Hudgens Photo: Career Wrecker or Enhancer?

The "High School Musical" star's nude photo could be a boon.


Sept. 11, 2007 — -- In her latest role, actress Vanessa Hudgens has attracted a whole new audience to "High School Musical 2."

The actress admitted last week to posing nude in a photograph, apologized and is now hoping she didn't just ruin her chances to continue with the multimillion-dollar "High School Musical" franchise. It's not the slip-up that has Hollywood talking, it's the way the 18-year-old handled it that's earning her praises and may have just catapulted her career to the next level.

It was something that was never meant to become public. A series of photos of a young Hudgens sans clothing in a bathroom spread across the Internet last week.

"This was a photo, which was taken privately," said a statement from Hudgens' publicist. "It is a personal matter and it is unfortunate that this has become public."

But, according to a new report from an anonymous source in People magazine, the photo was meant for someone.

That someone is Drake Bell, a 19-year-old actor who is currently starring in "Drake and Josh" on Nickelodeon. Hudgens reportedly sent the photos to Bell two years ago as an admiring fan before she was famous. Bell's representative, Jill Fritzo, said her client was unaware of the photos.

"Drake says he never received those photos," Fritzo told People.

Like current boyfriend and "High School Musical 2" co-star Zac Efron, Hudgens has worked professionally with Bell. She played his girlfriend on an episode of "Drake and Josh" in 2006, but unlike the relationship with Efron, sparks didn't fly in real life.

Despite the initial onslaught of negative publicity, will Hudgens' career actually benefit from this controversy?

The general consensus in Hollywood seems to think, if anything, the photos will give Hudgens' career a boost.

Celebrity representative Michael Levine said it's unlikely these photos will do any lasting damage. Levine, who's represented hundreds of celebs, said in this day and age, nude photos aren't all that scandalous.

"If the photos weren't too explicit and there's no crime involved I don't think it will hurt her career," said Levine.

Bill Bohl, a Hollywood agent and owner of DDO Artists Agency in Los Angeles, agrees. "I don't believe this will hurt Vanessa's career at all," said Bohl. "She made a wrong choice and has been honest about it and now she can move forward with some insight on how important her choices are."

The Disney Channel seems to agree, giving the starlet a second chance. Disney would not comment early on, giving Hudgens room to apologize to her fans — she did in a statement Friday.

"I want to apologize to my fans, whose support and trust means the world to me. I am embarrassed over this situation and regret having ever taken these photos. I am thankful for the support of my family and friends," read the statement released by Hudgens' representative. Disney then responded.

"Vanessa has apologized for what was obviously a lapse in judgment. We hope she's learned a valuable lesson," read the statement.

But in the world of young celebrities, the "High School Musical 2" star's slip-up isn't all that damning.

Hudgens isn't the first teen star to fall from grace. For an increasing number of young, troubled celebrities, an acting career is often followed by a rap sheet.

Lindsay Lohan may be the most notorious of child actors gone wild. The 21-year-old, known more for her arrest record and stints in rehab than her filmography, kicked off her career at age 12 in Disney's 1998 remake of "The Parent Trap." Lohan quickly became a "tween" sensation, and like several child stars before her, her career and personal life quickly spiraled downward. Now, after two arrests and months in rehab, Lohan seems to have publicly come to terms with her drug and alcohol addiction.

"It is clear to me that my life has become completely unmanageable because I am addicted to alcohol and drugs," Lohan said in a statement in August.

But Hudgens' scandal isn't quite on the level of Lohan's problems, said Bohl. "I don't think you can compare Vanessa to Lindsay," said Bohl. "Vanessa made a poor choice and has come clean with it and she has been honest. That in itself is something to be admired."

When it comes down to it, these actors are just kids who are prone to blunders; how they handle their mistakes can make or break a career.

"Young people in general make wrong choices and have to deal with the consequences. The only difference is that Vanessa has to do it in front of the press," said Bohl. "Lindsay on the other hand, well we all know that she has not been as quick to take responsibility for her own actions."

Hudgens and the rest of the "High School Musical" series cast are reportedly in talks with Disney for a third film to be featured on the big screen. But will Hudgens attend senior year at East High? When asked about contract negotiations for Hudgens, Disney would not comment.

"Disney does not comment on negotiations with talent," said Patti McTeague, senior vice president of kids' communications for Disney.

Hudgens did the right thing in confessing, from a public-relations perspective. Decreasing controversy and speculation may have saved her career.

"It is respectable to see a young star these days say, 'I made a mistake and I'm sorry,'" said Bohl. "If she spins this right, she can be an example to her young fans about being responsible and thinking about the consequences of their actions."

Levine agrees.

"It's a good idea to get out in front of the problem," said Levine. "The faster you respond, the less obnoxious the problem is."

But will Disney agree? Bohl seems to think so.

"I don't believe her 'High School Musical' career is over," said Bohl. "After last night's Britney Video Music Awards fiasco no one is talking about Vanessa."

Despite the amount of negative press child actors receive, there are still a cast of successful young stars who have managed to keep out of trouble.

Actresses like Hillary Duff and Christy Carlson Romano have become poster children for admiring fans, but have had difficulty getting roles as adults. For Hudgens, the opposite is true. Perhaps she will have a different outcome. Her career could have just graduated from "High School" to Hollywood.