Vanessa Hudgens is blessed, and she knows it

By Rick Bentley

If it wasn’t for ‘HSM,’ she never would’ve got a chance to go to the prom.

LOS ANGELES — The small room in the Four Seasons Hotel seems just a little brighter when “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” star Vanessa Hudgens enters. There’s a huge smile on her face, framed by flowing raven black hair and a blood-red blouse.

“I am a happy person,” Hudgens says as she settles in to talk about the new movie. The feature film that is in movie theaters Friday is the end of a three-year journey that has made the 19-year-old Salinas, Calif., native a superstar. Her face is as well known as fellow Disney star Miley Cyrus or any one of the Jonas Brothers.

She’s got plenty of reasons to be happy. Her role as the very positive Gabriella Montez in the three films gave her a chance to do the thing she loves to do: act, sing, dance. She even found romance with her leading man, Zac Efron.

Hudgens began acting at such an early age that she was home schooled. No traditional high school experience for her. No prom. No graduation line.

No problem.

“That is just another reason why ’High School Musical’ means so much for me. I got to go to my prom for the first time, but it was a lot better. I got to have the prom every girl wishes they have,” Hudgens says of the prom sequence in the feature film. “I got to wear a cap and gown for the first time and graduate with people who I love dearly, cast members who have become my dearest friends.”

Positive, positive and more positive. That’s Hudgens.

Well, there is a moment when that winning smile fades just a tad when asked about the waltz number she and Efron perform in the movie. It was a dance number that took lots of rehearsals.

“It was the most difficult dance that I have had to do throughout these three movies just because it is so different. I have taken tap, jazz, hip-hop. But nothing could ever prepare me for doing the waltz,” Hudgens says. “The lifts we do. The turns we do. It was a lot.”

She thought director/choreographer Kenny Ortega was joking when he told her about the dance. Once she realized it wasn’t a joke, Hudgens took a positive approach to the number and in the end feels a great sense of pride for what she and Efron accomplished. It turned out to be one of her favorite parts of the movie.

She would do anything for “High School Musical.” That’s because she was drawn from the first audition to the opportunity to play such a positive Latino character.

“It wasn’t the stereotypical leading lady. The fact that she is Hispanic was something that I found really interesting. She is this strong, positive young woman who is always fighting for the right thing. I am very proud to be part of it. I feel there are not that many people can represent for a different ethnicity,” Hudgens says. “It really is an honor.”

Hudgens pauses to take a sip out of a huge white mug. It is filled with steaming hot tea. She struggles at times to suppress a cough. Nothing has stopped her globetrotting to promote the movie. That’s because she knows what it means to be part of the “High School Musical” phenomenon.

At times it has been a little overwhelming for her. But she has never stopped feeling blessed and appreciative for it all.

Hudgens was a struggling actress before the first Disney film. She had roles in “Thirteen” and “Thunderbirds,” but nothing gave her the chance to act, sing and dance and to reach such stardom — until “High School Musical.”

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