People often think that being on reality TV is a cheater's journey to fame (in a super fake way). Those looking for careers in music and other creative industries might be under the impression that the exposure they’d get from entering a reality competition like American Idol won’t be long-lasting, and they’ll forever be known as the person from the reality show, not as a true artist. But there are a whole bunch of celebrities that totally disprove those theories, because even though they’re stars in their own right today, they actually rose to prominence through reality television, and you totally forgot about it! Really, reality TV is a platform with which you can ascend to great heights or completely ruin your image -- you just have to know how to play. They all started the same way, but we’re pretty sure that the following 15 celebrities and groups no longer seem like mere reality stars to you!
15 Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood has definitely become America’s sweetheart. Seriously, is it even the Grammys if Carrie doesn’t hop on stage and perform? We don't think so! She’s won a ton of awards for her services to music, including an American Music Award for Artist of the Year, a Grammy for Best New Artist, a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Female Artist, a Billboard Award for Top Country Album, not to mention like a million Academy of Country Music Awards and CMT Awards. This girl has totally proven her worth as an artist and performer, and given us the ultimate girl power break up song in "Before He Cheats." To think that she started on American Idol! Yes, we agree that some reality competition winners go on to fade into obscurity after six months in the spotlight, but Underwood has ensured us all that that doesn’t have to be the case at all. What an inspiration!
14 Little Mix
Little Mix is one of the biggest girl groups on the planet right now, and arguably the biggest all-girl pop group to come out of the U.K. since the Spice Girls, so it’s easy to forget they started out on The X Factor. The girls auditioned for the show in 2011 as solo artists, and failed to make it through the competition on their own but were placed together by the judges. Once they united on the show, they went on to ace their performances every week and became the first group to win the show in the world. Since then, the girls have had a string of hits, including "Wings", "Little Me", "Black Magic" and of course their latest smash single"‘Shout Out to My Ex." Today, the girls are doing all kinds of epic things like performing at the Brit Awards, opening for Ariana Grande, and headlining their own world tour.
13 Paris Hilton And Nicole Richie
There are a few factors that contributed to the fame of heiresses Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, including famous families, questionable leaked footage, and paparazzi obsession. However, the two were shot to a higher level of fame than other billionaires’ daughters because they starred in The Simple Life reality TV show on FOX. That newly acquired status allowed both girls to go on and do other things, including chasing careers in the fashion, beauty, and music industries. Nicole is still known today as a style icon, while Paris released a memorable hit in the 2000s called "Stars are Blind." These two might not be as famous as they once were (after all, there is only room for one ultra-famous it-girl group in Hollywood) but the world will always know who they are. Whether you love them or hate them, you can’t deny Hilton and Richie were once the ultimate reality television duo!
12 Fifth Harmony
Little Mix isn’t the only girl group to have found fame on The X Factor! In 2012, the year after Little Mix won, Fifth Harmony followed in their British sisters’ footsteps and won the US version of the show. They too auditioned as solo artists and were put together in a decision made by the judges, but as it turns out, it was a freaking great decision! The girls of Fifth Harmony (Dinah Jane, Normani, Ally, Lauren, and formerly Camila) have had an impressive number of hit songs, and have executed some show-stopping performances during their five or so years in the spotlight! The group’s latest album turned out tunes like "Work from Home" which you’ve no doubt heard playing on the radio ten times a day. Now Camila has left to do her own thing and the girls have reached a new level of fame which seemed impossible a few years ago!
11 Leona Lewis
British songstress Leona Lewis blew up in 2007 with smash hits like "Bleeding Love" and "Better in Time". After winning The X Factor in 2006 and scoring a million-dollar recording contract with Syco music, Lewis quickly achieved a level of success that was previously thought to be unobtainable for reality stars! Her debut album Spirit ended up being one of the highest selling records of the 2000s, and "Bleeding Love" spent a whopping seven weeks at number one. By 2008, the album was topping charts around the globe, and Lewis headed on her first arena tour in 2010. To date, she has won two World Music Awards for World’s Best Selling Female Pop Artist and World’s Best New Artist, and she has also won an MTV Europe Music Award for Best UK & Ireland Act. She’s also been nominated for a bunch of Brit and Grammy Awards. Not bad for The X Factor!
10 Jordin Sparks
Jordin Sparks has made a name for herself in the music industry through her exceptionally strong voice and catchy songs, so it’s easy to forget that like so many others, she began her musical journey at the tender age of 16 on American Idol. Sparks is the only American Idol winner to date who has had every one of her first five singles reach the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. She’s also proven that she can do more than just sing, and has acted in a number of television shows as well as the film Sparkle. On top of that, she’s delved into the world of Broadway and designing perfumes. A potential food series starring Sparks is also in the works (called Sugar and Sparks) and the show will follow her pursuit of her dream to own a bakery of her own and break into that industry as well. Pretty impressive!
9 One Direction
They may be on a “hiatus” now, but One Direction was the biggest boyband in the world from 2011 to 2016. The moment "What Makes You Beautiful’" was released, the five boys were an international sensation and embarked on a tour that essentially lasted for five years. During their time in the spotlight, the boys made five albums and were pretty much on tour every single year until they took a well-deserved break in 2016. In that period, the boys gained legions of loyal (and trust us, we mean loyal) fans, made a documentary called This Is Us, and won a string of accolades including American Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Grammys, Video Music Awards, European Music Awards, Kids’, Teen and People’s Choice Awards, and basically every other award you can think of. To think they were once five boys trying their luck out as solo artists on The X Factor is mind-boggling!
