When you think of reality television stars, the first word that springs to mind generally isn’t “talented.” Amazingly, however, there have been a startling number of reality stars who took their 15 minutes of fame by the throat and refused to let go, branching out far beyond what we ever could have expected of them to become, in some cases, people who actually deserve to be famous. Here are some of the most successful and surprising post-reality TV careers.
10. Jamie Chunga
If you’re a fan of the television show Once Upon a Time, or if you watched Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, you’re no doubt familiar with Jamie Chung. She’s been popping up on television and movie screens for the last few years, most notably in The Hangover: Part II and Grown Ups, while also doing some Disney Channel movies and voice-over work. And she got her start on some show called The Real World.
To be specific, Chung was on the San Diego season that aired on MTV in 2004, in which she was the somewhat straight-laced roommate who was working multiple jobs to pay her own way through college. Despite being extremely attractive, she was about the last person you would have picked from that season’s cast to break into potential stardom. Although to be fair, if you’ve ever watched The Real World about the only thing you’d ever expect someone from the show to be a star of is a PSA for date rape or alcoholism.
9. David Giuntoli
Do you remember the MTV show Road Rules? It was kind of like The Real World, only it involved people tossed in an RV and driving around the country, often doing dumb stunts and just generally being idiot kids. This was way back when the M in MTV still occasionally stood for music, so we can’t blame you if Road Rules doesn’t sound familiar.
Road Rules: South Pacific featured a young guy named Dave who was the clean cut, All-American looking kid in a cast that included two girls who would go on to pose for Playboy and another dude who got kicked off the show for hitting someone. After his season Dave pursued acting and became David Giuntoli, currently the star of the cult favorite TV show Grimm. He’s been kicking around Hollywood for a few years, popping up on Veronica Mars, Nip/Tuck, and Grey’s Anatomy, and he was also reportedly in the running to play Superman in Man of Steel.
8. Elisabeth Hasselbeck
Most of the people on this list have some semblance of talent, ranging from “Eh, I can sort of see it” to “Holy cow that person is awesome.” Elisabeth Hasselbeck doesn’t really fall anywhere in that range, but is arguably the most famous people on this list. That’s because she somehow parlayed her 15 minutes of fame into a long running gig on The View.
And she’s actually been rewarded, too, having won a Daytime Emmy Award before leaving The View to become one of the hosts of Fox and Friends. All of this comes from her first moment in the sun in the second season of Survivor, which she didn’t actually win but gained some fame from for being the cute boyfriend of former Boston College and NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck. These days she’s mostly famous for spouting off extremely conservative nonsense that tends to make even the most staunch Republicans cringe and wish her 15 minutes would end already.
7. Analeigh Tipton
You may not recognize the name Analeigh Tipton, but if you’ve watched many movies or TV shows over the last few years there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen her considering she’s popped up in The Green Hornet; Crazy, Stupid Love; Warm Bodies and, most recently, Lucy. She’s also been in TV shows like Hung and The Big Bang Theory.
Oh, and she got her start on America’s Next Top Model. It’s a pretty impressive resume for someone who was found on MySpace by the producers of the reality show, although that was before MySpace had become as irrelevant as jokes about MySpace. She also competed in national figure skating competitions until the age of 16, and broke into acting in 2010 when she was barely of legal drinking age.
6. Jacinda Barrett
It’s kind of amazing that the folks from The Real World turn out to be decent performers. Although if you’re going on The Real World it’s because you crave attention, and isn’t that basically at the heart of what it means to be a performer? Sure, that’s a cynical view, but it helps us explain how people like Jacinda Barrett could emerge as legitimate actresses after being discovered on a “reality” show that revolves around drunken hookups.
Barrett was on The Real World: London in 1995, and has popped up in in various movies and TV shows since breaking into acting a couple years after her appearance. Some of her most famous roles have been on Suits and The Following, while she also showed up in the films Ladder 49 and Poseidon. She’s not exactly doing Oscar caliber work, but she’s doing a hell of a lot more than most people who show up on reality television. And that’s got to count for something, right? Not a lot, necessarily, but something.
