Cheetah Girls first premiered on Aug. 15, 2003 — and now the stars of the show share their favorite memories with PEOPLE

By Karen MizoguchiAnya Leon and Sarah Michaud
August 15, 2018 06:45 PM
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Credit: Theo Wargo/WireImage; Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic; Mark Sullivan/WireImage; Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Growl power is still going strong!

Fifteen years after the Aug. 15, 2003, release of the first Cheetah Girls movie on Disney Channel, the cast took a trip down memory lane with PEOPLE as Adrienne Bailon, Sabrina Bryan, Raven Symoné and Kiely Williams share some of their favorite moments during the girl group’s heyday.

Audiences were introduced to four teenage girls from Manhattan who had hopes of becoming the first freshmen to win the talent show in their high school’s history. Following many ups and downs, including financial troubles, drama between each girl and turning down a record label, the foursome ultimately become talent show champions.

The success of 2003’s Whitney Houston-produced Cheetah Girls, which is based on the book series of the same name by Deborah Gregory, paved the way for one of the network’s first franchises as sequels The Cheetah Girls 2 was released on Aug. 25, 2006, and The Cheetah Girls: One World was released on Aug. 22, 2008.

The Cheetah Girls
| Credit: Bob D'Amico/Disney Channel/Courtesy Everett Collection

Bailon, Bryan and Williams also put out three albums — Cheetah-licious Christmas, In Concert: The Party's Just Begun Tour, and TCG — without Symone, who went solo and starred in Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven. In 2017, she premiered Raven’s Home on Disney Channel, which is currently airing the show’s second season.

RELATED VIDEO: Adrienne Bailon Wants to Start A Family In the New Year

Meanwhile, Bailon married husband Israel Houghton in 2016 and currently cohosts daytime talk show The Real, while Dancing with the Stars alum Bryan preps for her own upcoming nuptials. She’ll wed fiancé Jordan Lundberg in October in Las Vegas following a year and half long engagement, and Williams will serve as Bryan’s matron of honor. Williams is a new mom, having welcomed daughter Rowan in March with husband Brandon Cox, whom she married in 2016.

Adrienne Bailon

How do you all feel about the anniversary?

Adrienne Bailon (played Chanel Simmons a.k.a. Chuchie): Honestly, it’s crazy looking back 15 years. Time has flown by! I remember it like it was yesterday. It’s so exciting that the growl power has been kept alive for the last 15 years. It’s so awesome. It’s such an honor to be a part of something so special that means a lot to so many people’s childhood.

I actually showed my husband the first Cheetah Girls movie during my honeymoon for the first time. I was like, “You’re married to me. Now you can watch these dance moves I used to do and the weird hairstyles I used to wear as a Cheetah Girl.” I sat him down and watched him. Just the other day, I was playing him the soundtrack we did from the last movie.

I always say that I can’t wait to be a mom and possibly put it on and hope they notice that it’s me. I’m looking forward to that in the future.”

Sabrina Bryan (played Dorinda Thomas a.k.a. Do): I can’t believe we are celebrating our 15th anniversary! When I meet young women, like Aly Raisman, who told me that she was a big fan of the movies and that our message of girl empowerment made a difference in her life, it gives me chills. I will always be most proud of the girls and boys we inspired along the way!

Raven-Symoné (played Galleria Garibaldi a.k.a. Bubbles): I am in awe! No words to describe. This is the first time I can say I feel kind of old. I’m not used to saying that a lot, but that was a little over a decade ago. It feels good that it’s still in the hearts of so many people. We worked hard on it so I’m excited to see it live beyond the generation that watched it from the beginning.

Kiely Williams (played Aquanetta Walker a.k.a. Aqua): I cannot believe it’s been 15 years! It seems like just yesterday we were signing Toto out of that hole! It really just makes me feel so grateful to have been a part of such an incredible project, especially having just had my daughter, I feel like the Cheetah Girls’ message of friendship, loyalty, and girl power is so powerful and will continue to resonate even with my daughter’s generation.

Sabrina Bryan
| Credit: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Adrienne Bailon: I really had so much fun in the scenes that Raven and I used to do together. I think we had a lot of great chemistry. I loved the physical comedy we would do.

The second Cheetah Girls movie the characters were best friends since diapers so my most memorable scene would be her and I walking down the street and saying, ‘Prada, it’s Gucci on the line! I wear Prada or nada,’ or ‘Dolce, it’s Gabbana. Pick up!’ I literally remember doing that and standing in the street, doing choreography in the middle of the street with Raven.

Sabrina Bryan: A major music highlight was selling out the Houston Rodeo! It was an epic feeling driving across the Astrodome to the stage, knowing that 88,000 people were there to watch your show.

Raven-Symoné: From Cheetah Girls one, I remember the scene where I had to kiss a boy and it took me forever because I was so scared!

