A-listers tend to have a certain look. Their hair is shiny, their clothes are designer, their teeth are white and their contour is on point. But as we look back at images of actors, singers, and reality stars before they made it big, it becomes obvious that the Hollywood look is something gained along the way.
In reality, as much as we adore and idolize them, celebrities are just people like us. Genetically gifted people, perhaps, but humans all the same. The best thing about browsing through snaps of stars before they were stars is realizing that even the rich and famous have flaws that make them all the more interesting, and even more real and relatable. We no longer have to hold it against ourselves when we don’t scrub up well next to people who’ve got a glam team and the benefits of airbrushing.
Check out this list we’ve compiled of snaps taken before the status and the wealth when the celebrities were still mostly unknown. Fair warning: we had to do a double-take of some of these famous faces! A lot of these photos were taken in college, high school, and even earlier, and most of the stars are almost unrecognizable.
25 Cardi B Was Always A Poser
Cardi B shared this adorable photo of herself as a little girl on her IG, and her millions of followers could hardly believe their eyes! She’s certainly worlds away from the rising rap star we know today.
But the one thing mini Cardi and 2019 Cardi have in common is their ability to pose like nobody’s business and, of course, the fact that the camera loves them. Cardi was born Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar in 1992 in the New York City of The Bronx, but she had Cardi B's attitude from day one!
24 Rihanna As A School Girl
Those green eyes would be unmistakable anywhere, but the Rihanna in this picture is nothing like the one we know today! Born in Barbados, Rihanna managed to land an audition with music producer Evan Rogers while he was visiting her island home. Impressed, Rogers invited her back to the United States to record some demos, and the rest you know.
Today, Rihanna has a musical background spanning more than ten years a string of number-one hits, not to mention an enviable influence on the fashion of our era.
23 Niall Horan Before One Direction
One fifth of One Direction, Niall Horan was born in Ireland. This photo was taken just before he made it into the famous boy band, though that shirt looks suspiciously similar to the one he auditioned in.
Horan and his bandmates met on The X Factor UK after they were put in a group together by the judges. While they didn’t win the competition that year, they did go on to win at life, becoming one of the most successful boy bands of all time.
22 Young Meryl Streep
Can you believe that this girl was once told that she wasn’t pretty enough to be an actress when she auditioned for King Kong?! While she experienced some tough rejections early on in her work life, Meryl Streep was actually one of the more popular kids in high school. She attended Bernards High School in Bernardsville, New Jersey, and was a cheerleader when she was a senior.
“It was my first real characterization,” she revealed later on. “I played blonde homecoming queen for a few years.”
21 Jennifer Aniston Before She Was Rachel Green
This girl looks vaguely familiar, but it’s still hard to believe that she’s none other than one of Hollywood’s most famous blondes, Jennifer Aniston. As it turns out, Aniston, who has roots in Greece on her father’s side, is actually a natural brunette! And clearly, beautiful enough to stun with brown or fair locks.
The photo was taken around the time the actress graduated from LaGuardia High School of Music and Art in New York City, prior to getting the role of Rachel Green on Friends.
20 Victoria Beckham Before The Famous Pixie Cut
Victoria Beckham is famous for a list of feats. Being Posh Spice. Making pouting cool. Being married to David Beckham. Having a brood that would become one of the most talked about in Hollywood. Designing clothes. Being besties with A-listers.
But perhaps the most famous thing about Victoria Beckham is the pixie cut that she wore throughout the 2000s. This photo was taken before she became an international icon of style. Her outfit seems much more Baby Spice than Posh.
19 Ellen DeGeneres Long Before Her Talk Show
Arguably the most successful talk-show host on air at the moment, Ellen DeGeneres didn’t start out as a host. Her natural comedic chops led her to the comedy scene, and then onto her own sitcom.
In this photo, she looks a lot more like the Ellen of yesteryear who starred in her own TV show and did stand-up comedy than the Ellen of today. Before she moved into the entertainment industry, Ellen worked at J.C. Penney, as a house painter, a bartender, and a waitress at T.G.I.Friday’s.
