“The Cheetah Girls” was the first Disney girl group to be born on screen and then became a success on the real-life music and entertainment industry. The four girls who formed the group are still remembered for their roles, but initially, the line-up included the one and only Solange Knowles.
It’s been 15 years since Raven-Symoné (Galleria), Adrienne Bailon (Chanel), Sabrina Bryan (Dorinda) and Kiely Williams (Aqua), debuted in the first musical Disney Channel Original Movie, “The Cheetah Girls.”
Kiely Williams, Adrienne Bailon, Raven, Lynn Whitfield and Naturi Naughton attend the premiere of Disney Channels "The Cheetah Girls." | Photo: GettyImages
The movie set the trend for the channel and paved the way for all the upcoming musical teen movies of that kind. At the same time, the foursome “acted as guinea pigs for the network,” according to what Sabrina Bryan told International Business Times, as they worked to explore how big the franchise could get.
And although The Cheetah Girls as we know them today are iconic, Bryan revealed that the original line-up, the one set before rehearsals started and contracts were made, included Beyoncé’s little sister, Solange Knowles.
“The auditions were long,” Bryan told IBT of the casting process. And continued:
“They auditioned hundreds of girls for the four roles. I went to a couple more callbacks, and then the last and final callback, they had Raven there. She was being brought on as Galleria. And Adrienne came in, and I was a fan of 3LW. Raven, I knew. I had already heard talks about ‘That’s So Raven.’
I had already seen some of the audition calls for it. So, I knew that the show was being filmed. So, that wasn’t a surprise. But also, Solange Knowles was there. And she was originally booked as Aqua. Beyonce’s little sister.”
At the time, Solange was still just Beyoncé’s sibling. Although she was working on her music, she was still mostly unknown to the general public.
“The Cheetah Girls” would have been her first role in a movie, but when the release of her first album “Solo Star” was pushed up, her management decided it was in her best interest to drop out of the movie so she could focus on her music.
Debra Martin Chase, an executive producer of “The Cheetah Girls” franchise, told IBT that Mathew Knowles, who was then Solange’s manager, didn’t think she could manage to promote the album and shoot the movie.
“Solo Star” was released on Dec. 26, 2002 in Japan and Jan. 21, 2003 in the United States, while the rest of the girls were in the middle of filming the movie.
At some point between the auditions and the start of rehearsals, Kiely Williams—who was a member of 3LW with Houghton—was brought on board to replace Solange in the role of Aqua.
“I had no contact with any of the girls from the audition, so I really kind of found out at the first rehearsal when Kiely showed up,” Bryan recalled.
She continued: “I don’t know at what point [Solange dropped out]. It must’ve been during their negotiation process or something behind the scenes. She never came to rehearsal. By the time we started, it was Kiely the whole time.”
Either way, “The Cheetah Girls” became a success for both the network and the girls with three movies, three soundtracks, two original albums, and multiple tours. Who knows? Maybe the foursome wouldn’t have met the same response with Solange on board.