In the second installment, I remember Barcelona and the joy that I had living overseas with my family making a movie and making a new friend that is still in my life today: Belinda [Peregrín Schüll]. I remember all of our journeys and adventures living in the city.

Kiely Williams: One of my favorite memories on set was saying goodbye to everyone on the last day — I was an absolute wreck! I cried to our line producer, caterer, PAs — everyone! Raven laughed a little and said, “This must be your first movie! You won’t cry for the others!” Well, she wasn’t totally right — I still cry when a project ends, just not as inconsolably!

Kiely Williams, Belinda Peregrin, Raven-Symone, Sabrina Bryan and Adrienne Balion
| Credit: M. Phillips/WireImage

Any surprises or secrets from production you can reveal?

Adrienne Bailon: Raven and I would sneak more makeup! We were playing young girls and trying to get in extra mascara. At the time, we weren’t allowed to wear false lashes or anything like that. So we tried to sneak in extra mascara, get in a little bit more blush. That’s always pretty funny.

Sabrina Bryan: In one scene the director, Oz Scott, told Kiely to secretly add hot sauce to the chicken I was eating in the scene. Everyone but me thought that was hilarious!

Raven-Symoné: Everything was very well-managed. Especially in the second installment, we got to venture into some amazing cities that I would never have been a part of if it wasn’t for production and director Kenny Ortega and producer Debra Martin Chase. I have no surprises, just good experiences.

Kiely Williams: One thing people don’t realize is that we shot the first movie in Canada and it was freezing! We were so cold after every shot we had huge blankets that they would cover us with to try to keep the frostbite at bay.

| Credit: Theo Wargo/WireImage

Are there any special friendships or moments of bonding that you remember looking back?

Adrienne Bailon: I loved my memories in India learning different songs and the choreography and really learning about other cultures was really special. I loved filming in India and the food, dancing; all the beautiful dresses we got to wear.

Sabrina Bryan: Throughout the years of touring and making movies, everyone’s families became very close and would visit us wherever we were in the world. Kiely’s sister got engaged in Barcelona while we were filming Cheetah Girls 2, so were all able to celebrate together!

When I get married in October, Kiely is going to be my matron-of-honor.

Raven-Symoné: Belinda and I really connected on the second installment when we were in Barcelona. We have a history that is very similar. She started in the industry at a very young age, as did I. We confided in each other in that moment. We were both growing up. I was much older than [she was], but we were going through the same things career-wise and we had a lot of things in common.

We’re still friends to this day, which can be rare in this industry. There’s no jealousy between us. There are only love and good wishes, as with Adrienne and the other girls, but I really made a connection with Belinda.

Kiely Williams: Sabrina and I are still incredibly close, in fact, she was maid of honor at my wedding and this fall, I will be by her side as her matron of honor!

Kiely Williams

The film has gotten a bit of a second life of social media lately through Kim Kardashian West and Cardi B — what does it mean to you to have had that kind of impact on young girls, and see new generations discovering it now?

Adrienne Bailon: It means so much to me. If you look at what the Cheetah Girls stood for, it’s bigger than a cool movie. I think the meaning of girl power and following your dreams was really special.

Also, the whole concept of “no spots alike” and celebrating your individuality and differences. I love the fact that it was a multicultural film and that message was before its time. We see a lot of that now, but we were the first to do that on Disney Channel and I’m really proud of that messaging to be around 15 years later, especially in the day and age we’re living in now with so many racial issues and the climate we’re in right now.

Sabrina Bryan: To see Cardi B, one of this generation’s biggest artist, singing “Cinderella” on her Instagram was unreal. I love that she was inspired by the Cheetah message while growing up and is now killing the game and living her dream! Then when Kim Kardashian West posted about how much North loves the Cheetah Girls, it shows you that there’s a new generation of fans being empowered by the Growl Power message!

Over the years I’ve been able to see it first hand with other girls that are inspired by our message. It truly is a blessing to have been part of something that has now inspired multiple generations of people to believe in themselves and never take no for an answer!

Raven-Symoné: It means the world to me. It means that I chose a project that stood the test of time. That was the most ego-centric sentence ever said, I guess! But just to know that generations outside of the original generation have embraced us — what we did and what Cheetah Girls stood for — and they are down for girl power. That brings joy. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a part of something that’s had a following for so many years and I embrace that. I thank the supporters and people who loved it because we could not have done it without them. It could have been a totally different cast and I would not have been involved and I would have been so jealous, but it was us!

Kiely Williams: Having just had my first child, I feel like The Cheetah Girls’ message of friendship, loyalty and girl power is more important to me than ever. I feel so grateful to have been a part of The Cheetah Girls and I cannot wait to share that part of my history with my daughter and her friends when she’s older!