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Christy Carlson Romano Is Not Afraid to Monetize the Trauma of Childhood Stardom

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Christy Carlson Romano was ubiquitous on the Disney Channel in the early aughts, playing Ren Stevens in Even Stevens and starring in Cadet Kelly. She voiced the character of Kim in the iconic animated series Kim Possible. But after the roles stopped coming and the check supply dried up, she started losing money to psychics, struggled with family relationships, and grappled with addiction.

Over the past few years, Romano has started revisiting these experiences and generating content from them. She recently launched PodCo, a podcast network focused on rewatching TV series; the shows, such as Even More Stevens Podcast and Wizards of Waverly Pod, are hosted by her and other former stars. She has created YouTube videos in which she unpacks topics that include her relationship to former co-star Shia LaBeouf. “When I first started, I realized if you don’t create value, your videos won’t be seen,” she says. In the latest episode of Into It, Romano explains how she uses these platforms and tactics such as clickbaiting to process her own experiences while drawing attention to the vulnerabilities of child actors today. Below, read an excerpt of that conversation, or listen to the full episode of Into It wherever you get your podcasts.

How many years were you a Disney kid?
I think at 21 was when I realized I really wasn’t gonna get hired again by them, but both TV shows were in syndication for ten years. What I learned fairly late in the game was that it’s pretty standard that a show gets about ten cycles after it’s syndicated.

So was that ten years of checks?
Yes. But those checks, and this isn’t common knowledge, decrease by 10 percent every year.

I did not know that.
Neither did I until too late in the game! You have about ten years and then you can plan accordingly. I think that’s why a lot of child actors get caught in that trap of, Oh, I’ve got money. It’s going to keep coming.

What was it like when the checks stopped?
I remember having sort of like a business manager. He sat me down at 18 or 19 years old and said, “Hey, you can’t be shopping this much.” Then he would tell me about all the nuances of taxes and LLCs, and I was like, “I just wanna get on set again.” I didn’t really want to learn about that stuff.

You made a YouTube video called “How I Lost All My Money.” What was the wildest part of this story? 
Psychics. Oh my gosh. I had some relationships that ended, and when I got out of these relationships, I was looking for answers. I was Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, which was eight shows a week. I was also post-op from throat surgery. I was really burnt-out. So I had a psychic approach me at the stage door — that’s your first red flag. She approached me and she’s like, “I have the answers for you. Call me.” I was the perfect person for her to lock in to because I had a struggling relationship with my family; it was very unstable, and at that time, I probably wouldn’t have respected anyone else’s opinion about this.

How much money went to the psychics?
Even to this day, I hate talking about it. It’s one of my greatest shames, if not my greatest. The first woman, it was little bits of readings and candles, and she would give me powders. It became more and more expensive. Then finally, she’s like, “Christy, you are screwed. You need to buy this crystal. It will clear out all of the negative energy in your life. You can only do it if you buy this really large amethyst.” I think she quoted me like $40,000.

Wow. I’m so sorry.
It’s okay. What’s worse is that when I moved back to L.A. a little bit after that, I had a truly big breakup. I went into a psychic’s office, and I said, “This is happening because I didn’t get the amethyst. Give me the amethyst.” The magical-thinking element really overtook my life. That was another $40,000 or something.

You share a lot of personal stories online. How do you react to the hate or trolling that you receive? 
Somebody the other day was like, “You’re the Walmart Drew Barrymore.” I was like, “Walmart’s a great store!” Old Christy, who was in her 20s, new to social media, and didn’t feel like she had any agency and didn’t have a point of view, would’ve been debilitated for the entire day. Now I’m like, That’s fucking funny. Good job.

Some of your videos, I could see there being backlash from some corners of the industry. There was one called “How Katy Perry Got My Record Deal” or “Why I Don’t Talk to Shia LaBeouf.” Do you ever have any hesitation? Is there any fear of backlash?
There was when I first started, but I realized if you don’t create value, your videos won’t be seen. You won’t be able to grow. So my husband and I — we’re producing partners — were just like, Let’s give the people what they want. I teased and clickbaited, but I didn’t clickbait traditionally. I said these crazy things, but then I unpacked it. I call it “making the kids eat their vegetables”; they come for the tea, but then they get something more.

There was a comment you made to Texas Monthly. I wonder how you felt about reading it: “Authentic, but monetizing.”
That’s accurate. Here’s the thing: Would you guys rather watch Disney+ and watch people not make money? No. Shop local. I’m going to give you the goods on what you’re trying to get from a reality show, but I’m doing it through my camera that I own rather than some production company making me work for them.

What’s the change that could happen right now that would have the biggest positive effect for kids on sets?
They need mental-health advocates on every set. They need either social workers or they need a protocol to report wrongdoings or mental-health stressors. Right now, we have studio teachers, and studio teachers are extremely compliant to production needs. I’ve seen them forge numbers of teaching hours. And we’re not just talking about Hollywood; we’re talking about any state that does any production ever. Right now, we’re talking about intimacy coordinators on the set of Euphoria. It’s the same type of thing. We have that for adults, but shouldn’t we start with kids?

A lot of former child actors go through a struggle once they’re done child acting, but they don’t share their wisdom and what they learned in YouTube videos. I wonder when you see other child actors in adulthood not living in their truth the way you are, how do you react?
I gotta be honest with you: I was pissed for a while. I was like, Why can’t these people come and support me? I’m putting my reputation on the line. Why can’t A-listers like Drew Barrymore start advocating for change? Then Alyson Stoner, who’s now a friend, really empowered me to understand that people are in their trauma, and you cannot rush them out of it. So when we ask why they aren’t coming forward, I can’t assume to know why, unfortunately. I can only sweep my side of the street.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Into It With Sam Sanders

Christy Carlson Romano Is Not Afraid to Monetize Her Trauma