The 23 Most Successful Reality TV Show Contestants

By July 26, 2018View From The top
These reality television contestants harnessed the momentum from their break and used it to fuel their future success.
These reality television contestants harnessed the momentum from their break and used it to fuel their future success.AP Photos

Though many contestants have a hard time getting another break after appearing on a reality TV show – or breaking the stigma their reality show appearance may have earned them – some haven’t had that problem.

All of these successful former reality TV contestants figured out how to harness the momentum from their break and, eventually, use it to fuel their future success. The craziest part: Some of them didn’t win big or stand out on their show. Yet they were able to learn from the opportunity and go on to become some of the wealthiest and most notable modern entertainers.

For this list, we subjectively judge reality TV contestants by a mix of financial and artistic success.

Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson performs at the CMT Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2018.
Kelly Clarkson performs at the CMT Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2018.Mark Humphrey / AP Photo

Show: “American Idol”

Year: 2002

Estimated net worth: $28 million

The first winner of the mega-successful modern reality competition show “American Idol,” Kelly Clarkson’s career blossomed from her big win.

She became a major pop star with hits like “Since U Been Gone” and “Breakaway,” and a handful of best-selling albums. When she was eventually able to break free from her “American Idol” contract, her personal earnings potential skyrocketed. She continues to create new music and tour all over the country.

Lauren Conrad

Lauren Conrad arrives at the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic at Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades, California, in 2015.
Lauren Conrad arrives at the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic at Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades, California, in 2015.Rich Fury / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “The Hills”

Years: 2006-10

Estimated net worth: $25 million

Though there are some mumblings, thanks to the series finale, that “The Hills” may not have been as unscripted as originally thought, the show still helped define a new era of reality TV.

It also helped define its breakout star, Lauren Conrad, as a formidable businesswoman and charismatic personality. She was able to use her popularity to launch a successful clothing line and lifestyle brand.

Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood performs at the  CMT Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2012.
Carrie Underwood performs at the CMT Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2012.John Shearer / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “American Idol”

Year: 2005

Estimated net worth: $85 million

The country music singer is the only “American Idol” winner who comes close in success to the original winner, Kelly Clarkson. (Despite constant comparisons, they have nothing but love and respect for each other).

Underwood’s powerhouse vocals have fueled tons of popular country and crossover hits, and a number of successful albums. And, as if all that weren’t enough success, she launched a workout clothing collection.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck

Elisabeth Hasselbeck attends a fashion show in New York in 2010.
Elisabeth Hasselbeck attends a fashion show in New York in 2010.Evan Agostini / AP Photo

Show: “Survivor”

Year: 2001

Estimated net worth: $16 million

Many people either overlook or forget that the well-known conservative talk show host and TV personality Elisabeth Hasselbeck got her big TV break on the second season of “Survivor.”

Though she was voted off the island in fourth place, she was able to launch a successful career first as a host on “The View” and as a personality on Fox News.

Plus, she launched her own gluten-free nutritional food company called Nogii.

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson performs at the "March for Our Lives" rally in Washington, D.C., in 2018.
Jennifer Hudson performs at the “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington, D.C., in 2018.Andrew Harnik / AP Photo

Show: “American Idol”

Year: 2004

Estimated net worth: $20 million

Arguably the biggest success who ever lost “American Idol,” the powerful singer only placed seventh in the 2004 season.

But that finish didn’t stop her from accomplishing some major feats in entertainment, including earning an Oscar starring alongside Beyoncé in the 2006 film adaptation of “Dreamgirls.”

After a dramatic weight loss, she became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers and has her own collection on QVC.

Nene Leakes

NeNe Leakes models an outfit from the Red Dress Collection in New York in 2014.
NeNe Leakes models an outfit from the Red Dress Collection in New York in 2014.Brad Barket / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”

Years: 2008-present

Estimated net worth: $14 million

The outspoken Real Housewife was a breakout on the show. But that reality show was only the beginning for Nene Leakes.

Though she’s still involved in it after some time off, she’s done a ton of other projects. She guest starred on the hit series “Glee,” wrote a bestselling book and launched a clothing line on HSN along with her own clothing store.

Bethenny Frankel

Bethenny Frankel participates in the Hamptons Paddle Race in Sag Harbor, New York, in 2015.
Bethenny Frankel participates in the Hamptons Paddle Race in Sag Harbor, New York, in 2015.Scott Roth / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “The Real Housewives of New York City”

Years: 2008-10, 2015-present

Estimated net worth: $25 million

Another Real Housewife who became much more than a reality TV personality, Frankel harnessed her newfound popularity to begin her own lifestyle brand Skinnygirl. It includes cocktails, clothing and candy, to name a few things.

Christian Siriano

Christian Siriano poses for a portrait in Los Angeles in 2009.
Christian Siriano poses for a portrait in Los Angeles in 2009.Matt Sayles / AP Photo

Show: “Project Runway”

Year: 2008

Estimated net worth: $1.5 million

After winning the popular fashion reality show “Project Runway” during its fourth season, Siriano took the opportunities the show provided and ran with them.

