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Justin Timberlake: A 21st Century Icon

Updated on January 31, 2013

Tennessee Titan

Justin Timberlake has been in the public eye for over 2/3 of his life or twenty years. In that time he has managed to go from wearing many hats as a young child star on Star Search and the Mickey Mouse Club to a young superstar on the rise as a member of N'Sync, to go becoming the biggest solo artist to make it big from a boy band since MIchael Jackson. And along the way he has managed to do many other things such as start a fashion label, open a restaurant, and star in quite a few movies.

Along the way there have been bumps on the road, however, he has managed to be one of the pioneers of using social media by using his name as a brand.

So we'll travel from Tennessee to Tinseltown to everywhere in between as we chronicle his life and career so far.

From Cowboy Hats to Mouse Ears

Justin Timberlake was born January 31, 1981- the first and only child born to Randy and Lynn Timberlake. His parents were only twenty years old at the time and barely out of childhood themselves. Nevertheless, young Justin found himself in the middle of his parents divorce by the time he was three.

For the next few years it was Justin and his mom trying to get by. Even though there were struggles, there was much solace found in the music Lynn played. A multi-instrumentalist herself, she played her favorite records from classic R&B artists such as Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, and Al Green. By the time Justin was a toddler, he could sing perfect harmony to the radio in the car.

At some point young Justin fell in love with music so much he persuaded his mom to let him take vocal lessons. At the same time, he was in love with basketball- however the pull between the two was causing friction as Justin would expose himself to the elements practicing. So his mom finally gave him an ultimatum between music and basketball. Fatefully enough, Justin chose music.

By the time he was nine, he was in several talent shows for his school. He eventually entered a pageant and was crowned the first ever Mr. Tennessee.

From there his vocal coach thought it would be good that he go to Star Search and compete. Under the name Justin Randall and with a ten gallon hat and Alan Jackson tune to boot, he did just that. Unfortunately he lost but it proved to be a fateful time. On the same set of Star Search was the All-New Mickey Mouse Club. And in 1992 they were holding open auditions.

Ten-year-old Justin begged his mom to allow him to audition. He did and that year he was part of the newest cast members of the All-New Mickey Mouse Club. Alongside young Justin was Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Ryan Gosling. Although they were only on the last two seasons of the show, this class of Mouseketeers would have the biggest impact on pop culture.

The Happiest Place in Florida

The MIckey Mouse Club was a breeding ground. Justin and his peers were exposed to the old Hollywood system of breading triple threats. Each Mouseketeer was expected to learn all of the song and dance numbers as well as the comedic bits for the week while being tutored for the time they missed in school.

But there was no shortage of fun onset. In fact, Justin was roommates with Ryan Gosling. Since the young Goz was a Canadian and his mom had to work to support them back home, Justin's mom, Lynn graciously offered to be his guardian for some time while they were at the MMC.

Justin was around fourteen when the Mickey Mouse Club ended and decidedly went back to Tennessee to finish school but kept in contact with an influential friend and fellow cast mate from the Mickey Mouse Club, JC Chasez. JC was five years older and in many ways the big brother that Justin never had.

The two clicked so well they decided to write songs together and see what would happen- as fate would have it another young man working at Universal Studios in Florida where interested in both JC and Justin for a new boy group he was forming.

Chris Kirkpatrick was working alongside Joey Fatone doing skits and shows in Orlando around the same time Justin and JC were on the MMC. The two crossed paths and when Chris decided to follow his dream of being in music, he called them.

With Joey on board alongside JC and Justin, all Chris needed was a bass singer. Thankfully, Justin's vocal coach, Bob (whatshisname) had another client with a suitable voice. The ironically named Lance Bass was intrigued by his coach's invitation and despite his mother's reservations was allowed to join the group. The rest they say was history.

The Seven Year Itch

N'Sync began in 1995 like most groups do, struggling to put together a show and a demo tape for record executives. They remained huddled in Florida perfecting choreography and vocals.

