Reality TV shows don’t always get the best rep when it comes to generating actual talent. While they claim to be on the lookout for the next big superstar, many people suspect that they’re actually looking for either shock value or drama. While that may be partially true, some shows have actually given us some super talented stars alongside gossip-worthy scandal. Music-based reality shows, in particular, have kick-started some seriously successful careers.
Whether you’re a fan of American Idol or more of an X Factor kind of reality show fan, you’ll know full well that some of the biggest artists out there today got their starts on your favorite show. However, you might not realize that some other incredibly famous faces appeared on now-forgotten reality shows back in their childhood years. Here are just some of the amazing musicians who got their start on reality TV. Incredibly, some of the most talented singers out there didn’t actually manage to clinch a TV win…
As the winner of the very first season of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson basically set the standard for making it big after succeeding on reality TV. Within weeks of winning the show, her debut single had shot to the top of the Billboard charts with record-breaking speed. The last musicians to make such a fast leap to the number one spot were The Beatles 38 years earlier! Fast forward fifteen years and Clarkson is still a huge star. She’s released eight hit albums and has scored over 100 number ones during the course of her career. The singer has just made a return to reality TV, although this time as a coach rather than a contestant! She’s joined The Voice for its current season. Kelly has come full circle!
One Direction didn’t even win their season of the UK X Factor and they still managed to become global superstars. Niall, Harry, Liam, Louis, and Zayn all auditioned separately in the seventh season of the popular reality show. While they didn’t make it to the next stage individually, Simon Cowell had the genius idea of throwing the five teens together and forming the next big boyband. The rest, as they say, is history. While Matt Cardle (er, who?) beat the boys to the X Factor prize, they quickly became internationally adored by legions of female fans. Their five studio albums as a group were all chart-toppers. Although the band is currently on what looks like a permanent ‘hiatus,’ (say it ain’t so!) their individual careers are all still going strong.
While it’s pretty well known that Britney Spears starred on a number of kids’ entertainment shows when she was a child, her early foray into the reality TV world is often forgotten about. Many years before Spears had her own reality series – Britney and Kevin: Chaotic – she appeared on the televised singing competition Star Search. A surprising number of future superstars featured on the show as children, although very few of them actually won their round! Spears was no exception: aged just 11, she lost out to fellow tween Marty Thomas. While Thomas himself is still in the music industry, he never quite reached the same heights as Britney.
The fact that Jennifer Hudson only came seventh in her season of American Idol is frankly a travesty. She deserved so much better than that! On the bright side, she’s gone on to see more success than anyone else who competed on season three – including eventual winner Fantasia Barrino. Not only has Hudson won numerous Grammy Awards for her music, she’s also an Oscar winner thanks to her turn as Effie White in the movie adaptation of Dreamgirls. If Hudson’s talent was ever in doubt, it certainly isn’t now! She’s become such a superstar that Aretha Franklin hand-picked Hudson to play her in an upcoming biopic. If Aretha deems her worthy of such an honor, the rest of us should, too.
Pop isn’t the only musical genre that counts reality show alumni among its superstars. The country music world has American Idol to thank for the discovery of crossover crooner Carrie Underwood. Underwood won the fourth season of the reality TV show, excelling throughout her season’s run. She was the only contestant that year to never fall into the bottom three! Since winning Idol, Underwood’s career has gone from strength to strength. She’s broken multiple records in the industry and is still the only solo country artist to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100. She’s got seven Grammys under her belt along with a whole host of other awards and has sold more than 65 million records worldwide. Impressive stuff!
Although she’s now only known as Cheryl, this former Girls Aloud member went by her maiden name Cheryl Tweedy when she competed in British reality TV show Popstars: The Rivals. Cheryl was one of five contestants to win a coveted spot in the group and has gone on to become one of the most successful British pop artists. With Girls Aloud, Cheryl sold over 4 million albums in the UK alone. As a soloist, she shares the record for the most number one singles from a female British artist with dance musician Jess Glynne. Not bad for a working-class girl from the North East! Reality TV has defined Cheryl’s career: she’s judged on the British and American versions of The X Factor. It was while judging on the UK edition that she met Liam Payne – the teenage boy who would grow up to be her boyfriend and baby daddy!
