Hundreds, if not thousands, of reality show contestants have been lucky enough to experience the excitement of being seen on television. Only a handful have had the good fortune of becoming highly successful, while many others went on to become local and regional celebrities. Of course, the majority sort of faded into the background.
Winners of shows like Top Chef and Project Runway are often able to parlay their success into becoming restaurateurs or fashion designers, but are not as likely to gain national or international notoriety with the general public. Other shows like Survivor, Big Brother and The Amazing Race often appeal to smaller audiences and aren’t based on marketable skills or talents. So contestants of those shows aren’t as likely to make a career from the experience.
Looking at all of the available information, American Idol produced the highest number of contestants that went on to develop expansive and long-lasting careers. Our list of 16 reality show contestants who are still cashing in on their television fame includes those who kept the momentum going. They have developed their own celebrity and in some cases they are so successful that fans have forgotten how they actually got their start.
Take a peek at our list of 16 and see if we’ve selected some of your favorites.
16. Taylor Hicks – American Idol
Taylor Hicks was the winner of American Idol’s fifth season and was immediately signed to Arista Records in 2006. By 2008, he was performing on Broadway in Grease demonstrating his ability to act as well as sing. Hicks has released several CDs, performs live at public events and is a regular in Las Vegas; currently on stage at the Brooklyn Bowl in Vegas.
15. Jennifer Hudson – American Idol
Jennifer Hudson is one of the biggest stars to come from any of the reality shows. She is an outstanding actress and singer and received her original break by becoming one of the finalists on the third season of American Idol in 2004. She went on to win an Academy Award, Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA and other awards for her role in Dreamgirls in 2006. She also co-starred in Sex and the City Movie 2. She is still singing, acting and has been a spokesperson for Weight Watchers. She is known worldwide and has an amazing career ahead of her.
14. Carla Hall – Top Chef
Carla was a finalist in two seasons of Top Chef (fifth and eighth) and gained popularity with her charming and witty style. She is one of five co-hosts on The Chew, a 60-minute talk show that discusses food and lifestyle topics. Carla is currently running a Kickstarter campaign so she can open Southern Kitchen, a slow-cooked, fast-serve southern comfort eatery. Carla is on a fast-track and will continue to grow in popularity.
13. Scotty McCreery – American Idol
Scotty McCreery is a country singer who won the tenth season of American Idol in 2011. He followed up his win by recording his first studio album, “Clear as Day”, which was released later that year and went platinum. In 2012, Scotty released a hit Christmas album, which went gold (500,000 units). Last year, one of the singles from his third album hit the top 10 on Billboard’s Country charts.
12. Adam Lambert – American Idol
Indianapolis-born, Adam Lambert performed as a child and ended up becoming the runner-up on American Idol’s eighth season (2009). Lambert ran neck-in-neck with winner Kris Allen throughout the season and audiences were stumped as to who would walk away with the trophy. But Lambert’s second place was enough to get him on the American Idols LIVE! Tour 2009. In the years following he recorded hit albums, became a frequent television guest and ultimately joined Queen as the lead singer at the MTV Europe Music Awards. They continued to perform and collaborate together and this year, Lambert and Queen embarked on their first official North American tour, which recently expanded to become an international tour.
11. Christian Siriano – Project Runway
Christian Siriano was the youngest contestant when he won the fourth season of Project Runway in 2008. Victoria Beckham called his winning collection “a breath of fresh air”. He introduced his own line – Christian Siriano – after Project Runway ended and has since become a celebrity favorite for red carpet couture. Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and several other stars are huge fans and clients.
10. Katharine McPhee – American Idol
Katharine McPhee originally got her fame from being the runner-up on American Idol’s fifth season (2006). Since, she has released successful singles and albums, such as “Over It” (2008) and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas“. McPhee also branched out into acting and co-starred in The House Bunny, Shark Night 3D and the NBC series, Smash.
