Famous Women Who Got Their Start In Beauty Pageants

Celebrity women are undoubtedly gorgeous and talented. The women on this list were literally tested that theory when they were younger, as participants of beauty pageants. They used the pageants as a starting point to the very successful careers they didn’t know they were going to have. This takes Miss Congeniality to a whole new level. We bet you had no idea these lovely ladies started out in the contest ring!

Cybill Shepherd

Cybill is a Hollywood icon at this point. But before the actress got her start in television and film, young Cybill won the title of Miss Teenage Memphis pageant in 1966 when she was just 16 years old. Later she would go on to receive the title of Model of the Year in 1968 when she was 18. This is what got Cybill noticed by modeling agencies and subsequently by film producers. Today, Cybill is an Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actress, while also winning three Golden Globes in the 80s for her role in Moonlighting.

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Oprah Winfrey

Before Oprah became the mega-successful talk show host and owner of her very own network, OWN, she got had her share of growing pains. She grew out of her tough years and into a beautiful young woman. So much so that in 1972 she won the Miss Black Tennessee pageant. It was pageants that won her a scholarship to Tennessee State University, where she got her first job in a radio station.

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Barbara Eden

Barbara was everyone’s favorite ‘Jeannie’ while she played that very role in I Dream of Jeannie. But it was her start in beauty pageants that got her noticed. Barbara was given the honor of being Miss San Francisco in 1951! Her blonde hair, wide smile, and incredible figure, won the judges as much as it won fans on the television show. It was only natural that Eden would head into show business after the pageant.

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Lynda Carter

First came pageant then came Wonder Woman. Before Lynda wowed viewers on the comic translated hit television series and movie, Wonder Woman, Lynda was in not just any beauty pageant, but in Miss World USA. Lynda won the title of Miss World USA in 1972. In 1975 Lynda landed her famous red white and blue role. Lynda went on to model and act thanks to her unique features as well as her acting skills.

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Vanessa Williams

Vanessa struck history in 1983 when she was crowned Miss America, the history part was because she was the first African-American woman to do so. However, a year later she relinquished her title due to leaked nude images of her from her much younger days in Penthouse magazine. After this little bump in the road though, Vanessa went on to be one of the most successful singer and actress in theater. She has been nominated for an Emmy, Tony, and Grammy awards.

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Vanna White

Vanna is famous for her letter turning abilities on Wheel of Fortune, a job she has held since 1982 and is still very much a part of. But before her time on the show, Vanna was the fourth runner-up in the Miss Georgia Universe competition in 1978. It’s not hard to imagine at all, considering Vanna is a gorgeous tall blonde with a very girl-next-door vibe to her. We’re glad we still have a chance to see her every time we turn on the television.

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Michelle Yeoh

Michelle is considered one of the most exotic beauties to come out of the east. Before you got to know her as Yu Shu Lien, in the hit movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which got Michelle nominated for no less than seven awards), she was actually crowned Miss Malaysia in 1983. We can’t say we are surprised, she has such a unique look to her, and she manages to top it off with acting skills to boot.

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Mary Hart

Mary Hart is known for her former hosting job on Entertainment Tonight, her iconic hosting voice and huge pearly white smile captured America’s heart. But before Mary was on the entertainment show, she won herself the title of Miss South Dakota in 1970 and got to the semi-finals of Miss America in 1971. She is one long ways away from her South Dakota roots now, she lives in in Beverly Hills, and is currently appearing on the sitcom Baby Daddy, where she plays herself – a talk show host.

Mary Hart (formerly Mary Harum) as Miss South Dakota in 1970

Kathie Lee Gifford

Kathie Lee is part of the Today show duo – Kathie Lee and Hoda. She is also the widow of Frank Gifford, a former football player and sports commentator. But before her early morning talk show, Kathie Lee represented Maryland in the America’s Junior Miss pageant in 1970. The pageant ended up changing her life because that is where she met singer, Anita Bryant, who hired her and helped her get a full scholarship to a university.

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Sophia Loren

Sophia is a well-known beauty and sex icon, her name walk before her. Before she was the household name she is today, Sophia was a finalist in Miss Italia 1950 at the tender age of 14. What put Sophia on the map was her role in Two Women, where she won an Academy Award for her performance. She also snagged herself a Grammy award and a whopping five Golden Globe awards.

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Lee Meriwether

Lee is the original Cat Woman! She played the role in the 1966 film adaptation of Batman. However, Lee got her start by winning the 1955 Miss America pageant. Lee has also been in television along her entire career, in shows like, Barnaby Jones, The Munsters Today, and the award winning soap opera, All My Children. Fun little fact – there was a rumor that Lee was engaged to none other than baseball player, Joe DiMaggio.

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Jeri Ryan

Jeri is probably one of the most stunning women in Hollywood. While she is well known for her role as Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager, she got her earlier start as Miss Illinois in 1989. In 1990 she was third runner up for Miss America. She made her acting debut on the sitcom, Who’s the Boss? followed by a stint on the soap, Melrose Place. Her television career has skyrocketed over the years, having Jeri star in shows like, The O.C., Shark, Law and Order, Body of Proof, and Arrow.

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Katy Perry

Katy Perry is über famous now, but before her hits like, I Kissed A Girl, Hot n Cold, Teenage Dream, and Fireworks, Katy was a young girl in various beauty pageant. Due to her Christian upbringing, she was in choir most of her childhood, as well as in voice lessons to improve her range. Her singing came in handy in pageants, which made her stand out to the rest of the girls.

