Career Lessons From 'Snooki' and Other Reality Star Successes


Many reality stars burn out just as quickly as they rose to fame. Some, however, have parlayed their reality-show fame into long-term careers and successful businesses. And, though you may not have a penchant for parading in front of TV cameras, there can be lessons to draw from their stories.

You’ve probably heard of some of them: Bethenny Frankel of “The Real Housewives of New York City,” who sold her low-calorie mixed-drink brand, Skinnygirl Cocktails, to Beam Global in 2010 for a reported $100 million; Lauren Conrad, the “Laguna Beach” and “The Hills” alumna, who launched her own fashion line, Paper Crown, in 2011; and, of course, the Kardashians. (What don’t they do?)

But there are plenty of other stars who’ve used their TV experience as a springboard to careers in fields as varied as acting to adult toy lines. Perhaps one of the best examples of stars with staying power is Nicole Polizzi LaValle (don’t call her “Snooki”—that’s so four years ago), whose latest show, “Nicole and Jionni’s Shore Flip” recently premiered on FYI. All of these five, however, have figured out how to turn temporary stardom into long-lasting success.

The Star: Nicole “Snooki” LaValle
The Lesson: The better you are at adapting to change, the more successful you’ll be.

She started as “Snooki,” but she seemed to know her party girl persona couldn’t last. LaValle’s come a long way since those string bikini-wearing, cocktail-slurping, club-hopping “Jersey Shore” and “Snooki & JWoww” days, transforming herself into a serious entrepreneur and trimmed-down, teetotaling mom of two who’s leveraged her fame, along with the growing popularity of DIY and real estate shows, to land a brand-new TV show documenting the house-flipping business venture she started with her husband (a former builder and contractor).

The 28-year-old is also busy with her Etsy store—where you can buy her homemade creations, including mugs, bracelets and tote bags—and her podcast, “Naturally Nicole.” And she’s a confirmed cast member on the next season of Celebrity Apprentice.

LaValle’s also authored several books, some including: 2011’s “A Shore Thing” and “Confessions of a Guidette,” 2012’s “Gorilla Beach,” and “Strong Is the New Sexy,” which was published last fall.

The Star: Yaya DaCosta
The Lesson: You don’t have to win to benefit from going for the gold.  

Yaya DaCosta got her start on Cycle 3 of “America’s Next Top Model” in 2004. She made it to the final two, but ultimately lost to Eva Pigford. That might have been a blow if her ultimate goal had been modeling, but instead, as she told New York Magazine, “It was a blessing because it gave me the ability to detach.”

It also gave her on-screen experience and exposure, something that no doubt benefitted DaCosta when she turned her efforts to acting. She soon got regular recurring roles on “All My Children” and “Ugly Betty” and also appeared in feature films, including “The Kids Are All Right” and “The Butler.”

Most recently, she’s landed a starring role on NBC’s “Chicago Med.”  Does she have any regrets about ANTM? “In retrospect, I’m so grateful for it,” she told New York Magazine. “I could’ve been on Chicago Med with no one knowing who I was.” That’s not likely now—especially with her new role in the upcoming Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe movie, “The Nice Guys,” opening in May.

The Star: Christian Siriano
The Lesson: Strike while the iron is hot.

In March 2008, 21-year-old Christian Siriano was crowned the youngest winner of “Project Runway.” He wasted no time at all taking advantage of the opportunity, launching an eponymous label to debut six months later at New York Fashion Week.

Within two years, Crain’s reported that revenues for his company reached almost $1.2 million. By 2012, The New York Times reported, his ready-to-wear sales had hit $5 million.

He’s since become a regular name on the red carpet, dressing celebrities from Zendaya to Lady Gaga to Oprah—and he’s branching out from haute couture gowns. In February, he launched his first luxury handbag collection, with a portion of the proceeds from the non-leather bags going to anti-poaching organizations. He’s also got an eyewear line with National Vision that will be sold by more than a thousand retailers, and a new Lane Bryant collection launching in May.

The Star: Kandi Burruss
The Lesson: It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan.

Unlike a lot of reality television personalities, “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Kandi Burruss was already (somewhat) famous. She’d been part of the R&B group Xscape during the 1990s, and, as a songwriter, she penned hits for Destiny’s Child, TLC and Pink.

While her love for music never went away—in 2010, she released her second solo album, “Kandi Koated,” which was well-received by critics and landed in the Billboard Top 20 R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart—she’s leveraged her reality fame to build up other income streams too, including her “adult toy” line, Bedroom Kandi, while maintaining a steady role (and paycheck) on “Real Housewives,” now in its eighth season.

Most recently, Burruss, who gave birth to a baby boy in January, confirmed that she’s moving into a brand-new business, with a new restaurant scheduled to open in April. Celebrities have had mixed success with restaurants, which have a notoriously high failure rate; but even if hers doesn’t succeed, she still has her songwriting and TV royalties, music career and adult toy line to fall back on.

The Star: Draya Michele
The Lesson: Social media can be a powerful tool for promoting yourself and your brand.

“Basketball Wives LA,” first debuted in August 2011 and was just renewed in September for a fifth season. Original cast member Draya Michele won’t be on board, but she may still be the most well-known—and successful—star of the popular reality show.

“I can honestly say that for the first time in my life, I’m a self-made millionaire,” she told Forbes earlier this month.

Most of that fortune has come from her two fashion lines: Mint Swim, an upscale swimwear brand, and a memorably named casual women’s line. Michele says she sold more than $1 million in swimsuits last year, and is currently adding a men’s line.

What’s the secret to her success? Gaining exposure on “Basketball Wives” certainly helped. But she’s also built an impressive following on social media, with 4.7 million Instagram followers and more than 716,000 Twitter fans. And she uses her feeds to promote her fashion wear and herself.

“Social media is my biggest tool for marketing,” she told Forbes. “I definitely think social media is right up there with commercials you see on TV and billboards you see on major highways…It’s how I promote and market [all] my stuff.”

Fashion isn’t her only focus. She’s appearing in the films “Perfect Match,” opposite Cassie and Terrence J., which hit theaters last week, and the upcoming film “True to the Game,” with Vivica A. Fox and Columbus Short. That’s likely to boost her star power, and social media following, even more.

Image care of FYI.