CareerBuilder Menu Search Search

Before They Made It Big

Rachel Zupek, writer

  • Email

First jobs are usually synonymous with flipping burgers, folding sweaters and busing tables -- which is fine, because after all, everybody has to start somewhere. Celebrities included.

Not everyone -- not even every celebrity -- is born rich. Take Oprah Winfrey, for example. Though today she's a billionaire with her own media empire, Winfrey had to pave her own path by starting out as a radio announcer.

Here are a few of our favorite celebs and how they earned some cash before making it big:

Amy Adams

You remember Amy Adams -- the innocent, singsong-voiced belle from the Disney movie "Enchanted"? Turns out she hasn't always been so childlike -- at least not when she was hostessing at a Hooters restaurant.

"Everyone would agree ... Hooters isn't necessarily the best way to describe me. I was a dancer, and I used to run around in a leotard and tights. I really didn't quite get it. I was so naïve about that. And I just thought, 'Well, it's a leotard and tights and shorts; it's not a big deal.' But there is a difference, and I learned it. But I was a hostess there, and that was sort of fun. I was 17, and then when I was 18, I waited [tables] for about a month. I wasn't cut out to be a waitress, and I certainly wasn't cut out to be a Hooters waitress. That was a short-lived ambition," Adams told Parade magazine.

Hostess's current income: $18,150/year*

Barack Obama

Before Obama won the bid as the first African-American president of the United States, our president-elect was giving himself stomachaches and brain freezes at his first job scooping ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins in Hawaii.

"Chocolate ice cream gets real hard," Barack was quoted as saying in New York Magazine. "Your wrists hurt. [Carpal tunnel syndrome, although] they didn't call it that."

Ice cream server's current income: $16,131/year

Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood struck gold after winning season four of the singing talent competition "American Idol." But before that, she worked as a gas station cashier in her hometown of Checotah, Okla.

Gas station attendant's current income: $20,755/year

Kendra Wilkinson

This Playmate and ex-girlfriend of the infamous Hugh Hefner hasn't always been pure glitz and glamour. Wilkinson was working as a dental assistant in San Diego when Hefner came across a photograph of her that had been sent to his mansion.

"(Before meeting Hef,) I was living day by day, working as a dental assistant, living on Easy Mac and SpaghettiOs," Wilkinson has said.

Dental assistant's current income: $31,023/year

Lance Bass

Before Bass found success in the former boy band 'N Sync, as a contestant on season seven of "Dancing with the Stars" and as an almost-astronaut, he made a living doing the simpler things in life.

"I worked at a snow-blowing place," Bass told the New York Daily News. "I was making $100 a week and I was very proud of it. I kept it in the bank, even though I would always spend the whole $100 a week on stupid things, mainly six-packs of beer."

Snow-blower's current income: $19,406/year


Try picturing Madonna -- one of America's fittest and most famous -- serving pastries behind a counter. It's hard to imagine, but believe it or not, when Madonna moved to New York, she earned extra cash by working the registers at Dunkin' Donuts.

"I was sacked from Dunkin' Donuts for squirting the donut jelly all over the customers," Madonna has said.

Cashier's current income: $18,182/year

Miley Cyrus

Before Miley Cyrus (born Destiny Cyrus) got her start as Hannah Montana in the Disney series of the same name (and with a successful singing career to boot), Cyrus had a job cleaning toilets. In a 2008 interview, she revealed her first job was cleaning houses.

"I had one normal job and I actually liked it," Cyrus said in an interview with Us Weekly magazine. "I worked at this place called Sparkles Cleaning Service and I cleaned houses. I was, like, 11 ... I can scrub a toilet," she boasted.

House cleaner's current income: $23,614/year

Robert Buckley

Before he started playing hottie Kirby Atwood on the network series "Lipstick Jungle," Buckley worked for a year and a half as an economic consultant. He then moved to Los Angeles to pursue an entertainment career.

Economic consultant's current income: $73,225/year

Suze Orman

Today, she tells people how to spend their money as a best-selling financial author, but before that Orman bused tables for seven years at a local diner in Berkley, Calif. Orman says she learned some of the most valuable lessons of her life while waitressing. Working at the diner inspired Orman to open her own restaurant, but she lost the money she invested for it.

"I found myself thinking about what it would be like to be a stockbroker. After great deliberation I decided to apply for a job at Merrill Lynch. Even though I had no experience, I was hired and ended up becoming a pretty good broker," Orman told Reader's Digest. "Five years later, I was able to open my own firm."

Waitress's current income: $20,394/year

Stockbroker's current income: $61,151/year

*Salary data according to

Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Last Updated: 13/01/2009 - 4:59 PM

Article Reprints
Permission must be obtained from to reprint any of its articles. Please send a request to