It can be addicting to watch people just like us face life’s biggest challenges on reality TV shows. Sometimes they fail, but sometimes they succeed — big time. Often, a young, untested actor, singer or dancer gets their big break on a competition-style show like Star Search or Dancing With the Stars, which launches their career. We can thank this genre of television for some of today’s biggest stars.
The entertainment landscape is filled with tested entertainers from Beyoncé to Justin Timberlake to Oscar-winning actress Emma Stone who now earn huge paychecks and influence social media, and some of them started on reality TV. Here are some of our favorites.
1. Lucy Hale
This Pretty Little Liars star first broke through on the singing competition show American Juniors, a 2003 American Idol spinoff that featured youngsters. After that, the acting roles came pouring in. She has since appeared in episodes of CSI: Miami, Drake and Josh and How I Met Your Mother. Hale continues to record pop songs and make funky music videos.
2. Laverne Cox
We know Cox best as Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black, but she got her start in 2008 on the first season of I Want to Work for Diddy, a competition to become the rapper’s assistant. After that, she created and produced the makeover television series TRANSform Me. The acting roles starting materializing for Cox soon afterward. She is also an advocate for the LGBTQ community.
3. Emma Stone
In 2004, VH1 decided to put together a new Partridge Family, inspired by the hit show from the 1970s. Emma Stone was cast in the role of Laurie Partridge on The New Partridge Family in 2005, but the pilot was the only episode produced. Stone, however, went on to make her film debut in 2007’s Superbad. She has since been nominated for two Oscars and won one for best actress in a leading role for La La Land.
Growing up in Houston, Beyoncé won more than 30 local singing and dancing contests. Ready to compete on a national level, her quartet Girls Tyme appeared on Star Search in 1992. They didn’t win, but that’s OK. Beyoncé kept her eyes on the prize and is now the proud winner of 20 Grammys.
5. Analeigh Tipton
As a child, Analeigh Tipton was a competitive ice skater, but she quit the sport at 16. After moving to Los Angeles, Tipton came in third place on America’s Best Top Model in 2008. Soon she started earning TV roles on shows like The Big Bang Theory and Hung, and her big breakthrough came in the 2011 film Crazy Stupid Love. She has three more films set to release later this year.
6. Julianne Hough
Julianne Hough is known in the showbiz world as a triple threat for her ability to act, sing and dance, but it’s her dancing that helped establish her career as a performer. In 2006, Hough made her debut as one of the Million Dollar Dancers on the game show Show Me the Money. After that, she became a two-time champion on Dancing With the Stars before starring the remake of Footloose. In 2015, she won an Emmy for outstanding choreography for her work on DWTS.
7. Matt Lanter
In 2004, Matt Lanter competed on the show Manhunt: The Search for America’s Most Gorgeous Male Model. Though he didn’t win, he was soon cast in the teen supernatural drama Point Pleasant before appearing the remake of Beverly Hills, 90210. In 2005, he joined the cast of Commander in Chief, making his film debut in 2008 with Disaster Movie. Lanter recently appeared as a regular in the TV show Timeless, and his movie Chasing the Rain is set to release later this year.
8. Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake, then going by the name Justin Randall, was only 11 years old when he sang with a twang on Star Search. Later came The All-New Mickey Mouse Club and, of course, the boy band NYSNC. Since 2010, Timberlake has appeared in or added his voice to eight movies, including The Social Network and Trolls. The Trolls sequel is set to be released in 2020.
9. Josh Henderson
Josh Henderson first came to fame as a crooner, winning season two of Popstars in 2002, likely because he sounded like Justin Timberlake. After that, his band Scene23 recorded an album, but it was never released. Henderson decided to focus on acting, and he has since appeared on TV shows like Desperate Housewives and the reboot of Dallas. He is currently appearing in the show The Arrangement.
10. Britney Spears
While most people think Britney Spears got her start on The All-New Mickey Mouse Club in 1993, she first appeared on Star Search in 1992, when she was just 7 years old. Though the singer doesn’t act much these days, we hope we’ll see her back on the big or small screen soon (who else wants a Crossroads 2?!).
11. Christina Aguilera
Another former Mouskateer, Christina Aguilera also got her start on Star Search in 1990 singing “A Sunday Kind of Love.” She has acted in films like Burlesque and Get Him to the Greek and the TV show Nashville. Aguilera can soon be seen as Evita Perone in the film Broadway 4D.
12. Jon Hamm
We loved Jon Hamm as Don Draper on the hit TV show Mad Men. Though he began his professional acting career in 1997 by playing the “Gorgeous Guy at Bar” in Ally McBeal, his first television appearance was on a game show called The Big Date, where he tried to convince Mary Carter he was the right dude for her. Though Carter didn’t invite Hamm on a trip to Jamaica, he later went on to win two Golden Globes for his work on Mad Men.