Reality TV is like the junk food of television – we all enjoy it, but we know deep down that it isn’t really good for us.
But you might be surprised to learn just how successful some reality stars have become. In fact, many of your favorite celebrities got their start on reality television, and you didn’t even know it! Here are the 30 most successful reality TV graduates, with their net worths to prove it.
Christian Siriano – $1.5 million
Christian Siriano became the youngest contestant to win Project Runway when he walked away with the top prize at the end of the reality series’ fourth season. (He was only 23!) Siriano started his own fashion line later that same year, and a little over a year later, his label’s revenue was estimated at over $1 million.
His designs are extremely popular among A-list celebrities. His star-studded list of clients include Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Nicki Minaj. Siriano even designed a smartphone for LG, and a makeup line for Victoria’s Secret!
Grace VanderWaal – $2 million
Grace VanderWaal won the twelve season of America’s Got Talent when she was just 12 years old. That’s talent! The young musician won the show’s judges over with her distinct “raspy” voice, original songs, and mean skills on the ukulele.
Since her victory on the show, VanderWaal has released two successful albums and gone on tour with rock band Imagine Dragons. She recorded a song for the movie Wonder Park, and is set to appear in her first acting role in the Disney+ animated film Stargirl.
Laverne Cox – $2 million
Laverne Cox made history as the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for acting, for her role as Sophia on Orange is the New Black. But before that, Cox appeared on the reality show I Want to Work for Diddy.
The show, which aired on VH1 in 2008, followed a group of contestants as they competed to be chosen as Sean “Diddy” Combs’ new assistant. Cox made it to the seventh of ten episodes before being eliminated. Luckily, she kept pursuing a career in entertainment. In addition to her role on Orange is the New Black, Cox appeared on the TV drama Doubt, starred in the live TV remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and has acted in guest roles on several other shows.
Nicole “Snooki” Polizi – $4 million
Jersey Shore premiered on MTV back in 2009 and became a bonafide phenomenon virtually overnight. The show followed the standard MTV reality formula of throwing a bunch of colorful characters into a house together and filming the chaos. Easily the most notable of those characters is Nicole “Snooki” Polizi.
Polizi, alongside Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, became the faces of the show. Polizi was a main cast member for all six seasons of Jersey Shore, and four seasons of her own spinoff show Snooki & JWoww. She’s also written three books and appeared on other hit reality shows like Dancing With the Stars.
Jamie Chung – $5 million
These days she’s a well-established actress, with credits like Sucker Punch, Once Upon a Time, and Big Hero 6 under her belt. But Jamie Chung’s first big break came on The Real World: San Diego back in 2004. She was one of eight contestants selected for the long-running show’s 14th season.
After The Real World: San Diego, Chung picked up small parts in shows like CSI: NY and Days of Our Lives before getting her first major roles in Sorority Row and Dragonball Evolution. Her voice can currently be heard on Big Hero 6: The Series.
Camila Cabello – $6 million
Camila Cabello left school in 9th grade to focus on a career as a singer. She auditioned for The X Factor in 2012 and was eliminated early on. But producers brought her back to form the pop group Fifth Harmony, and immediately launched her to stardom.
Cabello began touring the world with Fifth Harmony on the strength of two hit albums and two top ten singles. In 2016, Cabello left the group to embark on a solo career. She’s collaborated with artists like Pitbull, Shawn Mendes, Machine Gun Kelly, and Pharrell Williams. Her debut album was certified platinum, with a follow-up due in 2019.
Cardi B – $8 million
Believe it or not, white-hot hip hop artist Cardi B got her start on the VH1 reality series Love & Hip Hop: New York, after gaining widespread attention for her viral Vine and Instagram posts. She dropped two mixtapes while working on the show, and after blowing up as the undisputed star, she decided to quit and pursue her music career.
Cardi’s debut album Invasion of Privacy went triple platinum and won her a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. To date, she is the only solo female artist to win that award. All that success and she hasn’t even turned 30 yet!
