Aaliyah vs. Zendaya — Comparing the Late Singer to the Actress Set to Play Her

Jeremy Blacklow
Yahoo MusicJune 17, 2014
Zendaya and Aaliyah — Do you see the potential? (Getty Images/Blackground Records)
Zendaya and Aaliyah — Do you see the potential? (Getty Images/Blackground Records)

It's not easy to step into the shoes of a late icon. But Zendaya Coleman is doing exactly that.

Lifetime announced on Monday that the Disney star, 17, has been cast to play R&B singer Aaliyah in the cable channel's upcoming biopic Aaliyah: Princess of R&B.

Aaliyah was at the peak of her career when, at the age of 22, she died in a plane crash in the Bahamas, just after shooting the music video for her single "Rock the Boat."

Unlike the Whitney Houston biopic that Lifetime also has in development (which Angela Bassett is directing, and which will star America's Next Top Model finalist Yaya DaCosta as Houston), the Aaliyah TV movie will include music. Zendaya will record four of Aaliyah's biggest songs for the film.

                             [Related: Miss You: 6 Women Who Remind Us of Aaliyah]

Zendaya is best known for her work on the Disney Channel show Shake It Up!, but came to wider national prominence during Season 16 of ABC's Dancing With the Stars, where she became the show's youngest-ever contestant. She was partnered with Val Chmerkovskiy and finished as runner-up to Kellie Pickler.

So how good was this casting choice? There's no doubt that Zendaya bears a certain resemblance to Aaliyah, even though her skin tone is a bit lighter. They're both known by their first names. Zendaya also has an album of her own under her belt and one Top 40 hit, "Replay," from 2013. And both women are actresses as well as singers: Aaliyah starred in the 2000 films Romeo Must Die and Queen of the Damned (which was released posthumously).

"I really want it to be perfect for her and show young people what she was able to do and what she accomplished," Zendaya told the Associated Press. "I think the most important thing is to look at it in a different way... I can't please everybody. I can't make everybody happy. But what I can do is work really hard and, you know, just continue to show her legacy and show what she was able to do. All I'm focused on is really portraying her in the best light possible."

The question of whether or not Zendaya can nail the role remains to be seen. We've decided to do a side-by-side comparison of both of them in action.

Zendaya, "Replay"

Reminds us of…

Aaliyah, "Try Again"

Comparing the biggest hits of both stars, we see the strong connection. Both singers give us sultry and sexy in these mid-tempo jams that can work equally well at home or in a club. Aaliyah was the first artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on airplay alone with "Try Again."

Zendaya, "Bottle You Up"

Reminds us of…

Aaliyah, "One In A Million"

These tracks demonstrate the ballad potential of both singers. Sure, Zendaya's is much more Disney pop and Aaliyah's is that classic late-'90s R&B sound, but it shows us that the former should be able to nail one of the latter's signature songs.

Zendaya, "Swag It Out"

Reminds us of…

Aaliyah, "Back and Forth"

"Swag It Out" was one of Zendaya's first hits — she was only 14 when it debuted and it shows — the track is very teeny-bopper-esque. But her dance moves along with the staccato in the chorus remind us of "Back and Forth," Aaliyah's Gold certified debut single.

Zendaya, "The Star-Spangled Banner" (starts at 1:20 in)

Compared to…

Aaliyah, "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Here we compare both artists performing the same song: the U.S. national anthem. We found video of a 16-year-old Aaliyah singing it before an Orlando Magic NBA game in 1995. And in November 2013, a 17-year-old Zendaya sang it before a Baltimore Ravens NFL game. We think they both nailed it!

So what do you think? Can Zendaya handle playing Aaliyah in the Lifetime movie? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.