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Believe it or not, but there are many models who were discovered on reality TV. Some of them are the biggest names in the modeling industry, like Adriana Lima and Heidi Klum. Some are rising stars, like Winnie Harlow. Some have transitioned to other industries, like acting, but still credit their start on a modeling reality TV show as their big break.
Unlike singing competitions, like American Idol and The X Factor, America’s Next Top Model has often been made fun of for not producing any real, working supermodels. But the reality TV show, which has been on for more than a decade, has created more big names in the modeling industry than one might think. They’re not Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss level, but they’re working, and for those of us who keep up with the fashion industry, you’ll recognize their names.
But who are these models who started on reality TV? We did the leg work to find out. From Victoria’s Secret angels who have been walking the runway for decades to the It-girls who are masking a splash in the fashion industry, here are the models who you never knew were discovered and found on reality TV shows.
Unlike some of the other models on this list, Harlow’s discovery story is well-known. When she was 19, Harlow was discovered by Tyra Banks on Instagram and recruited for season 21 of America’s Next Top Model because of the beauty Banks saw in the symmetry of her vitiligo, a skin condition that causes discoloration. Harlow—who went by her birth name, Chantelle Young, for the show—made it to the top six of ANTM before she was eliminated. After her time on the show, Harlow went on to model for brands like Desigual and Swarvoski and appeared on the covers of Elle Canada and Harper’s Bazaar Serbia. She became the first model with vitiligo to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2018.
In an interview on Watch What Happens Live in 2018, Harlow talked about her experience on ANTM and how her time on the show “really didn’t do anything” for her career. “[My success] started after the show, ’cause that really didn’t do anything for my career…which, it doesn’t do anything for any model’s career, realistically,” she said. “A photographer from London hit me up—major photographer Nick Knight—and he was like, ‘Hey, I’ve seen your photos online, and I want to do a shoot with you.’ It went viral, and I got campaigns from there, and it hasn’t stopped since.”
In a later interview with Watch What Happens Live, Banks responded to Harlow’s criticism, claiming that she did “discover her.” “I discovered her on Instagram … Well, come on, I discovered her on Instagram. And she’s on the show, so what do you think that means?” Banks said.
As the former host of Project Runway, Klum knows everything there is to know about reality TV, but what many fans don’t know is that she was actually discovered on a show similar to hers. When Klum was 19, a friend convince her to enter a televised modeling competition named Model 92, which was part of a late-night talk show hosted by Thomas Gottschalk. Out of 25,000 contestants, Klum was voted the winner in April 1992 and awarded a modeling contract worth $300,000 with Metropolitan Models New York. Klum went on to appear on the cover of French Vogue, Elle and Sports Illustrated. In 1999, she became one of a few Victoria’s Secret angels, a position she held for 11 years, until she shifted to hosting.
Though she was discovered at 15, Sampaio’s modeling career didn’t start until she was 16 when she entered—and won—a televised hair modeling competition in Portugal called Cabelos Pantene in 2007. The competition, hosted by hair-care company Pantene, awarded Sampaio a commercial with the brand, which kickstarted her modeling career. After the commercial, Sampaio was signed to agency in her native Portugal, and in the years that followed, she modeled for brands like Armani, Tory Burch and Miu Miu. In 2015, she became a Victoria’s Secret angel.
When she was 15, Lima entered and placed first in Ford Models’ Supermodel of Brazil search, a televised modeling competition that gave Lima enough exposure for Ford’s next contest, Supermodel of the World, which she placed second in in 1997. After that, Lima moved to New York, where she was signed with Elite Model Management and appeared on the covers of Vogue and Marie Claire. Along with becoming a Victoria’s Secret angel in 2000 (she recently retired in 2018), Lima has modeled for brands like Balmain, Prada and Louis Vuitton.
Though she started taking modeling classes at 12, Ambrosio’s modeling career didn’t take off until she was 14 and entered Elite Model’s Look of the Year, a televised national modeling competition, in 1995. Though she didn’t win (Ambrosio made it to the top 20), the Brazilian-born model still went on to have an enviable career. (Her first modeling job was the cover of Elle Brazil.) Along with becoming a Victoria’s Secret angel, Ambrosio has modeled for brands like Chanel, Prada and Bottega Veneta.
Along with Harlow, DiMarco is also one of ANTM‘s most notable recent alums. DiMarco was cast on ANTM after a producer scouted him on Instagram. He went on to win season 22 of ANTM and become the second male model to do so. DiMarco was also the first deaf contestant on ANTM. After his win, DiMarco signed with Wilhelmina Models and went on to model for brands like Giorgio Armani and 2(x)ist. He also won season 22 of Dancing with the Stars.
She might not best be known as a model today, but Tipton’s career started from her time on season 11 of ANTM, which she placed third on after she was recruited on MySpace. After the show, she was signed with Ford Models and went on to model for Seventeen, Maxim and Vogue. She also scored campaigns with Forever21 and Guess. But Tipton’s most notable credits come from acting. She’s starred alongside Steve Carrell and Emma Stone in Crazy Stupid Love, guested on shows like The Big Bang Theory and Hung, and co-lead her own show, Manhattan Love Story, on ABC in 2014.
Like Tipton, Dacosta has transitioned to acting after her time on ANTM season three, which she placed second on. After her time on ANTM, Dacosta spent several year modeling for brands like Garnier Fructis, Olay and Sephora before transitioning to acting, with recurring roles on soap operas like All My Children. She’s also starred alongside Oprah Winfrey and Forrest Whitaker in The Butler and starred as Whitney Houston in a Lifetime movie about the late singer. She’s currently a series regular on Chicago Med.