HGTV Stars Who Were Famous Before They Joined The Network

HGTV has made huge stars out of some unlikely people — Ben and Erin Napier of "Home Town" spring to mind, as do mother-daughter duo Mina Starsiak Hawk and Karen Laine of "Good Bones," or even moguls like Chip and Joanna Gaines. Without cameras chronicling their renovation efforts, it seems unlikely that they would have become established celebrities in their own right.

Yet along with all the designers, contractors, real-estate agents, and the like who've become celebrities via HGTV's various series, there are also those who were already established stars before coming to HGTV. This is a wildly eclectic list that encompasses actors, rappers, comedians, social media mavens, reality TV personalities, and even a member of a massively popular boy band. In addition, there are also a few who sprang to fame via different home-improvement shows that aired on non-HGTV platforms. Which HGTV stars were famous before they joined the network?

Ellen DeGeneres was already a trailblazing comedian and talk show host

Unlike many HGTV stars who focus primarily on their shows, "Ellen's Design Challenge" was a minor sideline for series host/producer Ellen DeGeneres. In fact, when the interior design competition made its HGTV debut in 2015 (ultimately spawning a second season), DeGeneres was already a massively successful standup comic hosting her wildly popular eponymous daytime talk show — not to mention having two network television sitcoms and a feature film under her belt. 

However, HGTV proved to be an excellent fit for DeGeneres, who reveled in her passion for interior decor by presiding over a demanding competition in which top designers embarked on a series of challenges — including one that tasked them with designing stylish and functional furniture for use within the green room of her talk show. 

"I'm so excited about this show because I love finding really special pieces of furniture," DeGeneres — who also created the show — said in a statement ahead of the series launch, via The Hollywood Reporter. "One time I found a beautiful one-of-a-kind armoire that spoke to me in a way I'd never experienced. It turned out there was a drifter living inside of it, but that's a story for another time."

Galey Alix was a superstar Instagram influencer

Galey Alix's journey to HGTV is singularly unique. A Wall Street investment banker, she began doing her own DIY home renovations on the weekends and documenting the progress on social media. After amassing numerous followers — 1.7 million on Instagram, and 2.9 million on TikTok — she came to HGTV with "Home in a Heartbeat," in which she and her crack team of home-reno pros completed a daunting renovation project within a single weekend. Pulling that off, Alix explained in an HGTV press release, takes an enormous amount of planning and preparation so that the actual work can proceed as quickly as possible — and hopefully with no surprises. "These families mean everything to us," she said. "It takes a lot of late nights, talent and grit, but it's all worth it to give these families their 'Home in a Heartbeat.'"

In fact, "Home in a Heartbeat" is an extension of her design firm, Galey Alix Design. Appearing on "The Rachael Ray Show," she explained that she doesn't work like a typical designer. "I set up a somewhat unique business model where people give me their credit cards and trust me for one weekend, and they move out, and I move in, and they come home Sunday to a completely renovated home," she said. "They don't have to make any decisions about what color wallpaper, or what style couch, or how to rearrange their kitchen, but they have to be able to trust me blindly."

Genevieve Gorder was a breakout star on Trading Spaces before heading to HGTV

Designer Genievieve Gorder made her HGTV debut in "Dear Genevieve," arriving in 2009 and running for six seasons. She subsequently starred in another series, 2014's "Genevieve's Renovation," which documented the process of renovating her New York City apartment. 

Gorder was certainly not unknown to TV viewers when she arrived on HGTV, having spent several seasons as one of the original designers on TLC's groundbreaking "Trading Spaces." When she was first approached about the show, which premiered way back in 2000, she was uncertain about what exactly it was, given that there had never really been a TV show like it before. "There was no design TV before 'Trading Spaces,'" she told USA Today.