18 Adele In 2007
This photo of Adele performing was taken in 2007, one year after she graduated from the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology in Croydon. Her breakthrough song 'Hometown Glory' was released in October of 2007, but here, the baby-faced Adele seems like a totally different person from the glammed up ballad queen we know now.
She worked steadily on her music throughout the following years, until 2011, when she achieved worldwide recognition for her album 21, which featured mega tracks 'Someone Like You' and 'Rolling in the Deep.'
17 Katy Perry As A Blonde
At the moment, Katy Perry is sporting a blonde cropped cut. But when she first burst on the scene telling us how she kissed a girl and liked it, she was instantly recognizable as the blue-eyed, raven-haired California girl.
This photo was taken before all of that, when the young Katy was still a freshman at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California. She first got into music by singing gospel, though interestingly, as a teenager she idolized Freddie Mercury.
16 Lady Gaga Before The Fame
Lady Gaga pre and post fame seem like completely different people! This photo is of the young Stefani Germanotta, an artist trying to make it in New York City, around the time that she was teaming up with Lady Starlight.
There’s footage still circulating today of Gaga performing in clubs and bars before she got her big break, under her real name. It wasn’t until 2008 that the singer achieved international stardom with her album The Fame, which boasted singles like 'Just Dance' and 'Poker Face.'
15 Emilia Clarke Acting Before GoT
Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones may not have been Emilia Clarke’s first role, but it is the one that made her a star around the world. Before playing the Mother of Dragons, Clarke wasn’t a household name.
Any photos or videos of her before she became a Khaleesi are always eye-opening, like this still taken of the actress while she acted in Triassic Attack. The movie was released in 2010, the year before Clarke made her big break on GoT, and is about three dinosaurs that are resurrected in an act of revenge.
14 Winona Ryder In 1986
Oh. Em. Gee. This 1986 photo of Winona Ryder hardly seems real! It was taken the year she appeared in her first film Lucas and marked the beginning of her extensive film duration.
We’re not used to seeing the actress with dark hair, but the blonde brings back memories of Edward Scissorhands, where Ryder played Kim, the love interest of Johnny Depp’s Edward. Ryder and Depp went on to date in real life for three years and were at one point engaged.
13 Ryan Seacrest In High School
We’re not even sure how this teenager and the red carpet host that we know and love are the same person! Ryan Seacrest was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1974, and this shot was taken while the future E! star was attending Dunwoody High School.
When he was just sixteen, he was awarded an internship at WSTR (FM), where he first learned many aspects of radio. He continued working on air until he graduated in 1992 and then went on to study journalism at the University of Georgia.
12 Simon Cowell In 1987
It looks like Simon Cowell, but without the famous plain white or black shirt, can it really be him? In 1986, Cowell had his first hit record through US singer Sinitta and first showed up on the music industry radar.
He still had a while to go before rising to the position he’s in today, though, as his company Fanfare Records went under in 1989. In 2001, Cowell became a judge on the first series of Pop Idol and became the face of talent competitions around the world.
11 Jennifer Lawrence In The Eighth Grade
We’ve met Jennifer Lawrence the Oscar winner, now meet Jennifer Lawrence the eighth grader! She loved being involved with extra-curricular activities in school and played basketball, field hockey, softball, and was also a cheerleader. She was also thrown from a horse while growing up, which injured her tailbone.
The future star first got into acting when she found that performing on stage was an effective way to deal with her social anxiety and gave her a sense of accomplishment. That turned out to be a great move!
10 Taylor Swift As A Struggling Artist
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Taylor Swift with a guitar! When she first came out with her hit song ‘Love Story,' Taylor Swift was straight out of Nashville. Her first few albums were influenced by her country roots, but she eventually crossed over to the pop scene and claimed her position as one of the most successful mainstream pop acts in the world.
Before becoming a star, Swift attended Hendersonville High. “I really don’t miss much about high school,” she revealed when she was being home schooled. “Because the moment I’m in right now is like waking up in a dream.”
