Who can forget the time Steve Harvey committed the faux pas to end all faux pas when he announced the wrong winner at the Miss Universe pageant? Talk about a cringe-worthy, TV history-making moment. But lost in all the hoopla was the fact that one of these ladies – either the winner or the runner-up – may just one day wind up as one of the biggest stars in the world. Everyone has to start somewhere. And for a lot of your faves’ start came in the wonderful and sometimes wild world of pageantry.
From super-famous reality TV stars (like, the most famous one EVER), to Disney Channel actresses-turned-pop singers, and even an Academy Award winner or two, former beauty queens are all over Hollywood – you just didn’t know it before!
15. Eva Longoria
This actress and producer made a name for herself as Gabrielle Solis on the popular ABC show Desperate Housewives. But before her big break, Longoria had been working on her entertainment career for years. The Texas native was in the midst of earning a kinesiology degree from Texas A&M; University-Kingsville, when she took home the crown as Miss Corpus Christi USA in 1998. Since then she has become well-respected in entertainment, business, and activism. Perhaps all that pageant training is why she comes off incredibly poised during interviews!
14. Halle Berry
It turns out that everyone has always known Halle Berry is an absolute stunner. Growing up in Ohio, Berry was active in school as an honor student, newspaper editor, and cheerleader, eventually being crowned prom queen. She continued her pageantry career, picking up the titles of Miss Teen All American in 1985 and Miss Ohio USA in 1986. Berry finished second in the 1986 Miss USA contest and became the first African American Miss World contestant. During her interviews, Berry shared her aspirations of becoming an entertainer. Her dream was realized when she became the first – and only, thus far – black actress to win the Best Actress Academy Award in 2002.
13. Vanessa Williams
Vanessa Williams is an accomplished actress and singer, who has enjoyed a long and successful career in the entertainment industry. One of her most notable achievements was becoming the first African American to win the Miss America title in 1983. Unfortunately, her reign was cut short after she became embroiled in scandal when Penthouse magazine bought and published nude photos of the beauty queen without her consent. Facing enormous pressure, Williams reluctantly gave up her title. When she finally returned to the organization as a judge in 2015, Williams was finally given a long-overdue apology.
12. Priyanka Chopra
When Chopra made her debut as Alex Parrish in ABC’s Quantico, she became the first South Asian to gain top billing on an American network drama. It was a triumph for the former Bollywood actress who first found fame in pageantry. Chopra moved to the US during her youth, but when she returned to India for high school she made the leap into the world of pageants. Her first victory came in the May Queen Pageant. She went on to participate in the Femina Miss World contest, where she finished second. In 2000, she was crowned Miss World in London, becoming the fifth Indian contestant to win the contest.
11. Oprah Winfrey
Is there anything that Miss O has not accomplished? She is a talk show host, actress, producer, philanthropist, businesswoman, and media maven. Add beauty queen to the never-ending list. Despite a difficult childhood, Winfrey overcame the odds and flourished into an honor student, eventually winning a scholarship to Tennessee State University. At 17, the Mississippi native won the title of Miss Black Tennessee. Following her victory, she landed a gig at a local radio station doing part-time news. Safe to things have worked out well since then.
10. Vanessa Lachey
Lachey was born in the Philippines to a Filipino mom and Air Force dad. She bounced around to eight schools in nine years before the family eventually put down roots in Charleston, South Carolina. It was there that Lachey won the Miss South Carolina Teen USA title. She made history in 1998 by becoming the first Miss Teen USA and Miss Congeniality winner from the state. Lachey parlayed that success into hosting and correspondent gigs for MTV’s Total Request Live and Entertainment Tonight. She also returned to her old stomping grounds to co-host Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe after she’d made it big.
9. Olivia Culpo
The social media influencer has made a name for herself in the lifestyle game. She has also been linked to singer Nick Jonas. But those who have been following her for a while know that Culpo stepped into the spotlight as Miss Rhode Island in 2012. She completed the rare trifecta by winning Miss USA and Miss Universe in that same year. It was the first time an American had captured the international title in 15 years.
