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Mega Stars Who Got Their Start On Reality TV

Before the world put their names up in lights, these celebs knew they had what it took to go from unknown hopefuls to global superstars. But did you?
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Historically, reality TV has been a tried and true formula for anyone looking to claim “15 minutes of fame.” It’s also still a launchpad for those in need of a little exposure. But for a special and determined few, this calculated path proved the unlikely start to wildly successful careers in the spotlight–even if some admittedly prefer we not remember their television debuts.

Every mega star we first met through reality tv was looking for their big break in one way or another. Still, it’s hard to imagine Oscar-winning actors and some of the world’s most celebrated pop stars standing in never-ending lines to audition or being rejected on live television before hitting it big. But alas, even Hollywood’s biggest names had to start somewhere.

Emma Stone

VH1

It’s all too easy to forget that this Oscar Winner started her career in the spotlight on reality. But it’s true, my friends. Emma Stone’s earliest claim to fame was competing in In Search of The Partridge Family back in 2003.

The show itself tanked, but it’s safe to say producers knew a star when they cast one, at least in Emma’s case.

Jennifer Hudson

Fox

Obviously, Jennifer Hudson is not the only major music star to credit American Idol for their big break. However, the singer/actress has the kind of career (and pipes) that many only ever dream of.

The Grammy and Oscar winner has her very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a glittering career that spans two decades.

Harry Styles

ITV/Virgin Media One

Alongside his former boy bandmates, Harry Styles may not have the pop legacy he’s now achieved without being discovered on The X Factor. Do yourself a favor and watch 16-year-old Harry singing “Isn’t She Lovely” acapella at his audition, stat.

Now a globally successful solo artist, he’s more famous and followed than ever before. He’s arguably the most famous member of One Direction as well, which is a feat in itself.

Meghan Markle

GSN/NBC

Who would’ve thought that the young woman who once held a suitcase on Deal or No Deal would not only become a leading TV actress but someday marry into the most famous royal family in existence?

Thanks to her extremely high-profile relationship and the constant (and unwanted) tabloid attention, Meghan Markle is now one of the most recognizable faces on earth. These days, however, she mostly uses her fame for good, opting to stay out of Hollywood’s glaring spotlight, give back however she can, and build a family with Prince Harry behind the scenes.

Chris Hemsworth

Seven Network/Network 10

While you are probably familiar with some of these stars’ reality career stints, most people missed this one completely. Believe it or not, Chris Hemsworth one-two stepped his way to stardom on Australia’s version of Dancing with the Stars.

And if you cannot tell by his hairstyle, his all too easily forgotten reality days happened in the early 2000s.

Laverne Cox

NBC

Remember I Want to Work for Diddy on MTV? Laverne Cox does. Before her biggest break on Orange Is the New Black, Cox took part in the first season of this short-lived season series. However, she was eliminated by episode six. 

She went on to produce the series TRANSform Me and later became the first openly transgender person to receive an Emmy nomination. She was also the first trans woman on the cover of Cosmo. With every project she signs on to, Cox continues to make Hollywood history. But once upon a time, she was a rising star that a reality TV show abruptly dismissed. Jokes on you, Diddy!

Kesha

ET

If you ever rewatch The Simple Life, look closely. See anyone familiar this time around other than the leading ladies?

Before becoming a huge pop star, Kesha appeared in an episode of the hit reality show alongside Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. The trio worked together to help Kesha’s mom find a date. And no, I’m not kidding.

Cardi B

Vh1

If you watched Love & Hip Hop New York, you’re undoubtedly familiar with Cardi B’s stint. Some fans argue the outspoken powerhouse made the sixth and seventh seasons worth watching. But a couple of years later, she dropped “Bodak Yellow” and the rest is hip-hop history.

While many fans are familiar with the aforementioned reality run, it wasn’t actually the rap superstar’s first TV appearance. Per The Things, her often overlooked television debut was actually on VH1’s, Black Ink Crew: New York.

Alanis Morrissette

Rosie/CBS

Some stars have such humongous careers that we forget to ask where or how they got their start. And I’m here to remind you that Alanis Morissette actually competed on Star Search back in 1990.

Alanis hit it big in her native Canada long before becoming a global music sensation. Morrissette’s image and sound evolved pretty significantly before changing the game with “Jagged Little Pill.” At 21-years-old she took, she famously became the youngest person to win Album of The Year. She accepted it “on behalf of anyone who’s ever written a song from a pure place,” and no, she did not thank Star Search.

Read More: Alanis Morissette Dubs HBO Doc ‘Jagged’ as Salacious and Untrue

Jon Hamm

Lighthearted Entertainment

That’s right, friends. Don Draper himself once tried his hand at reality TV. Appropriately, he was looking for love in all the wrong places. And how about a round of applause for that silky, yet floppy hairdo?

While things might not have worked out for Jon Hamm on The Big Date, way bigger and better things proved on the Hollywood horizon.

