Reality Stars Who Turned Their 15 Minutes Of Fame Into Actual Careers

It’s without question that we’re in a golden era of reality television. But for some, it’s more than finding out who gets the last rose or why Kourtney K. Just. Will. Not. Take. Scott. Back. To most viewers, reality show are just guilty entertainment pleasure, but to the contestants or cast, the genre serves as a valuable opportunity to shine and gain exposure for their craft. And while many promising personalities make it to the stage, only the select few who bear the special blend of charisma, talent, and entrepreneurial spirit stay there. 

Lisa Vanderpump, Harry Styles, or any one of the Kardashian/Jenner clan are prime examples of reality TV stars who translated their moment in the spotlight into lucrative careers. Be it restaurants, music, clothing, or cosmetics lines, below is a roundup of reality TV players who were able to monetize their initial time in the spotlight and propel themselves far past their 15 minutes of fame.

Amy Schumer is the last comic standing

In 2007, comedian Amy Schumer entered the fifth season of “Last Comic Standing,” in hopes of winning a $250,000 cash prize and a TV special. Schumer placed fourth with zero regrets, telling SO, “Last Comic was totally fun. I had a great time because there was no pressure on me; I had been doing stand-up around two years. I wasn’t supposed to do well. So every time I advanced, it was a happy surprise.”

After applying for a writing position for the 2011 “Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen,” the New York native was offered a position to perform her jokes as part of the dais instead. By 2012, Schumer released her comedy special, “Mostly Sex Stuff,” which became “the second-highest-rated Comedy Central special in five years,” per The Washington Post. Continuing her winning streak, Schumer debuted the Emmy-winning “Inside Amy Schumer” in 2013 and penned “Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo” in 2016. From there, Schumer took her talent to the big screen with blockbusters “Trainwreck” opposite Bill Hader, “Snatch” with Goldie Hawn, and “I Feel Pretty” with Michelle Williams.

“I’m not like a hard worker in general,” she told The Music, adding, “But when it comes to performing and comedy, like, the only things I’ve ever worked hard on are acting, writing and volleyball. In school I was horrible, but when I care I’m a really hard worker.”

Cardi B was fan favorite on Love & Hip Hop

While we now know her for her unapologetically candid commentary and Grammy-winning hits, diehard fans knew the pre-fame Cardi B as the “regula, degula, shmegula girl from the Bronx,” who starred in the sixth and seventh seasons of “Love & Hip Hop: New York.” But it was in 2017 when Cardi B, whose real name is Belcalis Almánzar, dropped the song of the summer, “Bodak Yellow,” a tribute highlighting her respectable work ethic and journey to the top. The hit reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, for which Cardi B received two Grammy noms. Cardi then released “Invasion of Privacy,” which broke Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill record, becoming “the longest-charting debut album by a female rapper in the history of the Billboard Hot 200,” per MTV. 

Regarding her process of following music trends, Cardi told The Fader, “I love music. But I also have a passion for money and paying my bills.”

As of this writing, Cardi has collected five additional solo Grammy nominations and made her acting debut in “Hustlers” after Jeniffer Lopez personally recruited her due to Cardi’s past dancing experience. While it may look like a shiny concoction of luck and talent, the “Money” rapper parlays a business-oriented mindset. “You gotta do something that’s gonna make you money while you hot,” Cardi told The Fader. “Don’t f**k up the formula. Stay on your toes.”

Emma Stone won a reality show competition that never made it to the air

Emma Stone’s breakout moment came in 2007 when she starred in the raunchy comedy “Superbad.” Less than ten years later, the star with the smoky-voiced star won an Oscar for Best Actress in the musical romance “La La Land.” Of her signature rasp, Stone told Newsweek, “I have a hiatal hernia, which is a hernia that you’re born with, and I had terrible stomach aches the first six months of my life, so I screamed myself hoarse every day when I was awake.”

But before solidifying her spot on the A-List, “The Help” star got her foot in the Hollywood door by entering a singing competition for the role of Laurie Partridge in “In Search of the Partridge Family.” Stone won the competition, but the show never made it to air. “It was totally, 100 percent a reality show,” Stone told Newsweek, adding, “My mom had never pushed me to audition for anything, but she saw a commercial on TV for it and said, ‘You look like Susan Dey a little, and just dyed your hair brown … Why don’t you give this a shot? … I don’t regret it for a minute.”

The “Cruella” star went on blockbuster fame and added all sorts of fancy awards next to her Oscar trophy, including a Golden Globe, and oh, just a couple of Screen Actors Guild Awards. 

