Tonight, the High School Musical cast will reunite to join ABC’s Disney singalong and perform “We’re All in This Together.” Both Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron—High School Musical on- and off-screen sweethearts—will be part of the broadcast, although Efron won’t be singing. He’ll send a message instead.
“We couldn’t reach Zac until late but when we did, he immediately jumped in, of course,” HSM director Kenny Ortega told Deadline. “Everyone we reached out to was quick—and you’ll see it in their spirit and the way they come together from their homes. They recognize this is an opportunity to strengthen spirits for those joining us for the broadcast.”
Hudgens’ and Efron’s joint special appearance is the closest they’ve been to doing anything together in the near decade since their 2011 split. Here, a look at their five-year relationship…and all that came out about it in the years after.
Efron and Hudgens meet during their audition for High School Musical. Footage of the audition was shared by Disney, so everyone can see their initial chemistry. Efron speaks about meeting Hudgens in a 2014 interview with The Hollywood Reporter:
“My mom dropped me off out of a minivan somewhere in North Hollywood,” he recalls. “I had no idea what to expect. There were about 40 guys. And we walked in, and [director] Kenny Ortega was there with a piano, and they put everybody in a room together, and we ran through different phases of what we would need to do—first dancing, then singing—and a few of us got tapped on the shoulder [to leave], and I didn’t. And next came the scene-reading sections, and I got paired with Vanessa Hudgens.”
October 9, 2005
Efron and Hudgens make their first joint appearance at their High School Musical co-star Ashley Tisdale’s party. Their relationship didn’t become public until 2006, but outlets report later that Hudgens and Efron quietly began dating in 2005. Hudgens confirms this in a 2019 interview on The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast, saying they got together at the “very beginning” of HSM.
“We created a bond right from the start,” she recalls, via People. “We were like, ‘We’re doing this, it’s us or nothing.’”
March to May 2006
The High School Musical cast starts their press tour to promote the first film. Plenty of shots come out of Efron and Hudgens being cuddly together.
The High School Musical cast wins a Creative Arts Emmy for the movie. Efron and Hudgens stay close together at the Governors Ball after.
December 2006 to March 2007
While Efron and Hudgens pose with the HSM cast on the awards show red carpets they attend, they start posing as a couple at the after parties.
Hudgens and Efron go on vacation together in Hawaii. Rumors surfaced that in the weeks after, Efron and Hudgens broke up after a fight. Multiple sources told People in its August 2007 cover story that those rumors were untrue.
Efron and Hudgens pose together at the MTV Movie Awards.
Efron speaks to reporters at a Disney Channel event about his and Hudgens’ connection when they first met. He says, via People, “I was like, ‘They’re not trying us with other people.’ For some reason we kept sticking around [for callbacks]. I don’t know what it was with Vanessa, but we kind of clicked from the very beginning.”
That same month, Hudgens accompanies Efron to his Hairspray premiere after party.
Early August 2007
Efron speaks a little about Hudgens in a Rolling Stone interview. “The weird thing that no one expected about Vanessa is that underneath such a sweet girl…is a very sexy woman,” he said, via People. He reportedly blushed when asked for more details about their relationship, including whether a silver band he wears is from her.
“This is just a ring from a friend that I got,” he said. “It’s a female friend, but I can’t say who because then it would be chat-room pandemonium and teen-magazine hysteria.”
Hudgens is asked about Efron’s shirtless Rolling Stone cover the week it comes out and how she feels about the fans who fawn over him.
“I think it looks hot,” she tells Ryan Seacrest on his KIIS-FM morning radio show. “The girls like it.” She says she isn’t bothered by Efron having a lot of female fans. “No. I mean, I like to scream along, too.”
