10
Notable People that Got Their Start in Pageants

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From politicians to entertainment A-listers, some very familiar faces got their first experience in the limelight by participating in pageants. If you have a winning smile, a competitive spirit and a little stage presence, you may be able to follow in the footsteps of Raquel Welch, Mary Hart or even Oprah Winfrey. It doesn't matter where you come from or what your name is. Once that name is up in lights, anything is possible. The folks on this list have paid their dues, but without the exposure that short walk down the pageant runway gave them, who knows where they'd be today.

 

10: Phyllis George

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Winner of the 1971 Miss America crown, this former Miss Texas went on to become a sports anchor, and when then husband John Y. Brown was elected Governor of Kentucky, a reigning first lady. Her pageant runway walk didn't go all that smoothly, though. She's the only Miss America to date to drop her crown during the live, nationally televised event.

 

    9: Delta Burke

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    This southern beauty was a pageant pro who made the rounds in regional competitions before participating in the Miss America Pageant as Miss Florida in 1974. She didn't win the crown but managed to parlay her experience, exposure and self-described "Snow White" looks into a successful acting career. With a wink at art imitating life, she's best known for the role of Susan Sugarbaker, a former beauty queen reliving past glories on the television comedy series "Designing Women."

     

    8: Jeri Ryan

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    Another Miss America Pageant alumna, Jeri Ryan, a former Miss Illinois, won the swimsuit competition and was a runner up in the 1990 pageant. She's starred in a number of television series, including: "Leverage," "Melrose Place," "Boston Public" and "The O.C.," but is probably most recognized as the character Seven of Nine, the curvaceous part Borg of "Star Trek: Voyager" fame.

     

    7: Vanessa Williams

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    A popular actress and recording star, Vanessa Williams was a triple winner at the 1984 Miss America Pageant, picking up the preliminary talent and swimsuit awards as well as the crown. She was also the first African American Miss America in the history of the competition. Her triumph was short lived, though. She resigned her crown in the midst of a scandal when unauthorized nude photos of her surfaced in Penthouse Magazine. Despite the unflattering press, this resilient beauty has a thriving career with successes on Broadway, in films and on television.

     

      6: Deborah Norville

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      A former Georgia Junior Miss, this 1976 pageant winner went on to a successful career in journalism. Although her most controversial job was probably as the 1990 replacement for Jane Pauley on NBCs "Today" show, in recent years, she's become a familiar face on television news programs like "48 Hours" and "Inside Edition." Ms. Norville is a two-time Emmy winner, children's book author and mother of three.

       

      5: Sharon Stone

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      A winner of the Miss Pennsylvania beauty crown, Sharon Stone managed to parlay her winnings into a successful modeling career with the Ford agency in New York. Branching out into film work in the 80s, she showed her blond beauty and comedic timing in motion pictures like "Irreconcilable Differences" and "Police Academy 4." It wasn't until the release of the suspense thriller "Basic Instinct" though, that her body of work got the attention it deserves.

       

      4: Diane Sawyer

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      A serious journalist and evening news anchor, Diane Sawyer began her journey in broadcasting by winning the America's Junior Miss Pageant in 1963 and using the scholarship money to help fund her college education. In 2007, "Forbes Magazine" ranked her 62nd on its list of "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women".

      She's paid her dues as a weather girl, press aid and co-anchor, working her way up to the top on-air news spot at ABC in 2010, where she took the anchor seat vacated by retiring Charles Gibson on the popular evening news telecast "ABC World News."

       

        3: Halle Berry

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        A natural beauty, Halle Berry is an experienced pageant winner with credits that culminated in her winning the fourth runner up spot at the 1986 Miss World pageant. Don't feel too sad that she didn't capture the crown, though. As a talented and popular film actress, Berry has the distinct honor of being the first African American to win a Best Actress Oscar at the Academy Awards. This time the kudos were for her work in the 2003 film, "Monster's Ball."

         

        2: Arnold Schwarzenegger

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        Yes, the Austrian born actor and politician may be a household word now, but back in the 70s, he was best known for his phenomenal success in competitive bodybuilding. The winner of seven Mr. Olympia and five Mr. Universe titles, he held the record for most consecutive wins until 1990. The favorable press helped this talented public figure, businessman and entrepreneur muscle his way into the public spotlight where even a thick accent hasn't slowed him down.

         

        1: Oprah Winfrey

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        One of the most popular and enduring talk show hosts on television, Oprah Winfrey has managed to triumph over a difficult childhood and succeed despite personal tragedy. Her fortunes started to take a turn for the better in 1971 when she won the Miss Fire Prevention contest representing a local radio station in Nashville, Tenn. The station was so impressed with her voice they offered her an on-air spot reading the afternoon news headlines. From there she went on to win the Miss Black Tennessee pageant in 1972, and at the tender age of 19, she became a news anchor for WTVF-TV in Nashville. The rest, as they say, is entertainment history.