The entertainment industry is filled with opportunities for people to gain their claim to fame. While some might have been born into the spotlight or landed into it on the traditional route, the new millennium offered a new opportunity for others to become famous–and that’s through reality television. Whether it be a singing or modeling competition or a tv series focusing on “everyday life,” reality TV has introduced us to some of the most iconic names.
Here’s a list of celebrities who went from reality TV personalities to stars in their own right.
Jennifer Hudson made her television debut as a finalist on the third season of American Idol, where she placed seventh. Despite not winning the singing competition, she was cast as one of the leading roles in the film adaptation of the musical Dreamgirls. Her role in Dreamgirls earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Hudson’s breakthrough performance as Effie White in Dreamgirls kickstarted her acting career. She later starred in many more significant films, including Sex and the City, The Secret Life of Bees, and Empire (TV series), to name a few. There are less than 100 people who have been nominated for E.G.O.T. Hudson would be only the second Black woman and the third Black person in general to earn E.G.O.T. status.
The “Money” singer’s rise to fame can best be described as astronomical. After going viral in videos for Vine and Instagram, Cardi appeared in the sixth and seventh seasons of Love & Hip Hop: New York, leaving the series to launch her music career. And well, the rest is history. She may be one of the most famous people ever to leave the franchise.
YaYa DaCosta competed as a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, where she dominated every competition until the very end. After finishing second on the third cycle of the hit series, she played a supporting role in the dance film the Lead. Yaya became a regular cast member on the soap opera All My Children and a crossover cast member on Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. Her latest television work was on the series Our Kind of People, where she played the leading role of Angela Vaughn.
Harlow was scouted by Tyra Banks herself for the 21st season of America’s Next Top Model. She didn’t win her season, but the model’s career is still popping; Harlow has been featured in a variety of magazines, walked in the 2018 Victoria’s Secret fashion, and was even part of Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade.
Before starring as an original cast member of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, NeNe Leakes previously had a minor role in an episode of The Parkers. After eight seasons of the popular reality show, The RHOA fan favorite became a series regular on Ryan Murphy’s The New Normal. Murphy enjoyed her so much that she later booked the recurring role of a swim coach on the popular musical drama Glee. Her latest filming credits are in the television films as Mrs. Silas in How High 2 and Glo in Ride or Die.
Eva Marcille took the world by storm when she was introduced as the cycle three winner of America’s Next Top Model. After finding much success in the modeling industry, Marcille sought to take over television next. She first appeared in small roles on shows like Smallville, Everybody Hates Chris, and more. Her first major role was on the long-running daytime soap opera, The Young and the Restless. Since then, she’s scored the lead role in the BET+ Hit Series All The Queen’s Men executive produced by Tyler Perry.
Joseline Hernandez became an overnight reality TV sensation when she signed up to star on VH1’s Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta in 2012, alongside her then-boyfriend Stevie J, with whom she shares their three-year-old daughter Bonnie Bella. Their captivating storyline involving Mimi Faust helped LHHATL become the biggest spin-off series from the popular franchise. The reality TV fan fav now produces and stars in her own reality series, titled Joseline’s Cabaret: Miami, after signing a lucrative deal with Zeus.
Long before he made us fall in love with him on Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot, Brown was making history as the first openly gay black man on reality television. He made waves on The Real World: Philadelphia in 2004 and later returned to MTV with Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Inferno II.