While Nicole Scherzinger is best known as the former lead singer of The Pussycat Dolls, she was actually a member of another girl group before she hit the big time. Scherzinger got her start thanks to the reality show Popstars, in which she auditioned for a spot in new band Eden’s Crush. She was successful, and the band went on to see moderate success in the early 2000s. However, they eventually disbanded after their record label went bankrupt. Scherzinger moved on to PCD while the rest of Eden’s Crush faded into obscurity. While the star’s stint as a contestant on a reality show is rarely discussed, she’s well known for judging other music competitions. Scherzinger has worked on both the US and UK versions of The X Factor, initially replacing fellow reality show alum Cheryl. Awkward.
Adam Lambert is another star who really, really should have won his season of American Idol. Instead, he finished a respectable second behind Kris Allen, with Allen even admitting on the night of the finale that “Adam deserved this.” As it happened, Lambert didn’t need the win to become a success in the music industry. His debut album, For Your Entertainment, was a smash hit. Two records later, he’s reached new heights of fame due to his long-time collaboration with iconic rock band Queen. Lambert has toured with Queen extensively, taking the place of the late Freddie Mercury as the band’s lead singer. While those are pretty difficult shoes to fill, Lambert has received critical acclaim for his efforts. Long may this partnership reign on!
Jordin Sparks was just 17 years old when she won the sixth season of American Idol – the youngest victor in the show’s history! Not many 17-year-olds can boast that kind of achievement! Despite her young age, Sparks kept up the momentum after her time on reality TV. Her self-titled debut album spawned hits such as “No Air” and “Tattoo.” “No Air” is actually the third best-selling single ever from any former American Idol contestant! All this before Sparks had even reached adulthood! A decade on, the singer is still doing as well as ever. She’s got two more hit albums under her belt and is currently expecting her first child with husband Dana Isaiah! That’s a lot of personal and professional joy!
The X Factor is really, really good at putting successful bands together from rejected solo auditionees! However, Little Mix are definitely in a league of their own, being the first such group to actually win the show. Starting off as Rhythmix, the girls changed the name of their group midway through the reality show’s eighth season after a dispute with a charity of the same name. Despite this setback, Little Mix stormed through the live shows and became the first group to win the UK version of the show. Since then, they’ve become one of the best selling girl groups of all time, having four number one singles to date. Even band member Perrie Edwards’s infamous split from One Direction’s Zayn Malik couldn’t bring Little Mix down!
Alt-rock queen Alanis Morrisette seems like one of the least likely people ever to enter a reality show. That’s WAY too mainstream for her, right? Wrong! Before she hit the big time, a ten-year-old Morrisette participated in the popular Canadian reality series You Can’t Do That on Television. The sketch show inadvertently launched the careers of a lot of future entertainers, Morrisette included! Three years after her TV debut, the singer recorded her first demo tape, beginning a decades-long career in the music industry. While Morrisette doesn’t consider You Can’t Do That on Television to be her finest career moment, she still remembers it fondly when quizzed about her childhood.
Justin Timberlake is another example of a future superstar who made a childhood appearance on Star Search. However, he did so unsuccessfully – and under a stage name! In 1992, an 11-year-old named ‘Justin Randall’ performed a set of country songs on the show. Despite putting a lot of effort into his performance – he even wore a jaunty hat – young Justin lost out to his competitor. Clearly, country music just wasn’t Timberlake’s calling! He did much better when he transitioned into the pop industry, gaining fame as a member of classic ’90s boyband NYSNC. These days, Timberlake is everywhere from the Super Bowl Halftime Show to our movie screens. Star Search really wasn’t that good at recognizing young talent, was it?