August 14, 2007
Hudgens and Efron make their splashy red carpet debut at the High School Musical 2 premiere. They’re affectionate in front of the cameras:
August 26, 2007
Hudgens and Efron attend the Teen Choice Awards together:
Late August 2007
People devotes one of its cover story to Hudgens and Efron’s relationship. A source tells the outlet their romance wasn’t completely hidden while the two were filming High School Musical 2. While out to dinner one night, a restaurant hostess saw them being affectionate.
“They were sitting on each other’s laps and holding hands,” the eyewitness said. “It was really cute.”
They did try to keep things a little low-key though, a production source explains. On set, “if you didn’t know they were dating, you wouldn’t know they were dating. They’re really good at not being obvious.”
A High School Musical source says part of the reason the two teens opt to keep their relationship more low-key is because of Efron’s teen idol status.
“First of all, they are so young, still teenagers,” the source says. “But it’s also the classic teen-idol thing. It kills the fantasy when a teenage girl knows her idol has a girlfriend. But ironically the fans seem to be accepting their relationship, I think because it goes along with the storyline in the movie.”
The HSM source also gave a little insight on their dynamic: Hudgens was porytrayed as the more intense but reserved one, while Efron is more mellow and outgoing. “He’s at her whim,” the source says.
Co-star Monique Coleman speaks on the record about their relationship, saying simply, “Two people fell in love. Who cares? We’re good kids.”
Nude photos of Hudgens, then 18, surface online. Hudgens apologizes in a statement released by her rep: “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.”
Efron and Hudgens remain together. He makes no comment on the scandal.
A year later, Hudgens speaks more about the incident to Seventeen for its February 2008 issue: “It was something that was meant to be private, and even though it isn’t anymore, I’d still like to keep it as private as I can,” she says, adding she is “much better” now.
In January 2020, Hudgens speaks more candidly about how she felt at the time of the scandal to Cosmopolitan UK for its February issue. “It was a really traumatizing thing for me,” she says. “It’s really f*cked up that people feel like they are entitled enough to share something that personal with the world. As an actor, you completely lose all grip of your own privacy and it’s really sad. It feels like that shouldn’t be the case, but unfortunately if enough people are interested, they’re going to do everything they can to get to know as much about you as they can, which is flattering, I guess, but then people take it too far and end up divulging things that should be personal.“
October and November 2007
Efron and Hudgens are photographed out at a Los Angeles event, very much still a couple.
They attend the November High School Musical 2 release and pose alongside each other:
Efron and Hudgens’ fame continues to rise. The two attend the Palm Springs International Film Festival together and have a moment on the red carpet:
May 11, 2008
Hudgens and Efron catch a NBA game. It’s a rare casual public date for the two. Production on High School Musical 3 had just begun.
June 1, 2008
Another awards show date night for Efron and Hudgens. This time, the two dress up for the MTV Movie Awards.
Hudgens gives relationship advice to Cosmo Girl! that hints at why her and Efron’s relationship has worked so well. “If you really love someone, you shouldn’t have to work at it,” she says, via People. “You finish each others’ sentences and have the same sense of humor.”
August 3, 2008
Hudgens and Efron attend the Teen Choice Awards again together, hugging on the red carpet.
Late September and October 2008
Efron and Hudgens get glammed up for the High School Musical 3 premiere in Paris. As usual, they pose together on the red carpet.
The press tour continues in Madrid:
They kiss in London:
By mid-October, they’re back in the U.S. at the Los Angeles premiere of the movie:
Paparazzi candids start coming out of Efron and Hudgens out in Los Angeles. At this point, they’re big teen movie stars. Here, they cuddle up during an NBA game in December.
Efron and Hudgens attend the Golden Globes for the first time together.
February 22, 2009
Efron and Hudgens make their Oscar debut together and attend the Vanity Fair after party post-ceremony.
April 19, 2009
Efron and Hudgens have another cuddly NBA game date. They continued attending awards shows together in the spring.
It comes days after Hudgens showed support for her boyfriend by attending his 17 Again premiere.
