25 celebrities you had no idea got their start on reality TV
25 celebrities you had no idea got their start on reality TV

25 celebrities you had no idea got their start on reality TV

Reality television can sometimes be a career launching pad.

Talent competitions like “American Idol” provide a space for people to showcase their abilities. Documentary series like “The Real World” allow participants to win audiences over. Stars like Emma Stone, Laverne Cox, and Jon Hamm have all used some type of reality show as a stepping stone to their Hollywood dreams. 

Here are 25 celebrities who got their start on reality TV. 

Back in 2004, Jamie Chung was on “The Real World: San Diego.” Now, she’s a star on the “X-Men” series “The Gifted.”

jamie chung real world the gifted
Jamie Chung on “The Real World: San Diego” and “The Gifted.”

Chung joined the cast of “The Real World” when she was a sophomore in college. She then appeared on the show show’s spin-off, “Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Inferno II.”

“It’s a great experience I wouldn’t change for the world,” Chung told AOL’s “Build” in 2017. But you’re giving up a lot of your privacy.”

Soon there after, Chung transitioned into acting. Some of her earliest roles included a couple of episodes of “Days of Our Lives” and a part alongside Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato in Disney’s “Princess Protection Program.” She voiced GoGo in Disney’s Academy Award-winning animated movie “Big Hero 6,” played Mulan on “Once Upon A Time,” and is now part of the “X-Men” universe thanks to her role on “The Gifted.”

Lucy Hale competed on “American Juniors” before jumping into acting.

lucy hale
Lucy Hale on “American Juniors” and “Pretty Little Liars.”

Hale was only 13 when she auditioned for “American Juniors,” a short-lived spin-off of “American Idol” for kids. With a Southern accent and some strong vocals, Hale made it to the top five. They were formed into a group named after the show but only released one album.

During the auditions, her mom said, “Ten years from now, I think everybody will know Lucy’s name.” 

Well, she was right. Hale started acting in 2005 and rose to fame as one of the leads on “Pretty Little Liars.” She released a country album in 2014 and will next star on The CW’s “Life Sentence.” 

Before Kesha became the artist she is today, she was on an episode of “The Simple Life.”

Kesha on “The Simple Life” and performing at the 2018 Grammys.

OK, so Kesha didn’t rocket to stardom on reality TV, but before she became a superstar and Grammy-nominated artist, she appeared on “The Simple Life.” Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie try to set Kesha’s mom up on a date during a 2005 episode. She released her first album in 2010.

After a tense and emotional legal battle with her former producer, Dr. Luke, who she sued for alleged sexual assault and emotional abuse, Kesha released a new album in 2017. She performed a powerful rendition of “Praying” during the 2018 Grammy Awards. 

Before The Pussycat Dolls took off, Nicole Scherzinger auditioned for another band on “Popstars.”

nicole scherzinger
Nicole Scherzinger on “Popstars” and the “Dirty Dancing” remake.

Her time on “Popstars” led to her becoming a member of Eden’s Crush. The group lasted a year. She was looking to pursue a solo career when she was recommended to audition for a new band called The Pussycat Dolls. She became the lead singer. The group disbanded in 2009.

Scherzinger went on to release two albums in her solo career but has been more successful in other ventures. She recently voiced Moana’s mom in “Moana,” starred in ABC’s remake of “Dirty Dancing,” and is a judge on the UK version of “The X Factor.”

Auditioning on the same show as Scherzinger was Taryn Manning, now known for her role on “Orange Is the New Black.”

taryn manning
Taryn Manning on “Popstars” and “Orange Is the New Black.”

Manning actually did start her acting career a little bit earlier than her “Popstars” audition with some small roles. Following the competition show, Manning was cast in “Crossroads,” which starred Britney Spears. She also starred in “8 Mile,” “White Oleander,” and “Hustle and Flow.”

She has also since had a music career alongside her brother in the duo Boomkat.

Jon Hamm failed on the dating show “The Big Date” before becoming an award-winning actor.

jon hamm big date mad men
Jon Hamm on “The Big Date” and “Mad Men.”

Hamm competed on the dating show when he was 25, but was passed up by two women. Though he didn’t find love on TV, Hamm caught his big break nearly 10 years later when he was cast on “Mad Men.” He won two Golden Globes for the role. He has a few upcoming movies and will star in the upcoming miniseries “Good Omens.”

Emma Stone made her TV debut as Emily Stone, a competitor on the VH1 competition “In Search of the Partridge Family.”

emma stone
Emma Stone on “In Search of the Partridge Family” and in “La La Land.”