Not many of us realized that Beyoncé had once been on a reality TV show until she included a soundbite from the experience in her hit single “***Flawless.” Yep – that segment from the beginning of the song is actual audio from Bey’s stint on Star Search with her first girl group Girl’s Tyme. Once again, the show failed to recognize actual talent and gave Skeleton Crew the win over Beyoncé and her bandmates. Still, it didn’t exactly hinder any of the girls. Girl’s Tyme went on to become Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé went on to become a cultural phenomenon. And where are Skeleton Crew these days? Nobody knows. Certainly not running the world like Bey, that’s for sure.
After two unsuccessful auditions, Jackie Evancho finally made it onto America’s Got Talent after winning a Youtube competition. She was just ten years old when she made her debut on the show, and her incredible talent at such a young age blew the judges (and the audience) away. Evancho was so good that many critics suspected that she was lip-syncing, something the young star took pains to prove wrong during the show’s live broadcasts. Although Evancho didn’t end up winning the competition, many viewers thought that she should have. Her angelic singing voice enchanted the nation. In the years since her reality TV stint, Evancho has continued to grow as an artist. She’s still only 17 but has already released numerous hit albums and staged sell-out concert tours.
While she hasn’t quite reached the popularity heights of One Direction, Leona Lewis is still the second-highest-selling artist to emerge from the UK version of The X Factor. Lewis stormed to victory in the third season of the reality show, cementing her success with a cover version of Kelly Clarkson’s American Idol winners’ song “A Moment Like This.” Her debut album Spirit went 10 times platinum in the UK and was a chart-topper all over the world. Although she prefers to keep out of the spotlight, Lewis is still a big name in the entertainment industry to this day. She’s branched out to acting, making her Broadway debut in 2016 in the revival of Cats. Despite the eventual breakdown in her contract with her X Factor mentor Simon Cowell‘s record label, she’s managed to keep her career going.
Popular cable reality show Nashville Star was basically American Idol for purely country singers. During its six seasons on the air, it jump-started the career of a number of country stars, most notably Miranda Lambert. Lambert appeared on the show’s inaugural season back in 2003, ultimately placing third in the competition. Despite missing out on victory, record executive Tracy Gershon was so impressed by Lambert that she immediately signed the singer to her label. It’s a decision that proved fortuitous for both women. Lambert has become one of the darlings of the country world, releasing six hit albums to critical acclaim. She’s won two Grammys, toured around the world, and stood strong through her sad divorce from fellow country star Blake Shelton. She’ll soon be releasing another record with her group, the Pistol Annie’s. What a name!
Bea Miller is another star who appeared on reality TV at a very young age. She was just thirteen when she took part in the second season of The X Factor: USA! Miller’s stint on the show was brief but impressive. Despite only placing ninth in the competition, record labels Syco and Hollywood immediately snapped her up. As a young teen, Miller opened shows for huge stars like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Fifth Harmony. All of this before her 18th birthday! While her initial musical efforts were of the tame nature expected of a young teen, 19-year-old Miller has adopted a far more adult style on her latest record, Aurora. She’s going from strength to strength as one of the most impressive emerging pop stars of this decade.
Just like Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler successfully brought her country music talents to American Idol. While Pickler only placed sixth on her season of the show, she’s carved out a pretty impressive career for herself in the years since. Alongside a successful music career, she’s also broken into the TV industry! Pickler returned to our screens post- American Idol on Dancing With The Stars back in 2013, winning the show with her partner Derek Hough. She’s now the host of a successful talk show, Pickler & Ben, with comedian Ben Aaron. Talk about a versatile career! Who knows where Pickler will take her many talents next?
Just like One Direction, girl band Fifth Harmony got together on The X Factor: USA after auditioning as soloists. The similarities don’t stop there: just like 1D, the girls finished third in their season of the show! However, losing out to Tate Stevens ultimately did them no harm. Fifth Harmony went on to top the charts with their debut album Reflection and have been releasing some pretty banging tunes ever since. Their success was briefly threatened by original band member Camila Cabello‘s less-than-harmonious exit from the group in 2016. However, both Fifth Harmony and Cabello have continued to rock the charts following the split. All’s well that ends well!