Hudgens makes it clear there’s no Efron engagement in the imminent future. “I think [marriage and starting a family] is great, but I’m so focused on my career right now that it doesn’t really cross my mind,” she tells People.
Two major public dates nights for Zanessa: the Teen Choice Awards, where they sit together:
And another NBA game, where they are always their most affectionate and relaxed:
Hudgens goes to a surprise 21st birthday party with Efron, where he gives a “heartfelt speech,” according to People. “Zac and Vanessa were adorable together,” a guest tells the outlet. “They were smiling at each other and laughing and are really sweet to each other. Great couple.”
Efron and Hudgens attend the Vanity Fair Oscar after party for the second time together:
June 6, 2010
Efron and Hudgens kiss at the MTV Movie Awards, after being targeted by the kiss cam.
They pose together on the red carpet:
Hudgens says Efron in 2006 was “adorable. I mean, he wasn’t the guy that he is today. Like, he had a gap in his teeth! He was a whole different person.”
“Right off the bat, we had a connection, I think everybody could see it,” she adds. Now, “I guess [we have a mature relationship]. I think that we inspire each other. [I love] having someone to grow with.”
That same month, Efron goes out to a New York City strip club with Corbin Bleu. He tells Jimmy Kimmel on Jimmy Kimmel Live that he called Hudgens before he went. “That’s the awkward part,” Efron recounts to the host. “It’s like how do you even start that conversation without feeling like a total asshole? [But] she was fine with it, yeah.”
July 20, 2010
Hudgens and Efron attend the Charlie St. Cloud premiere together. They’re affectionate in front of the cameras:
Efron gives an interview with Details where he reveals he has questioned his relationship and whether he should be single. When asked whether now may be the time for him to play the field, Efron candidly replies, “Yeah, everyone tells me that. I think a lot of guys would enjoy that. But I’m not really like that.”
The reporter points out Efron has never been single while famous so how would he know? “Believe me,” Efron says. “I rack my brain thinking, ‘Why am I not out there playing the field?’ One of my buddies was like, ‘You have no idea what’s going on right now. You’re peaking on Ecstasy and you’re watching TV.’ But it’s not in my heart.”
Efron also denies rumors that he and Hudgens were a fake PR relationship. “That’s just f*cking insane,” he says. “I’ve never even heard of that happening. I don’t even know who I would have been around who would have thought that was even a good idea. It would have been so much easier to call it off a long time ago.”
“They [the tabloids] want you to believe it, and they hope they’ll influence you to break up by making you seem insane for being in it,” Efron continues. “And then you’ll play the field, and then they can write about you a shitload, make shit up, and speculate about everything. Right now they know exactly what’s going on and it’s not very interesting and there’s no money to be made on it. It’s exactly how it should be. It’s real.”
Efron and Hudgens attend a release party together for the Details issue. It’s their last event where they pose together before their split:
That same month, Efron and Hudgens go on vacation to Maui.
Efron and Hudgens break up. “They are 100 percent still good friends,” a source tells People at the time.
Hudgens confirms this, telling paparazzi who asked about how things were between her and Efron that “we’re good.” And she gave a thumbs-up.
Hudgens and Efron spark reconciliation rumors when they’re seen making out at SHG’s Eden Hollywood opening.
They were “constantly touching and kissing each other,” a witness tells People. “Vanessa was bopping around with her arms up while Zac had his hands all over her. Vanessa had a smile on from ear to ear and the two were inseparable after that.”
“Zac sat in between her legs and she wrapped her arms around him,” the source adds. “They were making out on and off for the last hour or so until closing. They acted like there was no one else in the room.”
No reconciliation really takes off.
In an interview conducted weeks before that encounter for Details (but released in March 2011), Hudgens remains open-ended about their relationship: “We’re still friends,” she says, along with “who knows what the future will bring?” and “we’re figuring things out.”
