Stars Who Smiled And Waved As They Got Their Starts In The Beauty Pageant Circuit

Some celebrities didn’t start out walking down the red carpet but walking across the stage in beauty pageants. When she was only 19, Michelle Pfeiffer was crowned Miss Orange County, and Halle Berry was the first runner-up in the Miss United States pageant.

Now, they’re an Oscar-nominated Actress and an Academy Award winner, respectively. Keep reading to learn who once coveted the crown before moving into Tinseltown’s spotlight.

Lynda Carter

Lynda Carter began taking acting lessons during the 1970s, soon finding herself in Hollywood and playing the beloved superheroine Wonder Woman on the popular television show.

Miss Usa Lynda Carter At London Airport
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Bettmann/Getty Images

Before landing the iconic role, Carter gained national attention when she won Miss World USA in 1972, representing Arizona. During Miss World 1972, she landed in the Top 15.

Vanna White

A year before Vanna White decided to pursue an acting career, she competed in Miss Georgia USA but didn’t place. But that didn’t stop her from making it to Hollywood and pretty much becoming the face of television game shows.

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Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

White is arguably best known for her role on The Wheel of Fortune.

Michelle Pfeiffer

A three-time Academy Award-nominated actress, Michelle Pfeiffer has starred in films such as Dangerous Liaisons, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and Batman Returns. Before taking her shot in Hollywood, though, she was a beauty pageant contestant.

1985: Festival du film policier de Cognac
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Micheline PELLETIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

In 1978, she won the crown for Miss Orange County before trying her hand at Miss California, where she came in sixth.

Eva Longoria

While getting ready to graduate from Texas A&M University-Kingsville with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, Eva Longoria competed in beauty pageants. In 1998, she won the crown for Miss Corpus Christi USA.

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Eventually, she made her way to Hollywood and got her big break on The Young and the Restless and later Desperate Housewives. The two performances earned Longoria numerous awards, including a few Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Sophia Loren

Italian actress Sophia Loren entered the Miss Italia pageant in 1950 under the name Sophia Lazzaro; she was 15 at the time. The Golden Age of Hollywood starlet won the title of Miss Elegance.

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Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

Of course, the Academy Award-winning actress is better known for her work in Hollywood than pageantry, starring in critically acclaimed films such as Marriage Italian Style, Two Women, and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

Candice Bergen

While attending the University of Pennsylvania, Candice Bergen was crowned Miss University, her only pageant credit. But that didn’t stop her from playing head pageant lady Kathy Morningside in Miss Congeniality in 2001, opposite Sandra Bullock.

Candice Bergen
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Keith Hamshere/Getty Images

Bergen is arguably best known for her title role in the 1980s-’90s sitcom Murphy Brown.

Priyanka Chopra Jonas

Priyanka Chopra Jonas is now one of India’s highest-paid actresses, appearing in Bollywood films such as Andaaz, Aitraaz, Krrish, and Don. Before tackling Bollywood and then Hollywood, Chopra Jonas was a beauty queen.

18-year-old Priyanka Chopra of India waves to the
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She competed in iconic competitions such as Miss India and Miss World. Chopra Jonas won the crowns of both pageants.

Vanessa Williams

Vanessa Williams is not only an 11-time Grammy Nominated artist, but she’s also a Tony Award-nominated Actress for the musical Into the Woods. The singer has numerous hit singles, including “Save the Best for Last.”

Vanessa Williams as Miss America
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But before her music and acting careers took off, Williams was crowned Miss America in 1984.

Michelle Yeoh

In 1983, at the age of 20, Michelle Yeoh won the title of Miss Malaysia. From there, Yeoh went on to star in some pretty epic films.

Actress Michelle Yeoh
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Kurt Krieger/Corbis via Getty Images

Performing her own stunts, Yeoh appeared in critically acclaimed films such as Academy Award-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, and the MCU films Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings.

Delta Burke

While Delta Burke is arguably best known for her role as Suzanne Sugarbaker in the sitcom Designing Women, she was a pageant queen in her home state of Florida.

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Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In 1972, she won the title of Miss Flame before going on to win State Miss Flame. From there, Burke won the title of Miss Florida, the youngest in pageant history to earn the crown.

Lee Meriwether

Lee Meriwether won the title of Miss California in 1954 after taking the crown for Miss San Francisco. A year later, Meriweather went on to win the title of Miss America.

Portrait of Lee Ann Meriwether
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Bettmann/Getty Images

While her acting career started in the 1950s with the film 4D Man, Meriweather is arguably best known for her performance in the 1970s crime drama Barnaby Jones.

Vanessa Lachey

Actress and television personality Vanessa Lachey’s beauty pageant days included winning Miss South Carolina Teen USA and then Miss Teen USA in 1998. She was the first South Carolina representative to win the title and that of Miss Congeniality.

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Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

While Lachey has hosted numerous television programs since her pageant days, including Entertainment Tonight and Love is Blind, she’s also starred in shows such as NCIS: Hawaiʻi, Dads, and 30 Rock.

Diane Sawyer

While Diane Sawyer is known for her time in front of the news cameras for Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight, and 60 Minutes, she took another path during high school.

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Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

As a senior in high school in 1963, Sawyer was a representative from the Commonwealth of Kentucky during the annual national America’s Junior Miss scholarship pageant. She won the crown!

Gal Gadot

“The biggest Israeli star,” Gal Gadot began her career at the age of 18, winning the title of Miss Israel in 2004. She also competed in Miss Universe but didn’t take home the crown.