Word did get around and music impresario Lou Pearlman agreed to come on board alongside Johnny Wright and manage the fellas. Justin and Lance were not yet of age, so their moms tagged along to ensure their safety.

After inking a deal with RCA records, they began working on their debut album in the pop music capital of Europe, Stockholm, Sweden. Working with the same producers as the Backstreet Boys (who were also managed by Lou Pearlman), they produced some bubble gum ditties that are stuld held closely in the hearts of many young adults.

N'Sync then toured Europe through most of 1996 and 1997 before finally deciding to return stateside and launch their attack on teenage girls. While the Backstreet Boys had claimed many fans, there was still room for another boy band.

In 1998, N'Sync's self-titled debut dropped to little fanfare but quickly rose up the charts thanks to the charm and dance moves of the fellows. Justin, being the youngest got the attention of many young girls with his smile and trademark curls.

That being said, they spent a good bit of the next two years making appearances and touring. However, as they discovered their hardwork paid off, just not for them. Lou Pearlman, who later was found to be running one of the most elaborate ponzi schemes in history held N'Sync and Backstreet Boys in slave-like contracts.

Finally having enough of lots of attention but little money, Justin and the guys pursued legal action while recording their second album, No Strings Attached. The album broke records and showcased a talent of Justin's many fans did not know he had- songwriting.

The tour would also go on to gross millions and spur an HBO concert special. Soon after, Justin began to be under constant speculation for two things: his hair and his girlfriend. His trademark curls, were the bane of his young existence and he tried every way to avoid the issues of a curly main- even going so far to sport corn rows.

On the subject of his love life, he and fellow Mouseketeer Britney Spears made their debut as a couple at the 2000 VMAs and claimed their spot as the prince and princess of pop. While this was going on, Justin and the rest of the guys were hard at work on their third and what would be final album, Celebrity.

The album took many fans and critics by surprise by being strongly influenced by 2-step and R&B music. Justin took a hand in co-producing and co-writing with fellow lead singer JC.

And in 2002, after the last leg of their Celebrity tour, Justin made the one announcement that would forever change his life.

JT Heartbreak

As we all know, 2002 was a monumental year in Justin's life. He announced that he and longtime girlfriend Britney Spears had split but even more devastating was the end of N'Sync.

Justin soon announced plans for a solo album. And he went to work on what would become one of the most celebrated debut albums since the likes of Off the Wall and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Instead of flocking to the producers that he had grown accustomed to working with as a member of N'Sync such as Max Martin- Justin decided to work with contemporary hip-hop producers, Timbaland and the Neptunes.

With Pharrell and Chad of the Neptunes, he rewrote and reworked the tracks Michael Jackson rejected for what would become Invincible, his final studio album. Songs such as "Rock Your Body" formed the basis for Justin's signature dance floor inducing sound.

However, it was his work with Timbaland that garnered the most attention."Cry Me A River", arguably the most autobiographical track of Justin's career was written under what Justin calls a blackout state. The song is rumored to be about the fatal demise of his relationship with Britney Spears. While we never know the truth, the video definitely spoke volumes.

It was in this moment that the world realized that JT was no longer the curly haired cute one but the swaggering icon of pop new millennium pop.

In his promotional tour for Justified, he hosted Saturday Night Live in 2003 and served as musical guest. This was a turning point as it turned many casting agents and directors on to the talents of Justin and would help jump start his acting career.

Controversy and Coronations

In 2004, still riding high from the release of Justified, Justin Timberlake was basking in a new contract with McDonald's for its new campaign I'm Loving It. He also joined Janet Jackson on stage for what would be the most infamous Super Bowl performance of all time.

Yeah, I'm talking about that one. While it is arguable who is to blame and what really happened, most can agree it was stupid to think that it would work without a flaw.

Also in 2004, he picked up his first two Grammys. One for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for "Cry Me A River" and another for Best Pop Vocal Album for Justified.