Gorder has since moved on from HGTV, starring in the Netflix series "Stay Here" in 2019 and debuting in "At Home with Genevieve" for Crackle in 2023. In that new show, Gorder is joined by some other familiar faces, including her former "Trading Spaces" co-star Paige Davis and fellow TLC alum Stacy London of "What Not to Wear" fame. "This is the most inclusive show I've ever had the blessing to be on," Gorder told People. "It's not like, 'No, we need someone more like this age, or looks like this, or comes from this place. Can't be too city, can't be too suburban.' They're just cool humans that we don't normally get to hear from on talk shows. And their contributions are just beautiful."

Heather Rae El Moussa was a Selling Sunset fan favorite

Heather Rae El Moussa was formerly known as Heather Rae Young before marrying "Flip or Flop" star Tarek El Moussa in 2021 — with the couple's lavish nuptials serving as the basis for an HGTV special. Prior to starring alongside her husband on the HGTV series "Flipping 101" and "The Flipping El Moussas," she was best known as one of the Oppenheim Group real estate agents appearing on Netflix reality hit "Selling Sunset."

"The Flipping El Moussas," which launched in March 2023, follows the couple as they renovate and flip luxury homes in California, while also documenting their personal lives — which, during that first season, included her pregnancy. Appearing with her husband onscreen, she told Business Insider, allowed the couple to spend more time together than they would if they were working on individual television gigs. "We love being together," she said. 

At the same time, El Moussa also launched her own beauty line. "It's a clean beauty line that I've been working on for over a year now," she said of her Heather Rae Essentials products. "I'm going to be launching with five lip glosses, a body scrub, a body lotion, and a body wash." Entering the beauty space, she explained, is a natural extension that allows her to showcase some other skill sets beyond real estate and house flipping. "I have my aesthetician license, and I used to work at a spa years and years and years ago," she explained.

90210 alum Jennie Garth was a successful actor before joining HGTV

Anybody who knows that 90210 isn't just a zip code, but also a hit teen drama, will recognize that Jennie Garth's background isn't in home renovation, but acting. Best known for portraying Kelly Taylor on "Beverly Hills, 90210" throughout the 1990s, Garth entered the world of HGTV in 2014 with "The Jennie Garth Project." In that series — which ran just one season — the newly single Garth rolled up her sleeves, gutted, and then completely renovated her 1970s ranch-style home in the Hollywood Hills while sticking to a tight budget.

For Garth, the process of renovating her home for an HGTV series led to many revelations about the process that she hadn't previously realized. "It surprised me that there are so many decisions along the way," she told OK!. "It surprised me that I could handle them all. I impressed myself."

There was also a significant degree of self-discovery along the way, and Garth learned a few hard truths about herself. "I'm not a patient person. I don't like to wait for pretty much anything," she observed. "There's a lot of waiting on other people's schedules." And while Garth left much of the actual renovation work to the experts, she had no problem when it came to diving into the demolition process. "I did a lot of the demo myself," she added, "ripping the house apart and trying to save money when I could and salvage things."

Jillian Harris starred in The Bachelorette

Jillian Harris is the fashionable designer on HGTV's "Love It or List It, Too" — which, fun fact, is shot in Canada, and airs in that country under the moniker "Love It or List It Vancouver." A west-coast spinoff of the long-running hit "Love It Or List It," the premise is identical: homeowners dissatisfied with their current homes are given the choice of selling the place and buying a new one, or renovating their existing abodes to address the problems that are bugging them. 

Harris has been a part of the show since its 2015 debut, but she was hardly a stranger to television audiences. Prior to that, the Canadian designer was best known for being fought over by numerous suitors in the fifth season of "The Bachelorette," having previously made an impression on viewers in the 13th season of "The Bachelor." 

What viewers of her HGTV series may not realize is that Harris has parlayed her TV fame into a multimillion-dollar empire that encompasses her design firm, Jillian Harris Design, her own fashion line, her "Jilly Box" subscription box business, a cookbook, and the Jilly Academy, which offers courses designed to help female entrepreneurs experience the same kind of success that she has.

