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Before They Were Stars: 12 Celebs Who Got Their Start on 'Star Search'

by Kim Potts, posted Apr 14th 2011 3:00PM

This week's premiere of WE TV's reality series 'Sinbad: It's Just Family' clued us in to what the comedian is up to these days, and also got us wondering: What other stars got their showbiz starts on 'Star Search'?

This Where Are They Now? feature is a bit of a reversal on AOL TV's usual WATNs, because this one is less about about where they are now as it is where they were then. Did you know that Dave Chappelle and Norm McDonald tried to get laughs in the comedy competition, for example? Or that Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé got their starts in the show's talent portion?

Read on for 12 video clips of celebs you may or may not remember from their 'Star Search' days...

The 1980s 'I Think We're Alone Now' pop diva has posed for Playboy, released several dance tunes that have charted on Billboard, competed on 'Celebrity Fit Club' and 'Hulk Hogan's Celebrity Championship Wrestling' and, most recently, co-starred with fellow pop star Debbie Gibson in the Saturday night Syfy cheesefest flick 'Mega Python vs. Gatoroid.' But back in 1985, she was losing out to a cloying singer named Melissa Moultrie on 'Star Search.'

Britney Spears
Pop superstar, wife, wife again, mother, meltdown-sufferer and, tentatively, pop star once again. But check out the bow-headed Britney on 'Star Search' in 1992, belting out an impressive version of 'Love Can Build a Bridge.' Seriously, is that dress and that bow about to swallow her up, or what? Brit won in her first round of 'Search' competition but lost in round two.

Alanis Morissette
The new mom hasn't released a new album since 2008, but she preformed one of her signature tunes, the naughty 'You Oughta Know,' as a duet with Crystal Bowersox on last season's 'American Idol' finale and popped up as obstetrician Audra on 'Weeds.' But before she did any of that -- becoming a Canadian and American pop star and Grammy winner -- she lost in the first round of 'Star Search' competition in 1988.

She's won more than a dozen Grammys, is one of the best-selling musical artists of all time, and is at work on her fourth studio album and starring in a Clint Eastwood–directed remake of 'A Star Is Born.' But the Beyoncé in the 1993 'Star Search' clip below is a singing, dancing, rapping member of the girl group Girl Tyme (yes, with a Y), a pre–Destiny's Child ensemble whose wack raps are reminiscent of those embarrassing beats David Silver used to unleash on 'Beverly Hills 90210.' Sadly, Girl Tyme lost out to rock band Skeleton Crew.

Bill Engvall
He's a member of the Blue Collar Comedy group, has starred in his own TBS sitcom and will host GSN's revival of the game show 'Lingo' this summer. But back in 1984, he was sporting a serious mullet when he took the 'Star Search' stage to challenge -- and lose to -- fellow comedian and eventual MTV 'Remote Control' host Ken Ober.

Rosie O'Donnell
She's starred in sitcoms, stole scenes from Madonna in 'A League of Their Own,' hosted a very successful daytime talk show, had a less successful but more provocative stint as a co-host on 'The View,' and is scheduled to launch a new talk show on Oprah's OWN network this fall. Back in 1984, Ed McMahon's daughter spotted her in a Long Island comedy club and offered to fly her to Los Angeles to compete on 'Star Search.' She won five weeks in a row, launching her career.

Dave Chappelle
His classic Comedy Central sketch series was so funny that we still secretly hold out hope that he'll decide to resume it someday. Chappelle's career was given a boost by his 1993 appearance on 'Star Search,' in which he earned a perfect four stars and charmed host McMahon with a reference to the 'Tonight Show' sidekick's famous Alpo commercials. Chappelle, as McMahon notes, was a mere 19 years old at the time.

Drew Carey
'The Price Is Right' host has starred in a successful sitcom, produced and hosted the U.S. version of 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' and just debuted his latest series, 'Drew Carey's Improv-a-Ganza,' this week. And it all got started with his 1988 run on 'Star Search,' which kicked off with some tie jokes.

Martin Lawrence
The former boxer has had a hit stand-up career and a hit sitcom with 'Martin'; his Feb. movie sequel 'Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son' has earned more than $75 million at the box office; and he's rumored to star in another sequel, 'Bad Boys III,' in 2012. And his comedy career took off with his 1987 appearance on 'Star Search,' as he went on to win multiple rounds and caught the attention of TV execs who cast him in 'What's Happening Now!!'

Christina Aguilera
She's won a handful of Grammys, sold more than 50 million albums and, later this month, debuts as a judge/mentor on 'The Voice,' NBC's answer to 'American Idol.' But in this 1990 'Star Search' video, one of her first TV appearances, Aguilera finished in second place (though her ability to belt out an amazing tune was evident with her performance of Etta James' 'A Sunday Kind of Love').

Justin Timberlake
Mega-successful boy bander, Grammy-winning solo artist, actor and the man who didn't lie about bringing sexy back. But in this 1992 'Star Search' clip, an 11-year-old J.T. -- he went by the name Justin Randall at the time -- failed to woo the judges and the ladies, as he lost out to 10-year-old Anna Nardona despite his spirited cover of Alan Jackson's 'Love's Got a Hold on You.'

Norm McDonald
'Weekend Update' anchor on 'Saturday Night Live,' Burt Reynolds impersonator, movie star, frequent TV guest star, high-stakes poker player and, as of this week, host of the hilarious new Comedy Central sports-themed series 'Sports Show With Norm McDonald,' McDonald wears what just may be the ugliest, most ill-fitting jacket ever in this 1990 'Star Search' clip.

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I never know that these stars got their breaks through reality shows. They deserve being a hollywood star right now. They are really amazing even at young age. I have also read an article like this here http://www.exploretalent.com/articles/top-10-hollywood-stars-who-got-started-from-reality-tv/ , with some new stars from reality shows where they also got their big break.

January 21 2015 at 3:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Adam Brown

Adam Sandler was there too!

February 20 2014 at 3:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Horton

Never did understand the popularity of this song.Even Etta James can't do more than spruce it up around the edges http://bit.ly/hH0BBN

April 26 2011 at 2:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The show was rigged. I was in a competing band that made it to the semi-finals. During the pre-taping, a show/union rep came around with the AFTRA release forms that every performer had to sign, automatically deducting union dues from our paychecks. You cannot appear on television as a singer or speaker unless you are in AFTRA or SAG union. I was already an active AFTRA member and refused to sign away dues I'd already paid. The rep didn't believe me. An argument ensued and we were branded 'troublemakers'. During our live taping, stagehands purposely set mic stands in the curtain path which got knocked over as the cameras rolled. Then, the huge star over the stage came crashing down on the stage....all this in front of a live audience

April 18 2011 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I saw Drew Carey, when he was on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson for the first time in 1991. Johnny mentioned Drew being on Star Search.

April 18 2011 at 1:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Some people are wondering where their favorites are like Sam Harris. He was a great singer. He isn't listed because he isn't a star today. This is about current stars. You can always look up people on You Tube or Google or Yahoo then. Look up your favorites from the past and enjoy. I do.

April 17 2011 at 10:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They did not mention Sawyer Brown.

April 17 2011 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Aaliyah was on star search.

April 17 2011 at 7:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Linda Eder

April 17 2011 at 7:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

i never knew so many folks got their big breaks through " star Search" . Thats good Stuff...................

April 17 2011 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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