Celebs Who Destroyed Their Careers On Live TV

Success is a fickle thing that can disappear in a matter of minutes. These performers and professionals were really going places before one spare comment, brash action, or untimely revelation stopped their careers in their tracks. Some of these missteps, on their own, wouldn't be the worst thing in world, but add live TV to the mix, and you've got a recipe for disaster.

Milli Vanilli's record skips

German R&B and dance pop duo Milli Vanilli rose to prominence at the end of the eighties with crossover hits such as "Girl You Know It's True" and "Blame it on the Rain." Those singles dominated the airwaves and sold millions of records, earning the duo the trophy for best new artist at the 1990 Grammy Awards. 

But under scrutiny, the group's musical prowess didn't hold up. First, the guys' voices didn't quite sound like their recordings, prompting questions from the press, but the moment that destroyed their careers happened on a live-to-tape segment with MTV. The duo was performing "Girl You Know It's True" when the track began to skip, revealing Milli Vanilli wasn't singing at all. Journalists and former fans descended on the group. The guys were labeled as frauds. Lawsuits were filed. Fans demanded refunds for albums. Their Grammy was revoked, and they were essentially never heard from again.

X Factor judge goes too far

Judging a live reality show is an oddly delicate performance. Judges have to entertain as they evaluate. Audiences love a good tongue-lashing from an angry judge, especially after a particularly painful performance, but somewhere in that strange equation is a line that judges shouldn't cross.

On New Zealand's version of The X Factor, one singer-turned-judge definitely missed the mark. British singer Natalia Kills lit into contestant Joe Irvine in 2015, calling him "a laughing stock," "a doppelgänger in our midst", and essentially accusing him of copying his act and his persona from Kills' husband, singer Willy Moon, who was also sitting on the panel as a judge. 

The intensity of Kills' disgust turned off viewers in droves, and Kills and Moon were soon removed from the judging panel. For his troubles, Irvine reportedly received consolations and a box of cupcakes from fellow singer Lorde, but he told the New Zealand Herald in 2016 that he's still traumatized. 

Ashlee Simpson dances a jig

Ashlee Simpson, the punk rock little sister of singer Jessica Simpson, was on her way up when she booked a spot on Saturday Night Live in October 2004. Her first album, Autobiography, had recently debuted to commercial success, with significant radio play for her singles "Shadow" and "Pieces of Me." But when the SNL performance experienced a technical hiccup, it exposed a fatal flaw in Ashlee's act.

She wasn't actually singing on stage in Studio 6H, and instead of trying to do so and save her act, she danced an awkward jig before leaving the rest of her band stranded on stage. She even blamed the rest of her team for the snafu. 

The backlash hit hard. During her performance at the 2005 Orange Bowl, her live vocals were drowned out by a thunderous roar of boos. Her followup album, I Am Me, sold roughly a third of the copies in the United States that her debut did. Immediately after the lip-sync incident, which garnered national news coverage, the spell of her success was broken. Her fans turned on her, and her music career never recovered.

Comic attends roast, is roasted

In the format of a comedy roast, a gaggle of comedians takes turns on the microphone cracking jokes about a central honoree. Sometimes the panelists use their time to take jabs at each other as well, but comics don't typically expect their time on the mic to be turned against them. But comic Doug Williams suddenly found himself in the hot seat at Shaq's All Star Comedy Roast of football player Emmitt Smith

Following an introduction by host Jamie Foxx, Williams' set starts slowly, but about three jokes in, Foxx begins sniping at the comic, mocking Williams' punchlines and all but telling him to get off of the stage. It's bizarre, hilarious, and completely unscripted. Foxx later defended his actions, calling his barrage "very dark" and "liquor-induced." 

While the production wasn't broadcast live, there were no second takes for Williams. His bomb of a set lives forever online, and his chance to prove himself among his peers was essentially sabotaged. And the worst part: it was all rather funny—to everybody but Williams.

Jackie Mason flips the bird, loses job

The Ed Sullivan Show was one of the most popular of its era, running on CBS weekly for a legendary stretch of more than 22 years. Jackie Mason, a comedian, had scored a cushy gig for himself on the program in 1964, with six contracted appearances set to earn him a $45,000 payday—adjusted for inflation that's over $350,000 today. But the opportunity was yanked out from under his feet after he got a little bit loose with his hand gestures on live TV. 