Miss Israel Gal Gadot smiles during the
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MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP via Getty Images

While in college, she began working on her acting career, landing the small role of Gisele in the Fast and Furious franchise. She didn’t gain international stardom until 2016, when she began playing the role of Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, in the DCEU.

Ali Landry

Before becoming the Doritos Girl in 1998 and Rita Lefleur in the sitcom Eve, Ali Landry was in the beauty pageant circuit. Her first pageant was in 1998, where she won the title of Miss Louisiana Teen USA.

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Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

From there, she went on to compete in Miss Teen USA, placing seventh overall. Landry then went on to win Miss Louisiana in 1996 and the title of Miss USA.

Kenya Moore

Kenya Moore went from modeling to winning the Miss Michigan USA and Miss USA crowns in 1993. That year, she also competed for the title of Miss Universe, placing fifth overall.

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Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Moore began her acting career appearing on various television shows, including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She’s arguably best known for her role in the Bravo reality show The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

Carrie Underwood

While attending Northeastern State University, singer Carrie Underwood competed in numerous pageants. In 2004, she was selected as the Miss NSU runner-up, a loss that didn’t really affect her future fame!

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Jason Kempin/Getty Images

That same year, Underwood auditioned for a spot on American Idol. She went on to win the entire competition and is now a huge country music star with seven Grammy Awards to her name.

Rihanna

Singer Rihanna was never one for pageants. She only competed in her high school’s Miss Combermere pageant on a dare from her friends. To her surprise, Rihanna wound up winning the title.

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Samir Hussein/WireImage

A nine-time Grammy Award winner, Rihanna has numerous hit singles under her belt, including “Umbrella,” “We Found Love,” and “Rude Boy.”

Halle Berry

Before becoming an Academy Award-winning actress, Halle Berry was a prominent figure in the beauty pageant circuit throughout the 1980s. She won her first crown in 1985, winning Miss Teen All American.

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u/Fingcheeseeatinghog/Reddit

The following year, she was the first runner-up in the Miss USA pageant. For the interview portion of the pageant, Berry told the judges she hoped to be in the entertainment industry one day, having something to do with the media. She was awarded the highest score.

Olivia Culpo

Social media personality, model, and reality TC star Olivia Culpo was a big face in the beauty pageant circuit. In 2012, she not only won the title of Miss Rhode Island, but also that of Miss USA.

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Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Due to the latter crown, Culpo went on to represent the USA at Miss Universe. She won once again, becoming the eighth American to win the contest.

Gretchen Carlson

Before Gretchen Carlson became one of the more well-known broadcast journalists, appearing on Fox & Friends, The Early Show, and The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, she won the Miss America crown.

Miss America Pageant 1988
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Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

After winning the crown in 1989, Carlson sat on the board of directors for the Miss America Organization, striving to change the way women are judged — from appearance to achievements.

Britney Spears

Before becoming one of the child stars on The Mickey Mouse Club, The Princess of Pop, Britney Spears, was something of a local beauty queen, winning local pageants as a young girl.

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Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

From there, she became an international superstar, singing hit songs like “Oops!…I Did It Again” and winning a Grammy, eight Billboard Music Awards, an American Music Award, and more.

Tiffani Thiessen

During her childhood, actress Tiffani Thiessen was an avid participant in the beauty pageant circuit. In 1987, she was crowned Miss Junior America before appearing on the cover of Teen magazine.

Tiffani Thiessen Portrait Session 1989
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Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images

The cover story is what jump-started Thiessen’s career, helping her land her breakout role as Kelly on the sitcom Saved by the Bell.

Sharon Stone

Actress Sharon Stone didn’t appear in a pageant until college. In 1976, she won the title of Crawford County, Pennsylvania, and was one of the candidates selected to be Miss Pennsylvania.

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Assunta Servello/Sygma via Getty Images

While she didn’t move forward in her pageant career, Stone dropped out of college to move to New York, kickstarting her modeling and acting career. Now, she is an Academy Award-nominated actress.

Selena Gomez

If there is a little-known fact about singer and actress Selena Gomez, it is that she was once on the children’s beauty pageant circuit. She opted not to make a career out of pageantry, though, choosing acting and music instead.

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Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

A triple threat, Gomez is known for her roles in Wizards of Waverley Place, Spring Breakers, and Only Murders in the Building. Her hit singles include “Lose You to Love Me,” “The Heart Wants What It Wants,” “Come & Get It,” and more.

Demi Lovato

When they were young, actress and singer Demi Lovato competed in the Texas State Cinderella Miniature Miss contest. According to Lovato, it wasn’t a great time.

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Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Even so, they went on to become a huge name in Hollywood, earning 222 award nominations throughout their career, including two for Grammy Awards.

Kathie Lee Gifford

Kathie Lee Gifford is a talk show staple, starring on shows such as Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee and Today. But back in the 1970s, Gifford was a beauty pageant contestant.

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Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

At the age of 17, she won the title of Junior Miss Maryland. Then she went on to compete in America’s Junior Miss Pageant.

Sophia Bush

One Tree Hill actress Sophia Bush was one of 1,000 young women to interview in hopes of becoming among the seven chosen to be on the Tournament of Roses Royal Court. From there, one is picked to be Rose Queen while the other six are Princesses.

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M. Von Holden/FilmMagic

In 2000, Bush won the title of Rose Queen, something she was not expecting at all.

Katy Perry

Thirteen-time Grammy Award-nominated artist Katy Perry is known for her songs “I Kissed a Girl, “Firework,” “Hot n Cold,” and so many more. But before becoming a famous pop singer, Perry was a childhood pageant contestant.

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Jon Kopaloff/WireImage

During her youth, Perry competed in a few local pageants. Sadly, she never walked away with a crown.