When she was 16, Stone actually won the singing competition for the role of Laurie Partridge. “The New Partridge Family” never ended up airing, though. But from there, Stone continued auditioning for roles and ended up on the soon-canceled “Drive.” Her break came when she was cast in “Superbad.” She’s now well-known for her roles in movies including “Zombieland,” “Easy A,” and for playing Gwen Stacy in “The Amazing Spider-Man.” She won an Oscar for “La La Land.”

Stone told Newsweek that she doesn’t regret starting her career on reality TV.

Analeigh Tipton’s career started as a competitor on “America’s Next Top Model.”

analeigh tipton
Analeigh Tipton on “America’s Next Top Model” and in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”

The model ended up third during the 11th cycle of Tyra Banks’s modeling competition. She signed with Ford Models and walked on some runways. She entered the acting world with a small part in “The Green Hornet” but is best known for playing the babysitter in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” She starred on “Hung” and will next appear in “The Long Home.”

Jennifer Hudson didn’t win “American Idol,” but it did launch her career.

jennifer hudson
Jennifer Hudson on “American Idol” and on “Empire.”

The singer made it to the top seven before being eliminated from the singing competition. No matter, though, because she went on to star in 2006’s movie version of “Dreamgirls” and won an Oscar for her breakthrough role. Though she has continued to release music, she has also continued acting. Her next role is in “Monster.” On top of that, she was recently a judge on “The Voice.”

Another “American Idol” alum to step into acting is Katharine McPhee.

katherine mcphee
Katharine McPhee on “American Idol” and “Scorpion.”

McPhee was the runner-up during the fifth season of the singing competition. Since the competition, McPhee has released five albums and embarked on an acting career. One of her earliest roles was in “The House Bunny,” and she starred on NBC’s “Smash.” She is currently on “Scorpion.” 

Katie Stevens also got her start competing on “American Idol.”

katie stevens
Katie Stevens on “American Idol” and on “The Bold Type.”

Stevens finished eighth on season nine of the competition. She told INSIDER that she felt “forgettable” after she was voted off.

“I think I was the person that was the most forgettable. And so I kind of disappeared, which was hard because it made me feel like nothing was ever gonna happen for me,” Stevens said. “Thankfully, I just worked hard to make sure that I made something of myself and not just be someone who just faded away in the background after having done ‘Idol.'”

She later starred on “Faking It,” and is currently on Freeform’s new hit show, “The Bold Type.” 

Justin Timberlake has had a successful music and film career, but it all started with “Star Search.”

justin timberlake
Justin Timberlake on “Star Search” and in “Wonder Wheel.”

An 11-year-old Timberlake donned a cowboy hat and sang a country song to compete as Justin Randall on “Star Search.” He didn’t win, but he did join the cast of “The Mickey Mouse Club.”

From there, he became a part of the hit boy band NSYNC. He went solo and released his debut album in 2002. His newest album, “Man of the Woods” will be out this year. His first acting gig was Disney’s “Model Behavior.” His most recent film is Woody Allen’s controversial “Wonder Wheel.” He’s also performing during the Superbowl halftime show for the second time.

Britney Spears also took a shot at “Star Search.”

britney spears
Britney Spears on “Star Search” and performing at the 2016 Jingle Ball.

She didn’t win, but like Timberlake, she joined the cast of “The Mickey Mouse Club.” Spears dropped her first album in 1999 and dominated the charts in the early 2000s. She also did a little bit of acting, including the lead in “Crossroads.” 

Before Beyoncé was Queen Bey, she was competing on “Star Search” as part of a group called Girl’s Tyme.

Beyoncé on “Star Search” and singing at the Grammys in 2017.

The group became known as Destiny’s Child in 1996, and the rest is basically history. Bey became a musical icon, topping the charts and changing the musical world with her innovative videos and projects. She acted in the Oscar-winning movie “Dreamgirls” and will next voice Nala in “The Lion King.” And to top it all off, she’s now a mother of three children. 

For a full list of celebrities who once participated on “Star Search,” because there is quite a long list, go here

ulianne Hough’s jump into the entertainment world came as a dancer on a couple of different reality TV shows.

julianne hough
Julianne Hough on “Show Me the Money” and in “Dirty Grandpa. ”

So technically Hough was an extra in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” but her career started to take off with her dancing on shows including “Show Me the Money” and then as one of the professional dancers on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Since then, she’s taken her dancing on tour, released an album, and acted in movies, including the “Footloose” remake and “Dirty Grandpa.”