Riffing on the host holding up his fingers from off-stage to indicate his time, Mason allegedly flipped America the bird while making a bit out of pointing around the room and saying, "Here's a finger for you and a finger for you and a finger for you." 

Even today, it's hard to imagine a guest on a general-audience late night show not getting in trouble for extending a rigid-digit salute toward the audience, but the story of Mason's firing endures as a good example of why not many people have tried since '64. Sullivan was reportedly incensed by the incident and allegedly threatened Mason, saying "I will destroy you in show business," a disputed quotation that nonetheless proved true. While he remained financially successful as an entertainer, Mason's showbiz career was never the same

News anchor kills his career in just two words

The first day on a new job without training wheels is always stressful, especially if your job subjects you to the scrutiny of everyone who might be tuned into the Bismarck local news. This aspiring young broadcaster handled his first-day anxiety in the most disastrous way imaginable, letting some foul words fly into a hot mic seconds after the show went live. 

His introduction to the world? A sharp exhale of breath and a succinct "f**king s**t." The look on his co-anchor's face is priceless as she realizes in an instant the f**king s**tstorm that's gone down to her immediate left. The offending anchor, AJ Clemente, crosses his fingers and nervously shoulders on, hoping that maybe, just maybe, he'd gotten away with it. 

Unfortunately for his career, he did not. Clemente was promptly fired from the station and supposedly hasn't helmed a broadcast since. Instead, he's tended bar and taught broadcasting courses, where we have to imagine lesson no. 1 is something in the spirit of "watch your mouth while the mic is live". 

Charles Rocket almost destroys Saturday Night Live

With an untested cast under the guidance of new producer Jean Doumanian, the 1980–81 season of Saturday Night Live started badly and got worse. The show dragged on throughout the winter as a national joke—its own sketches displayed a sharp awareness of its declining quality. A historic low was reached in the 11th episode of the season, when cast member Charles Rocket, for whatever reason, decided in the closing moments of the program to let the F-word fly. 

"It's the first time I've been shot in my life," he says, referencing a sketch in which his character caught a bullet. "I'd like to know who the f**k did it." Watching the video, it's clear this is no flub. It was a brazen, seemingly intentional provocation on the part of the performer, and it was the last straw for the studio, which began cleaning house promptly after the episode aired. 

You can draw a straight line from Rocket's F bomb to his exit, but the really impressive thing is how close he came to sinking the entire show. NBC also fired Doumanian, and SNL went off the air for a month. By the time it returned, the show had replaced most of its writing staff and was in the process of purging every single one of its cast members, except Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy—the sole survivors of a disastrous era.

Sinead O'Connor goes for Pope

Here's another Saturday Night Live performance that went horribly awry on purpose. There were no technical difficulties on this one. Irish singer Sinead O'Connor used her time as the musical guest on a 1992 episode to make a political statement—and a rather provocative one at that. 

Concluding an a cappella performance of "War," O'Connor sang her last lines while reaching for a photograph of Pope John Paul II. Holding it square in camera view, she tore it to pieces before saying, with no small amount of conviction, "Fight the real enemy." The moment was so shocking that SNL cut to commercial as the audience sat quiet and stunned. The move torpedoed the singer's burgeoning career in the United States, turning many people off her music and branding her as a high-risk, controversial act. It's a reputation she's maintained to this day.

Howard Dean can't contain his excitement

During the 2004 presidential election, Democratic contenders lined up for the chance to contest Republican incumbent George W. Bush for the White House. Vermont governor Howard Dean had an impressive lead over opponents Dennis Kucinich and John Kerry in early polls. but as the race went on and Kerry closed the gap, the margin for error got smaller and smaller. It all fell apart for Dean with one excited outburst, a political shot-in-the-foot that has, over time, come to appear almost quaint. 

Chastened by a rough showing at the Iowa caucuses, Dean addressed a crowd of supporters with a rousing speech. Like a football coach motivating a losing team, he gained momentum, gained volume, and snarled into the mic with a hoarse voice brimming with resolve. It all ended in a dramatic crescendo as Dean promised to his supporters they would soon be "going to Washington, D.C. to take back the White House!" Then he, um, screamed. He screamed really loudly. It was weird, and the media destroyed him for the funny moment. Any chances his campaign had of coming back were terminally derailed. 

