15 Celebrities Who Started Out on TV Competition Shows (PHOTOS)

Damarys Ocaña Perez | Nov 13, 2015 TV
15 Celebrities Who Started Out on TV Competition Shows (PHOTOS)

Earning massive success and fame isn't always easy, but once reached, the road there almost always reads like a fairy tale. Especially for celebs who started out in reality or competition TV shows (complete with embarrassing hair, bad makeup, and dorky expressions!).

Here are 15 celebs who got their start trying to sing, act, and charm their way to stardom in the dog-eat-rising-star world of competition TV.


Image © Katy Winn/Corbis

  • Justin Timberlake


    Image via YouTube

    Decked out in a cowboy hat and Western wear, an 11-year-old Justin Timberlake sang "Love's Got a Hold On You" and other country songs as Justin Randall on Star Search. He lost but was later cast on The Mickey Mouse Club along with future stars Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Ryan Gosling. NSYNC and solo success as a singer, actor, restaurateur and producer followed.  

  • Dave Chappelle


    Image via YouTube

    Before he became the most successful comedian ever to walk away from his own TV show and a multi-million dollar contract, Dave Chappelle was the youngest comedian ever on Star Search, appearing three times but losing to Lester Barrie, who would also go on to fame.     

  • Elisabeth Hasselbeck


    Image via YouTube

    Conservative Fox & Friends co-host, former punching bag on The View, and football wife Elisabeth Hasselback says she was never interested in an on-camera job, but that's what happened after she made quite an impression as a tough-as-nails contestant (under her maiden name of Elisabeth Filarski) on Survivor: The Australian Outback. She's the only Survivor to go on to lasting fame.

  • Ke$ha


    Image via YouTube

    "We R Who We R" singer Ke$ha's first brush with fame came not on a stage but on Parlis Hilton and Nicole RIchie's reality show, The Simple Life. Hilton and Richie set up a then-teenage Ke$ha's mom on a date and Ke$ha helped size up prospects. Ke$ha later appeared on a Flo Rida track and the rest is pop history. 

    More from The Stir: 13 Oscar Winners Who Started Out on Soap Operas (PHOTOS)

  • Jennifer Hudson


    Image via YouTube

    When she auditioned for American Idol, Jennifer Hudson was a singer on Disney cruises. She got on the show but was infamously booted off the top 7—a mistake that the show has never lived down, as JHud went on to become a music, film, and Broadway star who's won an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe. 

  • Aaliyah


    Image via YouTube

    Before she was a grown, gorgeous, golden-voiced R&B singer, Aaliyah stunned audiences on Star Search at age 10, with a smoky version of "My Funny Valentine." That same year, she toured with legend Gladys Knight and by 12, she had a recording contract. Sadly, her fame lasted just one decade. She died in an airplane crash in the Bahamas on Aug. 31, 2001.

  • Beyonce


    Image via YouTube

    Aaliyah wasn't the only top-selling pop star to appear on Star Search. a Beyonce performed on the show with her group Girl Tyme as a tween. Unbelievably, the group lost, but the loss only made the driven future pop queen improve the skills with which she would one day rule the music world.

  • One Direction


    Image via YouTube

    Though they only came in third on the British version of X Factor, even back then, One Direction seemed factory-made for stardom, with Justin Bieber haircuts, form-fitting clothes and shriek-worthy performances. Clearly, the work they put into their image and their sound worked, as they have made millions album and concert sales, as well as merchandise.  

    More from The Stir: 10 Male TV Actors From The 90s Who Are Hotter Than Ever (PHOTOS)

  • Emma Stone


    Image via YouTube

    At age 16, Emma Stone persuaded her mom to take her to Hollywood to try for an acting career. And her mom, in turn, persuaded her to enter VH1's The New Partridge Family competition, in which she beat out several others to win the role of Laurie (under her real name of Emily Stone) and a chance to star in a pilot for a possible show. The show was never picked up but Stone persevered and was eventually nominated for a supporting actress Oscar for her role in Birdman.

  • Laverne Cox


    Image via YouTube

    For Emmy-winning Orange is The New Black thesp Laverne Cox, the road to stardom and high-profile advocacy for transgender people started on...I Want to Work for Diddy, the VH1 competition show where the winner would get a job as lackey for the hip hop impresario. Eliminated halfway through the first season, Cox then starred in the failed VH1 makeover show TRANSform before moving on to OITNB. 

  • Carrie Underwood


    Image © Katy Winn/Corbis

    She's such a superstar that it's easy to forget that Carrie Underwood got her start as the winner of the fourth season of American Idol after wowing the judges by performing Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" during her audition. Over a decade later, she's one of country music's biggest acts and winner of multiple Grammies, ACM and Billboard music awards. 

  • Jon Hamm


    Image via YouTube

    Emmy-winning Mad Men actor John Hamm wasn't always a star but he was always a cutie. Evidence: a 25-year-old Hamm appeared on a show called The Big Date. Though adorable under his long hair, he was rejected. Never mind that. He went on to make millions swoon on TV and film.  

    More from The Stir: Then & Now: 15 Famous Actresses Who Started Out on Soap Operas (PHOTOS)

  • Kelly Clarkson


    Image via Fox

    American Idol was a ratings juggernaut from Season 1, and it started things off with a bang by crowning one of only two winners (the other being Carrie Underwood) to go on to massive success. Kelly Clarkson auditioned for the show with her friends' encouragement and has gone on to become a multi-platinum selling star with a loyal following. 

  • Jamie Chung


    Image via YouTube

    Korean-American actress Jamie Chung first captured wide attention as the tell-it-like-it-is roommate on The Real World: San Diego and later starred in its spinoff Road Rules. She parlayed those appearances into an acting career that includes a recurring gig as Mulan in ABC's Once Upon a Time. Chung is the only Real World alum with a Hollywood career.

  • Christina Aguilera


    Image via YouTube

    Much has been made of how many stars appeared on Star Search at the beginning of their career—and lost. But one of the biggest oversights is surely Christina Aguilera, who appeared on the show as a 10-year-old with an impossibly big voice. Good thing she was to good to ignore, as she was picked up by The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and went on to be a bonafide singing diva.


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