22 Reality TV Stars Who Became Major Celebrities

Celia San Miguel | Oct 29, 2016 TV
22 Reality TV Stars Who Became Major Celebrities

With American Idol having bid adieu after 15 seasons, Project Runway currently in its 15th season, and America's Next Top Model preparing for its season 23 premiere, it's hard to keep track of even the most talented contestants on reality competition shows. Many of these shows' winners enjoyed a brief brush with fame, then quickly sank back into oblivion. But over the past two decades, there have been stars who have transcended their reality competition origins, establishing themselves as major forces in their respective fields. In some cases, the public forgot they were ever associated with reality competition shows in the first place!

From singer and dancer Nicole Scherzinger to fashion designer Christian Siriano, find out which powerhouses owe much of their success to the exposure granted by reality competition shows. 


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  • Jennifer Hudson

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    She didn't even crack the top five in season three of American Idol, but Jennifer Hudson has attained greater success than most of the winners in the show's history. Hudson, who placed seventh in her Idol season, became the protagonist of her own Cinderella story when she was cast as Effie White in 2006's Dreamgirls and went on to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Roles in Sex and the CityThe Secret Life of Bees, and Winnie Mandela followed. Hudson has also enjoyed a prosperous musical career, releasing three R&B albums, the first of which won a Grammy. Could she be the first Idol alum to reach EGOT status?

  • Christian Siriano

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    Hands-down the most successful Project Runway alum, season four winner Christian Siriano has crafted stunning red carpet gowns for such Hollywood A-listers as Lady Gaga, Emily Blunt, and Sarah Hyland. By 2012, Siriano's namesake ready-to-wear line was raking in $5 million in yearly sales. He has also expanded his empire through clever design partnerships, including a handbag and footwear line with Payless Shoesource. Fierce! 

  • Heather Morris

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    Glee fans watched as Brittany Pierce (played by Heather Morris) channeled Britney Spears effortlessly in a season two episode, executing the complex choreography from the pop star's "Slave 4 U" music video with uncanny precision. Turns out, we shouldn't have been so surprised! Morris competed in season two of So You Think You Can Dance and, while she didn't make the final 20, she did earn a better prize a year later: a gig as one of Beyonce's back-up dancers. By 2009, she'd stepped out of the background and taken her place in the spotlight thanks to Glee.  

  • One Direction

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    Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, and Niall Horan originally auditioned for season seven of the UK's The X Factor. During the competition's boot camp stage, all five were eliminated and left in tears. The judges, however, brought them back and offered them the opportunity to stay on — but only if they competed as a group. Despite a third-place finish, the group went on to become the biggest boy band since 'N Sync thanks to hits such as "What Makes You Beautiful." Four of the group's albums debuted at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart (a record-setting figure), and One Direction's 2014 Where We Are tour grossed $290 million, out-earning tours by Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake that same year.

    More from CafeMom: 15 'DWTS' Contestants Who Dated Their Dance Partner

  • Lucy Hale

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    As Aria Montgomery on Pretty Little Liars, Lucy Hale spent years trying to decipher the identity of the mysterious "A" with her high school posse. During her real-life teen years, Hale was most concerned with the mystery of whether she'd win American Juniors. Hale competed in the 2003 singing competition, an American Idol spin-off in which the final five contestants formed a teen pop group called — you guessed it — American Juniors. Hale actually won the whole enchilada, but sadly, the group quickly disbanded. Hale went on to enjoy a thriving acting career and, in 2014, returned to her musical roots, releasing a country album.

  • Austin Scarlett

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    Project Runway season one contestant Austin Scarlett set the golden standard for the show's unconventional materials challenge, creating a fabulous gown out of corn husks. While Heidi said "auf wiedersehen" to Scarlett before the finale episode, he was definitely never "out" of the fashion game. In 2012, Scarlett released his own line of bridal gowns to great fanfare. His dreamy, romantic, elegant wedding gowns often grace the pages of Brides and The Knot.

