Many celebrities got their start in the pageant world before they made it to become the star they are today. Whether in a hometown, grassroots pageant or on the glitzy worldwide stage, these famous females did their best showing off their figures in flattering swimsuits, posing in front of a panel of judges in bedazzled evening gowns, and performing their cornucopia of talents in the hopes of coming home with the treasured crown.
These lovely ladies are all special in their own right, but the one thing they’ve got in common is their past pageant performances. Some are more forthcoming about their time in the controversial pageant world, while others are proud to have twirled their batons and answered random questions about global warming and a woman’s right to choose as they made sure their makeup was perfect and their boobs were carefully taped down inside their low-cut gowns.
All of these women are undeniably attractive, all have become a success in one way or another, and all are winners no matter the outcome of the pageant they participated in. Some are older and past their prime, some are still hot in Hollywood, and others were more recent pageant princesses. None competed versus the other, so it can be said that there’s a pageant for every personality. From the U.S.A. all the way to New Zealand, these celebs have represented their local communities and the world. Congrats to all of them and the pageant platform from which they’ve launched lucrative and impressive careers.
Check out these 15 beauty queens of the decades past and you’ll be amazed that some of these gals were once hometown hotties. And the winner is…
15 Vanessa Lachey
When the lovely Vanessa Lachey was still known as Vanessa Minnillo, she was just as gorgeous as ever, so much so that she was a pageant princess. The beauty was Miss South Carolina Teen USA in 1998 going on to the Miss Teen USA 1998 and was crowned the winner! It’s no wonder her career took off and the stunner became a well-recognized face on TV as a beloved media personality and pop culture presenter. Vanessa’s marriage to hunky former boy-bander, Nick Lachey was a match made in Hollywood heaven, and their adorable kids are sure to grow up to be as talented (and good looking) as their famous folks. Lachey is smart, savvy, sexy, and sweet, so her start to fame in the pageant world was the perfect fit. Wonder if she prances around in her sash and not much else in the bedroom to entice her hubby with some boudoir babe-ness? 98 Degrees isn’t nearly as hot as Vanessa!
14 Sarah Palin
We all know she can “see Russia from her house,” but who knew the former Vice Presidential wannabe was a beauty pageant princess as well? Sarah Palin was crowned Miss Wasilla back in ’84 and made it to 3rd place in the Miss Alaska competition. Wonder what Donald Trump would think of Palin’s pageant looks? While Palin never continued on the path of pageantry, she certainly makes an impression when she steps onto the political stage (for better or for worse). The weather is cold up in Alaska anyhow, so trading in swimsuits for pantsuits seems like a smart move. Plus, that sash and crown would distract the voters and officials from Palin’s initiatives for whatever she stands for. It would be interesting to hear Palin’s reply to the questions and answers portion of the competition though. Tina Fey and the entire Saturday Night Live cast and crew would have a field day!
13 Michelle Pfeiffer
Pre-Scarface and The Fabulous Baker Boys, the ever-glamourous and seemingly age-proof Michelle Pfeiffer was a pretty and perky pageant gal winning the crown as Miss Orange County back in 1987. Her looks have only gotten better over time, some may argue, and her opportunities have extended well beyond the confines of Orange County. While Grease 2 had its fair share of less-than-stellar reviews, no one can deny that Pfeiffer was a stunner in her role and with every acting gig since, her talent and glowing beauty have only become more refined. She married Hollywood heavyweight, David E. Kelley, and has two children who are surely blessed in the looks department thanks to their generous genes. Pfeiffer may be 58 years old now, but she’s just as sexy and camera-ready as she was when she wore that Miss Orange County sash. Now she can wear expensive clothing and jewels instead. Pageants are surely a useful launching pad to propel A-list beauties straight to Hollywood!
12 Sophia Bush
One Tree Hill on the WB may be what made Sophia Bush a household name, but being named “Rose Queen” sounds a lot more regal. The actress won this contest in 2000, leading the way to her successful acting career and current fame. These days, the perky and pretty brunette is back on the small screen as Det. Erin Lindsay on the hit drama, Chicago P.D. While pageantry is fun, it’s no match to a popular TV role. The gowns and sashes may be cute, but a wardrobe team and professional stylist are far more exciting. While Bush is no longer married to fellow actor, Chad Michael Murray, it was surely Bush’s good looks and well-practiced pageant charm that charmed him into her embrace. Aside from TV acting, Bush has also appeared in several films, making her a big screen siren as well. That little Rose Queen gig surely made Bush a queen of the Hollywood royal court as well!
