20 Reality TV Stars Who Went From Nobody to 'Really Big Deal'! (PHOTOS)

Laura Anastasia | Sep 18, 2015 TV

Want to be as famous as Kim Kardashian? Go on reality TV. Addictive, true-to-life shows and competitions have been turning average Joes into big-time stars for more than two decades. Celebs like Emma Stone and Lucy Hale have been so successful at building on their fifteen minutes of fame that most fans have forgotten all about about their reality roots. 

 

 

The national TV exposure gives otherwise unknowns a foot in the door to acting, music, and more high-profile careers. Which reality stars have done the best job of moving from D-List to VIP? Let's find out. 

 

Image © Matteo Chinellato/XianPix/Corbis

  • Emma Stone, In Search of The Partridge Family

    1

    Stone is a mega-star now, but she got her foot in the door on the reality competition In Search of The Partridge Family in 2004. The ravishing redhead won the show -- and the role of sister Laurie in a remake of the 1970s sitcom. Stone's career soared soon after, with her movie debut in the 2007 hit Superbad. Stone has starred in several top films since, including The Help; Crazy, Stupid, Love; and The Amazing Spider-Man. She earned a Golden Globe nomination for 2010's Easy A and an Oscar nom for 2014's Birdman.  

  • Lauren Conrad, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County

    2

    Reality show Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County followed Conrad and her friends during their senior year of high school in 2004. The levelheaded blonde quickly became a fan favorite, later getting her own spinoff, The Hills, following her life as a Teen Vogue intern and fashion student in Los Angeles. Today, Conrad is a fashion designer, entrepreneur, and New York Times best-selling author. She recently married William Tell. 

  • Bill Rancic, The Apprentice

    3

    You're hired! Rancic bested the competition to win season one of The Apprentice and a job with Donald Trump. The entrepreneur met wife, TV personality Giuliana Rancic, during a post-show interview. The duo star in their own reality show, Giuliana & Bill. Rancic also makes big bucks as a motivational speaker, author, and Chicago real estate developer. 

  • Jennifer Hudson, American Idol

    4

    Controversy erupted when powerhouse vocalist Hudson was eliminated early in American Idol's third season. Getting the boot, however, didn't hurt Hudson's career. She landed the part of Effie White in 2006's Dreamgirls alongside Beyonce, Jamie Foxx, and Eddie Murphy. Her movie debut earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and won her comparisons to Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand. Hudson also starred in Sex and the City and The Secret Life of Bees, among others, as well as guesting on TV's Smash and Empire. The multi-talented Hudson won a Grammy for Best R&B album in 2009. 

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  • Melissa Rycroft, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making The Team

    5

    Rycroft's first reality TV venture was on Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making The Team in 2006 and 2007, but the personable brunette didn't capture the spotlight until she vied for Jason Mesnick's heart on The Bachelor in 2009. Mesnick proposed to Rycroft at the end of the show, only to dump her on national TV six weeks later for runner-up Molly Malaney. Rycroft got the last laugh, however, nearly winning Dancing with the Stars that year, marrying on-off love Tye Strickland, and starring in reality show Melissa & Tye. The former cheerleader won 2012's Dancing with the Stars: All-Stars and is a special contributor on Good Morning America and Entertainment Tonight, among others. Now remind us -- Jason who?

  • Ke$ha, The Simple Life

    6

    Bad girl pop star Ke$ha had her first brush with fame in 2005, when Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie stayed with her family on The Simple Life. The teen helped the popular socialites find a date for her single mom. Ke$ha became famous in her own right in 2009, with an uncredited cameo on Flo Rida's hit single "Right Round," that led to her own recording contract and first smash, "Tik Tok."  

  • Kim Kardashian, Keeping Up with the Kardashians

    7

    Famous for being famous? Nobody does it better than Mrs. Kanye West. The selfie-loving socialite started as a personal shopper for Lindsay Lohan and other celebs before Keeping Up with the Kardashians planted her and her generous assets firmly in the spotlight in 2007. (A leaked sex tape with ex-boyfriend Ray J didn't hurt either.) Over the years, Kardashian has kept fans begging for more, with racy photo shoots, multiple endorsement deals, fashion ventures with sisters Kourtney and Khloe, and her tabloid-worthy love life. The Vogue cover star and husband West have a daughter and a second child on the way. Stay tuned. (We know you will!)

  • Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Survivor: The Australian Outback

    8

    Hasselback designed shoes for Puma before competing in Survivor: The Australian Outback in 2001. She didn't win Survivor, but she scored big afterward. The perky blonde married a pro quarterback and landed a coveted co-host spot on The View. Super-conservative Hasselbeck famously clashed with her co-hosts for a decade before joining FOX News's Fox & Friends as a co-host in 2013. 

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  • Carrie Underwood, American Idol

    9

    Underwood is undoubtedly American Idol's most successful alum. Since winning the show's fourth season, in 2005, the Oklahoma native has sold more than 56 million albums worldwide, had 21 number one hit singles, and won seven Grammys. Underwood and pro hockey player hubby Mike Fisher recently had their first child, son Isaiah. 

