Focused on the day-to-day challenges of teenage life, the Degrassi franchise depicted the careers of adolescents in Toronto. The long-running series made its debut in 1979 with The Kids of Degrassi Street. After concluding in 1986, the next show, Degrassi Junior High retained some of the main cast but changed their characters completely. By 1989, the show aired over 40 episodes dealing with many controversial topics. Degrassi High continued the trend, and The 1992 movie School's Out! even made history with its use of the “f-word”, the first time it had been used in Canadian television history.
The franchise found renewed life in 1991 with the launch of Degrassi: The Next Generation, which included some stars and storylines from the previous shows. Even today, the franchise continues with Degrassi: Next Class on Netflix.
Many child stars have walked away from the show with the needed boost to their careers to become A-list stars. Though the series was a stepping stone in their career, its lasting effects helped to boost them into the spotlight for film and TV. Though some stars discovered newfound stardom, others never made a better acting career for themselves beyond the show's Degrassi Street.
From Hollywood stardom and fame to legal woes and tragedy, here are 8 Stars Who Became A-Listers (And 7 Who Completely Flopped).
15 A-List: Shay Mitchell
When Shay Mitchell guest starred on Degrassi: The Next Generation, her resume only included modeling and several national commercials. After studying acting in Toronto, she made her television debut as a model in the episode “Up Where We Belong".
Although her part was brief, the season 8 episode may have helped to launch her acting career. Following the guest part, she landed the lead role of Emily Fields on the popular teen drama Pretty Little Liars, which skyrocketed her stardom. After the conclusion of the show in 2017, she went on to star in smaller roles on Aaron Stone, Rookie Blue, and Glee.
This year, Mitchell will star in two new TV projects. She will play Peach Salinger in the Lifetime TV series You and Corrine Saybrook in the ABC family soap The Heiresses.
14 Flopped: Miriam McDonald
Degrassi character Emma Nelson made her debut in Degrassi Junior High (when she was born) before becoming the main protagonist in Degrassi: The Next Generation. Actress Miriam McDonald gained considerable fame playing the lead role for 125 episodes. However, her transition to a long-standing career after the show hit several snags.
Her acting roles have included appearances in several subpar films including Poison Ivy: The Secret Society, and The Poet (with former Degrassi alum Nina Dobrev). After a four-year break in her career, she returned with occasional guest roles on series including Lost Girl and Orphan Black. Her last onscreen appearance took place in 2016 with an appearance as Emma in Degrassi: The Next Class.
With an onscreen career that never quite blossomed, McDonald moved to voice acting instead. Since her first voice talent casting in 2001 in The Ripping Friends, McDonald appeared in nearly 40 additional films and TV series.
13 A-List: Stacey Farber
Debuting in season 2 of Degrassi: The Next Generation, actress Stacey Farber began her career on the show portraying Ellie Nash. As one of the new freshman in the Class of 2006, she became known as the goth girl of their class. Though initially a recurring character, she soon became a primary cast member starting in season 3. Over time, Ellie matured and shed her goth look, remaining on the show until season 7.
After a final appearance in the franchise in Degrassi Goes Hollywood tv movie, Farber found success in leading roles on the Canadian sitcom 18 to Life and the supernatural drama Saving Hope. Most recently, Farber starred in American shows including Chicago Hope, The Brave, and the Netflix original comedy Grace and Frankie.
12 Flopped: Ryan Cooley
Class clown James Tiberius "J.T." Yorke (we love the Star Trek name choice) debuted in season 1 of Degrassi: The Next Generation. Serving as his first major role after starring in I Was a Sixth Grade Alien, child actor Ryan Cooley grew up on the show over 83 episodes. However, tragedy struck in the season 6 episode “What's It Feel Like to Be a Ghost? (2)” when J.T.'s life was ended by Lakehurst student Drake Lempke.
Since his departure, Cooley’s career became stagnant, with only a few roles in other projects. After a small break after the Degrassi franchise, Cooley appeared in the series The Dating Guy in 2010 and Lost Girl in 2012. Since then, Cooley moved from onscreen appearances to working in voice acting. His credits include BeyWarriors: BeyRaiderz and Oh No! It's an Alien Invasion.