Timberlake spent most of 2004 and 2005 pursuing acting. Instead of going for the bigger roles or vehicles that appealed to his demographic, Justin found bit parts in independent and lower budget films. Not all of them were memorable but he finally broke through with 2006's Alpha Dog- based on a true story.

He also went back to work with Timbaland for his second album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. It was with this album that it was finally confirmed why JT had become our favorite boy bander to go solo since Michael Jackson. With his brazen debut single, "SexyBack"' which was number one for six weeks, Justin Timberlake took the world by storm again. The album would go on to produce several top ten singles including "My Love", "Summer Love", and "What Goes Around"...

His FutureSex/LoveShow tour would go on to be a best seller and give him his first special on HBO as a solo artist.

in 2007, he won two Grammys for best Dance Recording for "SexyBack" and best Rap-Sung Collaboration for "My Love" featuring T.I. And in 2008, he added two more to his mantle with Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for "What Goes Around" and Best Dance Recording for "LoveStoned."

In the meantime, Justin showed no signs of slowing down.

New Blue Eyes

In 2008, Justin finished his second solo tour and began to go back to working in film. He also focused on expanding his fashion label William Rast.

He also worked with Timbaland on producing hits for other artists such as Madonna, 50 Cent, and Rihanna. Let's not forget he began his own record label, Tennman Records.

While through the years he had heard several Michael Jackson comparisons, he revealed that one of his biggest inspirations as an entertainer was none other than Frank Sinatra.

And it showed, his film credits grew and in 2010 he was part of the ensemble cast for The Social Network. Timberlake received the best reviews for his acting in his portrayal of Napster co-founder Sean Parker.

In 2011, he had his best acting year ever starring in Bad Teacher with ex-girlfriend Cameron Diaz, Friends with Benefits with the oh so funny Mila Kunis, and In Time with the doe-eyed Amanda Seyfried.

He also got engaged to longtime girlfriend, Jessica Biel. They would marry in October 2012. However, it was during this time Justin began to discreetly work on his next album with longtime collaborator, Timbaland.

Suiting Up

JT's third album, the highly anticipated 20/20 Experience will drop on March 19, 2013. The first single, "Suit and Tie" featuring Jay-Z is already outsold his previous best-selling digital single in its first week, "Sexy Back".

The single reveals a heavily R&B tinged sound that comes as no surprise to JT's core fans. He has said numerous times that growing up he fell in love with R&B music, especially Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson.

While the song has stirred controversy between fans about how good it is, there's no doubt many can agree that it feels good to have Justin back doing his day job!

Timberlake is slated to perform at the DirecTV Super Bowl Party on February 2nd. He also is geared up to co-star in the Coen Brothers feature, Inside Llewyn Davis which will open sometime in 2013.

It was also announced that Justin would perform at the Grammys on February 10th, his first time in four years.

At only 32, it's quite clear that this is just the beginning for Justin Timberlake and there will be more milestones to come from this 21st century triple threat.

Robin Thicke
Robin Thicke | Source

JT's Peers and Contemporaries

Unlike female pop stars, male pop stars seem to be analyzed more on their music than their theatrics. Justin Timberlake came about in 2002 as a solo artist and since then his sound has been disected and compared to many- Michael Jackson being the most obvious. However, here are a few that are still making music.

Ne-Yo: Both have an affinity for suits, hats, and suave dance grooves. However, many haven't really compared them as much as others but there are distinct similarities. Ne-Yo, however is known for a certain polish to his sound and has not deviated much from it. Ne-Yo was recently quoted as saying he'd love to work with JT.

Robin Thicke: If you ask most fans of either or both of these gentleman, this is a very lazy comparison. While they are both torch bearers of blue-eyed soul, their music is vastly different. Thicke, who is the son of television icon, Alan Thicke is known for making R&B that appeals mainly to urban audiences. Even though both have taken the comparison in stride, it would be interesting to see these two working together.

