Oprah Winfrey, arguably one of the most notable self-made people in the world, has spoken publicly about her early professional failures. Before striking gold with her beloved self-titled talk show, she’s publicly shared how she dealt with being doubted by higher-ups.
“I got fired …well I got demoted,” the powerhouse mogul shared in a 2017 Bloomberg interview, where spoke about her time at a Baltimore news station working as a primetime news co-anchor.
This was an incredible accomplishment considering inclusive representation was nearly non-existent in TV journalism and she was a young, Black woman. When the show failed, she was solely blamed and not her more seasoned, white male co-host and was even discouraged by her bosses to continue being a broadcaster due to a lack of chemistry with viewing audiences. She was instead assigned to write the news scripts for her colleagues.
“I’ve learned with age that many times getting demoted can be the opportunity for something else to show up.”
Of course, we know what her story turned out to be, and like her, so many other famously successful people have had their fair share of detractors in their lives. But as the saying goes, the sweetest form of revenge is success. Here’s a look at some celebs who’ve faced significant rejection and came out on top anyway.
Kelly Rowland and Beyonce
Before Destiny’s Child was born, there was Girls Tyme. As tweens in the earl 90s, Beyonce and Kelly Rowland were co-leads of the six-member group, and went on to compete on the wildly popular show that spawned American Idol, Star Search. The girls ultimately lost to a group called Skeleton Crew – but of course won in the end, becoming one of the best-selling girl groups of all time, and birthing individually successful careers as well.
Everyone knows that Amber Riley is a powerhouse. Everyone except Simon Cowell that is. Before starring in the hit musical series Glee, Riley auditioned for American Idol and got rejected early on. Co-host, Randy Jackson commented on her eventual success in a 2010 interview with ExtraTV saying, “Yo, that girl Amber Riley, she I guess ,I didn’t know this, she didn’t make it to us. She auditioned for ‘Idol’ and got rejected. She’s like the lead singer the lead star of ‘Glee’ and let me tell you something America, this girl is talented and she can really sing.”
A short time later during a performance
with the cast of Glee on Cowell’s American Idol-inspired show X Factor, Riley belted it out right in Cowell’s face, seemingly letting him know that one monkey don’t stop no show, as the elders say.
Imagine the greatest basketball player of all time being told he wasn’t a talented athlete. That’s what happened when he was reportedly Cut from his high school basketball team because he wasn’t good enough, according to his coach.
Now he is known as the first NBA player to become a billionaire, holds countless scoring records that have yet to broken and has forever shaped the sport of basketball into what it is today.
The certified lover boy is one of the biggest stars on the planet, but according to a 2016 song entitled Forever, everyone didn’t always believe in his talent.
In the lyrics he wrote,”Everyone who doubted me is asking for forgiveness…
He has spoken openly about his early days where he learned the power of manifestation before he achieved success in the music industry.
“This house was the desktop image on my computer years before I bought it,” Drake says. “I was like, ‘What are the world’s craziest residential pools?’ and when I searched online, this came up.” In 2007, a then-unsigned Drake tried, and failed, to hunt this place down during an L.A. trip. In 2009, the compound hit the market with an asking price of $27 million. The seller, a steakhouse-chain restaurateur, “was at a low moment,” Drake recalls. “He needed money.” In 2012, Drake purchased the property for $7.7 million. “I stole it from him!”
Ciara recently shared her experience with buying her own masters, an impressive feat considering most musical artists openly struggle with their labels to obtain the rights. She however, said they were given to with no incident. Why? Because her label no longer thought she had value as an artist with them.
“I had this song called ‘Level Up,’ I had the video for the song as well. I had a whole vision for my project,” said Ciara of her viral hit that shot up the charts thanks to an online dance craze. “I sat down and I talked to the CEO at that time. It was like, he made up his mind before I came into the room. He wasn’t checking for it. Amazingly enough, they gave me my masters,” she added. “They gave them to me for free! So, it lets you know they didn’t believe at all… It was that easy and I was ready.”
Before being one of the most sought after hosts and actresses, Laverne Cox had grappled with crippling rejection from Hollywood for over a decade before getting her big break. People Magazine reported that she’d said:
“I was just devastated by, like, turning 40, and my life was kind of in shambles financially, and I had worked and trained a lot, and my dream of being a working actress had not come to fruition,” Cox said during an interview for the Paley Center’s Pride Month. “I was just like, ‘I’ve got to do something else. I mean, who do I think I am? I’m a Black transgender woman — no one’s ever done this before, let me go and do something, have a real job or something.'”
In an interview with Tamron Hall, the ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ award-winning actress shared that she nearly gave up her passion due to constant rejection and industry doubters:
While she was a guest on the Tamron Hall Show in 2021, Layne said she was feeling discouraged about her acting career after she moved to LA. She asked the universe for a sign, then borrowed some tarot cards from her roommate to see if they held any wisdom about what to do next.
“I grabbed those cards, and I don’t know anything about tarot; all I knew is that a lot of the cards that I saw, that I was pulling for myself, were cards that my friend had pulled for me some months prior,” Layne said. “I just saw…a repeat of some of those messages that I had gotten earlier in the year, [that said], yes, I’m supposed to be here. I was supposed to make that move. And that’s that.”
A few weeks later, Layne landed the role of Tish Rivers in ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ and the rest is history.
Denzel Washington is one of the most prolific actors of our time, and even he has dealt with rejection.
“Last year, I did a play called Fences, on Broadway,” he shared in a 2009 interview. “It was at the same theater that I’d failed at first audition 30 years prior. Thomas Edison conducted 1000 failed experiments. Did you know that? I didn’t know that, because the 1001st was the light bulb. Fall forward. Sometimes, it’s the best way to figure out where you’re going. Never be discouraged, never hold back, give everything you got, and when you fall throughout life remember this: fall forward.”