Nicki Minaj; Jennifer Hudson; Kanye West
Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Neilsen Barnard/Getty Images; Adam Rountree/Getty Images

So you’re stuck in a job you hate, staring at the lights above your cubicle and playing a rousing game of left eye-right eye while you wait to clock out. This is not what you imagined doing in your 20s.

After all, if your calculations are correct, you should be preparing to release your second solo album, like BeyoncĂŠ did when she was 25, or at least starring in your own sitcom. Honestly, if Brandy had Moesha when she was just 17, why is it taking so long for you to get discovered?

This may come as a surprise, but many of the world’s most famous people worked odd jobs before becoming household names. In fact, paying their dues in those positions actually helped them hone their skills and learn valuable life lessons.

Here are eight celebrities whose stories prove that life really can get better.

1. Jennifer Hudson


Shortly before auditioning for American Idol, Jennifer Hudson had a six-month gig as a singer on the Disney Cruise Lines’ Disney Wonder ship. According to People magazine, she says that the role of Calliope in Hercules—A Muse-ical Comedy on that cruise helped prepare her for the intense competition on the Idol stage.

Hudson did not win Idol, but she has gone on to score both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her role in Dreamgirls. Add a Grammy Award and a pair of gold albums to her credits, and it is clear that she has come a long way sing singing on cruise ships.

2. Nicki Minaj


Imagine working at a company that has issues with its phone connection, and when you call the phone company’s customer service, Nicki Minaj—whose real name is Onika Maraj—is there to offer assistance. That was the case before Minaj became the centerpiece of the Young Money label.

Minaj stated in an interview with Fuse that she worked at a phone company when she was still just an aspiring rapper. She eventually quit the job to focus on her music career, which was not instantly successful, but her dreams soon came to fruition.

3. Luther Vandross


From the time he was a young teenager, Luther Vandross knew that he wanted to be a singer, and he put in the work to make it happen. According to Billboard, the late, great singer-songwriter got his start in high school as a member of the group Shades of Jade before eventually joining the Listen My Brother Revue.

In 1969 Vandross, who was 18 years old at the time, and the other members of the revue appeared on early episodes of Sesame Street. Even back then, his chubby cheeks and booming voice were difficult to miss.

4. Kanye West


“It's funny that I worked at the Gap in high school, because in my past 15 years, it seems like that's the place I stood in my creative path—to be the gap, the bridge."

Who would have thought that a 15-year-old Gap employee would eventually become one of the most influential pop-culture figures of his time? Certainly Kanye West did, and he made it happen.

As detailed in his Paper magazine essay, West worked at the Gap for just a short time, but the experience helped shape his perspectives on the fashion industry. He even rapped about his stint at the store chain in the song “Spaceship,” although he blatantly admitted to stealing from the store and hated the fact that he made little impact on the business.


5. Halle Berry

Even before Halle Berry became the first African-American woman to win an Academy Award for best actress in 2002, she raised the bar for the black community at a very different type of competition: Miss World.


Berry was a popular face on the beauty-pageant circuit during the 1980s and nabbed the titles of Miss Teen All-American (1985) and Miss Ohio USA (1986). After being named first runner-up in the Miss USA competition in 1986, she became the first African-American woman to compete at the Miss World pageant, where she was the fifth runner-up.

6. Mariah Carey


She eventually became one of the most prolific hit-makers in pop music, but there was a time when Mariah Carey was just an unknown teenager with big dreams. Soon after graduating from a Long Island, N.Y., high school, she moved to Manhattan, where, according to Bio, she held several odd jobs, including as a waitress and coat checker, and attended beauty school.

Carey eventually worked as a backup singer for Brenda K. Starr, who introduced Carey to Tommy Mottola when she was just 18 years old. That was the move that launched her career, and Carey honored that fact by covering Starr’s “I Still Believe” on her #1’s compilation CD in 1998.

7. Kevin Hart


Kevin Hart has made a name for himself as a breakout comedy star thanks to box office hits such as Think Like a Man and Ride Along. However, there was a time when he was a proud shoe salesman living in Philadelphia.

Unlike Kanye West, Hart thrived while working in the relatively small role. In fact, as he told Disarray Magazine, he considered himself a shoe guru and only quit the business at the age of 18 because he felt that he had nothing left to learn.

8. Whoopi Goldberg


Whoopi Goldberg is an EGOT winner. In other words, she is on a very short list of people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award.

Yet long before she became the star of films including The Color Purple, Sister Act and Ghost, Goldberg was a mortuary beautician and even a phone-sex operator. As reported by the Business Insider, Goldberg, who has a signature smoky voice, actually enjoyed the latter gig because it paid well.

Trent Jones is an editorial fellow at The Root. He also produces a daily video commentary called #Trents2Cents. Follow him on Twitter.