  • Kelly Clarkson

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    As the first winner of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson had a lot to prove. Would Idol fans ultimately buy her music? Would she win over skeptics who predicted her to be a flash in the pan and establish herself as a lasting superstar? The answer to all these questions was a resounding "yes." Sure, she parlayed her reality TV exposure into a platinum-selling debut album, but it was her sophomore effort, the rock-infused Breakaway, that truly established Clarkson as a musical force. To date, she's sold nearly 18 million albums. 

    More from CafeMom: Kelly Clarkson Says She's Not a Friend to Her Kids & That's 'Key'

  • Fifth Harmony

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    After coming together on season two of the US version of The X Factor, the five members of Fifth Harmony have shown they're definitely "worth it." The quintet's first album, Reflection, debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and produced three platinum-selling singles: "Boss," "Sledgehammer," and "Worth It." Their follow-up, 2016's 7/27, fared even better, debuting at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and producing their highest-charting single, "Work From Home."

    More from CafeMom: 19 Reality TV Stars Everyone Loves to Hate

  • Leona Lewis

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    After winning season three of England's The X Factor, Leona Lewis became an international sensation with her 2007 single "Bleeding Love," which topped the charts in 35 countries, including the UK, the US, Canada, and Japan. In 2013, her song "One More Sleep," debuted at No. 3 on the UK charts, becoming her eighth single to crack the top 5. In the process, she made history as the British solo female artist with the greatest number of top 5 hits  — a record previously held by Olivia Newton-John, who had seven songs reach the UK's top 5.

  • Michael Voltaggio

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    As the winner of season six of Bravo's Top Chef, Michael Voltaggio leveraged the exposure he received from the show to expand his foothold in the culinary world while also creating additional revenue streams. In September 2011, less than two years after his Top Chef win, Voltaggio opened his own high-brow Los Angeles eatery, ink., and in a smart move, opened a sandwich shop (now named Sack Sandwiches) for those seeking more affordable options. Restaurant ventures aside, Voltaggio penned the cookbook VOLT ink. alongside his bro (and Top Chef competitor), Bryan, and appeared in a 2016 Carl's Jr. ad that was mouth-watering in more ways than one!

  • Chris Daughtry

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    When ranking American Idol contestants by album sales, Chris Daughtry comes in third, with an impressive nine million albums sold. As the frontman of rock band Daughtry, he's recorded such hit singles as "It's Not Over" and "Home." After opening for Bon Jovi and Nickelback, Daughtry worked its way to main act status, headlining its own tours and co-headlining sold-out tours with 3 Doors Down and Goo Goo Dolls.

  • Yaya DaCosta

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    The expression "second place is just the first loser" simply doesn't apply to Yaya DaCosta, the runner-up in season three of America's Next Top Model. Two years after losing the title to Eva Pigford, Yaya lit up the big screen in the ballroom dance film Take The Lead, then snagged small but memorable parts in acclaimed movies like The Messenger and The Kids Are All Right, finally earning her first leading role in Lifetime's Whitney Houston biopic. Nowadays, Yaya plays headstrong nurse April Sexton in Chicago Med. Sounds like a winner to us!

    More from CafeMom: 15 Celebrity Couples Who Were Doomed by Reality TV

  • Michael Costello

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    Aside from Christian Siriano, no Project Runway alum has dressed as many high-profile celebrities as season eight's Michael Costello, who has created exquisite red carpet confections for Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and Ariana Grande. Costello was also tasked with creating custom lace gowns for Kim Kardashian's BFFs to wear at her lavish wedding to Kanye West.

  • Carrie Underwood

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    American Idol season four victor Carrie Underwood has sold over 20 million albums, making her the show's best-selling competitor ever. Critics have been just as receptive to the country darling's musical output: Underwood has earned seven Grammys, six Country Music Association Awards, and nine American Music Awards. She also holds the Guinness Book record for the female country artist with the most No. 1 hits on the Hot Country Songs chart, with 14 songs skyrocketing to the coveted top spot. Even Faith Hill and Reba McEntire haven't accomplished such a feat!

