Star Search has earned a posthumous reputation as ground zero for a generation that subsequently remade popular music in the late 1990s. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake (then known as "Justin Randall"), Usher, Aaliyah, Destiny's Child (then known as Girls Tyme) and LeAnn Rimes are just some of the few who competed on Ed McMahon's cheesy syndicated series back in the 1980s and early 1990s. (Remember those awful "spokesmodel" modeling shoots with the soft-focus lighting?) Websites flourish with vintage clips of stars that got their first national exposure through the series. It was a precursor to American Idol, The Voice, The X-Factor and the innumerable singing competitions flooding our airwaves today.
One of American Idol's innovations was to invest marketing dollars in its winners and to award them major-label deals, in order to burnish its reputation as a star-maker. By contrast, Star Search trotted out new faces every week to perform against a reigning champion in head-to-head categories like junior vocalist, vocal group, and male and female vocalist. (There were also categories for comedy, dance … and spokesmodel). The winner was determined by a panel of judges, not a call-in vote, and the performer with the most weekly wins was named the grand champion.
The only singer to closely associate himself with Star Search was Sam Harris -- its inaugural grand prize champion in 1983 -- who tried to launch a career based on his series-defining rendition of "Over the Rainbow." The subsequent flop of his 1984 debut may have scared off others; when Tiffany emerged from the shopping mall courtyard-concert circuit -- yes, there was such a thing -- with the 1987 No. 1 hit "I Think We're Alone Now," press coverage barely mentioned that she got her start on Star Search. While the series aired for over 10 seasons, it didn't have much standing as an arbiter of pop influence.
In the wake of the megastardom of Britney, Xtina and Justin's ['NSYNC], Star Search briefly relaunched in 2003 with Arsenio Hall as host. Though a few new stars were discovered, particularly Karina Pasian of "16 @ War" fame, the show's heyday was over. Today, it's best remembered as an inadvertent catalyst for the teen pop takeover of the new millennium.