Laverne Cox made history on “Orange Is the New Black,” but she only had a couple of small roles before being on “I Want to Work for Diddy.”

laverne cox
Laverne Cox on “I Want to Work for Diddy” and “Orange Is the New Black.”

“I Want to Work for Diddy” ran for two seasons and featured contestants competing to work for Sean Combs. Cox was on season one. She was eliminated on episode six. 

After her work on the show, she became a part of and produced the series “TRANSform Me.” She became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy in the acting category for “Orange Is the New Black” and continues to make history.

Heather Morris auditioned on “So You Think You Can Dance” before becoming a dancer for Beyoncé and starring on “Glee.”

heather morris
Heather Morris on “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Glee.”

She failed to make the top 20 during season two, but soon after, she became a backup dancer for Beyoncé’s world tour in 2007, as well as for other performances including “Saturday Night Live” and “Today.”

She started taking acting classes and appearing as a dancer on small episodes of shows and had a small role in “Fired Up.” She was asked to teach Beyoncé choreography on “Glee,” which led to her being cast as Brittany. She recently competed on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Matt Lanter tried his hand at becoming a model as a contestant on Bravo’s “Manhunt: The Search For America’s Most Gorgeous Male Model.” He didn’t win, but he did successfully turn to acting.

matt lanter
Matt Lanter on “Manhunt” and “Timeless.”

Lanter was the seventh runner-up in the modeling competition. His earliest roles include “Point Pleasant,” “Commander in Chief,” and a guest spot on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Lanter rose to fame on The CW’s “90210.” He currently stars on NBC’s time-travel drama “Timeless.”  

Yaya DaCosta was a runner-up on cycle three of “America’s Next Top Model” before pursuing an acting career.

yaya dacosta
Yaya DaCosta on “America’s Next Top Model” and on “Chicago Med.”

DaCosta went on to appear in commercials and model. Her first role was a guest spot on “Eve.” Since then, she was a regular on “All My Children,” appeared on “Ugly Betty,” and currently stars on “Chicago Med.” She was also in “The Kids Are All Right” and “The Butler.”

Lauren Conrad rose to fame thanks to “Laguna Beach.”

lauren conrad
Lauren Conrad on “Laguna Beach” and hosting her third runway show with Kohl’s.

Starring on the reality show during her high school years resulted in Conrad getting her own spin-off. “The Hills” ran for six season — Conrad was on for four and half seasons — and followed Conrad and her friends on their personal and professional ventures. Conrad now runs a lifestyle website and is a fashion designer. 

NeNe Leakes was a hit on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”

nene leakes
NeNe Leakes on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and on “Glee.”

She first debuting on the reality show in 2008, Leakes’s career has grown. She stepped into scripted roles on shows including “Glee” and “The New Normal.” She was a co-host on “Fashion Police,” went on a comedy tour, launched a clothing line, made her Broadway debut in “Cinderella,” and more. After leaving “Real Housewives” after its seventh season, she returned for season 10. 

Though her dad is Lionel Richie, Nicole Richie became popular thanks to “The Simple Life.”

nicole richie
Nicole Richie on “The Simple Life” and “Great News.”

On their reality show, Richie and Paris Hilton attempted to live and work like average Americans all over the country. Since then, Richie has continued to appear on reality shows, even starring in her own, but has also stepped into scripted roles. She currently stars on the sitcom “Great News.” 

Actor Josh Henderson first tried to find success as a competitor on “Popstars 2.”

josh henderson
Josh Henderson on “Popstars 2” and “Dallas.”

Henderson won a spot in the band Scene 23, but the group only lasted a year. Henderson then began to pursue acting roles. His earliest projects include “Step Up” and “Desperate Housewives.” He was also on “Dallas” and currently stars on “The Arrangement.  

Jacinda Barrett briefly started as a model before joining the cast of MTV’s “Real World: London.”

jacinda barrett
Jacinda Barrett on “The Real World: London” and on “Bloodline.”

Barrett later attended the British American Drama Academy and began her acting career. Some of her films include “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” and “Poseidon.” She’s well-known for starring on “Suits” and “Bloodline.”

David Giuntoli’s big break came on “Road Rules: South Pacific.”

david giuntoli
David Giuntoli on “Road Rules: South Pacific” and “Grimm.”

He went on to also compete on “Real World/Road Rules Challenge.” He began pursuing an acting career a few years later. He is best-known now for starring as the titular character on NBC’s “Grimm.”