Reality TV Actors: Stars Who Turned Reality Gigs Into Acting Careers

August 19, 2013  |  
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There’s more than one way to break into the entertainment industry. These 15 reality TV actors got their start in reality television before developing a legitimate career in acting.

Emma Stone

She may have scored in Easy A, but before Emma Stone was an actress playing the lead in a film, the talented redhead was on reality television. Determined to break into show biz, Stone first appeared on the 2004 VH1 reality show “In Search of the New Partridge Family.” Although she won the spot of Laura Partridge, Stone would have to wait a little longer for her turn in the spotlight. The resulting show “The New Partridge Family” never made it past the pilot. Stone went on to grab a Golden Globe nod for Easy A and will reprise her role as Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

NeNe Leakes

NeNe Leakes first got a taste of fame when she was cast on Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta” in 2008, but it was her appearance on the eleventh season of NBC’s “The Celebrity Apprentice” that catapulted Leakes’ star power. Leakes, who previously supported herself and her young son while working as a stripper, grabbed the attention of “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy while on Donald Trump’s show. Not only is Leakes a recurring character on the hit Fox show, the Georgia peach also starred on NBC’s now-defunct “The New Normal,” which was also created by Murphy.

Johnny Knoxville

Johnny Knoxville’s claim to fame is performing wild and crazy stunts that cause bodily harm just for a laugh. Knoxville always wanted to be an actor but when he couldn’t get a big break, he made his own by co-creating “Jacka**.” Ready to show that he’s more than just a crazy stunt man, the Tennessee native was finally able to show off his acting chops. He now has more than 20 movies under his belt, including Men In Black II and The Dukes of Hazzard. His popular MTV series also made it to the big screen with several sequels following closely behind it.

Tami Roman

Tami Roman first appeared on the second season of MTV’s “The Real World: Los Angeles” 20 years ago. Roman, who was married to former NBA star Kenny Anderson, continued on with her work in front of the camera by landing guest spots on various television show including “Married…with Children” and “The Steve Harvey Show.” Taking a long break from reality television, Roman joined the second season of “Basketball Wives” in 2011. Roman most recently appeared in several independent films. She was most recently seen on TV One’s “Belle’s.

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson wowed the country with her strong voice on the reality competition show “American Idol” and fans were shocked when the Chicago native was ousted early on. Proving that she didn’t need to win the title of “American Idol” to succeed, Hudson was cast as Effie in the 2009 remake of Dreamgirls. Her moving performance, and first movie role, earned her an Academy award. Up next for Hudson, who already has two albums under her belt, is the drama film The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete.

Julianne Hough

Fans of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” watched professional dancer Julianne Hough go on to win two mirror ball trophies with partners Olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno and race car driver Helio Castroneves. Hough then went on to record and release a country album before switching yet again to acting. The California transplant appeared in the musical film Burlesque before scoring her first lead role in the 2011 remake of Footloose. Hough, however, may be best known as Ryan Seacrest’s ex-girlfriend.

Josh Henderson

Fans of TNT’s remake of “Dallas” probably don’t recognize John Henderson from reality television. Henderson first competed on the second season of the WB’s “Popstars.” Earning a spot in the group, Scene 23, they disbanded after a contract dispute with their record label. Henderson went on to the world of soap operas on NBC’s “Days of Our Lives.” The outlandish story lines and drama would prepare him for the role of John Ross Ewing III, son of the notorious villain J.R. Ewing, on “Dallas.”

Eva Marcille

With dreams of being famous, Eva Marcille (then Eva Pigford) began her career in front of the television with Tyra Banks’ “America’s Next Top Model.” After winning it all in the third cycle of the show, Marcille was able to turn her popularity into several television guest spots, including “House of Payne,” “The Young and the Restless,” and “Everybody Hates Chris.” Marcille famously dated and was engaged to actor Lance Gross before splitting up in 2010.

Katherine McPhee

Katherine McPhee almost walked away winning the fifth season of “American Idol” but lost out to soul singer Taylor Hicks. After releasing her debut album in 2007, McPhee decided to try her hand at acting by landing a role in the comedy movie House Bunny. After a few guest spots on NBC’s “Community” and CBS’ “CSI: NY,” McPhee was cast in the musical drama “Smash,” where she could showcase both her acting and singing skills. “Smash,” which also starred fellow “American Idol” alum Jennifer Hudson, was canceled this past May.

Jai Rodriguez

Jai Rodriguez may be best known as the cultural guru on the popular yet short-lived Bravo series “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy,” but after the show was abruptly canceled, the native New Yorker went looking for another role in front of the cameras. Going back to his theater roots, he joined the cast of Broadway’s The Producers in 2005. After a few roles here and there, Rodriguez found full-time acting work on ABC’s “Malibu Country.” But after just one season, the show was canceled.

Yaya DaCosta

Yaya Dacosta first gained attention by smiling with her eyes on the third season of “America’s Next Top Model.” Coming in as the runner-up, DaCosta explored a career in modeling before making the natural transition into acting. Her first television role was a guest spot on “Eve.” DaCosta followed that up with a recurring character on the long-running soap opera “All My Children.” Landing a couple movie roles, the one-time Cover Girl was in The Kids Are Allright and Tron: The Legacy. Up next for DaCosta is Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

Jamie Chung

Jamie Chung got her start in front of the camera when she was cast in MTV’s “The Real World: San Diego” in 2004. Since then, Chung worked her way up to a lead role by grabbing bit parts in several television shows. Four years after her MTV debut, Chung finally got her big break. The California native earned her first lead role in the ABC Family television series “Samurai Girl.” Most recently, Chung reprised her character Lauren in the blockbuster film The Hangover III.

Karlie Redd

Karlie Redd may be made fun of because she’s older than the rest of her cast mates on VH1’s popular “Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta” but she is determined to make it big one way or the other. Working on a singing career, Redd has used the show as a platform for her music. Redd caused a stir on the blogosphere recently when she tweeted out a photo of herself and comedian Chris Rock and announced she’s starring in his next film. Redd also launched her own line of hair weaves last year.

Analeigh Tipton

Analeigh Tipton had dreams of being a professional figure skater but hung up the skates and retired at the age of 16. Turning to modeling, Tipton signed with an agency before appearing on Tyra Banks’ popular reality competition “America’s Next Top Model.” Coming in third place, Tipton continued modeling for a few years before crossing over into acting. He first television acting role was on CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory.” Tipton also starred in such films as The Green Hornet and Crazy, Stupid Love. Most recently, Tipton could be seen in the romantic zombie film Warm Bodies.

David Giuntoli

David Giuntoli first appeared on MTV’s “Road Rules: South Pacific” in 2004 after he was spotted by several talent scouts. Falling in love with being in front of the camera, Giuntoli had a long series of guest appearances on numerous shows including “Nip/Tuck” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Seven years after his MTV debut, the Wisconsin native finally got his big break and landed the role of Detective Nick Burkhardt on NBC’s fantasy drama “Grimm.”

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