'Star Search' Losers Who Made It Big

Britney Spears, Drew Carey, Rosie O'Donnell and 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake are all big stars now, but back in the 1980s, the judges on Star Search didn't think they had what it takes.

All of them lost on the popular TV talent competition — though their appearances ended up helping them launch their careers.

The show, hosted by Ed McMahon, was also a stepping stone for future stars like LeAnn Rimes, Dennis Miller, Christina Aguilera, Sinbad, Alanis Morisette, Ray Romano and Martin Lawrence.

Britney Spears vs. Marty Thomas

Back in 1992, 12-year-old Marty Thomas beat out his Star Search competitor — an 11-year-old named Britney Spears.

"I remember walking offstage thinking, 'She's going to beat me,'" said Thomas. When the judges him gave him four out of four stars, Thomas said he was "shocked out of my mind."

Thomas went on to have a singing career that has taken him from television to Radio City Music Hall. But the cute brunette who walked off the Star Search stage in defeat went on to be a multimillion-dollar, platinum-selling phenomenon — and a blonde.

Thomas said Spears had the drive to become a star, even back then.

"She wanted it. She wanted it bad," he said. "She worked. That's what you've got to do."

Asked if he feels any envy now, Thomas said: "There's always going to be a certain amount of, 'Man, I wish that were me.' But I've never for a minute felt jealous of it. I've never for a minute felt anything but sheer pride for her."

Drew Carey vs. Joe Yannetty

The first time he was on Star Search, comedian Joe Yannetty went up against Drew Carey.

"I just remember feeling really confident and cocky and knew that I was going to go out and win," he said.

And Carey remembers that his competitor was less than gracious. "He came up to me right before I went on," said Carey of Yannetty, "and he said 'Hey, it's a nice suit. A nice suit to lose in.'"

But Yannetty's willing to acknowledge the tables have turned. As he told Carey much later, "I beat you by half a star, and you beat me by half a billion dollars."

Rosie O'Donnell vs. Steve Mittleman

With only two minutes to make an impression, Steve Mittleman competed against Rosie O'Donnell, who had won on Star Search multiple times. In a way, he says, that gave him a lucky break.

"I think she had won, I don't know, eight, nine, 10 times, and she was starting to run out of material," he said.

Mittleman won their face-off, and has continued a career as a stand-up comic. But the consistent exposure O'Donnell had already gotten, he says, is what gave her the real payoff.

Justin Timberlake vs. Anna Nardona

"I loved the attention, the audiences, the applause," remembers Anna Nardona, who was just 10 years old when she beat her opponent, an 11-year-old singer named Justin Randall.

Nardona now works at a preschool day-care center in Connecticut, while her Star Search competitor has since changed his name to Justin Timberlake, and joined a group called 'N Sync.

Nardona was eventually knocked out of the competition by a cute 5-year-old, and she says that also knocked the wind out of her ambition to become a singing star.

"I was really embarrassed by it. And I lost it," she said. "I didn't lose my talent. I lost my interest. But I know deep down in my heart, I'm meant to sing."

This story originally aired on 20/20 on Nov. 28, 2001.

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