11 Halle Berry
Actress Halle Berry is so enviably gorgeous that it comes as no big surprise that she got her first taste of fame as a beauty pageant princess. She came in as runner up as Miss Ohio in the Miss USA pageant back in 1986. Second place didn’t stop Ms. Berry from becoming one of the most fabulously famous faces in Hollywood with an ageless beauty that defies all logic (and gravity). While Berry is our favorite Catwoman and the belle of the Monster’s Ball, we certainly have no idea what the actual winner of Miss Ohio ’86 is doing now. First place may have felt good then, but Oscars and million dollar paychecks have made Berry quite content ever since. The 50-year-old may be past her pageant prime, but the lucrative movie roles keep rolling in. Sashes have been replaced by designer duds and surely Berry wouldn’t have it any other way. This Berry sure is sweet!
10 Vanessa Williams
Actress/singer Vanessa Williams made history as the first African-American Miss America in 1984, but she was stripped of her crown when naked pics of her surfaced. No big whoop for this talented lady. She went on to become rich and famous with hit songs and notable acting roles. And, the franchise apologized to her recently, making the ordeal come full circle. They do “Save the Best for Last,” indeed! Williams also went on to become a doting mom and fashion designer with more under her belt than a mere sash and tiara anyhow. Her stellar looks are as fresh as ever and while pageants may have propelled Williams to fame, her raw talent and overall appeal makes her a winner no matter the status of her Miss America standing. Williams was “Dreamin’” of stardom back in ’84, but donning a crown is no match for the success she’s landed in the decades to follow. Nude pics in this century? No biggie!
9 Kathie Lee Gifford
Her perky demeanor and girl (or woman)-next-door good looks make it easy to see how Kathie Lee Gifford made her way into the beauty pageant world. Gifford participated in the Junior Miss Pageant in 1970, representing Maryland. Big things came Gifford’s way in the years to come, from her co-hosting gig with Regis to her current spot on the fourth hour of the Today Show with the equally bubby Hoda Kotb. While viewers from all over the world surely agree that Gifford is the queen of morning TV, pageantry, aside from parading around the NBC studios, was not going to be the host’s lifelong passion. Gabbing about fluff news pieces and interviewing celebs and tastemakers is far more up Gifford’s alley. She’s still as beautiful as ever and if Regis were hosting the next Junior Miss (or Senior Mrs.) Pageant, there’s no doubt he’d crown his former co-host as the clear winner.
8 Oprah Winfrey
Is there anything this amazing media mogul can’t do? Yep, Oprah Winfrey, the queen of basically everything was also a beauty queen. Who would have thought that before her start on TV and all sorts of other fame and fortune that Miss Winfrey was Miss Black Tennessee in 1971? With her poise and undying determination, it’s actually no wonder that the daytime darling won whatever she set her sights on, even as far back as the ‘70s. Perhaps her man Stedman had his eyes on the prize all along? While pageantry wasn’t Winfrey’s ultimate calling, it’s surely nice to have that sash and crown stored away. But Emmys and other awards are far shinier when luxuriously displayed atop Winfrey’s expensive mantle. Way to go Oprah! It’s now her chance to give back to her fans. “You get a car! And you get a car!” Seems like the regal air never wafts away when it comes to Oprah Winfrey.
7 Vanna White
Before spinning letters around for a living, Vanna White wore equally gorgeous gowns while spinning herself around on the pageant stage. She was a contestant in the Miss Georgia Universe competition in 1978 and was the fourth runner up. While that didn’t land her prizes as fancy as those handed out on Wheel of Fortune, it surely sparked her career as a long-running letter-turner on the popular game show. People from all over love seeing Ms. White day after day as she flashes her pearly whites and wears the most glamorous of designer gowns. She’s as lovely today as she was on day one of the hit game show, and we’d love to watch her turn those vowels and consonants for years to come with chutzpah. Host Pat may be smitten with Vanna, but who can blame the fella? Spending each day with such a beauty must be more exciting than solving puzzles. May White keep stealing the stage with her beauty and style for years to come.
6 Tiffani Thiessen
Teens from all over the U.S. and even internationally adored Tiffani Thiessen from her days on Saved by the Bell and later, Beverly Hills 90210, but before TV came calling, pageantry was her thing. Thiessen was a competitor in the Miss Junior America pageant in 1987 and used to model for popular teen mags as well. Girls wanted to be her and the fellas wanted to… well, you know what! Thiessen’s made-for-the-camera beauty and wholesome personality made her the perfect pageant princess and eventually, TV sweetie. While the beauty now spends her time starring in her own cooking show, she always brought the heat to whatever she did, no matter the venue. Whether in sequined gowns or kitchen aprons, Thiessen stuns with sophistication and splendor. Her eyes are as sparkly as they were in her pageant days and her looks haven’t faded. “Screech” and Zack Morris surely had a foxy co-star to get them outta bed each morning to come to set with a smile!
