Top 10 Rejected Musicians Who Became Successful



Top 10 Rejected Musicians Who Became Successful

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Don Ekama
These iconic musicians were shown the door prior to becoming stars. For this list, we'll be looking at talented people in the industry who encountered a major stumbling block or two on their journey to success. Our countdown includes Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, The Beatles, and more!

Top 10 Rejected Musicians Who Became Successful

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 rejected musicians who became successful.

For this list, we’ll be looking at talented people in the industry who encountered a major stumbling block or two on their journey to success.

Are there other successful musicians whose early career rejections have inspired you to keep striving? Let us know in the comments.

#10: The Supremes

These legendary doo-wop crooners rose from Detroit projects to superstardom through a combination of ambition, talent and hardcore perseverance. Their first hurdle came when they were teenagers and landed an audition with Motown executive Berry Gordy. The Supremes, then known as The Primettes, were initially turned down by Gordy. He felt they were a little too young for the spotlight. Although he urged them to return after finishing high school, Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Betty McGlown constantly dropped by Gordy’s studio. They took up background roles on other records until he eventually signed them on. The Supremes became insanely successful, charting twelve number-one songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling an estimated 100 million records throughout their career.

#9: Ed Sheeran

Sheeran wasn’t always selling out stadiums around the world and exhausting every mathematical symbol in existence for his album titles. According to the singer, his “slightly chubby and ginger” appearance and musical approach weren’t initially appealing to record labels. Sheeran even once played to an empty house. Fortunately, these rejections only fueled his fire to succeed. Sheeran began gaining traction online before releasing the independent EP, No. 5 Collaborations Project. After it peaked at number two on iTunes, he got a deal with Atlantic Records. Sheeran has gone on to become one of the world’s best-selling artists. We guess more than a few people find him appealing after all.

#8: Linkin Park

While being told no once or twice may not be much of a concern, try getting pushed away forty times. That’s bound to make you become numb. These alternative rock icons became famous after their debut album, Hybrid Theory earned a Grammy and sold 27 million copies worldwide. Their journey to that feat wasn’t all rosy though. The band reportedly auditioned for almost forty record label executives and were turned down every time. In the end, they earned the support of then Warner Records VP, Jeff Blue. After he signed them, they’d go on to make seven studio albums and counting. Linkin Park is now one of the best-selling bands of the 21st century.

#7: Kanye West

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that no one hypes themself up like Yeezus does. Kanye got his start as a producer. He cooked up several hit songs and garnered acclaim for his production on Jay-Z’s monumental “The Blueprint” album.. Despite Kaye’s success in the role, he still desired to take the stage as a rapper. Unfortunately, labels didn’t see his potential and thought he’d be better off as a producer. After a harrowing car accident in 2002, Kanye was more inspired to pursue his dreams. His universally acclaimed debut album The College Dropout took the world by storm after he recovered. Kanye’s undying self-confidence took him from an obscure producer to becoming an artist who now holds over 20 Grammy awards.

#6: Madonna

Even the Queen of Pop had to struggle to start her career. There was a time when Madonna Louise Ciccone was consistently getting turned down. She once sent Jimmy Lenner, the then-President of Millenium Records, a demo of songs. He responded with a letter that basically said that Madonna’s work wasn’t good enough. This hardly fazed her. In fact, some of those songs would later appear on her self-titled debut album. Madonna’s first major collection of work reached the top ten in several countries and sold upwards of ten million copies worldwide. Not only did she go on to prove that she was THE material girl, but she later put up that rejection letter for auction.

#5: Beyoncé

With her carefully structured songs, elaborate music films and meticulous live performances, Queen Bey is undoubtedly a music genius. But the full scope of her talent wasn’t always recognized. Beyoncé notably appeared on popular talent show “Star Search” as a member of Girl’s Tyme, which eventually became Destiny’s Child. The group actually lost the competition. However, they persevered until they signed with a label...and were dropped before releasing any material. The group later moved onto Columbia Records and became one of the best-selling female groups of all time. Beyoncé later broke out on her own to a successful solo career. Considering she’s broken numerous records in several award categories, it's safe to say that a few people probably regret rejecting her.

#4: Nina Simone

Before Nina Simone became the legendary singer and civil rights activist that we know today, she was Eunice Waymon, an aspiring classical pianist studying at Juilliard’s Music School. When Waymon auditioned for the famous Curtis Institute of Music in 1951, she didn’t make the cut. This rejection was particularly crushing because her family had moved to Philadelphia in hopes of her getting accepted. Undeterred, Waymon took up a job playing in a nightclub. She took this opportunity to reinvent herself as a jazz singer and took up the stage name Nina Simone. Her fiery vocal delivery and emotionally intense protest songs elevated Simone to icon status. Simone is now remembered as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

#3: U2

If these remarkable rockers can pick themselves up from a rejection to become one of the greatest bands in music history, then you too can do it! At the start of their career in 1979, U2 had recorded some songs but had no label to release them under. Frontman Bono submitted a demo tape to RSO Records in hopes of clinching a contract. He later received a letter stating that the material was “not suitable for us at present.” While this was a brutal rejection, it didn’t keep the band down for long. U2 released their first EP four months later. Decades later, they have now said hello, hello to nearly 200 million records sold and international fame.

#2: The Beatles

The Beatles traveled ten hours in 1961 to audition for executives of Decca Records in hopes of starting their career there. They recorded an astonishing fifteen songs to demonstrate their capabilities. However, they were rejected by executives who felt that guitar groups were out of fashion and would likely never find success. We can’t imagine how bad the staff of Decca Records felt as The Beatles enjoyed a steady rise to superstardom outside of the company. Especially since the band now has more record sales than any other musical act in history. You know what they say: all you need is love and to not reject the Beatles.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Lady Gaga
Def Jam Boss LA Reid Dropped the Popstar After Just Three Months

Hillary Scott
The Lady A Frontwoman Never Got Past the First Round of “American Idol”

Missy Elliott
She Overcame Being Rejected for Her Weight & Unique Artistic Approach

#1: Elvis Presley

The date was October 2nd, 1954. And the place was the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. It was here that a young Elvis Presley performed his version of “Blue Moon of Kentucky”... to an underwhelming reception. The talent manager at the Grand Ole Opry allegedly said Elvis would be better off quitting music and continuing to drive trucks. After hearing these crushing comments, he put more energy into his art. Elvis would put out what would become a critically and commercially successful debut album two years later. From there, Elvis became synonymous with musical genius and success. His enormous influence is still felt today. Who knew a rejected Grand Ole Opry singer would eventually be crowned the King of Rock and Roll?