Katharine McPhee – $8 million
Katharine McPhee came in second on the fifth season of American Idol back in 2006. McPhee took that appearance and ran with it, turning her reality show experience into a successful career as a singer/songwriter and actress.
To date, McPhee has had five hit records, with her self-titled debut selling almost half a million copies. She’s appeared in several movies as well, with roles in movies like The House Bunny and Shark Night 3D. McPhee has also appeared in leading roles in two different TV shows, the musical drama Smash and the action series Scoprion.
Nicole Scherzinger – $12 million
Before appearing on the reality show Pop Stars, Nicole Scherzinger was already on tour as a musician. She provided backing vocals for the rock band Days of the New, before parting ways to audition for the reality show.
The show followed Scherzinger and her bandmates as they formed the pop group Eden’s Crush, which debuted high on the Billboard charts and toured with N’Sync. And that’s the low point of her career.
After Eden’s Crush broke up, Scherzinger was recruited into the burlesque group the Pussycat Dolls as the lead singer. The Pussycat Dolls sold over 54 million records worldwide, and Scherzinger sold a further 12 million albums as a solo artist. She also released her own clothing and fragrance lines, and can currently be seen as a judge on The Masked Singer.
NeNe Leaks – $14 million
NeNe Leaks had been on TV before, in a small role on an episode of The Parkers. But it wasn’t until she appeared on The Real Housewives of Atlanta that her career blew up. She starred as a regular cast member on the hit reality show’s first seven seasons.
Leaks found herself cast in scripted dramas, including a role as the former Olympian swim teacher on Glee. She’s even appeared on Broadway, in productions of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and Chicago. Leaks has also guest-hosted a number of talk and variety shows, and launched her own clothing line for the Home Shopping Network.
Lindsey Stirling – $15 million
Lindsey Stirling’s unique brand of blending dance, electronic music, and virtuoso violin skills got her to the semi finals of America’s Got Talent. But judges Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne were not impressed, telling her she “wasn’t good enough” and would never “fill a theater in Vegas.”
Stirling was devastated by her elimination from the show, but she stuck it out and kept making music for her YouTube channel. These days, she’s a bonafide international star, with over 11 million subscribers, three bestselling albums, and several collaborations with artists like Evanescence. She’s even toured around the world!
Elisabeth Hasselbeck – $16 million
Believe it or not, The View and Fox and Friends host Elisabeth Hasselbeck began her career on the second season of Survivor way back in 2001. Hasselbeck was part of the cast brought in to try and recapture the hype of that blockbuster first season. (Obviously it worked, seeing as how Survivor is currently in its 38th season!)
Hasselbeck married NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck before making her debut on The View in 2003. She won a Daytime Emmy for her work on the show, where she was a co-host for ten years. Hasselbeck spent two years on the Fox News morning show Fox and Friends before retiring in 2015 to spend more time with her family.
Aaron Paul – $16 million
Before he became a household name by playing the unlucky Jesse Pinkman on AMC’s popular drama Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul was very excited to be on The Price is Right. And he came very close to winning! He overshot his guess on the last item by a mere $132.
After being “very depressed” about his Price is Right loss, Paul landed a string of roles in films like The Last House on the Left before getting the part of Jesse on Breaking Bad. Now that Paul is a bankable star with undeniable talent, his game show loss might sting a bit less.
Jennifer Hudson – $20 million
American Idol doesn’t always pick the right person. Case in point – Jennifer Hudson, who finished the third season all the way down in seventh place! But Hudson didn’t let that slow her down. She won an Academy Award for her role in the musical Dreamgirls just two years later.
The record industry quickly realized its mistake, and Hudson released her debut album shortly afterward. The self-titled Jennifer Hudson sold over a million copies! In addition to releasing two successful follow-up albums, Hudson has continued her film career, appearing in movies like The Secret Life of Bees, Sing, and Cats.
