The Cheetah Girls move to a Latin beat in their second musical comedy for the Disney Channel.
The multicultural high-school quartet with dreams of stardom travels to Spain to compete in a music festival. There, the pop, hip-hop and R&B performers learn the thrill of the tango, and meet up with a potential rival, Marisol, played by Latin TV and recording star Belinda Peregrin.
"Amigas Cheetahs" and "A La Nanita Nana" are two of the hit-bound songs on the soundtrack of "Cheetah Girls 2," airing Friday at 8 p.m. EDT.
"The Spanish influence is clearly important right now, more important than ever in the U.S. market," says Gary Marsh, the Disney Channel's entertainment president.
"The best thing" about filming in Barcelona was getting to see all the sights, says Raven-Symone, who traveled to Spain for the first time to reprise her role as the Cheetah Girls' enterprising leader, Galleria Garibaldi.
The girls are now seniors in high school, testing the waters of "what they are going to do as adults and finding what they love," says Raven-Symone, the former "Cosby" kid, who was also one of the movie's executive producers.
"Having a say in the movie definitely put the cherry on top," she said on the phone from Missouri, midway on a summer-long music tour. "I put out the fires that were on the set — if there was a wardrobe malfunction, if there was a script flub, if there was anything worrying the girls, I said, ‘If you need someone to talk to, to kind of bridge the gap, I'm here.'"
Other returning cast members are Adrienne Bailon as Chanel, Sabrina Bryan as Dorinda and Kiely Williams as Aquanetta.
Cheetah Girls on tour
Since the success of the girls' first film in 2003, this trio of young stars has blended fiction and reality by touring as the Cheetah Girls pop group.
Speaking at a press conference last month, the others confirmed that, as executive producer, Raven-Symone definitely kept tabs on everything from clothing to choreography.
"I remember Raven having, like, scissors and fabric and cutting something," commented Williams.
"Even on, like, her one day off that she had — the day I did the tango scene — she shows up and I'm like, ‘Aren't you wanting to sleep right now or, like, rest for a little bit?' And she's like, ‘No!'" said Bryan.
"She really did the work. She told me, ‘I want producing to be part of my life. Teach me,'" says Debra Martin Chase, an executive producer of both Cheetah Girl movies. Her credits also include Disney's "Princess Diaries" franchise.
Raven-Symone, who played little Olivia on "The Cosby Show," is now 20, with her own production company. She released her first hit single, "That's What Little Girls Are Made Of," when she was only 5.
From Cosby to Cheetah Girls
Born Raven-Symone Pearman, she dropped the last name long ago, and when starring as the clairvoyant teen Raven Baxter on 100 episodes of "That's So Raven," used only the name Raven. She reasoned it would be more easily understood by the young fans of that Disney Channel comedy series, which has contributed to her thriving music career and spawned a wealth of tie-in products.
"I have party favors with my face on them," she exclaims, both awed and little freaked out by her merchandising reach.
Her youth-market appeal had much to do with the success of the original Cheetah Girls' movie and its soundtrack and DVD sales, which laid the foundation for the most successful ever Disney Channel movie, this year's "High School Musical."
"I think ‘Cheetah Girls' started the whole musical situation, and ‘High School Musical' really blew it out of the water. So I wanted to come back and really show that we were kind of the first ones to do it," says Raven-Symone, explaining another reason she agreed to be part of the sequel.
Emmy-winning choreographer Kenny Ortega, who directed "High School Musical," was hired to direct "Cheetah Girls 2," and Disney has undertaken a very extensive multicultural marketing campaign involving special appearances by the stars, interactive online promotions and soundtrack and merchandise releases.
To mark Hispanic Heritage Month, the movie will be televised on the Disney Channel, Friday, Sept. 15, in Spanish with English subtitles at 8 p.m., EDT, and in English with Spanish subtitles at 10 p.m. EDT.
Speaking about her own company, Raven-Symone explains that it's dedicated to building the self-confidence and self-respect of girls.
"Learning that life is more important than anything — meaning you can have the hair color of the season, the purse of the season, or find out somebody else's business," she says, "but if you don't know how to take care of yourself as a person, as a young adult, none of that matters."