The Texas native portrayed the titular Kelly in the Disney Channel Original Movie, which premiered in March 2002. That year also saw the release of other beloved DCOMs, including Get a Clue starring Lindsay Lohan and Gotta Kick It Up! with America Ferrera, but Cadet Kelly was arguably the biggest standout.
The film follows Kelly Collins, a city girl forced to move to the country after her mom marries Joe (Gary Cole), who becomes the commandant of a nearby military school. Because it’s the only school in the area, Kelly has to go there too, but her free-spirited personality makes it tough for her keep up with the rigidity of the institution.
Though Kelly makes a friend in Carla (Andrea Lewis) and develops a crush on Brad (Shawn Ashmore), she also finds a nemesis in Jennifer (Christy Carlson Romano), who’s determined to enforce the rules at all costs. By the end of the movie, however, Kelly and Jennifer come to understand each other, especially after Kelly helps lead the drill team to their best regionals performance ever.
While Kelly and Jennifer both nurse crushes on Brad throughout the movie, some fans have long believed that the duo actually had feelings for each other. Duff had no idea that some viewers interpret the movie as being “queer-coded” until her How I Met Your Father costar Tien Tran pointed it out.
“She was like, ‘Oh, my God. It is a moment in the queer community. All that close-talking with Jennifer,’” the Younger alum told Cosmopolitan in January 2022. “I didn’t know that. But if it helped anybody, I hope so.”
Romano, for her part, is just happy that viewers are still talking about the movie years after its release.
“Even if it’s a Disney Channel film, it’s still a piece of art. And the reason why my films and TV shows have done well over time is because they have substantial value that obviously rings true with the fans and fans of all ages,” she told MTV News in March 2017. “I feel very blessed to have played Jennifer Stone, because I do think that if she could have influence over people going through all sorts of different things, then that’s very flattering to me.”
Keep scrolling to see where the cast of Cadet Kelly is now: