Halle Berry + More: 14 Former Beauty Queens Who Went On To Do Big Things
What do Halle Berry, Diane Sawyer, and Sophia Loren all have in common? Once upon a time, they were beauty queens—and boy, did they go on to do some big things later!
We may find Toddlers and Tiaras somewhat horrifying, but beauty pageants aren’t all bad. In fact, plenty of former beauty queens have gone on to do some terrific things: Halle Berry became the first African-American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar; Diane Sawyer became one heck of a reporter and news anchor; Sophia Loren became… well, Sophia Loren; and the list goes on. You probably already know that some of these awesome women were once beauty queens, but we’re still betting that there are some here that you had no idea once donned a crown and waved to the crowds.
When possible, we’ve tried to give you images of each contestant in all their pageant glory; subsequently, bear with us if the quality of the images isn’t always the best. What can we say? Digging things up out of the vaults isn’t always easy. Now put on that winning smile and get ready to try for the top!
1. Eva Longoria
A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria was turning heads long before she moved to Wisteria Lane: She won the title of Miss Corpus Christi at the age of 23 in 1998. After winning the award—and getting her Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology at Texas A&M University-Kingsville—she packed up and headed to L.A. And we all know where she went from there!
2. Ali Landry
It took a now-infamous Doritos commercial to make Ali Landry a household name, but before her big break, she had a long and lucrative pageant career. In 1990, she was crowned Miss Louisiana Teen USA, and she represented Louisiana in the Miss Teen USA pageant that same year. She graduated to the big leagues in 1995, winning the Miss Louisiana USA title—notably, she was the first former Miss Teen Louisiana USA to win the award—before going on to snag the 1996 Miss USA crown. She may not have won Miss Universe that year, hey, at least she made it all the way to the competition. That’s not nothin’!
3. Halle Berry
It should surprise absolutely no one that Halle Berry is a former beauty queen. She won the crowns for both Miss Teen All-American and Miss Ohio USA before coming in second at the 1986 Miss USA pageant. But that wasn’t all: That same year, she made pageant history by becoming the first African American entrant for the Miss World pageant. It looks like she’s made a habit of it, because 15 years later, she would become the first African-American woman to win the Best Actress Oscar.
4. Diane Sawyer
Did you know that Diane Sawyer was a beauty queen once upon a time? Neither did we! But it’s true: The future ABC World News anchor won the America’s Junior Miss pageant as a 17-year-old in 1963. Though she’s said in the past that she has “mixed feelings” about beauty pageants, it’s a good thing she took the crown for this one: The $11,000 she won paid for her first year at the prestigious Wellesley College.
5. Vanessa Williams
You probably already know about this one: Vanessa Williams became the first African-American woman to win the coveted Miss America crown in 1984. Big news! Unfortunately, a series of scandalous photos of her surfaced in Penthouse ten months into her reign; the ensuing media frenzy led her to relinquish her crown early. The photos in question were taken in 1982 when Vanessa was working as an assistant and makeup artist to photographer Tom Chiapel. Though Vanessa believed the photos had been destroyed, in reality, they hadn’t, and Chiapel sold them to Penthouse without her consent.
To rebound from the controversy, Vanessa attempted to launch a music career, which happily turned out to be a success. An acting career followed, and boy, are we glad it did! What would Ugly Betty have been without Wilhelmina Slater?
6. Raquel Welch
Years before One Million Years B.C. and her infamous animal skin bikini, future screen legend Raquel Welch longed to be a ballerina—and won the Fairest of the Fair beauty pageant at the San Diego County Fair. Like a fine wine, she’s just gotten better with age!
7. Michelle Yeoh
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon… Memoirs of a Geisha… Miss Malaysia 1983? Yep! Michelle Yeoh also went on the represent Malaysia in the 1983 Miss World pageant. From there, she found her way into a television commercial with Jackie Chan—and the rest, as they say, is history. That’s her mom in the picture with her (awwww!).
More former beauty queens who went on to big things, including Michelle Pfieffer and Lucy Lawless, up next!