Jonathan Knight's boy band past preceded him to Farmhouse Fixer

It's no secret that Jonathan Knight was famous long before he came to television with HGTV's "Farmhouse Fixer." In fact, as one-fifth of New Kids on the Block, Knight has been a member of the massively successful boy band since the late 1980s. 

As viewers of the show have come to realize, Knight is no HGTV dilettante when it comes to reviving dilapidated New England farmhouses to their former glory. In fact, he was involved with renovation and construction even before he joined NKOTB. "My dad — he's retired now — was a contractor," Knight told HGTV. "When I was a teenager, he dragged me to work with him ... well, he dragged me in the beginning, and then I just loved doing it."

When his musical career hit a lull, Knight felt the necessity to reinvent himself, and he began working with a friend to flip houses. "It got to a point where I was tired of doing all these brand-new construction houses; you know, there was really nothing special about them," he said, explaining his decision to shift from new builds to renovating vintage structures that were hundreds of years old. As his business grew, he was able to integrate his renovation efforts with his showbiz career. "Luckily, we tour every other year, so I have a year off, I work a year, a year off," he explained. "So, we've been able to make it work."

Lara Spencer was a fixture on Good Morning America prior to HGTV

Lara Spencer is well known to HGTV viewers for her shows on the network, 2012's "Flea Market Flip," and "Everything But the House," both of which focus on Spencer's passion for antiquing. She also appeared in HGTV's hit series "A Very Brady Renovation," in which the actual Los Angeles home that was used in establishing shots in "The Brady Bunch" was meticulously renovated so that the interior of the house duplicated the Brady home, which was originally built in a soundstage for the classic sitcom. 

In addition to being the author of two books on the subject — "Flea Market Fabulous" and "I Brake for Yard Sales" — Spencer is best known as a TV host, which has included hosting "The Insider," and serving as co-anchor on "Good Morning America."

As Spencer told Marie Claire, it wasn't until her first book found an audience that she realized her obsession with antiques was shared by more people than she realized. "The new book made it on the New York Times best-seller list, as did my first, 'I Brake for Yard Sales,' in 2012," she said. "I'm glad, because now I know I'm not crazy for loving vintage furniture so much. Others are as addicted as I am."

Lil Jon hit it big in rap before shifting to renovation

Lil Jon is a fairly recent arrival to HGTV, with "Lil Jon Wants to do What?" debuting in 2022. In the series, the rapper joins forces with home design pro Anitra Mecadon to help harried homeowners update their houses in some unexpected and unorthodox ways. 

So how did a famous music star come to renovate other people's houses on HGTV? As Lil Jon told The Hollywood Reporter, he'd gotten to know Mecadon five years earlier when he contacted her about doing some upgrades to his Atlanta home after watching her do just that on her DIY Network series "Mega Dens." "I just really fell in love with doing this by putting my house together and pushing the limits of what I could do," he explained. "And through working with Anitra, we just figured out that we work really well together, and Anitra's husband, Adam, was like, 'Y'all should really do this together for real because y'all work so well together, and y'all both have really good ideas. And so we ended up shooting a pilot, and a couple years later, HGTV picked it up." 

Viewers clearly liked what they saw, because the "Snap Yo Fingers" rapper returned the following year with a second season of his HGTV series.

Martha Stewart's media empire was well established when she made her HGTV debut

When it comes to lifestyle branding, Martha Stewart is the original queen, becoming a household name with her magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and companion TV show back in the 1990s. That success spawned a media empire, Martha Stewart Omnimedia, which at its peak was valued at a staggering $2 billion. 

So clearly Stewart was no stranger to television viewers when she made her HGTV debut in 2020 with "Martha Knows Best," which ran for two seasons, featuring Stewart indulging her passion for gardening at her famed farm. As viewers no doubt noticed, she received some horticultural help from gardener/TV sidekick Ryan McAllister, who became something of an HGTV personality in his own right. While "Martha Knows Best" was kind of a return to her roots, at the time of the show's premiere, she'd gained an even higher level of fame thanks her to who-knew comedy skills — which she displayed at a celebrity roast of Justin Bieber — and her unexpected partnership with weed-loving rapper Snoop Dogg, her co-star in their bonkers cooking show "Martha & Snoop's Potluck Dinner Party."  

