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Get out the throwing wine: ELLE.com is celebrating the best (and worst) of reality TV this week.
Could Instagram exist without reality TV? Perhaps not. Ever since The Real World invaded MTV’s prime time lineup, the impulse to broadcast ourselves—or at least our most appealing and appalling moments—has grown from teenage daydream to national obsession.
But before the Kardashians, the Jenners, and the Hadids took their 15 minutes of TV time and parlayed them into empires, other celebrities played themselves (or, you know, “themselves”) on singing contests, modeling shows, and even My Super Sweet 16…
Before she won an Oscar for La La Land, Emma Stone competed on a VH1 reality show called The Search for the New Partridge Family. After singing Pat Benetar’s “We Belong” and Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch,” she won a role on the Partridge Family’s 2004 remake… which never aired because it was so bad. Instead, Emma did Superbad and… well… things turned out fine.
Remember Room Raiders? Zac Efron probably does. When he was 17, the heartthrob snuck into three MTV-approved bedrooms, discovered some handcuffs and cigarettes, and somehow still got Disney Channel approval to star in High School Musical a year later. We are all very thankful.
Before becoming an actual Nashville star, Miranda Lambert won third place in a reality show called Nashville Star, a country version of American Idol. Her 2003 appearance eventually scored her a record deal and led to the hit album Kerosene, which topped the Billboard Country charts in 2005 (and is still a fantastic record for road trips).
When Teyana Taylor appeared on MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen back in 2007, she was the only privileged teen on the show to 1) Invite her entire school to her birthday party 2) Ask for a bicycle instead of a car 3) Say “thank you” to her mother. We’ve been rooting for the hip hop star and Yeezy muse ever since.
Nine years before he became a Gucci god, Harry Styles was a 16-year-old kid from Cheshire, England who auditioned for The X Factor in the UK. While several judges thought he was too young to compete, Simon Cowell proclaimed him “a star” and, obviously, yeah.
The actress and activist competed in MTV’s version of The Apprentice, a competition show called I Want to Work for Diddy, in 2008. She lost the show but won something better: the chance to develop content for Viacom, which led to her groundbreaking makeover show TRANSform Me—the first TV show ever produced by and starring a black trans woman.
Would you trust Paris Hilton to find a date for your mom? Kesha did in a vintage episode of The Simple Life, conspiring with Hilton and Nicole Richie to find potential suitors in Nashville. It was kind of a bust, but it was also 2006… way before Bumble and Tinder became our ultimate yentas.
While still studying at NYU, Gaga appeared on MTV’s candid camera show Boiling Point, where clueless waiters served her trash instead of the meal she ordered. It’s a pretty lame prank to pull on a college student, but the clip’s still pretty fascinating, if only for the Oscar winner’s shockingly simple hair and makeup.
Before transforming into a pretty little liar, Lucy Hale was a wholesome junior high student on American Juniors, a kid-friendly version of American Idol that assigned Hale songs like “Call Me” and “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” Two years later, she booked a guest role on The O.C. and began her long reign as TV’s favorite teen star.
Tyra only has one photo in her hands, and it’s not Winnie Harlow’s—but who cares? After finishing sixth place on America’s Next Top Model in 2014, the Canadian model became the series’ most successful alum ever, working for Dior, Kenzo, H&M, M.A.C and Victoria’s Secret… and starring in a fashion shoot for ELLE’s February issue!
The beloved host of The Chew and author of three books on comfort food and African American traditions, this former model was also a Top Chef contestant in 201o, scoring the Fan Favorite award but ultimately being told to pack her knives and go. And she did go… straight to the New York Times best-seller list with her hit entertaining book, “Cooking With Love!”
She just won a Tony Award for Oklahoma! and recently appeared on the Charmed reboot and The Today Show. But before this New Jersey native became a stage starlet, she appeared on The Glee Project, a reality show for theater nerds (guilty!) devoted to finding the next Lea Michele. Stroker scored second place in the contest, but Ryan Murphy cast her on Glee anyway. Two years later, she made her Broadway debut in a revival of Spring Awakening.