Lauren Conrad – $25 million
Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County gave MTV viewers a look into what everyday life was like for a group of fabulous Orange County teenagers attending high school in Laguna Beach. There’s been some dispute over just how “real” the show was, but nobody can argue with the success of its first season star, Lauren Conrad.
Conrad starred in her own popular spin-off show, The Hills, for five seasons. She parlayed her reality star status into the fashion industry, attending the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and launching her own fashion lines. She’s also published nine books!
Bethenny Frankel – $25 million
Bethenny Frankel came in second on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart in 2005, but it wasn’t until she was cast in The Real Housewives of New York that her popularity began to rise. She quickly got her own spinoff show, Bethenny Getting Married?, before leaving The Real Housewives to pursue her passion.
Frankel wrote a series of dieting and self-help books that became the foundation for her Skinnygirl lifestyle brand, which she eventually sold for $100 million! In addition to her Skinnygirl brand, Frankel also created B-Strong, a program that provides support for women and families in crisis.
Emma Stone – $28 million
Believe it or not, Academy Award-winning actress Emma Stone got her start on a reality show! She filmed one episode of In Search of the New Partridge Family when she was just a teenager. The show didn’t get picked up, but she nabbed a starring role in 2007’s hit comedy Superbad that launched her career.
After that breakout role, Stone went on to star in a number of critically and commercially successful movies, including Easy A, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Favourite. Then she won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in 2016’s La La Land. Maybe it’s a good thing that Partridge Family show never went anywhere!
Kelly Clarkson – $28 million
Kelly Clarkson won the very first season of American Idol, way back in 2002. Remember that? Clarkson’s victory on the show earned her a record contract, which resulted in a long music career including 8 albums, three number-one singles, and three Grammy awards.
All told, Clarkson has sold 25 million albums worldwide. She can currently be seen hosting her own talk show, and participating as a judge on the reality singing competition The Voice. Just don’t mention From Justin to Kelly around her.
Jon Hamm – $30 million
Before he was Don Draper, Jon Hamm appeared on an episode of the dating show The Big Date. A far cry from the suave lead character of Mad Men, Hamm was anything but cool and gave a fumbling answer that ultimately lost him the titular date.
But Hamm stuck it out. After a few small roles in big movies like Space Cowboys and We Were Soldiers, he landed the lead role in AMC’s signature drama series and exploded in popularity, becoming one of the most recognizable leading men on television.
Miranda Lambert – $45 million
Miranda Lambert is such a big name in country music that you might not know she got her start on reality TV. That’s right – Lambert came in third place on the first season of Nashville Star back in 2003.
She bounced back from her “loss” on Nashville Star to the tune of the platinum-selling album Kerosene. Lambert has continued to be a dominant presence on the country music charts ever since, winning two Grammy Awards for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Album. Her most recent album, The Weight of These Wings, was certified platinum.
Alanis Morissette – $45 million
The Jagged Little Pill herself first performed for a national audience on Star Search. Alanis Morissette appeared on the popular talent show in 1990, when she was only 14. And she lost! But she got a record deal anyway, and released her debut album a year later.
With two albums already released in Canada before she graduated high school, Morissette dropped her signature album in 1995 when she was 21. Jagged Little Pill sold over 33 million copies worldwide and cemented her as an international superstar. No word on what happened to whoever won that episode of Star Search.
Harry Styles – $75 million
The famously well-coiffed Harry Styles was eliminated early in the seventh season of The X Factor, but was brought back onto the show shortly thereafter to form a group with four other contestants. That group was One Direction. Amazingly, One Direction didn’t actually win the competition, finishing the season in third place!
Despite technically losing the competition, One Direction got a record deal anyway, and went on to become one of the most popular bands in the world. After selling over 50 million albums with the group, Styles embarked on a solo career that included some acting. He released a certified-platinum solo album and appeared in Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk.
Carrie Underwood – $85 million
Carrie Underwood won the fourth season of American Idol, and hasn’t stopped winning ever since. She’s the seventh-highest best-selling female artist of all time, with 70 million albums sold worldwide. Five of her six albums have hit either the number one or two spot on the Billboard charts.