11 A-List: Landon Liboiron
Despite being a late addition to the show, actor Landon Liboiron certainly made an impact with his role. Declan Coyne, the conceited older brother to Fiona Coyne, made his first appearance in season 9 of Degrassi: The Next Generation.
After 26 episodes of breakups, some questions acts, and a couple of scandals, Liboiron left the show in 2010. He went on to start in several horror movies including Altitude and The Howling: Reborn. For his small screen career, Liboiron landed a regular role on the sci-fi drama Terra Nova. His most significant role to date began in 2013 on the Netflix original series Hemlock Grove. Starring as Peter Rumancek, he continued on the series until its conclusion in 2015.
Since then, Liboiron moved on to the series Frontier, where he portrays Michael Smyth opposite Jason Momoa.
10 Flopped: Melissa McIntyre
Beginning her acting career at the age of 11, actress Melissa McIntyre starred in small roles before her time on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Her character, Ashley Kerwin, went through significant changes since season 1 of the show in an attempted to find herself. By the conclusion of her storyline on Degrassi, McIntyre had starred in 72 episodes and the TV movie Degrassi Spring Break Movie.
Unfortunately, McIntyre’s time on the show seems to be her most significant acting accomplishment. After her final show in 2008, her acting career came to a halt. According to EW.com, McIntyre has “kept a private life. She briefly reappeared in 2012 as a singer in former INXS frontman J.D. Fortune’s band.” She maintains an active social media presence on Instagram and Twitter.
9 A-List: Stephan James
As a member of Degrassi Community School's Class of 2013, Julian Williams appeared in season 9 and season 10 of the show. Though his time was limited to just eight episodes, actor Stephan James delivered a memorable performance while a student on the series.
After leaving Degrassi: The Next Generation, James found fame playing very notable historical films. In 2013, he played civil rights activist John Lewis in Selma. In 2014, he secured a part in the Lifetime movie The Gabby Douglas Story. After making a brief cameo in The Book of Negroes, James secured the lead role in Race, a biopic depicting the life of famed track and field star Jesse Owens. In a role initially intended for Star Wars lead John Boyega, James’ performance earned him the Canadian Screen Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.
James' next role will be in If Beale Steet Could Talk, Berry Jenkins' follow-up to the Best Picture-winning Moonlight, so is star will only continue to rise.
8 Flopped: Niki Kemeny
Many stars from the Degrassi franchise left the series when their characters' storylines came to a natural end. However, actress Niki Kemeny departed the show thanks to some bad advice from her agent. Debuting in the second series, Degrassi Junior High, Kemeny played Voula Grivogiannis in only 10 episodes.
Although she was doing well on the show, her agents felt she could do better. Subsequently, she withdrew from the show, and her character was written as having moved away. In the end, Kemeny did not gain any new acting projects and actually regrets leaving the show. Degrassi High School became her only onscreen appearance. According to IMDB, her last noted performances were “with the Rubberfunk Theatre company as Detective April Chelsea in the 'Chelsea & Boggs' series” in 2005.
7 A-List: Shenae Grimes
Making her television debut on Degrassi: The Next Generation, Shenae Grimes tackled some serious storylines during her time on the show. The character Darcy Edwards evolved from the innocent, slightly stuck up Christian girl to a self-destructive cheerleader. Her storylines included harassment, assault and her recovery from these traumatic events. After 40 episodes, Darcy eventually moved to Kenya for charity work.
In the aftermath of her Degrassi days, Grimes became a lead character in the revived teen drama 90210. In addition to a number of appearances on various reality shows, she continued her career in several TV movies and starred in the 2013 film Sugar. Her latest performances include a role on iZombie and the upcoming Canadian police drama The Detail.
6 Flopped: Tyson Talbot
Actor Tyson Talbot’s career took quite a nosedive after his stint in the Degrassi series. He actually starred as three different characters during his time with the franchise. His first role in The Kids of Degrassi Street listed him as playing “Ticket Seller” for one episode and then Billy for an addition 11 episodes. In the next show, Degrassi Junior High, he played Jason for four episodes but eventually quit the show.
