Nowadays, you know them as 25 of the most famous women in the world, but before they found fame, they tried their hand at the world of beauty pageants, getting on stage in their most glamorous ensembles to compete against fellow beauty queens.
Whether competing in their small hometowns far from the hills of Hollywood or competing on a global stage, these women once tried on the bedazzled evening gowns, mile-high teased hair, and yes, even a crown, to try at the chance to win it all.
Here are 25 celebrities that used to be beauty queens.
Eva Longoria was Miss Corpus Christi.
Before her breakout role on “Desperate Housewives,” Longoria competed in beauty pageants in her home state of Texas, winning the title of Miss Corpus Christi in 1998.
Oprah Winfrey was Miss Black Tennessee.
Before she went on to build her own billion-dollar empire, a 17-year-old Winfrey won her very first honor, taking home top honors for Miss Black Tennessee in 1971. Of her pageant days, the mogul said she was just “so excited” to be there and considered it “a major accomplishment to represent” the state of Tennessee.
Priyanka Chopra won Miss World.
Before dominating the film industry in her native India as well as the United States, Chopra competed in a number of pageants, including impressive wins or close seconds in Miss World 2000, Miss India World, and Miss World Queen of Beauty — Asia & Oceania
Michelle Pfeiffer competed in Miss California.
Before her film career took off in the early 1980s, Pfeiffer got her start competing in pageants including Miss California in 1978 and a win at Miss Orange County, also in 1978.
Beyoncé competed for the talent portions.
Beyonce Knowles performs onstage during 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella
She’s now one of the most successful musicians in the world, but even Beyoncé had humble beauty pageant beginnings … though the admitted tomboy reportedly used her time on stage to dazzle the judges with her musical talent instead of fussing over hair and makeup.
According to a 2009 biography, Bey sang in the Baby Junior category, featuring children under the age of 7, and won the 1989 Sammy Award for female pop vocalist, proving that her star was shining long before her Destiny’s Child days.
Halle Berry won Miss Ohio USA.
She’s an Academy Award winner now, but back in the mid-’80s, Berry was making her mark on the pageant world, wearing her crown proudly as the winner Miss Teen All-American in 1985, Miss Ohio USA in 1986, before landing first runner-up in the Miss USA pageant in 1986 and coming in 6th place in the Miss World pageant, also in 1986, where she was the first-ever African American entrant.
Demi Lovato doesn’t have fond memories of pageant days.
She’s now a pop star with powerhouse pipes, but back in 2000, Lovato was reaching for a crown, competing in the Texas State Cinderella Miniature Miss contest and others in her home state of Texas between the ages of 7 and 12.
Unfortunately, Lovato doesn’t have fond memories of her days on the pageant circuit, telling American Way in 2016, “My body-image awareness started way before [the pageants], but I do attribute a little of my insecurities to being onstage and judged for my beauty.”
Kathie Lee Gifford won first place at the Junior Miss Maryland pageant.
She’s been a staple of our morning TV routines for decades, but back in 1970, Gifford won first place at the Junior Miss Maryland pageant, before going on to compete at America’s Junior Miss Pageant, all at the ripe old age of 17.
Carrie Underwood came in second as Miss Northeastern State University.
Just before winning the hearts of judges and voters alike on “American Idol” in 2005, Underwood competed for another title, taking the stage at the 2003 Miss Northeastern State University pageant while she was working on her journalism degree. Unlike “Idol,” Underwood came in as first runner-up, though her loss clearly had no impact on her future as one of the most successful country and pop stars ever.
Sharon Stone competed to be Miss Pennsylvania.
Stone got her start after competing in the Miss Crawford County pageant (she won!) and Miss Pennsylvania in the mid-1970s, which reportedly led her to move to New York City shortly thereafter to pursue a career in modeling.
Britney Spears was a local pageant queen.
Before starring in “The New Mickey Mouse Club” as a bubbly, talented preteen, Spears got a taste of fame as a local pageant queen in her home state of Louisiana, performing in talent competitions as early as 3-years-old.
Diane Sawyer won the America’s Junior Miss competition.
She’s one of the most famous news anchors on the planet, but back in 1963, this Kentucky native was at the top of her pageant game. After winning the Kentucky Junior Miss Pageant during her senior year of high school, she won the America’s Junior Miss competition that same year.
Katy Perry competed in several pageants.
The singer competed in pageants, reportedly coming in second place at two beauty pageants as a kid.
Vanessa Williams is an iconic pageant queen.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples, Williams catapulted to fame in 1983 when she was crowned the first African-American Miss America, before being forced to relinquish her crown after nude photos were published without her consent in Penthouse magazine. She went on to have a successful career as an actress and singer despite the scandal, landing roles on stage, on TV, and on the big screen.
Rihanna won her high school’s pageant.
Nowadays, she’s a music icon as well as a bona fide beauty and fashion mogul, but once upon a time, Rihanna was simply Robyn Fenty. In 2004, Rihanna won her high school’s beauty pageant, earning the title of Miss Combermere after performing Mariah Carey’s powerful ballad “Hero.”