8 Nicole Scherzinger
Nicole Scherzinger has done a range of things in her career. Most notably, she was the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls and asked us all if we wished our girlfriends were hot like her (we don’t have girlfriends, but yes we do). She’s also released singles as a solo artist, competed on Dancing with The Stars, starred in a number of musicals, and sat on the judging panel of The X Factor. But did you know she actually got her start on American Idol’s predecessor, Popstars? Nicole was one of the winners of the show back in 2001 and became one fifth of the group Eden’s Crush which released their first single that year. Eventually, Eden’s Crush disbanded after its label went bankrupt. While the other girls didn’t rise much further in the entertainment industry, Nicole went on to be a superstar and eventually returned to reality television, but as a judge.
7 Adam Lambert
Since 2009, singer Adam Lambert has sold more than 5 million singles, and more than 3 million albums worldwide. Today he is an icon for the LGBT community, and it’s all thanks to his competing on American Idol in 2009. Although Lambert didn’t win the season, he is the ultimate example of runners-up going on to be even more popular and successful than the winners! We love him because not only is he an inspiration to those who are on reality television, but he’s also an inspiration to people who haven’t made it anywhere on their first shot. In addition to releasing number-one hits all on his own, Lambert has casually collaborated with the band Queen and is still embarking on a world tour with them. It doesn’t get much more successful than that! Adam is the proud winner of a MuchMusic Video Award, a Teen Choice Award, and several other accolades.
6 Emma Stone
Bet you didn’t even know about this one! She’s now one of the highest-paid actresses in the world, but Emma Stone actually made her television debut in a talent competition on VH1 called In Search of the New Partridge Family back in 2004. The resulting show was titled The New Partridge Family and although a pilot was filmed, it wasn’t terribly successful. After this, Stone went on to star in a number of films including Superbad, The Rocker, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Zombieland, and The Help. So her stint on reality television didn’t last very long, but it did introduce Stone to the world of TV! In addition to three Screen Actors Guild Awards, Stone has under her belt a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe. At only 28, she is showing no signs of slowing things down, with her recent film La La Land already having earned a low-key $268 million.
5 Julianne Hough
We all know that Dancing with The Stars is made up of, well, the stars, and professional dancers. But rarely does a dancer transform into a star! Julianne Hough was a part of the show for four years, and although she is clearly a strong and passionate dancer, she has made it her mission to carve out a career in film and television. She isn’t doing so badly on that front, as she’s already starred in a number of movies including Rock of Ages, Burlesque, and Safe Haven. Interestingly enough, Hough was actually introduced to the entertainment industry at the age of 11 when she had a role as an extra in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. However, she was uncredited so we can hardly count this as the platform from which she rose to fame. But appearing in a Harry Potter movie at all is a good thing to have on your resume!
That’s right! Beyoncé Knowles appeared on reality television! As a child, B competed on Star Search with her hip-hop, rappin’ group, Girl Tyme. It gets even more interesting when you consider the fact that the group, which many think of as the precursor to Destiny’s Child, didn’t even win! Wow, it really seems like runners up do often end up doing better than the winners. Like a true star, B didn’t let one fail deter her from achieving her dreams, and she went on to work even harder on her group until they became the original Destiny’s Child we all knew and loved. And since then, B has embarked on a solo career which has reached unprecedented levels of success. Standing in the audience of the Formation world tour today, you’d never think that the woman on stage was introduced to the industry through reality TV. She’s definitely come a very long way!
3 Jennifer Hudson
Speaking of Queen B, her Dreamgirls co-star Jennifer Hudson has left her own mark on the music industry, though her time on reality television wasn’t that long ago at all! Hudson competed on American Idol and finished up seventh, but her crazy voice caught the attention of the right people before she left the show. She was cast alongside Beyoncé in Dreamgirls and earned huge amounts of praise for not only her vocals, but the acting chops she used to play Miss Effie White. The success didn’t stop there though, and Hudson landed a role in 2008’s much-awaited Sex and the City movie playing Carrie Bradshaw’s assistant, Louise. Since then, Hudson totally transformed her image when she lost 56 pounds and became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers. Her family founded the Hudson-King Foundation for Families of Slain Victims after going through a personal tragedy, and it really doesn’t get much more inspiring than this gal!
2 Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson has come so far in her career that it’s hard to remember she was the very first winner of American Idol. During her time as music’s original idol and the fan-dubbed Queen of Covers, Clarkson has won three Grammy Awards, twelve Billboard Music Awards, four American Music Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards, and two Academy of Country Music Awards. So far in her impressive career, she’s been ranked the 14th best-selling artist of the 2000s by Billboard, has had three Billboard number-one hits and has sold more than 25 million albums. In other words, she’s done well. And none of it would be possible without reality TV! She’s been through a few label changes and got off to a rocky start in life, but the challenges haven’t been able to stop her from rising to excellence. Another Kelly Clarkson album is on its way, and we personally can’t wait!
1 The Kardashians
You guessed this one, didn’t you? In some ways, it’s hard to forget that the Kardashians started on reality television. For one thing, they’re still there and the term “reality star” is synonymous with them. But in other ways, the fact that they were once just on a reality TV show is kind of bizarre. These girls now have a string of reality shows that people watch just to see them, their own business endeavors, fashion lines, and endorsements. Their level of influence in pop culture is so extreme that one 2015 Instagram post of Kim Kardashian in Dutch braids had girls all over the globe sporting the same look for the next two years! The Kardashians are now an infallible brand that is here because of reality TV (and maybe one or two scandals!). Love it or hate it, this is one of the strongest ways of achieving fame in today’s world!