Laverne Cox used Diddy's reality show launch her acting career

Before we knew Laverne Cox as Sophia Burset on “Orange Is The New Black,” she appeared on the first season of “I Want To Work For Diddy.” The VH1 show tasked contestants with celebrity-assistant-like assignments, often in groups, much like “The Apprentice.” Cox placed eighth in the reality TV competition, and later told The Observer of her high-minded goal for entering. “I thought it was important for the audience for that show to see a black rapper and media mogul embracing a trans woman of color on television. I was hoping it might change things for me and other trans women of color on the streets and in black communities. I never really wanted to be a personal assistant. I have always wanted to be an actor.”

Cox then co-produced and co-hosted the reality makeover series “TRANSform Me,” where Cox and her team of transgender stylists performed internal and external makeovers for transgenders. When the VH1 show ended after one season, Cox focused on acting, appearing on “Law & Order,” “Girlfriends Guide To Divorce,” and “The Mindy Project,” before landing on “OITNB.” 

“For years I studied. I worked with an acting coach named Susan Batson, and I interned at her acting studio, answering the phones, mopping the floors, and cleaning the toilets,” Cox told Essence, adding, “I learned everything I could about her acting process, about the business part of being an actor, and just immersed myself in it. I was obsessed.”

Bill Rancic won The Apprentice with a team-spirit mindset

An environment of survival of the fittest generally leads players to deceive opponents to jump ahead, but Bill Rancic played the game differently on the first season of “The Apprentice,” and his strategy proved successful. “You can’t do it alone,” the business mogul told the Beyond Speaking Podcast. “Where a lot of people stunt their growth is they let their egos get in the way and try to do it all … You have to have the mindset of a conductor of an orchestra … He finds the best musicians from all over the country or all over the world and puts them together.”

Rancic asked Giuliana DePandi out after she bashfully interviewed him in 2006 for E! News. They married in 2007 and teamed up as business partners on several ventures, including a television production company, real estate projects, restaurants including an Italian restaurant, RPM Steak, and RPM On the Water in Chicago, and co-authored, “I Do, Now What: Secrets, Stories, and Advice From a Madly In Love Couple.”

Bill told the Beyond Speaking Podcast that they don’t have “set rules” for working together, but their business-oriented mindsets and similar family values keeps things running smoothly. “When it’s family time, it’s family time. When we have to work, we work. I think we’re very efficient in both areas.” Giuliana added, “At the end of the day, Bill and I actually like being together. We are husband and wife, but we’re best friends, too.”

Never bet against Bethenny Frankel

Bethenny Frankel rose to prominence as a feisty busybody on “The Real Housewives of New York” — an opportunity she initially turned down. Frankel said someone approached her in the Hamptons to be on a reality show called “Manhattan Moms.” Of the opportunity, she told Business Insider, “I thought it was going to be a bunch of drunk people acting crazy and a disaster. It was, and I ended up making money off of that, those drunk people.”

But before those “drunk people,” the Skinnygirl founder shared the screen with none other than queen of sheets and lemon scones, Martha Stewart. Frankel auditioned for Stewart’s “The Apprentice” after making a bet with a friend who didn’t believe Frankel could make it onto Donald Trump’s version. After marketing campaigns and testy boardroom meetings, Frankel ended up being one of two finalists. “I was just always hustling,” Frankel told Business Insider of her grind at the time, “I was hustling my cookies, and hustling trying to be a chef.” Eventually, Frankel sold her line of Skinnygirl cocktails for a reported $100 million. 

“Aside from motherhood, what truly defines me as a person is being a driven, passionate, and hard-working woman determined to make the impossible possible,” Frankel said in a statement via USA Today. “My mantra is to come from a place of ‘yes’ and to find and create the solution. I am an executor of visions, and I share and impart that information to those who work with me.”

Nicole Richie went from a simple life to an entrepreneurial life

In 2003, Nicole Richie, daughter of legendary Lionel “All Night Long” Richie, appeared on our television screens as the charming prankster opposite Paris Hilton on “The Simple Life.” In case you missed it, the series can be broken down to Hilton tripping over the word “Walmart,” while Richie ran amuck in a series of rebellious hijinks during their time in rural Who Cares, Arkansas.

Afterwards Richie made many entrepreneurial pivots, each one as successful as the last. Richie penned the semi-autobiographical book, “The Truth About Diamonds,” and later, “Priceless,” a coming of age hoopla about a trust fund baby who decides money isn’t everything. “Our challenges can be the best gifts,” she told Create & Cultivate. “Lean into them!”

