It's not where you started from, it's where you end up, they always say. And for these mega-stars, their start was on the small screen. And we're not talking sitcoms. It used to be that reality television was looked down upon, but these celebs prove it's nothing to thumb your nose at. Reality TV is launching careers left and right—hello, Cardi B? Here, 30 celebrities who got their start on reality TV only to hit it big elsewhere.
The Pretty Little Liars star's career began in 2003 on a series called American Juniors, which was essentially American Idol for kids under the age of 18, but with the goal of creating a singing group, rather than finding just one star. Hale finished in fourth place, and made it into the group, which disbanded in 2005. She is by far the most successful of the Juniors alumni, and has continued singing, releasing Road Between in 2014.
Frankel's known for being a Real Housewife, but her first reality TV appearance was actually on reality competition series The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, for which she came in second place. Viewers then watched Skinnygirl and Bethenny's trek to entrepreneur stardom when she became one of the Real Housewives of New York as a member of the series' original cast, before selling her company to Beam Global for an estimated $100 million in 2011. She's since tacked on appearances on Shark Tank and Beat Bobby Flay to her resume.
Every Oscar winner has to start somewhere, and Emma Stone has never been shy about her humble beginnings. She told Rolling Stone, "I did an episode of Malcolm in the Middle. And an episode of Medium.… I was the voice of a dog on The Suite Life of Zach and Cody." But Stone's first credited appearance was on VH1’s In Search of the Partridge Family, a reality show competition series searching for people to star in a new iteration of The Partridge Family in 2004. Stone, who at the time was still going by 'Emily,' eventually wound up cast as Laurie Partridge, and well...it all worked out in her favor.
The Sucker Punch star got her start on The Real World: San Diego, the long-running series' 14th season. She later appeared on (and won!) the spin-off series Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Inferno II , and now stars as Blink in The Gifted on Fox.
From America's Next Top Model to Chicago Med, Yaya DaCosta has had a wide-ranging career. After coming in second to Eva Pigford in the modeling competition's third season, DaCosta continued working in front of the camera, and started an acting career in 2005 with a guest-starring appearance on UPN's Eve. Since then, she's made a name for herself with performances on All My Children, Ugly Betty, and Lifetime's Whitney Houston biopic. She's starred on Chicago Med since its first season in 2015.
The group that would eventually come to be known as Destiny's Child first debuted on Star Search as Girl's Tyme, and...they lost. I know, right? It's rather shocking considering one member would grow up to be the woman we know as Queen Bey, wife of Jay-Z, mother of three, and voice of a movement. But she remembers from whence she came: She even uses the Star Search introduction in her song "***Flawless."
In 2010, One Direction placed third in British televised singing competition The X Factor. The boyband swept the globe with their good looks and catchy hits, but Styles left a particularly strong impression on his fans. When One Direction went on hiatus (or broke up—we still don't know) in 2016, the Styles train didn't stop. He released a self-titled debut album and even took up acting, with a role in the Oscar-winning film Dunkirk.
There's footage of a young Don Draper Hamm on a dating show from the '90s in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's fourth season, and that's far from a television illusion. In 1996, a 25-year-old Jon Hamm made an early TV appearance on The Big Date, a dating show that ran on USA network from 1996–1997. His pickup line of choice: "Some fabulous food, a little fabulous conversation, and end with a fabulous foot massage for an evening of total fabulosity." Uh...maybe next time, Jon?
Harlow was scouted by Tyra Banks herself for the 21st season of America's Next Top Model. She didn't win her season, but the model's career is still popping; Harlow has been featured in a variety of magazines, walked in the 2018 Victoria's Secret fashion, and was even part of Beyoncé's visual album Lemonade.
The Oscar-winner's elimination on American Idol was one of the most shocking in Idol history, with her making it to just the top six on the show's fourth season. The exposure from that show lead her to the screen adaptation of Broadway musical Dreamgirls, for which she won an Oscar in 2007. She can be seen most recently as a judge on The Voice, and will be in the upcoming adaptation of the musical Cats.
This is much more of a cameo than an ascent to stardom, but before she came in on her 'Rainbow,' Kesha was on an episode of The Simple Life alongside Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. In the episode, Paris and Nicole try to set up Kesha's mom on a date, and Kesha looks the most 2005 she could possibly ever look.
Henderson found initial fame as a contestant on Popstars 2, a sequel to Popstars, which gave us a few other people on this list. (Keep reading!) This time, they were looking for a boy-and-girl group, and Henderson won a spot in the band Scene 23. Unfortunately, the group only lasted a year, but Henderson burst onto the acting scene. He was most recently spotted on The Arrangement.
Just like Beyoncé, Britney didn't win during her turn on Star Search in 1992, but it did give her enough exposure to then land a spot on The New Mickey Mouse Club alongside Keri Russell and Justin Timberlake. Seven years later, Spears released her first album, and it's been hit after hit (me baby one more time) ever since.