Yaya DaCosta

CW/VH1

You may or may not remember Yaya DaCosta from America’s Next Top Model. She didn’t win her season, but she went on to have small roles on big shows, starting with Eve. The professionally trained dancer has also appeared in major movies, including The Kids Are All Right.

A star still on the rise, she’s since become a regular on hit shows like All My Children and Ugly Betty. Currently, she has a starring role in the hit series Chicago Med.

Camila Cabello

ITV/Fox/Virgin Media One

Let’s not forget that Camila Cabello was introduced to the world via The X Factor. More memorably, Fifth Harmony soon proved to be the first step in a wildly successful music career. Apparently, she was initially an alternate and almost didn’t get to audition.

According to the pop sensation, her persistence (and a little help from Simon Cowell) got her on the show. Flash forward to today, Cabello is one of the most beloved pop stars in the world, and she’s broken a few notable records along the way.

Read More: 18 Artists Undoubtedly Better Off Solo

Normani

Like Camila Cabello, Normani credits The X Factor and Fifth Harmony for launching her still budding career. Now soaring solo, Normani seems unstoppable.

She’s also been candid about the not-so-harmonious girl group experience.

Aaron Paul

CBS

Thanks to Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul is a TV legend in his own right. But once upon a time, he was just a contestant on The Price Is Right. Yes, you heard me correctly. Spoiler alert: he was wrong. And the award-winning actor’s televised reaction can best be described as an early case of over-acting.

He’s since revealed there’s a good reason for that. Per Decider, Paul “downed six cans of Red Bull” before going on stage. “I was trying to give them as much energy as possible. If you watch it, I look like I’m on drugs,” said Paul.

Miranda Lambert

CMT

When Miranda Lambert was 19 years old, she competed on Nashville Star. While this one’s lesser-known, it does boast a seven-season run. For a reality show, that’s a pretty long lifespan.

The country star was crowned the third runner-up, but she’s definitely had the most successful career. Looking back, Lambert says she’s glad she didn’t win, and I can’t say I blame her for that.

Lucy Hale

Fox/AJuniors

Before Lucy Hale was a well-known actress, she had her sights set on a singing career. Prior to becoming one of everyone’s favorite Pretty Little Liars, she competed in a series called American Juniors.

With that said, she flexed her acting muscles before appearing on reality TV. Technically, her first role was on The Bionic Woman back in 2007.

Christina Aguilera

CBS/Xtina Daily

Not everybody who signs up for Star Search becomes an actual star. Still, the competition series has launched the careers of some of the most famous and talented singers ever to grace a stage. Case in point: Christina Aguilera.

At eight years old, the future pop diva performed “Sunday Kind of Love.” While she blew the audience away with her raw talents, she was eliminated during the semi-final round. But sometimes you have to lose big to win big in the end.

Usher

VH1

Did you know Usher got his start on Star Search as well? I certainly did not. At the time, he was just 13. He’s also credited with “the longest sustained note ever held by a child on the show,” as noted by Rolling Stone.

While the iconic reality series may not have recognized this music star in the making, music industry legend La Reid sure did. And Usher’s life was soon changed forever when he landed a record deal at 15.

Beyonce

CBS

Failure is often deemed a key stepping stone to true success. Star Search‘s greatest claim to fame may actually be all the future icons the series failed to recognize. Name a bigger star than Beyonce. I’ll wait.

Front and center of the preteen girl group called Girls Tyme, Queen Bey had been lighting up the stage since childhood. While the singing/rapping girl group didn’t walk away with the final honor, they’d soon change their name to Destiny’s Child. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Read More: The Most Infamous Lip-Synching Scandals of All Time

Justin Timberlake

CBS

Many moons before joining NSYNC, Justin Timberlake gave his tiny all on Star Search. Wearing a cowboy hat and melting the first of many hearts, a very young JT did his best rendition of Alan Jackson’s “Love’s Got a Hold on You.” 

He didn’t win, but like so many other celebs who went on the reality series, that loss would prove career-making.

Britney Spears

CBS

Before she became a Mouseketeer, Britney Spears got her big break on Star Search in 1992. At just 11 years old, the future pop legend already had that special something that captivated audiences. A junior champion, she came pretty close to winning the top honor.

These days, it’s hard to imagine the pop icon beginning her career on reality TV. But if this roster tells us anything, it’s that Star Search really was a star finder in its own right. Aaliyah and Leanne Rimes also got their start on the 90s reality phenomenon.

Lady Gaga

MTV

It might be hard to imagine, but Lady Gaga’s earliest claim to fame came in the form of reality TV. As someone fans know, she appeared on an episode of The Hills, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Back when she was better known as Stefani Germanotta, Gaga appeared on the MTV show called Boiling Points. In this brief but shining moment, she unwittingly made her reality TV debut. Participants on this show didn’t know they were being filmed whilst being pushed to their, well, boiling point. But it’s safe to Lady Gaga got the last laugh.

Read More: A-List Celebrities Who Have Never Won an Oscar