Along the way, Richie embraced acting projects, including “Chuck” and “Great News,” while cementing herself as a fashion fixture as well. But it was in 2008 when she established herself as a jewelry designer with House of Harlow, later extending the name to a lifestyle brand with clothing, shoes, eyewear, and home accessories, which won her “Entrepreneur of the Year” at Glamour’s 2010 Women of the Year Awards, via MTV. “It’s not only enjoyable, but it’s necessary for us to honor all sides of ourselves,” Richie responded to Creative & Cultivate’s question about being her “modern multi-hyphenate’ career. “Do it for yourself first because you love it, and then see if you want to make a career out of it.”

The key to Jillian Michaels' stardom was 'authenticity'

Jillian Michales not only kicked butt as the stern coach on “The Biggest Loser” for nine seasons, but she also kicked butt in the boardroom as a fierce businesswoman. Michaels quickly realized her opportunity to build and expand her brand with fitness products, including workout DVDs, fitness-based video games and nine books (eight New York Times best-sellers), exercise equipment, diet pills, and protein powders. The fitness guru then launched The JM Fitness App, which has been awarded as one of the top fitness apps, via Entrepreneur.

“The more security we seek in life by following the paths we think we should, the less we end up having,” Michaels told Forbes of her business experience. “The more we pursue our passion with authenticity, intelligence, and tenacity, the more affluence, and abundance we will find.” 

Michales also insists that authenticity sells, regardless of the naysayers. “Be unapologetically opinionated. Make a statement. Make a splash. Stay in your truth. Diplomacy is for politicians.” The fitness guru isn’t the first to stress the importance of developing a thick skin, but credits it for her booming business. “When your business is your personality, be sure to show it off. Don’t be afraid people will hate you, because they will. And who cares? Millions of people hate me, but millions of people like me.” Take it from Michales, because that’s a glimpse into an $18 million dollar mindset, according to Celebrity Net Worth, folks.

Ryan Seacrest won our hearts on American Idol

Ryan Seacrest holds many titles; television and radio personality, executive producer, investor, “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” fixture, “Live with Kelly & Ryan” co-host, men’s fashion mogul (Ryan Seacrest Distinction), skincare line owner(Polished for Men) lines, and on and on. But it all started with “American Idol.”

In 2004, “American Idol” panel mainstay Simon Cowell told The New York Times, “Ryan has the appeal of a dog that has been rescued from the pound. That is his secret. He’s grateful. He’s happy. Always, always. If he had a tail, he’d wag it.” Seacrest told the same outlet he has no reason to not be happy. “I live an incredible life. … doing something that I’ve always wanted to do. There’s no hidden secret.” Although the famed host admitted to Esquire that his busy schedule stems from insecurity. “I also had this… fear of failure and ‘who knows how long this can last?’ So I was driven by being afraid that shows would get canceled or someone younger would come along, or for whatever reason. And that drove me to say yes to a lot of things.”

After all his achievements, it’s no surprise Seacrest has been labeled the King of reality TV. But the modest Daytime Emmy Award winner takes it in stride. “I don’t do surgery, and it’s not rocket science,” he told GQ (via CNN). “My job is to get things started, get out of the way, and say good night.”

Kristin Cavallari went from Laguna Beach to lifestyle guru

Reality TV vet Kristin Cavallari grew up in front of America on “Laguna Beach,” “The Hills,” and “Very Cavallari.” While she admits to some growing pains, Cavallari credits her reality TV experience for her savvy and successful business sense today. “When your life is public, especially at 17, I’ve had people criticize me all the time,” the entrepreneur told WFAA. “And you develop a very thick skin, and I think that has actually helped me as a business owner. All the ‘no’s and ‘You can’t do that,’ that’s all noise for me,” she said. “I’m so used to it, so, in that sense, I’ve learned to just follow my gut, trust my intuition, and just go after what I want.”

Cavallari has written three New York Times bestselling books, “Balancing in Heels,” “True Roots,” and “True Comfort,” and started a lifestyle brand that started as a jewelry company in her garage. But, as of this writing, Uncommon James offers a range of sophisticated women’s fashion, as well as polished household items like scented candles, accent pillows, and kitchen accessories, all of which have amassed Cavallari a suave $30 million net worth.

Cavallari also had encouraging words for those at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey. “Go for it!” she told Creative & Cultivate. “Follow your gut, but be very transparent about how much work you’re willing to do. Start-up life isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s all-encompassing and will push you to your limit.”

Chip and Joanna Gaines' idea of entrepreneurialism is giving back

While America knows Chip and Joanna Gaines as the wholesome construction couple who refurbished tired houses into modern marvels on HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” the people of Waco, Texas know them as the Robin Hood power couple who hand out jobs to gracious locals.

