Cast of 'Barney & Friends,' including celebrities Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato

Who Knew Barney Was A Starting Point For So Many Celebs?

The purple dinosaur is an iconic first co-star.

by Anna Menta and Umber Bhatti
Originally Published: 

If you forced your parents to put on Barney & Friends every day before preschool, you’re not alone. The giant purple dinosaur is a comforting and familiar sight to many since his PBS television debut way back in spring 1992. The show ran for 17 years, until 2009. Because it’s been over a decade since Barney graced us with his onscreen presence, your memory might be a little fuzzy, but allow us to reintroduce you to these eight celebrities you had no idea were on Barney & Friends.

Before they were stars walking down red carpets, these actors — including Kyla Pratt, Demi Lovato, and Selena Gomez — were small children receiving hugs from a man in a dinosaur costume. Everyone has to start somewhere, right?

It should be noted that Barney & Friends didn’t just create a generation of actors; the show also influenced the way we think by spreading valuable life lessons. In fact, the popular kid’s show will always hold a special place in the hearts of many, including Academy Award-nominated actor Daniel Kaluuya, who is in the works to produce a live-action version of the series. When asked about his inspiration behind the film, Kaluuya told EW, “Barney taught us, ‘I love you, you love me. Won’t you say you love me too … Especially at this time now, I think that’s really, really needed.”

While Kaluuya is a star working on a future Barney project, here are eight celebrities who have a past with the lovable purple dinosaur:

1. Selena Gomez

The world-famous singer and actor Selena Gomez got her start as a series regular on Barney. She played a character named Gianna from 2002 to 2004, starting when she was just 10 years old.

Gomez left the show in 2004 when she outgrew the role, and then three years later landed her breakout role as Alex Russo on Wizards of Waverly Place. In the years since, Gomez has established herself as a respected actor and musician. She’s also branched out as well, creating her own makeup brand, Rare Beauty, and collaborating with HBO Max to star in her own cooking show, Selena + Chef. As if that’s not enough, Gomez recently released her first Spanish album, Revelación. Her upcoming acting credits include horror movie Spiral, produced by Drake.

2. Madison Pettis

You might know Madison Pettis as Sophie Martinez on Disney's Cory in the House, or as The Rock's daughter in that 2007 film The Game Plan. In 2015, she landed a regular role on the Freeform show The Fosters, as Daria. Pettis has been since cast in several other roles, including the 2021 remake of She’s All That with Addison Rae, aptly titled He’s All That.

3. Malese Jow

Malese Jow, who portrayed Anna, the teen vampire on The CW's The Vampire Diaries, kicked it with Barney back in 1997 for one episode, "Pennies, Nickels, Dimes," from Season 4, Episode 3. Her most recent role? Amazon’s 2021 animated series Invincible, which boasts an impressive voice cast including Steven Yeun and Sandra Oh.

4. Kyla Pratt


Before Kyla Pratt was Penny Proud or Dr. Doolittle's daughter, she was Ky on Barney & Friends. From starring in shows like UPN’s (now The CW) One on One and Freeform’s Recovery Road, Pratt has had a robust television career.

Fans can look forward to seeing her in the upcoming Fox show, Patty’s Auto and Disney+’s Proud Family Reboot, Proud Family: Louder and Proudercoming to the streaming platform in 2022.

5. Debby Ryan

Debby Ryan is known from her role as Bailey Pickett in Disney Channel's The Suite Life on Deck, the spinoff series of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, as well as her titular role in the Disney Channel series Jessie. Her breakout role, however? Playing “teenage girl” in Barney: Let’s Go to the Firehouse. Lately, Ryan has continued to appear in movies, including 2020’s The Opening Act and will be featured in the upcoming film Spin Me Round alongside Aubrey Plaza.

6. Jackson Pace

Before he was running from zombies in The Walking Dead and dealing with his father’s stressful career in Homeland, Jackson Pace had a more comfortable job — chillin’ with Barney in two episodes of the show back in 2006. In 2020, Pace also had a recurring role in Disney+’s The Right Stuff, based off of Tom Wolfe’s nonfiction book about the early days of the U.S. space program.

7. Demi Lovato

Alongside their childhood friend Selena Gomez, singer and actor Demi Lovato also played make-believe with adults dressed like dinosaurs. They played a character named Angela for the same duration Gomez was on the show, from 2002 to 2004.

In 2007, around the time Gomez was cast in Wizards of Waverly Place, Lovato landed their breakout role in the Disney Channel original film, Camp Rock. Since then, Lovato has focused on their music career, releasing seven albums since 2008. Their latest album, Dancing with the Devil, also included an accompanying YouTube documentary about their life.

8. Brighton Sharbino

Sharbino is mostly known for her role as Lizzie Samuels in The Walking Dead, but she got her start with Barney as a “dancer/drummer” when she was only two years old. In the years since, Sharbino has landed guest roles in popular shows like True Detective, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Criminal Minds. The actor can also be seen in Brat Network’s Zoe Valentine and the 2020 Snapchat original, Players.

Thanks for launching so many Disney careers, Barney.

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