5 Sharon Stone
We’ve seen plenty of the breathtaking actress, Sharon Stone (and we mean plenty) on the big screen, but before her rise to Hollywood fame and fortune, Ms. Stone was a down-home pageant princess. She competed in Miss Crawford County and went on to the Miss Pennsylvania pageant in 1976. Perhaps it was her Basic Instinct to initially delve into the pageant world, but Stone is far more suited for acting with A-listers as she’s done with perfection over the years. Stone becomes more and more beautiful with each passing year, so maybe we’ll see her walk the stage again as a pageant perfectionist in her golden years. Gowns, glitz, and glorious glam suit this gal just fine, whether in a competition for a sash and crown or the coveted Oscar. She’s adored by millions and even at age 58, “sex symbol” is Stone’s middle name. Talk about a “MILF!” Her sons must be slightly embarrassed as their friends ogle over their hot mama!
4 Ali Landry
She may have refrained from popping cheesy Doritos while prepping for beauty pageants, but the stunning Ali Landry was just as tasty, so to speak, as the Miss USA winner in 1996, putting her into the running for the prestigious Miss Universe contest thanks to her monumental win for America. This lovely lady has been a fixture in the spotlight ever since, making various well-received appearances on television and the big screen, as well as working as a spokeswoman and hardworking model. Her shiny brunette locks and perfectly toned body make Landry an obvious sex symbol. Even with her sex appeal, it seems Landry is still down to Earth and overwhelmingly likable by women and men alike. She’s the perfect example of how style, smarts, and stunning looks can make a woman one to watch and emulate. Heck, if Doritos can keep a body looking that hot, everyone ought to ditch the Atkins plan and grab a bag of salty carbs instead!
3 Lucy Lawless
Prior to becoming everyone’s favorite television “Warrior Princess,” the tall and talented New Zealand native, Lucy Lawless was a prim and proper pageant princess, winning the Miss New Zealand pageant in 1989. Soon after, she traded in her elegant gowns and heels for something far more rugged (and with far less coverage), but nonetheless, Lawless was flawless in every look she put on her enviable body. She’s much further out of the spotlight nowadays, but Lawless is undeniably welcome back to the small screen whether she’s fiercely fighting enemies or strutting her stuff in a sash and shiny crown. New Zealand surely makes ‘em strong and sexy if Lawless is any example of the average gal from across the globe! At 5’10”, this tall drink of water is not only leggy, but lovely. And 48 never looked so good. She’s Xena-riffic as ever and a pure princess in every decade!
2 Raquel Welch
The timeless beauty, Raquel Welch, is considered one of the most iconic sex symbols of our time, and even back in 1955 when she was crowned as the winner of the La Jolla Beauty Competition, her true fabulousness was already shining through. Her Fantastic Voyage has been decades long with show-stopping roles on the big screen in films including One Million Years B.C., Bedazzled, 100 Rifles, Fathom, Trouble in Paradise, and many more. Along with her success on screen, this multi-talented marvel has also written books, created a fitness video series, and is a spokesmodel for MAC Cosmetics among other brands. She’s now in her late 70s, but that isn’t holding this brazen beauty back. Her sexiness is as irresistible as ever, and her youthful appearance and attitude keep us as interested in the former pageant princess as we were decades ago. Welch is a winner no matter what she puts her mind and body to!
1 Delta Burke
At the tender age of 17, Delta Burke was crowned Miss Florida in 1974 and went on to compete in the Miss America pageant. While she didn’t win that award, she won the hearts of admirers far and wide and became a successful actress. Her most memorable role was on the hit sitcom, Designing Women, where her wit and charm paired with her beauty to make her a fan favorite. Burke also made her mark on the big screen in movies including What Women Want, Dangerous Child, Maternal Instincts, Sordid Lives, and many more. At age 60, this southern beauty is still gorgeous and easily-recognized, but it was her teen pursuit as a pageant princess that launched her career. Her bright eyes and smile have not faded and we hope to watch Ms. Burke for years to come. “Suzanne Sugarbaker” may not visit us on TV any longer, but she’s just as sweet in our hearts and minds!