“We want to do the most good,” Chip told Entrepreneur. “We’ve got a poverty rate in Waco, Texas, that is disproportionate to the rest of the country. That isn’t going to stand on our watch, and I don’t care what that means as it relates to me being on the Forbes 100 list or something.”

Chip and Joanna have since moved on from “Fixer Upper,” to other entrepreneurial ventures, first with Magnolia Market at the Silos, which includes a bakery, a market, a coffee shop, food trucks, and a garden shop. The pair also penned several New York Times best-selling books, spanning topics from recipes to business to children’s books. Still expanding, the couple created a quarterly home magazine, Magnolia Journal, home furnishing lines with Pier 1 and Hearth & Hand with Magnolia at Target, a paint line with KILZ, a wallpaper line with York Wallcoverings, and a restaurant, Magnolia Table. 

Perhaps their biggest venture yet, however, is what Entrepreneur describes as their “joint venture with Discovery that rebrands its DIY Network” into Magnolia Network, on which Joanna hosts the cooking show “Magnolia Tables with Joanna Gaines,” and the couple will continue to develop a whole slate of original content.  

Rich kid Morgan Stewart saw reality TV as a stepping stone

“Rich Kids of Beverly Hills” was a reality show on E! that followed a group of twenty-somethings spending their parents’ millions. For four seasons, Morgan Stewart leveraged the show as somewhat of a resume. Speaking with Justin Anderson on In the Chair, Stewart said, “I always took [“Rich Kids of Beverly Hills”] very seriously, because I had greater aspirations for myself. I knew that this is what I was gonna do. I said it, I manifested it my whole life… I wanna have my own nighttime talk show.”

Stewart certainly knew what she was doing, as her animated personality eventually cemented her a position on the E! Network as a stylish and sharp-tongued host on not one but four platforms, including “Nightly Pop,” ‘Daily Pop,” “Necessary Realness” on YouTube, and “What the Fashion” on Snapchat.

As Stewart gained prominence, she created her own sports and leisurewear line, Morgan Stewart Sport. “When I started Morgan Stewart Sport, I didn’t ever have an idea of what was gonna be successful,” the entrepreneur told E!. “I just wanted to do what I love, and I think that that’s the most important thing, that if you’re gonna put a product out to the world, it really has to sort of represent you the best that it can.”

Christian Siriano faked it til he made it

Christian Siriano parlayed distinct confidence with inclusive designs that propelled him to victory as the Season 4 winner of “Project Runway.” Not only didn’t the young designer catch the eye of the judges, but A-list celebrities were also eagerly awaiting his collection. “By the end of the show, a lot of people knew who I was, but there was still a problem: They didn’t have product to buy,” the designer told American Express. “So I worked really hard and launched my collection six months later. It was a quick rush jolt into the limelight with celebrities wanting my designs and so much publicity because of the show.” 

Siriano also talked to Forbes about the value of expanding a personal brand, which includes a clothing collection for Puma and a shoe line for Walmart. “[‘Project Runway’] was an amazing experience, but afterward, you really have to take it on your own and keep it going.”

Of that first step beyond reality TV stardom, Siriano admitted his first season was a bit of a mess, and said that leading with confidence got him through it. “[The] challenges were simply putting on a fashion show, getting buyers, getting press,” he told American Express, adding, “I pretended I knew what I was doing; I was the best BS-er in the business.”

Winnie Harlow said ANTM hurt her more than it helped her

Even though boundary-breaking Winnie Harlow was a fan favorite on the Season 21 of “America’s Next Top Model,” the Canadian model told “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen,” “I really started after the show, because that really didn’t do anything for my career, which it doesn’t do anything for any model’s career realistically.”

Instead, Harlow, whose real name is Chantelle Whitney Brown-Young, credits her social media presence and personal hustle for her success in the modeling industry. After all, it was Harlow’s Instagram account where “ANTM” creator Tyra Banks first noticed the aspiring model. Harlow asked her social media followers to tag Banks to grab Bank’s attention, and it worked! But not exactly how Harlow had hoped. “After being on the show no one would book me and no agency would sign me because of the Reality TV stigma,” she commented to a fan on Instagram, via People. “Once I realized that, I stopped talking about it and grew my work base in Europe.” 

Then in 2019, Harlow made history as the first model with vitiligo, a condition that causes patches of pigmentation loss in the skin, to walk a Victoria’s Secret Show. “Representation is so important, and I want to [stand for] all women,” Harlow told Vogue about the opportunity. “Every single woman. … [This is] the pinnacle of my career.”

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