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
15 Jennifer Hudson - American Idol
14 Carla Hall - Top Chef
13 Scotty McCreery - American Idol
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
10 Katharine McPhee - American Idol
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
7 Kelly Clarkson - American Idol
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
4 Leona Lewis - X Factor 2006
3 Jordin Sparks - American Idol
2 Clay Aiken - American Idol
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".