Of her pageant past, the singer told The Daily Mail in 2007, “I kind of laughed at these stupid pageants. But my friends at school dared me to do it, and my military training came in handy for learning to balance books on my head for the catwalk. … I had big dreams.”
Vanna White was the fourth runner-up in the Miss Georgia Universe Beauty Pageant.
In perhaps the ultimate career prep, TV’s most famous co-host started out first as a pageant star. White was the fourth runner-up in the 1978 Miss Georgia Universe Beauty Pageant, and though she didn’t take home the crown that day, she’s been gracing our TV screens nightly on “Wheel of Fortune” since 1982, so we’d say she came out on top in the end.
Selena Gomez was a kiddie pageant queen.
She’s now one of the most followed people on the planet with a staggering 137 million Instagram followers and counting, but once upon a time, she was an adorable kiddie model, donning a sash and a crown on the pageant stage. In 2015, she shared the cutest throwback photo of her pageant days, proving that she was always destined to be a star.
Gal Gadot was Miss Isreal
Before her star-making turn as Wonder Woman in 2017, the Israeli-born actress won the honor of Miss Israel in 2004, before representing the country in that year’s Miss Universe pageant. But it seems she was a reluctant pageant queen, because she told W magazine her mom submitted her photo, and Gadot said, “I got in and I never thought I would win and then I won and then it scared me. I was like, ‘What? Miss Israel? All the responsibility of being Miss Israel?'”
After winning Miss Israel, Gadot said she attempted to self-sabotage her chances at Miss Universe by showing up late and wearing the wrong gowns, but she later realized her true passion for acting, so we’re sure the pageant experience wasn’t all for naught.
Lynda Carter was Miss USA.
Long before Gadot stepped into Wonder Woman’s iconic gear, the original show’s star coincidentally also had a pageant past … and her moment in the spotlight happened dizzyingly fast. According to a 2015 interview with The Daily Express, Carter was crowned Miss Phoenix, Miss Arizona, and became Miss USA, heading to the Miss World contest in London in 1972, all in the span of 20 days.
But it seems she doesn’t have the fondest memories of her pageant days, saying she “didn’t intend to become a beauty queen” and “didn’t really enjoy it that much,” adding, “It was all so silly, wearing a crown and banner when it was the 1970s and women’s liberation was everywhere. That was quite a stigma to overcome.”
Of course, she went on to land one of the most famous feminist roles ever, so it seems all’s well that ends well.
Hilary Duff shared some glamour shots from her pageant days.
Before winning our hearts in her breakout role as Lizzie McGuire, Duff tried her hand at the pageant scene … and she’s got the adorably hilarious throwback photos to prove it. In 2013, she poked fun at her glamour shots, which MTV News said were pageant photos, complete with pink feather boa and cheesy smile, posting another LOL-worthy shot on social media in 2016, writing “thanks, Mom” in her caption.
Vanessa Lachey was once Miss Teen USA.
Before she became a host on MTV’s “Total Request Live” and married boy band heartthrob Nick Lachey, she was named Miss Teen USA in 1998 and Miss Congeniality the same year.
She went on to become a TV host, but she’s never forgotten her beauty queen roots, serving as a backstage correspondent for the Miss USA Pageant in 2001, a judge for Miss Teen USA in 2003, a host for Miss Teen USA in 2004, a judge for Miss Teen USA in 2007 and co-host of the 2007 Miss Universe Pageant, according to her official website.
Vanessa and Nick will also co-host the Miss USA competition in May 2018, so it’s clear that Lachey is proud of her history on the stage.
Sophia Bush was a Rose Queen.
Long before she made a name for herself as a star on “One Tree Hill,” Bush was an aspiring actress that made local news headlines in her hometown of Pasadena, California, and it’s all thanks to a pageant win.
In 2000, Bush was named the 82nd Rose Queen, telling The Los Angeles Times she “wasn’t expecting it. It’s a real shock,” when she beat out six other potential princesses.
Tiffani Thiessen won the Miss Junior America pageant.
Just before landing her breakout role as Kelly Kapowski on “Saved by the Bell,” Thiessen was a child model, winning the Miss Junior America pageant in 1987 and Teen Magazine’s “Great Model Search” in 1988.
But now when talking about pageants, she said she also understands the intense scrutiny that young women face, and she strives to be a positive role model for her daughter, Harper.
In 2016, she told The Los Angeles Times, “When I feel good, my daughter sees that. I would never want her to hear me say something that is putting myself down. … If I have a positive attitude about myself, I’m going to teach my daughter the same thing. I want to teach her that eating right and exercising and being healthy is what’s important, not what size jeans you wear.”
Ali Landry was Miss USA.
Landry is a multiple-time pageant winner. She was first crowned Miss Louisiana Teen USA in 1990, and competed in Miss Teen USA the same year. Then, in 1995, Landry won the Miss Louisiana USA title, before winning Miss USA in 1996.
She went on to be a successful model, host, and actress, so it seems like her teen pageant roots served her well.
Olivia Culpo was Miss Universe.
The Rhode Island native has plenty of pageant accolades to her name. Culpo won the 2012 Miss Rhode Island USA competition, the first pageant she had ever entered. She went on to win Miss Universe, becoming the first American contestant since 1997 to win.