- Justin Bieber’s mom began uploading YouTube videos of her son singing in 2007, while Post Malone got his start on SoundCloud.
- Katy Perry started off as a gospel singer.
Everyone’s gotta start somewhere.
From a young Justin Bieber singing his heart out on YouTube, to Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera honing their talents on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” the world’s most famous musicians were once just like everyone else in the business: trying to make it big.
Keep scrolling to see your favorite artists before they climbed the charts.
Before she was a certified diva, Mariah Carey was just trying to promote her new record.
BET and Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
It’s hard to believe that Mariah Carey was once unknown, but in the early 1990s, her career was just getting started.
She made her national television debut on “The Arsenio Hall Show” in 1991, shortly after releasing her first single, “Vision of Love.” Hall introduced her as a “very impressive young talent,” and Carey’s performance earned thunderous applause. She’s since won five Grammys and 32 Billboard Music Awards — and broken multiple chart records.
Britney Spears was on “Star Search” in 1984, before becoming the Princess of Pop.
CBS and C Flanigan/FilmMagic via Getty Images
Britney Spears got her start young. She first appeared on Star Search in 1992, at age 11, singing a strong rendition of “Love Can Build A Bridge.” Her stage charisma was undeniable, but Spears only made it to round two of the competition. She later joined “The Mickey Mouse Club,” and, after scoring a smash with 1999’s “Baby One More Time,” quickly became known as the “Princess of Pop.”
She’s one of the best-selling music artists of all time.
Like Spears, Christina Aguilera got her start on “Star Search.”
CBS and Michael Tran/FilmMagic via Getty Images
Another pop diva, Christina Aguilera got her start even younger. The fledgling musician appeared on “Star Search” at the age of 9 in 1989, singing Etta James’ “Sunday Kind of Love.” Like Spears, Aguilera was eliminated early on — but she soon joined “The Mickey Mouse Club” and saw a meteoric rise to success after her song “Genie in a Bottle” was released in 1999.
A young Whitney Houston debuted on “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1983, and Griffin called her “simply breathtaking.”
NBC and Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Whitney Houston was completely unknown until musical magnate Clive Davis discovered her in the early ’80s. Davis set up her first performance on “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1983 — when Houston was just 19 years old — by saying, “There’s Lena Horne, there’s Dionne Warwick, and now this.”
Houston didn’t release her debut album until two years later, but after that, her career sky-rocketed. She remained one of the world’s most lauded singers until her death in 2012.
Alanis Morissette was big-haired and upbeat on her 1990 “Star Search” appearance.
CBS and Don Arnold/WireImage
Five years before “You Oughta Know” swept the national airwaves in 1995, Canadian rocker Alanis Morissette was trying to get her name out there on “Star Search.” She appeared on the popular talent competition in 1990, singing a surprisingly upbeat song and styling big hair and neon clothes — a stark contrast to the grungy image she would later assume.
“Jagged Little Pill” — the album that spawned several hits, including “You Oughta Know” — would go on to be nominated for nine Grammys, and it remains one of the best-selling albums of all time.
Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube.
Youtube/Justin Bieber and Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/Redferns
Justin Bieber’s mom began uploading videos of her son singing to YouTube in 2007. Bieber was just 12 years old when producers discovered the videos, flew him out to Atlanta to audition, and quickly paired him up with a mentor, Usher. Almost immediately, Bieber released “One Time” and became an international phenomenon.
Taylor Swift got her foot in the door writing and singing country songs before her pivot to pop.
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc via Getty Images and Steve Granitz/WireImage via Getty Images
It’s no secret that Swift got her start singing country music. She moved from Pennsylvania to Nashville when she was just 14 to break into the music industry, soon becoming the youngest artist signed to the Sony/ATV Music publishing house. She wrote many of her early hits, like “Picture to Burn” and “Our Song,” and eventually crossed over from country to pop, establishing herself as one of the world’s biggest pop stars.
Sir Elton John came up in the ’70s.
NBC and Scott Legato/Getty Images
Sir Elton John released his first American album in 1970, and began to make television appearances at the time. That same year, he sang one of his now classics, “Your Song,” on The Andy Williams Show, a popular variety show at the time. He began to achieve success almost immediately, and has since won five Grammys, two Oscars, a Tony, a Kennedy Center Honor — and been knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
In 2007, Lady Gaga was excited about the launch of a single that kick-started her career.
Twitter/Lady Gaga and Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for ELLE Magazine
Lady Gaga tweeted this 2007 photo on her 32nd birthday. According to the star, it was taken right before she released her first single, “Just Dance,” which would go on to launch her career. Since then, she’s worn meat dresses and other outrageous outfits, dyed her hair blonde, won a slew of Grammys, and won an Oscar for her song, “Shallow,” from “A Star Is Born.”
Before Beyoncé achieved success with Destiny’s Child, she was in another group called Girls Tyme.
CBS and Larry Busacca/PW18/Getty Images for Parkwood Entertainment
Before Beyoncé went solo and achieved legendary status, she was part of Destiny’s Child — but before that she was in another all-girls group, Girls Tyme. The crew appeared on the 1993 season of “Star Search,” and Queen B actually samples the introduction to the performance in her song “***Flawless.”
