in front of her characters to reintroduce herself to the world — through YouTube and TikTok.
“Originally, I started the YouTube channel with my husband as my producing partner,” Romano, 37, said in a recent interview. “We started it because a lot of people would come up to me at, you know, appearances I would make. And they’d say, you know, ‘What are you up to?’ and, ‘We miss you’ and, ‘What’s going on? What do you do?’... I was like, well, this is a great opportunity.”
Romano started “Christy’s Kitchen Throwback” in 2019, cooking with other now-grown child stars while reminiscing about their past experiences. The series inspired her upcoming cookbook, pushed her into the world of social media and taught her how to connect with her audience.
But it wasn't the cooking videos that caught people's attention. Over the past year, during the pandemic, Romano’s content has taken a tonal shift from high-production videos to simple walk-and-talk vlogs, where she opens up to her audience about the behind the scenes of growing up as an actor.
People have become captivated by her candidness.
“I just want to thank Christy for her vulnerability her journey is amazing and insightful and such a beautiful soul what a great role model,” a viewer commented on one of her YouTube videos.
"Why pay for Disney+ when you can just watch this Christy Carlson Romano TikTok on repeat," one person wrote in a tweet.
"Christy Carlson Romano YouTube channel is essential," wrote another, sharing a clip of one of Romano's YouTube videos titled "How I Lost Princess Diaries to Anne Hathaway."
She has amassed more than 713,000 followers on TikTok and 6.5 million likes. On YouTube, where she has 355,000 subscribers, her highest viewed video from the last year is one titled “Why I Don’t Talk to Shia LeBeouf."
In fact, in many of Romano's most popular videos, she shares personal stories from childhood stardom and the tough transition into young adulthood.
She’s opened up about her experiences with alcohol (in July, she revealed she's five years sober) and an eating disorder, the fact that she lost a lot of the money she earned from her Disney days and personal stories from her time on sets.
“Some of my experiences are unique, but I’ve been pretty mum about my interpretations, my experiences, and I found in the last six months, yeah, I definitely can talk to the side effects of going on this journey,” Romano said.
“I’ve covered a lot of really intense subjects about my life, but it was really bringing people up to speed with who I am and what my opinion is, and how I live my life,” she said.
The attention can be triggering, Romano said, and she’s had to keep in touch with her own anxieties and fears when she decides to upload a more personal video to her account. Though she grew up on-screen, she said she doesn’t feel comfortable with public attention.
Offering so much of herself online has opened her up to a new wave of criticism and headlines. Many have called her videos clickbait.
“I’ve addressed the clickbait issue in so far that, yes, they are clickbait methods, but that they deliver on the promise of the title,” Romano said. “I always do this, where I address it immediately … then I kind of pontificate upon that subject. I unpack it. I put some personal spin on it.”
For now, she’s looking at her future as a working mom and carefully planning her next moves. She said she hopes to move away from personal stories but still give her audience her take on pop culture issues, calling it a “natural progression.” She’s also told Disney Channel she’d be willing to mentor a young actor if there were any interest.
“Quarantine, I think, pushed a lot of people that thought they were otherwise OK to the edge,” Romano said. “And so that’s why mental health has just been so important. But again, the kids tend to get looked over because, well, they’re making money. They’re famous. They’re having fun.”
Romano said she knows there are plenty of stories she won’t share with the world, items that would violate confidences and friendships. But in many ways this reintroduction has allowed her to think about what she has to offer her audience and people more generally.
“It’s kind of been like a memoir so far,” Romano said. “But if I were a young actor, I would follow my page. Because it is, some of them are cautionary tales. But it is my life lessons. … They’re genuine and authentic and true.”