Underwood can toss a bunch of accolades onto that pile, too, including seven Grammys, nine CMAs, and 11 Billboard Music awards. It’s easy to see why Rolling Stone named her the best female vocalist of her generation. To date, she is the most successful American Idol winner.
Martin Lawrence – $110 million
Funnyman Martin Lawrence performed on Star Search back in the 1980s. He ultimately lost the competition, but TV executives took notice and began offering him roles on shows like What’s Happening Now!! From there, Lawrence got breakout roles in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang.
Lawrence rose to superstardom after he was hired to host Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam and star in his own sitcom, Martin, in the same year. He’s since appeared in a string of hit comedy and action movies, like the Bad Boys series.
Christina Aguilera – $160 million
Like her Mickey Mouse Club costars Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera made her television performing debut on an early 1990s episode of Star Search. And like her costars, she lost! But her role on the Mickey Mouse Club led to a lucrative deal with Disney.
Aguilera recorded a single for the soundtrack to Disney’s Mulan, and used that hit’s success to segue into a solo career. With two number-one albums, five Grammy awards, and 75 million records sold worldwide, Aguilera has become one of the most recognizable artists on the planet.
Usher – $180 million
Singer/songwriter, actor, and all-around business mogul Usher held his first microphone in front of a national audience on a 1993 episode of Star Search. That appearance earned him a major recording contract, when he was still just a young teenager!
After a string of hit records and songs throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, Usher became one of the best-selling artists of all time. To date, he’s sold 75 million albums around the world. He also has an eye for talent – he signed a little-known YouTube star named Justin Bieber to his RBMG label.
Britney Spears – $215 million
Britney Spears was only 11 years old when she appeared on Star Search in 1992. Despite a near-perfect score, she lost in the second round. But she bounced back in a big way.
After a stint on The All-New Mickey Mouse Club with other future celebs like Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, and Ryan Gosling, Spears signed with Jive Records and released back-to-back hit albums …Baby One More Time and Oops!… I Did It Again. To date, Spears is one of the best-selling artists in history, with over 200 million records sold worldwide.
Justin Timberlake – $230 million
Before he was bringing sexy back, JT was bringing cowboy back. 11-year-old Justin Timberlake performed in a cowboy hat and duds on an episode of Star Search back in 1992. He didn’t win, which might have convinced him to abandon his country garb.
Timberlake updated his image to become one of the lead singers of the pop group NSYNC. The group exploded in popularity in the late 1990s, eventually selling nearly 70 million albums worldwide. Timberlake left the group in 2002 to focus on a wildly successful solo career. He’s sold over 56 million records as a solo artist, and has appeared in several critically acclaimed films, such as David Fincher’s The Social Network.
Beyoncé – $500 million
Queen Bey was destined for stardom, but she got off to a slow start. She appeared on the talent show Star Search in the 90s, as a member of the group Girl’s Tyme. The group didn’t win, but the seeds of superstardom had been planted.
The group reorganized. They cut their five member line-up down to three, changed their name to Destiny’s Child, and released their major label debut in 1997. The group was a mega success, selling more than sixty million albums worldwide and earning 14 Grammy nominations, winning two. Beyonce left the group to focus on a solo career, and today she’s easily one of the most famous entertainers in history, with six number-one albums and over 100 million records sold.
The Kardashians – Kendall $30 million, Kourtney $35 million, Khloe $40 million, Kris $90 million, Kim $350 million, Kylie $1 billion
You can’t talk about reality television success without saying the name “Kardashian.” Sisters Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe, mom Kris, and half-sisters Kendall and Kylie Jenner parlayed their voyeuristic show Keeping Up With The Kardashians into a multi-million dollar empire.
Each of the Kardashian/Jenner women is a million-dollar brand unto themselves. With clothing and fragrance lines, lucrative modeling gigs, and paid social media posts, the family is worth almost $1.5 billion. Kylie alone was recently crowned the youngest “self-made” billionaire! Who can keep up with that?
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