  • NeNe Leakes, The Real Housewives of Atlanta

    10

    Leakes locked in fans' interest quickly on The Real Housewives of Atlanta with her no-nonsense attitude and weave-snatching spats. Since debuting on the reality show in 2008, the mega multi-tasker has also starred in Glee and The New Normal, guest-hosted shows including The View and The Talk, competed on The Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars, and launched her own clothing line. 

  • David Giuntoli, Road Rules: South Pacific

    11

    Giuntoli's wild ride to fame started with Road Rules: South Pacific in 2003. The handsome reality star soon crossed over into acting, guest-starring on TV hits including Ghost Whisperer, Grey's Anatomy, and Private Practice. The small-screen veteran has starred as Detective Nick Burckhardt on Grimm since 2011.

  • Heather Morris, So You Think You Can Dance

    12

    Way before charming audiences as Glee's Brittany S. Pierce, Morris competed on So You Think You Can Dance in 2006, narrowly missing a spot in the top 20. The master mover won a spot as a backup dancer on Beyonce's world tour instead. Serendipitously, Morris landed her loveable Glee role while teaching Bey's "Single Ladies" routine to the cast. Morris is currently expecting her second child with husband Taylor Hubbell.

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  • Lucy Hale, American Juniors

    13

    A singer at heart, Hale started her Hollywood tale on the American Idol spinoff American Juniors in 2003, winning a spot in a pop group of the same name that disbanded a few years later. The teen guested on Drake & Josh and a few other shows before landing a role in The Bionic Woman in 2007 and Privileged in 2008. Today, Hale is best known for Pretty Little Liars, in which she has starred since 2010. 

  • Chris Daughtry, American Idol

    14

    Despite his very vocal fans, rocker Chris Daughtry only made it to fourth place on American Idol's fifth season, in 2006. Soon after, the singer and songwriter signed with a record label, formed the band Daughtry, and released the fastest-selling rock debut album in Soundscan history. His latest project is TV movie Studio City, out this fall. The seasoned musician also has his hands full at home. He and wife Deanna have four kids. 

  • Bethenny Frankel, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart

    15

    Frankel may be famous from The Real Housewives of New York City, but the natural foods chef started her reality career on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart back in 2005. She was runner up, but Frankel still scored the attention of the Real Housewives producers. Starring on RHONY from 2008 to 2010, the fan favorite ended up with two spinoffs, Bethenny Getting Married and Bethenny Ever After, and her own self-titled talk show from 2012 to 2014. The savvy businesswoman used her small-screen status to propel her Skinnygirl empire, which sells everything from low-cal cocktails and snacks to appliances and shapewear. Frankel is slated to return to RHONY this year. Let the drama begin!

  • Julianne Hough, Dancing with the Stars

    16

    Hough dabbled in showbiz as a teen but didn't gain national attention until she joined Dancing with the Stars in 2007 as one of the pros and helped two celeb partners win the mirror ball trophy. After leaving the competition in 2009, she acted in movie musicals Burlesque, Footloose, and Rock of Ages, and showed off her more serious side in 2013's Safe Haven. The recently engaged Hough is back on DWTS as a judge and is prepping to play Sandy in 2016's TV special Grease: Live

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  • Jamie Chung, The Real World: San Diego

    17

    Chung turned her 2004 stint on MTV's The Real World: San Diego into a real acting career. The actress has been in 20 movies, including 2011's Sucker Punch, 2012's Premium Rush, and 2014's Big Hero 6. The tireless Chung also played Mulan in TV's Once Upon a Time

  • Paul "Pauly D" Delvecchio, Jersey Shore

    18

    GTL forever! Pauly D's gym, tan, and laundry routine, made famous during his time on Jersey Shore from 2009 to 2012, has certainly paid off, and not just with stage-five clingers. The deejay used his reality show fame to turn his part-time deejaying gigs into a million-dollar career. The former used car sales manager pulled in $13 million in 2013 alone. Among his biggest gigs: deejaying on Britney Spears's 2011 Femme Fatale tour, residencies in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and the 2012 spinoff The Pauly D Project

  • Kelly Clarkson, American Idol

    19

    Clarkson bested 10,000 other hopefuls to become American Idol's very first winner, in 2002. Since then, the good girl with an edge has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide, had 10 songs in the Top 10, and won three Grammy awards. Phew! On the homefront, Clarkson married Brandon Blackstock in 2013 and gave birth to daughter River Rose the next year. 

  • Analeigh Tipton, America's Next Top Model

    20

    From the catwalk to costarring with Ryan Gosling? Yes, please! Tipton ice skated competitively as a child, but it was her posing on America's Next Top Model season 11 in 2008 that put the 20 year old on the road to stardom. After coming in third, she guest-starred on The Big Bang Theory. Tipton later acted in Crazy, Stupid, Love with Ryan Gosling, The Green Hornet, and HBO's Hung, all in 2011. The long-legged star has continued to act on the big and small screen, with four movies due out in 2016. Look who's "smizing" now, Tyra!

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