When it comes to working in entertainment, the more talents you have, the more likely you’ll steal the show. That’s why so many Hollywood actors have been able to seamlessly establish themselves as well-known musicians after winning over hearts on TV and in movies. Nearly every Disney Channel actor made the transition (hey there Miley, Selena, and Demi), and so have film actors, such as Pitch Perfect fave Hailee Steinfeld. But it’s far rarer for celebs to establish a career as a serious actor *after* succeeding as a musical star — so this list of actors who started out as singers will catch you completely off-guard!
Being a well-respected actor and singer requires serious talent, so it’s always impressive when a celeb is excellent AF at both. I don’t know about you, but a few names that come to my mind when I think about musical artists who excel at acting are Jennifer Hudson, Lady Gaga, Chloe and Halle Bailey, Beyoncé, and even Justin Timberlake. However, most of these musicians are still primarily recognized for their music rather than film appearances. So, it’s pretty wild when a musician does pivot into acting and becomes *more* known for their acting skills than musical chops. Prepare to get shook!
It’s no secret Mandy Moore has an amazing singing voice. While some actors resort to having professional musicians perform their singing parts as they lip-sync along in musical films, Moore is one of the few Hollywood stars who don’t need a voiceover. Fans of A Walk to Remember probably remember Moore’s climactic performance of “Only Hope” in the school musical, and it’s impossible to forget the 37-year-old’s voice performance as Rapunzel in Tangled.
However, years before becoming an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actor, Moore was a successful pop artist. In the late ‘90s, she was one of the biggest teen pop artists in the world, and her platinum-certified debut album, So Real, was released two whole years before Moore’s movie debuts in Dr. Doolittle 2 and The Princess Diaries.
While Moore is known mainly as an actress these days, she still releases music. Since dropping So Real in 1999, Moore has dropped six albums — her latest was 2020’s Silver Landings, a collection of folk and country bops.
What’s there not to love about Lucy Hale? Not only was the former Pretty Little Liars actor a star on one of the best teen TV dramas *of all time* (fingers crossed she makes a surprise appearance in PLL’s highly anticipated reboot), but other unforgettable teen faves like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 and A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song, too. However, Hale’s acting chops aren’t the only reason she’s so likable — she’s also a lifelong singer with the voice of an angel.
As a child, Hale took both acting and singing lessons. Her first Hollywood appearance was in 2003 on American Juniors (which was basically a kids’ version of American Idol). Along with four other contestants, she won the show and was thrown into a singing group called American Juniors that delivered one self-titled album. The project totally flopped, but Hale’s appearance was the start of a wildly successful career in both music and film.
After playing a wide range of TV and movie characters, she was cast as Aria in PLL — a role that earned her a huge stan base. Halfway through the show’s run, she dropped her debut album, Road Between. Packed with plenty of country bops, the record was deemed a commercial success, reaching No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2014. But due to anxiety she experienced while on tour for Road Between, she’s currently on hiatus from being a country star.
“Performing live made me a very anxious person all the time,” she said in a 2018 interview with Coveteur. “So I was like, ‘Why am I putting myself through that if it’s making me a hot mess?’ At the end of the day, [music] is still my hobby; I love music more than anything. I’d love to make another album and then obviously [sing] through acting jobs.”
Will Smith is one of the 21st century’s most beloved film actors — his two Oscars prove it. No matter the film genre or role, the 52-year-old actor always wins over both critics and fans’ hearts with his moving performances, and before starring in movies like The Pursuit of Happyness and Aladdin, the dynamic Hollywood actor played a fictionalized version of himself on TV in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But, even before Fresh Prince graced television screens for six hilarious seasons, Smith had already embraced the limelight as a successful rapper.
As one-half of hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Smith won two Grammys and rocked the Billboard charts with singles like “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Summertime” in the late 1980s and ‘90s. As a solo artist, Smith also released a handful of albums; his latest LP, Lost and Found, released in 2005, featured party bop “Switch,” which peaked at no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
When it comes to the silver screen, Oscar-nominee Queen Latifah never fails to put on an amazing show. Her performances in comedies such as Last Holiday, Hairspray, 22 Jumpstreet, and Girls Trip never failed to make audiences laugh, and prior to becoming a film actor, Latifah played a lead role in Living Single, one of the most popular Black sitcoms of the ‘90s. Years before her acting career, though, the iconic entertainer was widely known as a successful rapper who delivered rhymes about female empowerment. Her 1989 debut single, “Ladies First,” was hailed as a feminist anthem, and today, she’s released a total of seven studio albums — all while staying relevant as an award-winning actor. Yas, Queen!
You def know Jennifer Hudson from her unforgettable performance in 2006’s Dreamgirls — for which she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress — or her roles in other films, like Sing and Cats. The 39-year-old performer has certainly made a name for herself as a talented actor who kills it in musicals on TV (Hairspray! Live), Broadway stages (The Color Purple), and the silver screen.
However, before Hudson paved her path to success as an actor-singer, she focused all her energy on singing. O.G. JHud fans know that in 2004, she made it into the Top 7 on American Idol during the show’s third season (where she revealed she’d been a singer on Disney Cruise Lines prior to auditioning, which makes perfect sense).
After that breakthrough opportunity, she was cast in Dreamgirls in 2005 and has been on a roll ever since. Her 2008 self-titled debut album was both a critical and commercial success, earning a gold RIAA certification and the Grammy for Best R&B Album. Since then, Hudson has released two more LPs: one in 2011 and another in 2014. But today, “Spotlight” — the lead single from Jennifer Hudson — is especially remembered as a contemporary R&B classic. Still, these days, she’s known more for her musical acting roles than her musical releases.
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Star of 911 and long-time fixture of American TV, Jennifer Love Hewitt started her Hollywood career as a child actor in Disney’s Kids Incorporated, a musical children's show that ran from the ‘80s to the early ‘90s. On the show, she acted and sang, so it’s no surprise Hewitt released her debut album, Love Songs, shortly after in 1992. The record was only available in Japan, but since then, the now-42-year-old entertainer has widely released three other albums, including 2002’s BareNaked, which, after peaking at no. 72 on the Billboard 200 album chart, is her best-selling project to date.
Actor and Me Too activist Alyssa Milano is a force to be reckoned with. Starting her career with beloved TV sitcom Who’s the Boss? in the mid-’80s, she later went on to become America’s sweetheart after landing roles in teen-oriented TV dramas like Melrose Place and Charmed (appearing in both in the late ‘90s). But Milano had other talents up her sleeve, including singing.
From 1989 to 1992, she released four albums — an impressive output for any musician. Although none of her songs were particularly popular in the U.S., she found tons of success in Japan, where her record label was based. In Japan, audiences fell especially in love with her second album, Alyssa, which was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of Japan.