Stewart's shift from mogul to the garden-loving TV personality of "Martha Knows Best" reflected her own desire to reinvigorate her old self. "I was living two very distinctly different lives," she told Harper's Bazaar. "And the life of the homemaker was more interesting to me than the life of Wall Street."

Ty Pennington hosted Extreme Makeover: Home Edition before coming to HGTV with Ty Breaker

Ty Pennington first became noticed by TV viewers in his role as a hunky carpenter on TLC's "Trading Spaces." After that show ended its initial run in 2008, Pennington was tapped as host of ABC's "Home Makeover: Home Edition," the spinoff of an ill-conceived plastic surgery reality show that shifted the focus to improving people's houses instead of their faces. The series proved to be a huge hit for the network, enjoying a 10-season run from 2004 until 2012 (and then it was revived by HGTV with new host Jesse Tyler Ferguson in 2020). 

Even though Pennington is seemingly made for HGTV, he didn't actually appear on the network until 2020 with his series "Ty Breaker." After that, he quickly gained HGTV cred by hosting a litany of other shows, including "Home Town Kickstart," "Rock the Block," and "Battle on the Beach," in addition to being one of the myriad HGTV personalities to appear in the 2023 extravaganza that was "Barbie's Dreamhouse Challenge." 

If it feels like Pennington has been around forever, it's kind of because he has — something that has crept up on him over the years. "It's funny — when I meet new people on HGTV, they're like, 'Oh my God, you're the OG,'" he told Yahoo! Entertainment. "And I'm like: Oh my God, how did I become the OG? How did I become the oldest guy doing this?"

Vanilla Ice was a '90s rap phenom

Vanilla Ice (aka Rob Van Winkle) managed to experience equal parts fame and infamy thanks to his rap hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including "Play That Funky Music" and "Ice Ice Baby" — which, to be fair, became hits by liberally borrowing the best parts of other songs. His career peaked with his debut album, leading to an odd trajectory that veered from "The Surreal Life" to, eventually, HGTV.

That show was "The Vanilla Ice Project," in which he renovated a Florida dump until it emerged as a luxurious masterpiece. Speaking with Money, the rapper-turned-flipper elaborated on his second act as an HGTV star, revealing he'd been flipping houses for years, but was uneasy about turning his real-life side hustle into a TV show. 

"I was like, really, I don't know if I want all these cameras around," he said. "It took me a minute. I had to absorb it. I was already doing this, I was full steam for at least 10 or 15 years already." But he shouldn't have worried. The show took off with viewers, and his HGTV fame has come to eclipse his celebrity as a 1990s rapper. "I get people walking up to me all the time, you know, loving some of the ideas they get," he added.

Chelsea Houska DeBoer came to fame via Teen Mom

Chelsea Houska DeBoer made her HGTV debut in "Down Home Fab," which premiered in 2023. She'd previously made a name for herself within the realm of reality TV when, back in 2009, she was one of the girls to appear on MTV's "16 and Pregnant," which led her to "Teen Mom 2." Along the way, she ditched the baby daddy of her first kid and married Cole DeBoer, who proved to be a far more solid choice. 

The South Dakota couple bought a farmhouse and renovated it, while she launched her own interior design firm. All that formed the basis of their HGTV series. 

"We just fell in love with everything ... like home stuff, home decor, the building process, everything about it," Chelsea told In Touch. Meanwhile, in an interview with Heavy, she revealed the unorthodox way that she pitched her concept for the show to HGTV. "It's kinda funny because I slid into their DMs," she explained. "We were building our house and I just messaged them one day. I deleted it right away because I was so embarrassed that I would do that." However, her DM wound up making it to the right people, who envisioned the possibility of what she'd pitched. "They just passed the message along and it went up the ladder," she added.