9. Paul Potts – Britain’s Got Talent
Welsh singer Paul Potts won series one of Britain’s Got Talent when he belted out “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot. The audience and judges could not believe their ears. He later recorded “One Chance”, an album that topped the charts in several countries. Paul has continued to wow audiences everywhere with his amazing tenor voice while he tours and records new albums.
8. Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent
Susan Boyle is a Britain’s Got Talent (2009) runner-up who shocked the judges and audience the minute she started singing. She received a standing ovation from her mezzo-soprano voice after singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables. Her first album with the same title became the UK’s best-selling debut album and topped the Billboard 200 for six weeks. She has performed at Windsor Castle, Las Vegas and on a solo tour. She has received two Grammy Awards nominations, sold over 19 million albums and is now a multi-millionaire. Go Susan.
7. Kelly Clarkson – American Idol
Kelly Clarkson is one of the most well-known American Idol winners after winning the show’s first season. Her first single, “A Moment Like This” topped the US Billboard Hot 100 and it became the best selling single in the country. Her first studio album, Thankful, has sold over 4.5 million copies worldwide. Kelly’s career hasn’t stopped since her near-win in 2002. Currently she is promoting her upcoming Miracle on Broadway benefit concert on December 20, 2014.
6. Bill Rancic – The Apprentice
In 2004, Bill Rancic was one of the 16 contestants (job applicants) to compete for a job with Donald Trump on The Apprentice. He won, over Kwame Jackson. He was hired while everyone else was fired. He continued to parlay his win into a completely new life. Two years later, he became engaged to Guiliana DePandi and they were married in 2007. Bill is currently the co-star of the reality show, Guiliana and Bill with his wife. He also co-hosts America Now with Leeza Gibbons.
5. Kellie Pickler – American Idol & Dancing With The Stars
Kellie Pickler actually started her road to fame when she competed on American Idol’s fifth season as a country singer. Although she finished in sixth place, she was signed with 19 Recordings and BNA Records and released “Small Town Girl” in 2006. She continued to release singles and albums and in 2013, Kelly got the opportunity to compete in Dancing with the Stars. She was declared the winner of the 16th season of DWTS with professional dancer Derek Hough.
4. Leona Lewis – X Factor 2006
Leona Lewis became a star when she won the third season of The X Factor (2006). The win got her a £1 million ($1,610,000) recording contract with Syco Music (Simon Cowell’s company). A few years ago, Lewis moved over to RCA Records (then J Records) and signed a five-album deal. Her career has maintained a high note and she continues to tour and make new music.
3. Jordin Sparks – American Idol
Jordin Sparks was the winner of the sixth season of American Idol (2007) when she was only 17-years-old. She released her debut album following the contest and has sold two million copies globally. U.S. Billboard Hot 100 listed two of her singles “Tattoo” and “No Air” in the top-ten. A couple years later, Sparks expanded her arena to Broadway, acting and designing fragrances.
2. Clay Aiken – American Idol
Clay Aiken is a singer and songwriter who has parlayed his second-place win on American Idol’s second season (2003) into a very expansive career. He was awarded a recording contract by RCA Records and released five albums – the last one “On My Way Here”. He toured 11 times, authored a book and acted in a variety of television shows. He also competed in the fifth season of The Celebrity Apprentice, where he came in second. The most recent and exciting news is that Aiken is the 2014 Democratic nominee in the North Carolina 2nd congressional district election. Good luck, Clay!
1. Carrie Underwood – American Idol
Carrie Underwood has managed to rise to superstar status in a very short period of time. She was the winner of the fourth season of American Idol (2005) and became prominent almost immediately. She has already been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2008, won six Grammy Awards, 16 Billboard Music Awards, seven American Music Awards and has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.
Plus Underwood has also become a product spokesperson, awards show host and teen idol. This fame and fortune all became available from gaining the votes of fans and judges on American Idol, where Simon Cowell predicted she would win the competition and “outsell all previous Idol winners”.