Bruno Mars: A few years younger than JT and a lot newer to the music scene, there are similarities in the fact both are heavily influenced by retro styles and differing eras of music. Not to mention the whole fedora thing. Bruno Mars recently hosed SNL and drew even more comparisons to Justin for his ability to draw laughs and hit notes.

Usher: Arguably, Justin's biggest competition and closest peer, he could be the Prince to his Michael or the Michael to his Prince- Usher has been a solo artist even longer than Justin. However, they have both been on the pop culture landscape in some capacity for nearly twenty years. While they both have drawn direct comparisons to Michael Jackson, they both deny having more in common than that.

JT Fun Facts

  • Though he grew up an only child, Justin is actually the oldest of his father's children. His half- sister, Laura Katherine died shortly after birth in 1997 and he dedicated N'Sync's first album to her. He also has two younger half-brothers on his father's side, Jonathan and Stephen.
  • HIs favorite singer of all-time is Donny Hathaway, the late soul singer best known for such classics as This Christmas, Where is the Love, and A Song for You.
  • JT is a Godfather! His lifelong best friend, Trace Ayala's daughter, Sophia is his goddaughter.
  • His clothing line William Rast is named after Justin's and Trace's grandfathers. William was the name of Justin's grandpa who died in late 2012 and Rast is the last name of Trace's grandfather, John Rast. The two also have pairs of jeans named after each of their maternal grandmothers.
  • He's hosted SNL a total of 4 times and has been the musical guest simultaneously three times.. His skits have been regarded as classic, even going viral. His most popular sketch was a tribute to 90s R&B with Andy Samberg "*** in a Box' won Justin his first Emmy.
  • Justin is known to enjoy golf and basketball in his spare time, but he also bakes! He once shared how his Grandma Sadie made one of her famous recipes on Good Morning America.
  • Justin plays several instruments including guitar, keyboard, drums, bass, and my personal favorite the keytar, as demonstrated on the FutureSex/LoveShow Tour.


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    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Vocalcoach,

      He definitely stole the show in all the right ways :)! Thank you.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Well he's getting closer by the year! Thanks Leslie :).

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      He's won 3 last night and a career total of 6. The announcer always confuses people with that!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      4 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      What a marvelous tribute to JT. He kind'a, well, stole the show tonight. I love his acting. Thanks for a job well done!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I love JT but I wouldn't call him an Icon just yet.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      4 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Six AMA awards so far tonight for Justin! WTG JT!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thank you Careermommy!

    • Careermommy profile image

      Tirralan Watkins 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Wow, great hub, Alecia. I've always liked JT and remember him from the Mickey Mouse Days, and was also was an N'sync fan. Great article, very well written and researched.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Jeannie,

      Now you're not a perv. You're a tried and true JT fan! Thanks for coming by and commenting.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Learn Things Web,

      I think those shows have lead to a change but I think people are getting tired of it. A lot of these people win and disappear into oblivion unless they make a strong impact out the gate.

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie InABottle 

      5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Oh, I can't even believe Justin is in his 30s. Thanks for sharing his birthdate with us. All this time I thought I was some perv or cougar thinking dirty thoughts of Justin. Now I realize it is totally acceptable. Hey, thanks for that, Alecia!

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 

      5 years ago from California

      Shows like American Idol and X Factor actually have led to a change in how at least some talent gets discovered. I'm not sure if these shows are starting to lose their appeal or not though.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Learn Things Web,

      I understand exactly what you mean. Some stars I forget were child stars either because it was before my time or they've been around so long. I didn't know Jason Bateman was the kid from Silver Spoons or Justine Bateman's brother until a few years ago.

      And it is interesting how boy bands have changed in the last fifteen years, but either way it seems to help new talent get discovered.

      Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 

      5 years ago from California

      It's very interesting to read about his background. We often know famous people so well but have no idea about how they got where they are. The background stories can be really fascinating. I didn't know Justin was a child star. It also seems like some of the early boy bands weren't actually the creations of record labels like you have today with a group like One Direction. They actually had to go find a label.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi beth,

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 

      5 years ago from Tennesee

      This is a really interesting article about JT. I'm not overly impressed with him as a singer but I think he's a good actor. And I enjoyed reading more about him, thanks for posting!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Michelle!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      This young man has come a long way since his Mickey Mouse Days. Enjoyed it immensely, Alecia! Sharing!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi teaches12345,

      Thanks for coming by and commenting :).

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Au fait,

      Thanks so much I'm glad you enjoyed this hub!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      I am not a fan of Justin, but I have seen him in movies and he is very talented. Great tribute to this actor.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      5 years ago from North Texas

      I think Justin Timerlake is so talented in his music! This is a great tribute to him. Great hub Alecia! Very interesting and awesome!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Lady E,

      Yeah I don't think we'll ever shake "SexyBack" but I remember that performance and it was indeed very fitting.

    • Lady_E profile image


      5 years ago from London, UK

      Lovely Tribute and he is very talented. One of my favourite songs of his is: "I'm bringing Sexy back" - He also sang it on one of the Victoria Secret Fashion shows. Perfect....

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Jools,

      I agree Justin has definitely evolved and it has been fun to watch. I definitely can't wait for his new album. Thank you for coming by and commenting!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Tillsontitan,

      I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. Even if JT doesn't see it, I'm glad so many people delighted in reading it. Thank you for your comments and votes!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      5 years ago from North-East UK

      Fab hub Alecia. I watched him in a movie last week and he is turning into quite an accomplished leading man and I really like him. I really enjoy his music too. My daughter used to love N'Sync and that is when I was first introduced to him but he has certainly 'come of age' as a musician since then.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      Wow! When you decide to write about someone you do a heck of a job! So much good information, this is almost like a biography. You made it interesting and fun to read. I hope SS's tip gets you some JT recognition, you certainly deserved it.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and very interesting.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Maria,

      I don't think I brought sexy back but thank you! I'm definitely excited for March now as well. Thanks as always for coming by and commenting!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA


      You do a fabulous job of 'giving us the skinny', especially on JT. Aside from the interesting read, thank you for 'bringing sexy back'.

      I am checking out his March gift to us...thanks for the introduction and letting us know. Voted UP & UABI. Hugs, Maria

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks tipster!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Someone has tipped @jtimberlake off! :)

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Nell,

      Yeah I think it's safe to say he knows how to be a chameleon in show business. Thanks so much for coming by and sharing your thoughts :)/! (And I hope you're feeling better!)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      well detailed hub about his life, and so fascinating! I have never really taken any notice of his music but he's a clever guy. to keep changing and adapting over the years has kept this guy going, really interesting and voted up!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Vibesites,

      I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks for your support!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Christy,

      I'm excited for more as well. I hope he does a mashup at the Grammys. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting!

    • vibesites profile image


      5 years ago from United States

      I'm not a fan but I was drawn into reading this hub, I like the fun facts in particular. Hehehehe. And happy birthday to Justin T. :)

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      JT has come a long way since N'Sync, hasn't he! I heard the new single on the radio and now am excited for more :)

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi billybuc,

      Yeah I think he's definitely some talent especially to be around this long. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Alocsin,

      Yeah he's definitely older but until he's on the oldies station- I won't consider him old guard. Thanks for coming by!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Sunshine,

      I hope so too. He's an active tweeter so hopefully someone will tip him off. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      He is actually a pretty good actor. I'm not enamored with him, but I will admit he has some talent. :) Good job!

    • alocsin profile image


      5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I am feeling very old -- I remember when Justin Timberlake was just a kid and now he's one of the old guard. Didn't know that about Ryan Gosling though. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I sure hope JT reads this fabulous tribute to him, I'm sure he'll appreciate it as much as I do! Justin is a good guy and a smart businessman. He's come a long way and continues to climb upwards. Superb hub Alecia!!!


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