Published On: Sep 26 2012 04:53:42 PM EDTUpdated On: Sep 16 2015 02:00:00 AM EDT
Vanessa Williams made history in September 1983 when she became the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss America. Despite giving up the title nearly a year later after nude photos from her pre-pageant days were published, she went onto a singing and acting career that has seen her ear Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award nominations.
Before she broke out as the star of Wisteria Lane on "Desperate Housewives," Eva Longoria was Miss Corpus Christi, USA, in 1998.
"ABC World News" anchor Diane Sawyer (center) won the "America's Junior Miss" scholarship pageant as a representative from Kentucky in 1963. She told People magazine in 1986 that she used the $11,000 she won to pay for her first year at Wellesley College.
Oscar-winner Halle Berry won the first pageant she entered, taking home Miss Teen All-American in 1985. She went on a year later to win Miss Ohio USA, eventually finishing as runner-up to Miss USA. She was the first African-American Miss World entrant in 1986 (as seen here in the center of the front row), where she finished sixth.
Oprah Winfrey got her start in pageants by winning Nashville's Miss Fire Prevention contest in 1971, following that up a year later by winning the Miss Black Tennessee pageant and competing in the Miss Black America competition.
Before TV viewers knew her as "Wonder Woman" in the late 1970s, Lynda Carter won the Miss World USA pageant in 1972 representing Arizona. Representing the U.S. at the 1972 Miss World pageant, she reached the semifinals.
Vanessa Minnillo was crowned Miss South Carolina Teen USA at age 17 and went on to win the title of Miss Teen USA in 1998. Minnillo, who is married to Nick Lachey, used the experience as a springboard to a career that has seen her host MTV's "Total Request Live" and serve as a New York correspondent for "Entertainment Tonight." She has also tried her hand at acting, appearing on TV shows such as "CSI: NY," "How I Met Your Mother," "30 Rock" and "Hawaii Five-0" and in the movie "Disaster Movie."
Daytime talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford represented Maryland in the 1970 Junior Miss pageant.
Kelly Hu, who got her first big break with a guest starring role as Kirk Cameron's love interest on "Growing Pains," won Miss Teen USA in 1985 and later won Miss Hawaii USA in 1993. She's since had roles in "Friday the 13th Part VIII," "The Scorpion King" and "X2" and on the TV shows "Vampire Diaries" and "Hawaii Five-0."
Future "Designing Women" star Delta Burke, then 17, was crowned 1974 Miss Florida and later represented her state in the Miss America pageant. Burke won a talent scholarship from the Miss America organization, allowing her to attend a two-year study program at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
Ali Landry, best known as the "Doritos Girl" from her 1998 Super Bowl commercial, found great success in beauty pageants starting in 1990, when she was crowned Miss Louisiana Teen USA. In 1995, Landry won the 1996 Miss Louisiana USA title and went on to win the 1996 Miss USA pageant.
Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, who appeared on "Saved by the Bell" and in "Billy Madison," "I Know What You Did Last Summer," and "Mortal Kombat" and is married to former tennis great Pete Sampras, was crowned Miss Teen USA in 1990.
A participant in pageants through her childhood, "Saved by the Bell" star Tiffani Amber Thiessen was crowned Miss Junior America in 1987 at the age of 13 and a year later won Teen magazine's "Great Model Search."
While growing up in Meadville, Pennsylvania, "Basic Instinct" star Sharon Stone won the title of Miss Crawford County in 1976, and was a candidate for Miss Pennsylvania. One of the pageant's judges suggested she leave school to pursue a modeling career in New York City. The following year she did so and the rest is history.
In 1984, future Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin won the Miss Wasilla beauty pageant and finished third in the Miss Alaska pageant.
While a student at La Jolla High School, Raquel Tejada won the Fairest of the Fair beauty pageant at the San Diego County Fair in 1958. She later gained fame as actress Raquel Welch, but not before winning the Miss San Diego contest and placing second in the Miss Southern California pageant.
She failed to make it to the finals, but Kim Basinger was an America's Junior Miss contender from Georgia in 1971 before going onto an acting career that would earn her an Academy Award for "L.A. Confidential."
Michelle Pfeiffer was crowned Miss Orange County in 1978, and participated in the Miss California beauty pageant the same year, finishing in sixth place.
Cloris Leachman, best known for her TV roles on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," its spin-off "Phyllis" and "Raising Hope" as well as movie roles in such films as "The Last Picture Show" and "Young Frankenstein," competed in the Miss America pageant as Miss Chicago in 1946.
"Entertainment Tonight" co-anchor Nancy O'Dell, then known as Nancy Humphries, was crowned Miss South Carolina in 1987 and went on to represent the state at the Miss America pageant in 1988. Two years later, she competed in Miss South Carolina USA 1990 and finished as first runner-up.
Lucy Lawless, who rose to fame as the "Warrior Princess" Xena and has since starred on "Battlestar Galactica" and "Spartacus," was crowned Miss New Zealand in 1989.
At the age of 17, Sophia Bush, who would go onto fame on the TV show "One Tree Hill," was named the 2000 Tournament of Roses Parade Queen.
"Wheel of Fortune" letter-turner Vanna White finished as the fourth runner-up in the Miss Georgia Universe competition in 1978.
Jeri Ryan is perhaps best known as playing Seven of Nine on "Star Trek: Voyager," but prior to being the dream date of male Trekkies worldwide, she competed in the Miss America pageant as Miss Illinois in 1990, finishing as the third runner-up.
Country singer Kellie Pickler won the 2004 Miss Stanly County Pageant at age 17 and was the youngest competitor at the Miss North Carolina pageant that same year.
Debra Messing, who would go on to star in "Will and Grace" and "Smash," represented Rhode Island at the 1986 Junior Miss pageant.
Former "Entertainment Tonight" host Mary Hart competed in the Miss America pageant as Miss South Dakota in 1970, and finished in the top 10.