8. Gal Gadot
Gadot won rave reviews for her role as Wonder Woman. Before that, her biggest role was her portrayal of Gisele Yashar in the Fast and the Furious films – but the DC Comics movie totally eclipsed that. Before conquering Hollywood, Gadot was making a name for herself in her native Israel. As an 18-year-old, she won the Miss Israel title in 2004. This led to her participation in the Miss Universe pageant that same year. After her pageantry days ended, Gadot served two years in the military before studying law. She is officially a multifaceted badass.
7. Britney Spears
Britney Spears once said that she found her calling at an early age. When she said early, she wasn’t kidding. Try three years old. That was when young Spears began dancing back home in Kentwood, Louisiana. And if that wasn’t enough, she added voice lessons and gymnastics to her arsenal. Spears combined all those skills and used them to help win many state pageants and talent shows while still in her single-digits. All that hard work paid off when she nabbed a spot on the ’90s reboot of the Mickey Mouse Club. Today, the southerner is a pop icon.
6. Aishwarya Rai
Actress Rai has often been touted as the most beautiful woman in the world by multiple media outlets. She is also one of the most influential actresses in her native India. Her journey to stardom began many years before. During her college years, Rai started modeling and appearing in commercials. This led to her entry in the local Miss India pageant. She placed second in the competition. Rai took the title of Miss India World, cleaning up in several categories along the way, including Miss Miraculous, Miss Photogenic, Miss Perfect Ten, Miss Catwalk, and Miss Popular. But her crowning glory would come when she walked away the winner of the 1994 Miss World pageant.
5. Kim Kardashian
Kim Kardashian has made a living off of opening her life up to the world. In fact, she first made waves when a very private moment in her life went public. So in true Kim K. fashion, she dropped this morsel on her IG account. In a throwback Thursday post, Kardashian shared a pic of herself wayyyyyy back in the day, clad in a silver sequined bikini. But it was the hashtag which caught keen observers’ attention: #MissTeenArmenian. She looked pageant-y af.
4. Katy Perry
Perry is one of the most recognizable entertainers in the world. The singer has even performed on one of the grandest stages of all: the Super Bowl halftime show. It was a far cry from her beginnings as a singer in Church and an attempt at a career in the gospel industry. Another little-known fact about Perry is her history of pageantry. The California girl competed in several beauty pageants as a kid and reportedly placed second in a few. Her pageant days behind her, Perry is now a judge on the newly rebooted American Idol.
3. Sophia Bush
Sophia Bush is best known for her role as Brooke Davis on the WB-turned-CW television show One Tree Hill. Viewers witnessed a character transformation from small town bad girl to loyal bestie. Her striking looks immediately caught the attention of multiple brands and Bush landed on several magazine covers. Ironically, growing up, her dad worked as a photographer and in advertising. At 17, the California native was named the Tournament of Roses Parade queen. Almost 20 years later, Bush is still turning heads.
2. Selena Gomez
Selena Gomez is another product of the Disney machine. She made a name for herself on the hit show Wizards of Waverly Place before embarking on a music career and she hasn’t looked back since. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree for Gomez. Her mom was a stage actress. SelGo got her start on the kids show Barney and Friends, where she would befriend another future Disney star, Demi Lovato. Another thing the two had in common was their roots in pageantry. Gomez entered several contests in her home state of Texas. Entertainment is definitely in her blood. And for extra measure, she was named after the iconic Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla Perez.
1. Demi Lovato
Demi Lovato has been blowing audiences away with her powerhouse vocals for years. You could even say performing is in her genes, just like her former BFF, Selena Gomez. The Dallas native is the daughter of a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and a musician. Her first acting gig was on the beloved children’s show Barney and Friends. In addition to acting and dance classes, Lovato played piano and guitar. But it was during beauty pageants that she really got to hone her passions. Lovato has said that the talent portions of those contests allowed her to practice her vocals in front of an audience.