Jenny Slate drops a bomb on her SNL career

As far as Saturday Night Live screw ups go, it's hard to mess up more than Jenny Slate. She's a successful actress and comedian now, but in 2009 she was still an up-and-comer; one who managed, with some luck, to land a coveted role as a writer-performer on SNL. In her very first appearance as a cast member on the show, performing in a sketch she wrote called Biker Chick Chat, Slate flubbed her line fantastically, mistakenly subbing the word "friggin'" with its grown-up version. The live audience laughed awkwardly, unsure if the cursing was a part of the joke. Castmate Kristen Wiig soldiered on, pretending she didn't hear anything, but everybody heard it. 

What's most hilarious, and cringe-inducing, is how Slate reacts to her misread, puffing out her cheeks as she tried to catch the word and swallow it but missed. Slate wasn't immediately let go, but she departed at the end of her first season. She later talked about the ways that episode affected her. "It took me a few years to get back to myself," the comic said (via ABC News). "I developed stage fright." Slate said she's never watched video of the incident, and frankly, we don't blame her. 

Regardless, she's a very funny person, and while her time at SNL may have ended in flames, it's to all our benefit that she weathered the storm and bounced back.

Paula Deen can't take the heat

Like a dollop of creamy tarragon butter sauce seeping into every blackened crevice of a New York strip steak, Paula Deen melted her career down when news broke of a lawsuit accusing her of cultivating an environment of "violent, sexist, and racist behavior" in her restaurants. 

The lawsuit, filed by a former employee, accused Deen not only of tolerating racism at restaurants she owned, but of exhibiting racist behaviors herself, having allegedly expressed a desire to hold a "Southern plantation-style wedding" with an exclusively black waitstaff. In a deposition Deen gave during the lawsuit, the Southern-fried chef admitted that she had "of course" used racial slurs for black people during her lifetime.

Instead of using the experience to apologize and grow, Deen leaned into the skid, going on the defensive by playing the victim card in a highly-panned interview on the Today show. While speaking with NBC's Matt Lauer, Deen deflected criticism, seemingly expressing shock that people were offended by what she'd said. Lauer raised the notion that perhaps she was only doing the interview "to stop the financial bleeding." Following the botched apology, Deen never fully recovered from the hit to her reputation.

Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction'

2004 was a year of absolute madness for America. The war in Iraq was surging forward, Martha Stewart went to prison, and the United States came together to absolutely crucify Janet Jackson for exposing her nipple to the nation in a fraction of a second during a halftime performance with Justin Timberlake at the 38th Super Bowl in Houston. 

The "wardrobe malfunction" and ensuing fracas, immortalized in a characteristically classy fashion by the media as "Nipplegate," sent Jackson's career into a nosedive. She was disinvited from the Grammy Awards, her songs were effectively blacklisted from radio play, and the rollouts for her next two albums were negatively affected by the hostile publicity. 

Looking back, it's an episode colored by absurdity and hypocrisy, considering that multiple people were involved in the exposure. Her choreographer had reportedly promised the performance would be "shocking," and let's not forget it was Timberlake who actually did the exposing by peeling away a portion of her top. While Jackson was essentially exiled and demonized, Timberlake's career never missed a beat. Not only did he attend the Grammys that year without protest, he even performed at the awards show.

It's a slice of media madness that proved worthy of study, spawning academic articles analyzing the country's outsized reaction to the incident and the public's laser-focus on Jackson to the exclusion of everybody else. It's a shame—most people on this list ended their careers with self-inflicted wounds, but in this case, Jackson was just the unlucky entertainer who fell on the sword.

Karmin fizzles on SNL

As electric as the stage of Saturday Night Live can be in the hands of a seasoned performer, Studio 8H has proven to be a brutal testing ground for new artists. For proof, look no further than the one-two punch of Lana Del Rey and Karmin performing on the show in quick succession in 2012. 