  • Richard Blais

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    Die-hard Top Chef fans might remember Richard Blais as the liquid nitrogen–loving runner-up from season four who later returned for 2010's Top Chef: All Stars and emerged victorious. Foodies, meanwhile, are likely acquainted with his restaurant ventures — Flip Burger Boutique (with locations in Atlanta, Birmingham, and Nashville) and Juniper & Ivy in San Diego — or his James Beard–nominated cookbook, Try This At Home. In addition to running his various eateries, Blais is a regular guest on Top Chef and, most recently, Fox's MasterChef.

  • Emma Stone

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    Before she was winning over our hearts in Easy A, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Crazy, Stupid, Love, Emma Stone was charming the judges on VH1's 2004 reality talent competition In Search of the New Partridge Family. Stone's talent and charisma won her a role as Laurie Partridge on the series reboot, but the project never came to fruition. Luckily, we didn't have to wait long to see Stone again: She made her film debut in 2007's Superbad.

  • Adam Lambert

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    When auditioning for season eight of American Idol, Adam Lambert chose to sing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Five years later, he was touring with Queen's Brian May and Roger Taylor, filling the late Freddie Mercury's boots while making each song his own. After touring with Queen, Lambert hit his musical stride, releasing a powerhouse third album, The Original High, in 2015. Between album sales and tour earnings, Lambert raked in $10 million in 2015, making him the top-earning Idol alum that year (Underwood came in at No. 2).

  • Analeigh Tipton

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    Even though she placed third in season 11 of America's Next Top Model, finalist Analeigh Tipton blew the judges away with her CoverGirl commercial, which Tyra Banks crowned the best in ANTM history. The acting chops Banks recognized were soon acknowledged by Hollywood casting agents: Tipton landed roles in films like Crazy, Stupid, Love; Lucy; and Warm Bodies, and she starred in the ratings-challenged but critically lauded series Manhattan Love Story. 

  • Guy Fieri

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    After winning season two of The Next Food Network Star, Guy Fieri was given his own cooking show, Guy's Big Bites, on the network — but of course, the show's fate depended on how well it performed during its six-episode run. Ten years later, Guy's Big Bites remains on the air, but that's not all: Fieri is now a ubiquitous presence on the Food Network, hosting shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Guy's Grocery Games. Off-screen, the platinum-haired chef owns several restaurants, including Guy Fieri's Vegas Kitchen & Bar and Guy's American Kitchen & Bar in New York City. 

  • Nicole Scherzinger

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    Before she was critiquing contestants' performances on the UK and US versions of The X Factor, before she was singing "Don't Cha" and Buttons" as the lead member of the Pussycat Dolls, Nicole Scherzinger was a contestant on the WB's 2001 reality competition show Popstars. During the competition, five contestants were selected as winners — among them Scherzinger — and brought together to form a girl group, later anointed Eden's Crush. While the girl group had a short life span, Scherzinger established that she had major star potential.

    More from CafeMom: 19 People Who Have Been On More Than One Reality Show

  • Little Mix

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    Like One Direction, girl group Little Mix was formed on season eight of the UK's The X Factor but, unlike 1D, these ladies actually won the competition. Their 2012 debut album, DNA, entered the US Billboard 200 chart at the No. 4 position, besting the Spice Girls and establishing a new record for the highest debut Billboard position held by a British girl group.

  • Katharine McPhee

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    Though her post–American Idol albums yielded mediocre sales, season five runner-up Katharine McPhee found great success in the acting realm. She currently stars in the CBS drama Scorpion, in which she plays Paige Dineen, the social liaison for the group of brilliant but eccentric techies that constitute Homeland Security's Team Scorpion outfit.

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