Hudgens speaks about her and Efron’s relationship and split to Shape: “It was a good thing,” she says, via E!. “The relationship kept me grounded, and because I was with someone who knew me so well, I didn’t need to try to be someone I’m not.”
She also hinted about their struggles: “Long-distance relationships are hard no matter what,” she says. “When you don’t have face-to-face time, it’s just different. Having an iPhone helped, but it just wasn’t the same.”
Hudgens begins what will become a nine-year relationship with Austin Butler.
People runs a feature about Efron’s drug issues and decision to secretly seek treatment. Sources tell the outlet that Efron completed rehab and that he struggled in the young Hollywood party scene.
“Things changed when the second movie happened,” a HSM source says. “The dynamic was different [as the cast tested out the LA party scene].”
People‘s sources reveal that Efron had substance abuse issues in 2010, during his relationship with Hudgens. They detailed one incident that year where Efron and friends went to a strip club as soon as Hudgens, his girlfriend, left for a New York photo shoot.
In July 2013, Hudgens speaks about her own wariness of the party scene that her ex ran in. “I have never liked ‘partying,'” she tells Cosmo on Campus magazine, via Entertainment Tonight. “I love dancing, but that’s as far as it goes. It’s tough because a lot of clubs are everything I loathe, especially in LA. They’re always very ego-filled and people get up to mischief.”
“It’s just not a pure environment,” she adds. “I stay away from [drugs] because I know it’s smart to steer clear.”
Efron confirms to The Hollywood Reporter that he and Hudgens are no longer “in close touch.” He offers praise of her though, saying “she was a really interesting, sweet person.”
He speaks honestly about his past issues partying, saying he is now seeing a therapist and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. “I just started going,” he says of AA. “And I think it’s changed my life. I’m much more comfortable in my own skin. Things are so much easier now.”
Hudgens opens up to the New York Times about her private struggles with Efron’s fan girls. “I went through a phase when I was really mean because I was so fed up,” Hudgens says. “Girls were running after him, and I was giving them death stares. Then I realized that’s not what that’s about. ‘Spread the love, be a good person, they support you, be nice.’ ”
The High School Musical cast films a 10-year reunion special without Efron. Billboard is told by a channel spokeswoman that Efron skipped out on the group taping because it conflicted with promotion of his movie Dirty Grandpa. He records separate remarks that are included in the special.
Hudgens confirms she’s not in contact with Efron. “Oh, yeah, no… That’s not a thing that happens,” Hudgens says when asks if they still karaoke together like their characters did in the first HSM film. “I completely lost contact with him.”
Hudgens gives her most in-depth comments about her experience dating Efron to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast. “It started off really organically,” she says of her and Efron’s relationship, via E!. “I could not have been more grateful to have that relationship at the time.”
When High School Musical “blew up,” so did their fame, she explains: “It was this massive phenomenon and [all] eyes were on me. And it’s just a really weird foreign thing to go through, and by being in a relationship, it kind of kept me stabilized and grounded, and I had someone to lean on who was going through it as well.”
She recalls that they did have a fight on set that worried their director: “I remember one time we did have a fight, and it was while we were at rehearsals, and I remember Kenny Ortega coming around the corner with the most concerned look on his face like, ‘Oh no, is our movie going to fall apart right now?'”
“I pride myself on being a professional, so I was like, that aside, we are going to move forward and do what we need to do…and we sorted it all out,” she says. “I think because I was so young, I think that relationship stabilized me.”
Hudgens and Butler reportedly split up. Twitter goes wild, hoping for a Zanessa reconciliation now that Efron and Hudgens are both seemingly single. Days after, Us Weekly reports that Efron has actually been quietly dating actress Halston Sage, and they spent the holidays together.
The High School Musical cast sing together for Disney’s singalong special. Efron participates in the special in a non-singing role during the broadcast.
The special comes days after Hudgens teased the High School Musical cast reunited over Zoom on her Instagram. Efron, of course, was noticeably missing.