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Vanessa Lachey

Also known as Vanessa Minnillo, before she married former boy bander, Nick Lachey; Vanessa was born in the Philippines, but represented South Carolina in the Miss Teen USA pageant in 1998. Her super unique features are such a crowd pleaser, whether it’s in a pageant or on screen, her beauty is very captivating. Since her start, Vanessa has done many hosting jobs on television, as well as roles in shows like, How I Met Your Mother, Psych, 30 Rock, and Hawaii Five-0.

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Demi Lovato

Like Katy Perry, Demi also worked the pageant circuit when she was very young. This was all before she was on her first official acting and signing gig on Barney & Friends. After her Barney gig, Demi continued in television on the Disney Channel with shows like Sonny With A Chance, and the film Camp Rock. Demi is now also a very successful recording artist, with hit songs like Skyscraper and Give Your Heart A Break. She was a also a judge and mentor on the talent show, The X Factor.

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Eva Longoria

Eva is undoubtedly one good looking and talented woman. She got her start by winning the title of Miss Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1998. She has since gained a huge degree of fame with her role as Gabrielle Solis on Desperate Housewives. She went into film with her role in the movie, Over Her Dead Body, and The Sentinal. Most recently she is the executive producer of the Lifetime show, Devious Maids. Other than acting, Longoria is a model with contracts with L’Oréal, Hanes, and New York & Co.

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Diane Sawyer

Diane Sawyer is one of the most respected journalist of today. But before the in depth interviews and coverage of major world issues, Diane won America’s Junior Miss in 1963. The win got her a prize of $11,000, which paid for her first year of college at Wellesley College; so we can basically say that without her pageant days, we wouldn’t have the Diane Sawyer we know, respect, and love on our screens today. Honestly, ABC Nightly News wouldn’t have been the same without her.

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Halle Berry

Halle’s beauty pageant days are not hidden from anyone, and is pretty well known. But it is still pretty mind blowing that she won Miss Teen All American in 1985 and Miss Ohio USA in 1986. Her beauty contest days are obviously behind her, trading them in for acting. Since those days, Halle has been a Bond girl, and has won herself an Academy Award for her role in the film, Monster’s Ball, alongside Billy Bob Thorton.

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Carrie Underwood

Carrie is an all around winner when it comes to competitions. Before her victory on American Idol, she was first runner up in the Miss Northeastern State University competition in 2003. The stunning country music star’s career has been one giant success story. Every album she has released since her American Idol win has gone to the top of the charts. Carrie is currently on yet another national music tour.

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Michelle Pfeiffer

Another Cat Woman on our list! Michelle got her start as Miss Orange County in 1978. The rest is, lets say, history. Since her beauty pageant days, Michelle went on to be nominated for Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and BAFTA Awards galore. Her performances in films like, What Lies Beneath, Dangerous Liaisons, Batman Returns, and The Fabulous Baker Boys, are just a few on Pfeiffer’s long list of credits.

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Sarah Palin

A politician starting out in beauty pageants is just so rare a combination that we had to put it in. Sarah Palin, who we can say plenty about, is truly a beauty. Before she became Governor of Alaska and later ran for the Vice Presidency position, she was 1984’s Miss Wasilla, Alaska. She also went on to place third in the Miss Alaska pageant. Say what you will about Mrs. Palin, but her looks are uncontested.

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Cloris Leachman

The oldest person on our list, but probably the funniest as well. Cloris got her start as Miss Chicago in the 1946 Miss America pageant. She didn’t win the competition but the very fact that she was there was an honor, and an indication for Cloris’ beauty. Cloris has one long acting resume. She has been on both television and film, with credits that include, Alex and Emma, Spanglish, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Last Picture Show, and Young Frankenstein, to truly name just a few.

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Kelly Hu

Kelly won Miss Teen USA in 1985 and Miss Hawaii USA in 1993. Kelly got her start on television in 1987 with the show, Growing Pains. She continued to perform on television and film, with credits on, The Vampire Diaries, Hawaii Five-0, The Scorpion King, Shanghai Kiss, The Tournament, What Women Want, and Age of Tomorrow. Kelly is also a professional poker player, participating in competitions like the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour.

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Shanna Moakler

Shanna is known for her reality television show, modeling and occasional other acting jobs. Before all of that though, Shanna won the Miss New York USA pageant in 1995 and was the first runner-up at Miss USA 1995, until she gained the title after the girl who initially won got bumped. Shanna then went on to model of Playboy magazine. Shanna is also the executive producer of the Miss Nevada USA pageant.

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Lucy Lawless

Although she will always be Xena Warrior Princess to us, Lucy got her start as Miss New Zealand in 1989. She spent 1995 through 2001 as Xena and then went on to other acting jobs. She was on the equally awesome show, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (as Xena), Battlestar Galactica, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and Salem. The theme of fantasy and sci-fi are strong in Lucy’s credit list, which we are totally happy with considering she is absolutely great at it.

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Bridgette Wilson-Sampras

Before her Saved By The Bell days, Bridgette was crowned as 1990’s Miss Teen USA. After her win, Bridgette got the role of Lisa Fenimore on the soap opera Santa Barbara. She went on to be in films like, Billy Madison, Mortal Kombat, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and The Wedding Planner. She also did some theater work in off-broadway productions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as well as a judge in the 2006 Miss Universe pageant.

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Ali Landry

Ali spent a lot of time on the pageant circuit. She was Miss Louisiana Teen USA in 1990, she was the Louisiana representative in the Miss USA pageant later that same year. In 1996 she won the title of Miss Louisiana USA, and later Miss USA that same year. As a result of her Miss USA win, she went on to represent the US in the Miss Universe pageant. Since her pageant days, Ali went on to be the Doritos Girl in the Super Bowl commercial that went viral in 1998. She landed roles in shows like Felicity, Eve, Criminal Minds, and most recently was the telecast judge of the Miss USA 2016 pageant.

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