Talbot’s acting career ended after his last appearance, but his legal troubles brought him back into the spotlight. As reported by The Globe and Mail, Talbot “he was charged with... the death of Christopher Shelton” in 2002. However, in 2004, he was found not guilty of all charges due to the death being ruled as self-defense.
5 A-List: Nina Dobrev
Degrassi: The Next Generation never shied away from tackling controversial issues faced by teenagers. For the subject of teen pregnancy, audiences witnessed Mia Jones becoming a mother at a young age. Portrayed by actress Nina Dobrev, her character faced harsh judgments and prejudices as a teen mom and student on Degrassi.
Since her controversial role, Dobrev’s stardom rose considerably after appearing in The Vampire Diaries and its spinoff The Originals. She also appeared in several movies including The Roommate, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, xXx: Return of Xander Cage, and Flatliners. In 2016, she even made an appearance on the wildly popular series Lip Sync Battle where she went toe-to-toe against former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow.
Her upcoming projects include the short film Lucky Days and full-length features Dog Days and Departures.
4 Flopped: Jason "Byrd" Dickens
Though originally depicted as a nice guy, Degrassi High character Scott Smith turned into an abusive and controlling boyfriend. Played by actor Jason "Byrd" Dickens, Scoot remained on the show for season 4 and season 5 for ten episodes.
Although Dickens ended his acting career after the show, he continued to work in showbiz as a lighting technician and rigging gaffer. His behind-the-scenes career spanned nearly 30+ years. However, he also became involved in scandals beyond the Degrassi franchise, when he was charged with possession of inappropriate content, exploitation, and assault.
He was arrested along with three other women involved in the case which included his wife, Dylan Anne McEwan.
3 A-List: Stephen Amell
True Degrassi fans may recall seeing Stephen Amell making a brief guest appearance in the series at the very start of his career. A re-watch of the season 4 two-part premiere “Ghost in the Machine Part 2” will reveal Amell playing a bodyguard on the series. Although the part was minor, it stood as only his second role in his television career. Amell later secured a more significant part in the TV series Rent-a-Goalie.
After recurring parts in Da Kink in My Hair, Heartland, and Hung, Amell found his place in the DC Comics world playing Oliver Queen / Green Arrow on the series Arrow. Becoming his most notable role to date, his character has appeared in crossover episodes of The Flash, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl.
2 Flopped: Neil Hope
Beginning in 1985, actor Neil Hope began a long-standing career in the Degrassi franchise. He first debuted as Griff in The Kids of Degrassi Street from 1985-1986. He moved on to play a different character, Derek 'Wheels' Wheeler, in both Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. His character's appearances spanned over 60 episodes. Hope concluded his portrayal of Wheels in two episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation. Sadly, this marked the end of his acting career overall.
According to The New York Times, Hope had been working “a forklift operator, a furniture salesman and a customer service representative for a pizza chain.” However, his familial history of alcohol abuse soon became an issue for Hope as well. He tragically passed away from a heart attack in 2007 in a boarding house in Ontario. However, due to his reclusiveness, his passing was unknown to anyone until 2012.
1 A-List: Drake (Aubrey Graham)
It seems like a lifetime ago when a young, up-and-coming actor Aubrey Graham once frequented the halls of Degrassi Community School. Portraying basketball star James "Jimmy" Brooks, the character became a fixture on the show for seven seasons. Most notably, Jimmy became paralyzed from the waist down after a school shooting back in season 4. After his 145-episode stint on the show, he made a small appearance in film and TV but focused his sights on a musical career.
Taking the stage name Drake, Graham’s rap career began with the release of his 2006 mixtape Room for Improvement. Years later, Drake has become an international superstar, headlines his own world tours, and has garnered several notable music awards including three Grammy Awards. Drake has not dismissed his Degrassi roots and has been involved in a few reunions with some of his fellow Degrassi alum over the years.
Who was your favorite Degrassi character? Share your memories in the comments.