5. Katharine McPhee
It’s incredible to look back at the history of American Idol and note that, in a lot of cases, the most famous and successful contestants are the ones who didn’t even win. One such case is Katharine McPhee, who finished as the runner-up in the 2006 season but has actually gained more fame for her success in front of a camera than she has for her work in front of a microphone. Sure, she’s had some decent success with her singing career, but she was able to parlay that into fame as an actress, most notably in the television show Smash (which, yes, highlighted her singing).
Still, she’s also appeared in Shark Night: 3D — which was basically Sharknado with boobs — as well as Ugly Betty, CSI: New York, and Community. She’s also won a few Teen Choice Awards, which we’re going to pretend actually matter so we can point out that she won the award both as a singer in 2006 and as a TV actress in 2012. See? She’s versatile and has staying power, according to children who vote for awards no one actually pays attention to!
4. Bill Rancic
When you show up on a television series like The Apprentice, it can safely be assumed that at some point you actually considered a career in business. The “business” you’re pursuing can turn out to be yourself, and that’s exactly the case with Bill Rancic, who was a breakout star during the first season of the show.
In addition to winning The Apprentice and taking the job that went with it, Rancic continued to gain further fame in the television world, both as an adviser to host Donald Trump on future seasons as well as forging his own corner of the reality TV market. He and his wife, Giuliana, have their own reality show, and he’s somehow used his fame and television persona to become the host of a Food Network show called Kitchen Casino. We’ve watched the show and would frankly rather participate in a game of Russian Roulette, but maybe that’s just us.
3. Mike Mizanin
Even if you’re a wrestling fan, and we’re told time and again that those do still exist, it’s hard to hate on The Miz. Partly because he’s just a goofy dude who does solid work in the ring, but mainly because his rise to fame is one of the most unlikely and entertaining stories in the history of reality television. The Miz started out as some schmuck from the Midwest named Mike Mizanin, who was one of the roommates on The Real World: New York. He quickly became the roommate who seemed like a decent, if occasionally casually and accidentally racist. guy.
And the thing is, Mizanin flat-out said in one episode that he was going to become a wrestling superstar, and his roommates laughed him off. Why wouldn’t they? He was in decent shape, but not WWE shape, and he was a big, dumb, walking epitome of naivety. And then, after becoming a fan favorite, MTV decided to throw him into the reality wrestling series Tough Enough, which would ultimately garner him a gig in the WWE. It was a total stunt that worked out better than anyone involved could have ever possibly imagined, since he’s gone on to become one of the most famous wrestlers in the business today and is one of only 25 to have earned the “Triple Crown” in the WWE as the heavyweight, tag team and intercontinental champion.
2. Emma Stone
Yes, we’re talking about that Emma Stone. One of the biggest Hollywood “It Girls” going right now, Stone actually got her big break in reality television, albeit for a show that you probably never even knew existed. 2004’s In Search of the New Partridge Family on VH1 was a talent search show that attempted to, well, cast a new version of the Partridge Family. She actually won the role of Laurie Partridge, though since you’ve absolutely never heard of the show (don’t even try to pretend you have) that’s obviously not how she gained her fame.
Instead, she used it as a launching pad into a vast TV and movie career that really exploded with her role in Superbad. She later appeared in the The House Bunny, which co-starred the aforementioned Katharine McPhee., and since then she’s starred in Easy A; Zombieland; Crazy, Stupid Love and gained serious critical acclaim for her role in The Help. Sp thank goodness that Partridge Family crap never panned out.
1. Jennifer Hudson
It’s hard to top Emma Stone in terms of pure stardom, but when you’re halfway to the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Ton quadruple crown and you’re still only 32, that’s pretty impressive. It’s especially astonishing when you consider the fact that the person in question wasn’t even a finalist during her season of American Idol. We’re thinking America got it wrong when picking a winner that season, because Jennifer Hudson has dwarfed pretty much every other contestant they’ve ever trotted out when it comes to post-show success.
Her big break came when she was cast in Dreamgirls, which was supposed to be a showcase for much more prominent stars like Beyonce, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy. While those three did give well received performances, Hudson became the breakout star of the movie by winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar to go with her Grammy award. It’s pretty incredible to go from being the seventh place finisher on American Idol to an Oscar winning actress in less than two years, wouldn’t you say?