At the time of their SNL performances, both artists were up-and-comers, with Del Rey in the process of launching her first major album, and Karmin (comprised of vocalist Amy Heidemann and multi-instrumentalist Nick Noonan) coming off of a successful string of viral song covers on YouTube. After their performances, both were throttled in the media for bombing as musical guests, but their careers proceeded in very different ways. Del Rey honed her persona and stage presence and found continued success, while Karmin soldiered on down a road to nowhere.

What was the difference? While Del Rey was knocked for looking lost on stage, the members of Karmin faced criticism for their entire act, with a kinder review allowing that their performance resulted in "mild auditory distress." Others knocked the duo as being derivative, combining a buffet of pop signifiers into a mushy conglomeration that failed to connect with audiences, despite a musical theater level of enthusiasm.

Today, the Karmin project is apparently dead, though Heidemann and Noonan are still together making music. Their latest project? An R&B/hip-hop experiment called Qveen Herby. Hopefully, their new endeavor lets them find (and keep) their groove.

Belle Gibson exposed as a fraud

If you haven't heard the name Belle Gibson, it's for the best. The disgraced health blogger, who made a name for herself in the world of wellness with a clean-eating app (and later cookbook) called The Whole Pantry, was stopped in her tracks during her media ascendancy after being caught in a massive, immoral lie. After basing her entire career on the premise that she was managing her brain cancer (along with myriad other maladies) through nutrition, it was revealed that Gibson had deceived the world about her illness—she was never sick at all.

The accusations against Gibson came to a head during an interview on the Australian version of newsmagazine 60 Minutes, during which Gibson was called to task for her many alleged manipulations. These included befriending a family with a young boy suffering from cancer in order to gain first-hand information of what the disease entailed, taking money meant for charitable purposes and keeping it, as well as misrepresenting her age.

The interview was not broadcast live, but there are no second takes when you're in the hot seat of a news program under studio lights. Gibson's real-time reactions and deflections were fascinating to behold—she seemingly just couldn't stop lying—and her interviewer, Tara Brown, let her off the hook for nothing. 

Jamie Kennedy rings in the end of his career

There should be no reason to remember the New Year's Eve broadcast that aired on Los Angeles-based KDOC-TV during the final moments of 2012. As a local station's live show, it's mission was to idle on the airwaves while most people are out partying. It should have come and gone with barely any notice, an yet people have kept coming back to this broadcast over the years to relive the memories from that night, because this New Year's show was so awful, poorly-done, and off-the-rails that it went viral and made history.

It's hard to describe the migraine headache that is "First Night 2013." It's procession of paid professionals falling on their faces is a ringing example of the dangers of live television. Many scenes find the host, Jamie Kennedy, looking lost on stage, not knowing when the show is live or when the camera is on him. 

On the technical side, the show was full of dead air, with the control room training cameras on people who aren't ready and switching away from people who are trying to mug for the screen, sometimes in a hard cut to commercial. Whomever was in charge of bleeping profanity missed their marks consistently, and the show concluded by screwing up the countdown clock, officially ringing in the New Year later than everyone else—at which point a fist fight broke out on-stage. It's a solid gold classic of live TV failure, and must be seen to be believed.

Mariah Carey drops the ball

Okay, we know—nothing short of the End of Days could really end the career of Mariah Carey, a Teflon diva who appears to regard all criticism as nothing more significant than a mote of dust on the shoulder of a Gucci bomber jacket. But Queen Mimi doesn't do herself a lot of favors, making the sorts of unforced errors and career left-turns that would surely topple the career of, well, anyone but Carey.

The "Vision of Love" singer had a high-profile live mishap in 2016 when she closed out the New Year's Rockin' Eve show in Times Square with a cringe-inducing, non-starter of a performance. After hours of buildup for her headlining show, Carey took the stage as her music began playing with a smirk and a shrug and announced "Happy New Year—we can't hear." 

As the music played and her dancers twirled around her, Carey pitched the song to the audience, walking the stage and running out the clock, unable to hear and unwilling to sing. "I'm trying to be a good sport, here," she says as the song wraps, before moving on to another song that was largely lip-synced.

Carey's team and the show's production staff would later blame each other for the audio mishap, but all of the headlines focused on Carey and her "disastrous performance." 

Mariah's response? A succinct "s**t happens" and a GIF of herself shrugging. Now that's how you deal with the media, kids.