When rapper B.o.B. released “Nothin’ On You” in 2010, everyone obsessed over Bruno Mars’ feature.
Mike Coppola/FilmMagic via Getty Images and Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
Bruno Mars achieved moderate success in the studio early in his career, writing hits for artists like K’Naan — but he wasn’t publicly known. This changed when B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ On You” became a hit in 2010, and soon after, Mars released his first solo single, “Just The Way You Are.” Since then, the “Uptown Funk” singer has become a hit machine.
Eminem was discovered by producer Dr. Dre in the late 1990s.
Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage via Getty Images and David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Rag & Bone via Getty Images
Eminem had a tough early life, which he traced in his biographical film “8 Mile” in 2002.
His career first took of when he was discovered by former N.W.A. member and producer Dr. Dre in the late 1990s — especially after the 1999 release of his first solo single, “My Name Is.” He went on TRL that same year to promote it, and would follow that with many more appearances, hit songs, and controversies. Eminem released a new album, Kamikaze, in 2018, and he even performed at the 2020 Oscars — although some viewers were confused about that.
Drake used to be an actor on “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”
CTV Television Network and Prince Williams/WireImage via Getty Images
The popular Canadian rapper Drake seems to produce hit after hit these days. But before music, Drake — real name Aubrey Graham — found minor success staring in the long-running teen soap opera “Degrassi: The Next Generation” as wheelchair-bound Jimmy Brooks. Drake began making hip-hop mixtapes while he was still working on the show, and eventually earned the attention of Lil Wayne. He was signed to Wayne’s label in 2008, and the rest is chart-topping history.
Madonna got her start as a backup dancer and New York “scenester.”
Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images and Venturelli/Getty Images for LDC Foundation
After dropping out of college, Madonna was determined to “make it” in New York in the early 1980s. She started work as a backup dancer, eventually signing a record deal with Sire and releasing her first single, “Burning Up,” in 1983. Her career lived beyond the ’80s: Madonna managed to score hits in the ’90s and 2000s, solidifying her title as the “Queen of Pop.”
Lil Wayne got his start at Cash Money Records at the ripe age of 16.
Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage via Getty Images and Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for BET
Before he went solo, rapper Lil Wayne started in the group Hot Boys signed to Cash Money Records. The group included up-and-coming rappers B.G., Juvenile, and Turk, in addition to Wayne, and spawned the moderately successful albums “Get It How U Live” (1997) and “Guerilla Warfare” (1999). Soon after, Wayne went solo and got even more successful, eventually founding Young Money Records, which later signed Drake and Nicki Minaj.
During her “19” era, Adele used to sport a beehive hairdo like Amy Winehouse.
Jay Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/Contour by Getty Images and Dan MacMedan/WireImage via Getty Images
Adele sky-rocketed to fame after the release of her 2008 album “19,” as its breakout single “Chasing Pavements” climbed the charts. At the time, Adele sported heavy eye makeup and a beehive hairdo, most likely emulating Amy Winehouse, an artist Adele has claimed “changed her life.” “19” marked the beginning of an amazing career: 15 Grammys later, Adele is still churning out hits.
Like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake was a member of the “Mickey Mouse Club.”
CBS and JB Lacroix/WireImage via Getty Images
Justin Timberlake was a young talent on “The Mickey Mouse Club” in the early 1990s. On the kid-friendly show, which was a breeding ground for future talent, Timberlake performed goofy skits and musical numbers — one of them with future *NSYNC member JC Chasez and Oscar-nominated actor Ryan Gosling. By 1995, though, *NSYNC had fully formed, and Justin Timberlake was on his way to superstardom.
At age 15, Rihanna sang Mariah Carey’s “Hero” — and was signed to a label a year later.
Youtube and Caroline McCredie/Getty Images for Fenty Beauty by Rihanna
Rihanna was signed to Def Jam records at just 16 years old, but before that she was a young singer from Barbados trying to make a name for herself. One of the earliest recordings of her is at a talent contest when the future pop star was just 15, singing Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” After sharpening up her skills, she released her first album, “Music of the Sun,” in 2005 — and has since secured her place as one of pop’s most popular acts with multiple Grammys and MTV awards.
Raised in a strict Christian household, Katy Perry started off as a gospel singer.
Youtube and Steve Granitz/WireImage via Getty Images
Pop royalty Katy Perry started out as a Christian singer in the early 2000s. Her first album was a gospel record called “Katy Hudson,” which is the singer’s real name, and it was actually well-received by critics. But it was a commercial flop, so Perry quickly switched directions, taking her mother’s maiden name and assuming a more “pop” identity. Over a decade and countless record-breaking songs later, it is safe to say the transition paid off.
Like many popular rappers today, Post Malone got his start on SoundCloud.
Raymond Hall/GC Images and Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Post Malone — real name Austin Post — dropped out of community college and moved out to LA only a few years ago. He claims to have gotten into music through Guitar Hero 2, which he quickly mastered and which led him to pick up a real guitar. After releasing his single “White Iverson” to SoundCloud to much success, Malone is now one of the most popular acts in music.