Nicole Scherzinger is known for being the voice of Moana's mother in Moana and for being the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, but she got her true start on the reality tv competition series Popstars. She won the competition and joined the girl group Eden's Crush. They released one album and disbanded after two years. Scherzinger joined the Pussycat Dolls in 2004.
Legendary actress Laverne Cox made history as the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in the acting category. But before that, she appeared as a contestant on the first season of the VH1 reality show I Want to Work for Diddy in 2008, coming in eighth place. She also co-hosted and co-produced TRANSform Me, a makeover show for VH1.
Clarkson won the first season of American Idol, with her debut single "A Moment Like This" earning critical acclaim as 2002's best selling country song. Her career continued to skyrocket, leading to three Grammy Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards, four American Music Awards, and two Academy of Country Music Awards. Justin Guarini could never.
Remember Nashville Star? Lambert got her big break after coming in third on the country singing competition. Since the show, Lambert has gone on to win two Grammys and nine American Country Music awards, cementing her place as one of the most famous country music singers.
He's mega-famous now, but back in 1992, he was "Justin Randall," rocking a cowboy hat and singing Alan Jackson's "Love's Got a Hold On You" on Star Search. He didn't win, but it didn't matter—he'd eventually make his way to The New Mickey Mouse Club, also starring Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling. JT then found worldwide success with boy band NSYNC, a dominant solo career, and some epic hosting spots on SNL. He acts, he sings, he dances, he does it all!
Introduced to the world courtesy of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Jenner isn't just Kim's baby sister. The 21-year-old entrepreneur's makeup company Kylie Cosmetics sold enough that to crown her Forbes' youngest "self-made" billionaire ever.
More than 20 years ago, the Australian-American actress and model could be spotted on The Real World: London. At the time she was also pursuing a pilot's license. Now you'll know her primarily from her appearances on Suits and Bloodline. Wonder if she still flies?
In 2005, McPhee came in second place to Taylor Hicks on American Idol for the show's fifth season, but we think she's done alright. She has since released four albums, starred on Broadway, and acted on shows like Smash and Scorpion.
The actress was the third-place finisher on America's Next Top Model's 11th season, and Tyra Banks suggested to her that she might be more of an actress than a model in her elimination. That turned out to be true, with Tipton stealing the screen in movies like Crazy, Stupid, Love and Two Night Stand.
Before The Bold Type, she was nearly an American Idol! Stevens landed in the Top 8 of the series' ninth season, singing songs like Etta James' "At Last" and Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools." She was eliminated alongside Andrew Garcia, but, nbd, she went on to star in Faking It a few years later.
The "Money" singer's rise to fame can best be described as astronomical. After going viral in videos for Vine and Instagram, Cardi appeared in the sixth and seventh seasons of Love & Hip Hop: New York, leaving the series to launch her music career. And well, the rest is history.
Long before he made us fall in love with him on Netflix's Queer Eye reboot, Brown was making history as the first openly gay black man on reality television; he made waves on The Real World: Philadelphia in 2004 and later returned to MTV with Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Inferno II.
Siriano—beloved by A-list celebrities such as Janelle Monae, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lopez for his stylish and inclusive designs—got his start on Project Runway. The fashion designer won the fourth season of the show and launched his namesake collection in 2008. In a twist of fate, Siriano returned to his roots and is currently "having a moment" as the mentor for designer hopefuls on Project Runway's current season.
The early 2000s gave us a lot of good things: velour tracksuits, the iPod nano, and The Hills. Of her reality cast mates from The Hills (definitely of the Laguna Beach squad), Conrad could very well be considered the most successful. She's currently a fashion designer and a published author—talk about a glow up.
Michael 'The Miz' Mizanin
The Miz made his first appearance on The Real World: Back to New York, as Mike Mizanin, an only child from a small town with a wrestler alter-ego named The Miz. He then participated on The Real World's spinoff series, Real World/Road Rules Challenge, getting to the finals in four of five seasons, ultimately winning two. He later realized his wrestler alter-ego would make a great IRL wrestling persona, and now he performs on WWE Smackdown under the name—you guessed it—The Miz. Dreams really do come true!
Now starring on ABC's A Million Little Things, Giuntoli got his start when he was scouted for Road Rules: South Pacific in 2003. He made a subsequent appearance on Real World/Road Rules Challenge, and guest appearances on shows including Veronica Mars, Grey's Anatomy, and Nip/Tuck before hitting it big with his role on Grimm.
Though she had done a few small roles here and there, Manning's career really started with an audition for reality competition series Popstars in 2001. Following the competition, she landed a role opposite Britney Spears in Crossroads. She also starred in 8 Mile and Hustle and Flow, and you can find her now starring in Netflix's Orange is the New Black.
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