9 Justin Bieber Busking Before Making It
Justin Bieber became an international superstar when he was a teenager, so any pre-fame photos have to come from when he was still a kid. This snap is of the young star busking as a child, long before he was discovered.
Around 2007, Bieber would busk shows on the steps in front of Avon Theatre during tourism season to gain as much exposure as possible. He also performed in talent shows and uploaded videos of his performances to YouTube, which eventually connected to him to former marketing exec Scooter Braun.
8 Jennifer Lopez In 1987
We’ve heard about Jenny from the Block for nearly twenty years, and now we can finally put a face to the name! Jennifer Lopez attended Preston High School in the Bronx, though she looked a tad different back then from how she looks now.
She graduated with a clear vision of her future: “I remember watching Rita Moreno in West Side Story and going, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to sing and I want to dance and I want to act.’”
7 Kim Kardashian Before Fame
The world has watched as Kim Kardashian and her family have transformed in front of their reality show cameras over the years. But this photo of a young fresh-faced Kim gives us even more insight into the star’s natural beauty.
Taken in her twenties, the snap shows Kardashian around the time she was best friends with socialite Paris Hilton and was getting a taste of what it meant to be an it-girl. Old videos from this era show a much shyer Kim than the 2019 version.
6 Ben Stiller In 1978
What a photo! Born in 1965 in New York City, Ben Stiller grew up in a household heavily connected to the entertainment industry. His father is comedian and actor Jerry Stiller, who frequently appears by his side in films, and his mother was also a comedian and actress.
After growing up around film sets, Stiller developed his own dreams of becoming an actor, and after leaving the University of California, took acting classes and did auditions until he caught the attention of Saturday Night Live.
5 Ariana Grande Before The Ponytail
And Ariana Grande takes the award for being the most unrecognizable celebrity prior to her fame! It was obvious from an early age that Grande had talent running through her veins, and she started performing with the children’s theatre in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
In 2009, she was cast on Nickelodeon’s Victorious, which launched her to fame around the world. In 2013, she changed up her look dramatically, adopting the blonde-tinged locks and the iconic ponytail and released her first record, Yours Truly.
4 Bella Hadid And Her Mom
Growing up in Beverly Hills with a supermodel for a mom, Bella Hadid became familiar with a lot of cameras and red carpets from a young age. This 2009 shot of the model with mama Yolanda shows a much younger Bella who looks totally different from the famous Victoria’s Secret model.
While growing up, Hadid loved riding horses and often won awards in equestrian competitions. She eventually followed in the footsteps of her mom and older sister, Gigi, and conquered the world of fashion and modeling.
3 Nicki Minaj As An Actress
A lot of people don’t realize that, before making it as a rapping queen, Nicki Minaj was properly trained as an actress. She successfully auditioned for LaGuardia High School in Manhattan and graduated with the intentions of becoming a film star.
But breaking into the industry proved tougher than she expected, and Minaj soon took a job waitressing at Red Lobster. She followed her heart to the underground rap scene, where she experimented with the iconic sound that she later unleashed on the industry.
2 Amy Poehler In The ‘80s
Check out the bangs! While she was a senior at Burlington High School in Massachusetts, Amy Poehler was already testing out her comedic skills. “Every day I would walk into school and just be, like, ‘You’re welcome, fellas,’” she told Conan O’Brien, referring to the huge hair from her teen years. “I drove all the way there with the windows down.”
In Poehler’s defense, it was the ‘80s! And we’re sure those boys wish that took an interest while they had a chance.
1 Young Beyonce At Christmas
You just can’t teach an award-winning smile like that! Here is a young Beyoncé Knowles, even before her Destiny’s Child days, with a Christmas ornament.
Though she may not have been in a girl group at this stage, Bey started singing and dancing while she was still a child and was already winning awards and making waves in her hometown of Houston, Texas. We’re also seeing the resemblance to daughter, Blue Ivy, who’s looking more like her superstar mom every day.