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Before the fame came the crown. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the "Top 10 Most Successful Beauty Pageant Contestants."
For this list, we’re looking at the most notable women who either won or competed in beauty pageants before continuing on to greater levels of success and fame.
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Gal Gadot—Miss Israel 2004
This Israeli beauty has quite the résumé: She’s been a superhero, a soldier, and even Miss Israel. Gadot won that title in 2004 at the age of 18. From there, she went on to compete in Miss Universe, and spent a few years in the Israel Defense Forces before becoming a model and actress. Although she’s appeared in Israeli movies and TV shows, she’s best known for playing Wonder Woman and Gisele Yashar in the Fast and the Furious franchise. Of course, when she’s not killing it on-screen, Gadot is also a mom and motorcycle enthusiast, and her superhero character was briefly an honorary UN ambassador. Bad. Ass.
Michelle Pfeiffer—Miss Orange County 1978
With several awards and a nearly 40 year career under her belt, this actress, singer, and producer is a truly respected name in Hollywood. But before she was Miss Baltimore Crabs, Pfeiffer was crowned Miss Orange County in 1978. She also placed sixth in the Miss California pageant, turning her attention towards acting soon after. It was in 1983 that Pfeiffer took on her breakout role in Scarface, and from there she’s earned three Academy Award nominations for her stellar work. Whether you know her as Catwoman, Mindy Simmons, or a muse to songwriter Vance Joy, Pfeiffer is a true pop culture icon.
Diane Sawyer—America’s Junior Miss 1963
Before she became one of America’s most respected journalists, this famous broadcaster was a beauty queen. Sawyer was crowned America’s Junior Miss in 1963. Part of her duties included travelling around the country to promote the New York World’s Fair, a role that helped her hone her Q&A skills. Those skills allowed her to begin her career as a reporter in Kentucky, and served her well as she moved from CBS News to ABC—where she’s been ever since. Besides anchoring 20/20, GMA, and ABC World News, Sawyer has interviewed Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, Caitlyn Jenner, and many more. 50 years and counting... this trailblazer has brought the beauty and the brains.
Sophia Loren—Miss Italia 1950 Finalist
This Italian screen siren is a legendary beauty, and she got her start in the Miss Italia pageant. 16-year-old Loren placed as a finalist, and started acting shortly thereafter. It was in 1958 that she shot to international fame after signing a contract with Paramount Pictures, kicking off a career that’s nabbed her many accolades, including the first ever Oscar or a foreign-language performance thanks to her role in Two Women. She has acted less since the 90s, but Sophia Loren remains a household name. And one things’ for certain: Decades and many accolades later, this sultry star’s still got it!
Lynda Carter—Miss World America 1972
She’s not the only Wonder Woman on this list, but she did it first! Lynda Carter is best known for her super TV role, and she too has a pageant past. In 1972, Carter was crowned Miss World USA, and reached the semi-finals at Miss World international. But her big break came in 1975 when she was cast as Wonder Woman. While this made her a pop culture legend, it’s not her only claim to fame: Carter is also a long-time singer-songwriter, writing and performing songs for the Fallout 4 soundtrack, for example. She’s also an LGBT rights activist, and was the Grand Marshal of three pride parades. Clearly, only multi-talented women get to wield the lasso of truth.
Priyanka Chopra—Miss World 2000
This Indian beauty plays one of TV’s biggest badasses on Quantico. But before she became an international star, she won another crown—Miss World 2000. Though she originally wanted to go into aeronautical engineering, her crown opened the door to Bollywood cinema, and she went on to win many awards for her work. Once she made the crossover to Hollywood, she became the first South Asian woman to win a People’s Choice Award. What’s more, Chopra is also a singer, model, producer, and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. In 2016, she received a Padma Shri medal, India’s fourth highest civilian award, and was among the TIME 100. On and off-screen, this lady is unstoppable.
Vanessa Williams—Miss America 1984
This actress, singer, and fashion designer made history as the first black Miss America, but the ensuing controversy sadly overshadowed her crown: Williams was forced to resign when Penthouse magazine ran nude photos of her without her consent. But that didn’t slow this talented woman down: Williams launched her successful music career four years later, and cultivated a successful acting career as the years went on. In 2016, Williams was head judge for the Miss America pageant, where CEO Sam Haskell publicly apologized to her on behalf of the pageant. Three decades after the scandal, this triple threat is vindicated and as successful as ever.
Halle Berry—Miss USA 1986 First Runner-Up
This award-winning actress has played a Bond girl, Storm, and Catwoman, but it all began with Miss USA. After winning Miss Teen All American 1985 and Miss Ohio USA 1986, she placed as first runner-up in the Miss USA 1986 pageant and sixth in that year’s Miss World competition. Her pageant background served her well when she went into acting, with her breakout role coming alongside Eddie Murphy in Boomerang. Since then, she’s been showered with awards for her impressive work, with her history-making, Oscar-winning performance in Monster’s Ball, arguably her most significant. In her emotional acceptance speech, Berry dedicated her Oscar to her black female peers, past, present, and future. Crown or no crown, she’s Hollywood royalty.
Aishwarya Rai—Miss World 1994
She’s a Bollywood icon and has been called the most beautiful woman in the world. And just like Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai got her start at the Miss World pageant, winning the title in 1994. It wasn’t long before she began her movie career, but of course, she’s also accomplished off-screen: Rai is known for her extensive charity work with UNAIDS, Smile Train, and even her own foundation. What’s more, she was the first Indian actress to be a juror at the Cannes Film Festival, and was awarded the Padma Shri and the “Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” for her achievements. Often ranked as one of India’s most popular celebrities, Rai is more than just a pretty face.
Before we get to our #1 most successful beauty pageant contestant, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Sarah Palin—Miss Wasilla 1984
- Michelle Yeoh—Miss Malaysia 1983
- Vanna White—Miss Georgia 1978 Fourth Runner-Up
Oprah Winfrey—Miss Black Tennessee 1971
It’s only fitting that the queen of daytime TV was also a beauty queen. In 1971, 17-year-old Oprah was crowned Miss Black Tennessee. From there, she started her broadcasting career while she was still in high school, and made her fateful move to Chicago in 1983. The Oprah Winfrey Show ran for 25 years, making her a TV superstar and an inspiration to millions of viewers. As of 2017, Oprah is the first and only black multi-billionaire in North America, and has been included on Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women more than once. Three decades, thousands of episodes, and one giant car giveaway later, this former beauty queen is a cultural icon.
Do you agree with our list? Who’s your favorite famous beauty queen? For more glamorous Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.