A fan favorite, he smartly took advantage of his popularity and the momentum from the show to establish himself as one of the most playful and most flattering modern designers. He remains extremely popular, especially as a designer who enthusiastically loves to work with all body types.

Nicole “Snooki” Polizi

Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi arrives at the MTV Movie Awards in 2014.
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi arrives at the MTV Movie Awards in 2014.Jordan Strauss / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “Jersey Shore”

Years: 2009-12

Estimated net worth: $4 million

Many unforgettable personalities came out of the wild MTV show “Jersey Shore.” And while many of them continued to have mild success, Snooki made the most of her time on the show. She became part of the cultural lexicon.

Snooki used her popularity to launch her first book, “A Shore Thing,” at the height of her popularity in 2011. She would go on to write five more books about her life, including ones where she ditches her younger style and opens up about motherhood.

Nicole Scherzinger

Nicole Scherzinger poses at "Movies Rock: A Celebration of Music in Film" in Los Angeles in 2007.
Nicole Scherzinger poses at “Movies Rock: A Celebration of Music in Film” in Los Angeles in 2007.Chris Pizzello / AP Photo

Show: “Popstars”

Year: 2001

Estimated net worth: $12 million

Though “Popstars” never gained huge popularity, it did introduce the world to world-class talent, including Nicole Scherzinger.

Scherzinger was a contestant on the show in 2001. She’d go on to sing with the group Eden’s Crush and then become the lead singer of The Pussycat Dolls, which would really establish her as a powerhouse.

Beyond singing, she co-hosted the popular show “The X Factor” (UK). During her time on the show, she paid it forward, helping to put together a boy band group that would have its own major breakout star.

Harry Styles

Harry Styles performs on the "Today" show in New York in 2017.
Harry Styles performs on the “Today” show in New York in 2017.Charles Sykes / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “The X Factor” (UK)

Years: 2010-11

Estimated net worth: $75 million

After auditioning separately on “The X Factor” (UK), the judges (including former reality TV breakout star Nicole Scherzinger) put together a group of talented young men and called them One Direction.

The rest, as they say, is fangirl history.

The boy band became the next hot thing and had a number of international hits. Though they are on a seemingly permanent hiatus, the biggest breakout star of the group, Harry Styles, shows no signs of slowing down. He not only launched his own successful solo career, he’s begun his acting career. He co-starred in “Dunkirk.”

Grace VanderWaal

Grace VanderWaal performs at the Billboard Women in Music event in Los Angeles in 2017.
Grace VanderWaal performs at the Billboard Women in Music event in Los Angeles in 2017.Chris Pizzello / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “America’s Got Talent”

Year: 2016

Estimated net worth: $2 million

Though it might be a bit early to put this young artist on the list, she’s already done incredible things since her “America’s Got Talent” win.

She already became a successful Vegas headlining act and was just named the star of an upcoming Disney Channel original movie. And she’s doing all that amid a busy touring schedule and constant creation of new music – all before hitting the age of 15.

Miranda Lambert

Miranda Lambert performs at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas in 2018.
Miranda Lambert performs at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas in 2018.Chris Pizzello / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “Nashville Star”

Year: 2003

Estimated net worth: $45 million

When some reality TV shows aren’t insanely popular, it’s easy to overlook or forget that major stars used them as launch pads. That’s at least the case with country music star Miranda Lambert, who first got her break on the 2003 season of “Nashville Star.”

She was only 19-years-old at the time, but clearly a superstar in the making.

Since that show, her career as a country music artist blossomed and she continues to be one of country music’s most popular artists. Oh, and of course she has a couple clothing and accessory collections.

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox performs during the "Lip Sync Battle Live: A Michael Jackson Celebration" in Los Angeles in 2018.
Laverne Cox performs during the “Lip Sync Battle Live: A Michael Jackson Celebration” in Los Angeles in 2018.Richard Shotwell / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “I Want to Work for Diddy”

Year: 2008

Estimated net worth: $2 million

At this point, most TV viewers probably know Laverne Cox. Few likely realize she got her first major TV break on a VH1 show featuring Sean “Diddy” Combs.

Though she played herself on the show, the actress eventually landed her breakout role on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.”

She continues to be an advocate for transgender rights while landing a ton of juicy acting roles, producing her own work, and, in her free time, getting nominated for Emmy Awards.

Camila Cabello

Camila Cabello introduces a performance at the Grammy Awards in New York in 2018.
Camila Cabello introduces a performance at the Grammy Awards in New York in 2018.Matt Sayles / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “The X Factor”

Year: 2012

Estimated net worth: $6 million

Like others on the list, Camila Cabello auditioned on her own for the show and then was placed together in a larger group that would become Fifth Harmony.

The group gained popularity and continues to perform together, but Cabello decided to split from them in 2016. Her first solo album debuted at No. 1 on the charts behind the single, “Havana.”

Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette performs at KAABOO in San Diego, California, in 2017.
Alanis Morissette performs at KAABOO in San Diego, California, in 2017.Amy Harris / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “Star Search”

Year: 1990

Estimated net worth: $45 million

You, you, you oughta know that this singer first appeared on TV on the classic hit show “Star Search” in 1990.

Before the rise of streaming and expanded TV options, “Star Search” was arguably one of the biggest network TV singing competitions. Though she didn’t exactly sound like the strong-willed grunge goddess she would become, the momentum from the show was enough to propel her career.

Britney Spears

Britney Spears performs in Buffalo, New York, in 2002.
Britney Spears performs in Buffalo, New York, in 2002.David Duprey / AP Photo

Show: “Star Search”

Year: 1992

Estimated net worth: $215 million

Another iconic star to first shine on “Star Search.” Britney Spears would go on to mild fame with “The Mickey Mouse Club” after her reality show audition.

But when her hit song “…Baby One More Time” came out, she would skyrocket to the highest levels of fame. It would stay that way more or less throughout her career, including as she continues to create new music and have a successful Vegas residency.  

Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake performs during halftime Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2018.
Justin Timberlake performs during halftime Super Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2018.Matt Slocum / AP Photo

Show: “Star Search”

Year: 1992

Estimated net worth: $230 million

Justin Timberlake’s career spans almost every kind of entertainment. But you might not know what a powerful entertainer he’d become just by watching the little kid in a cowboy hat sing on “Star Search.”

Like other ‘90s singing children who went on “Star Search,” Timberlake would become a member of “The Mickey Mouse Club.” He first reached musical fame as a member of NSYNC. He was able to launch his own successful solo career after that band began losing momentum; he churned out hit after big hit.

His charm seeped through in sketches on “Saturday Night Live,” and it became pretty obvious he had some acting chops as well. Now he can basically do whatever he wants, including, you know, halftime at the Super Bowl, if he feels like it.

Usher

Usher attends a ceremony honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles in 2016.
Usher attends a ceremony honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles in 2016.Richard Shotwell / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “Star Search”

Year: 1993

Estimated net worth: $180 million

The young singer’s major TV debut came on “Star Search,” too. His singing abilities combined with his awesome dance moves made him immediately popular and continue to make him a fun entertainer to watch.

And, maybe because he was on a talent scouting program himself, he knows how to scout talent. In 2009, with the help of a talent manager who found him on YouTube, Usher began singing with the future superstar Justin Bieber, whose career he’d help launch and manage for many years.

Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera sings at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles in 2013.
Christina Aguilera sings at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles in 2013.John Shearer / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “Star Search”

Year: 1990

Estimated net worth: $160 million

At a very young age, Christina Aguilera already had unbelievable vocal abilities. She showed those off on her TV debut in 1990.

A couple years later, she worked her way through a familiar path. She joined “The Mickey Mouse Club” and then moved on to a successful solo career.

Though she continues to create popular music, she’s also been a judge on a relatively young reality competition, “The Voice.” She’s also taught voice online in a MasterClass, and even has her own line of perfumes.

Emma Stone

Emma Stone arrives at the Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, in 2012.
Emma Stone arrives at the Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, in 2012.Chris Carlson / AP Photo

Show: “In Search of the Partridge Family”

Year: 2004

Estimated net worth: $28 million

She’s now an Academy Award-winning actress. Before she was that, she was a popular comedic actress.

But before she was that, Emma Stone went by Emily Stone and performed a charismatic and delightful rendition of Meredith Brooks’ iconic ‘90s song “Bitch” as part of a reality TV singing competition show back in 2004.

Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm arrives at the premiere of "Million Dollar Arm" in Los Angeles in 2014.
Jon Hamm arrives at the premiere of “Million Dollar Arm” in Los Angeles in 2014.Richard Shotwell / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “The Big Date”

Year: 1996

Estimated net worth: $30 million

While plenty of people who debuted on reality TV faced rejection, few were as personal as Jon Hamm when he was rejected during a dating show back in 1996.

His “fantabulous” TV debut didn’t impress the lady he was trying to win a date with. But years later, a different debut on what would become a runaway hit show “Mad Men” would impress plenty of ladies and fellas alike.

Beyoncé

Beyoncé performs at the V Festival in England in 2013.
Beyoncé performs at the V Festival in England in 2013.Jonathan Short / AP Photo/Invision

Show: “Star Search”

Year: 1993

Estimated net worth: $500 million

Arguably one of the biggest stars of our era premiered in the early ‘90s with the group Girls Tyme on “Star Search.”

As per usual, Beyoncé sang lead vocals and showed off ample charisma. She was obviously comfortable singing in a group since she’d go onto form Destiny’s Child before launching her own incredibly successful solo career.

Her net worth is jaw-dropping alone, but combined with her music mogle husband Jay-Z, the couple is worth around $1.4 billion.

* All estimated net worth totals sourced from Celebrity Net Worth.