10 Weirdest Paths to Stardom: Jennifer Lopez, Bruno Mars, Sean Combs - Rolling Stone
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The 10 Weirdest Paths to Superstardom

Sheryl Crow wrote McDonald’s jingles, Paula Abdul was a Laker Girl and Diddy washed cars

The Mickey Mouse Club, (clockwise from upper center): Nikki DeLoach, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, T.J. Fantini, Tate Lynche, 1989-94.

The Mickey Mouse Club, (clockwise from upper center): Nikki DeLoach, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, T.J. Fantini, Tate Lynche, 1989-94.

© Buena Vista Television/ Courtesy: Everett Collection

Superstars often seem to incubate behind closed doors, honing their craft until they can burst on the scene and stun us all into buying whatever they make. In reality, few masters of the celebrity biz can make it without testing their wings in the kinds of small, often embarrassing public venues they wouldn’t be caught dead in after the Grammys are in hand. Whether it’s the hip-hop mogul who once washed the cars of record label execs or the many who sang total nonsense on TV, there isn’t one one among our list of superstars who didn’t lick a boot or two to get to the Promise Land.

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Sheryl Crow

It’s easy to sing an upbeat song about how every day is a winding road when your road happens to have led to fame, fortune and above-average blonde highlights. That’s the story for Sheryl Crow, who made her living composing television jingles for corporate giants like Toyota and McDonald’s (Mickey D’s reportedly paid her $40,000 for a single ad) before landing a gateway gig singing backup on Michael Jackson’s “Bad World” tour. In the process of shilling for the man, Crow penned a surprisingly compelling lyric: “It’s a good time for the great taste of McDonald’s.”

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Paula Abdul

Paula Abdul was class president and head cheerleader in high school, but she wisely chose to ignore the call of higher office. Instead, she chose to take advantage of her ability to kick super high. The pint-size dancer won a coveted spot as a Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader while in college, shooting to the role of head choreographer by the time she was 19. Her routines ended up impressing the all-powerful Jackson family sitting courtside. In no time Abdul was Janet Jackson's right-hand lady, creating signature moves like the snakey one in "Pleasure Principle" before scoring her own record deal.

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Photos: Random Notes

Courtesy of Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars

It's not possible to watch the 1990 documentary Viva Elvis without having your heart squeezed by a fiery-eyed four-year-old kid nicknamed Bruno, then the world's youngest ­ and adorablest ­ professional Elvis impersonator. Bruno grew up to become Grammy-winner Bruno Mars, but not before achieving modest celebrityhood at a very young age for his impersonation abilities, even scoring a cameo role performing Elvis' "Can't Help Falling in Love" in the Nic Cage/Sarah Jessica Parker flick Honeymoon in Vegas.

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Jennifer Lopez

Twice rejected for a spot as a fly girl on the sketch comedy show In Living Color, Jennifer Lopez finally took the stage in 1990, dancing alongside future Dancing With the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba. Then a brunette straight out of the Bronx, Jennifer stuck around for two seasons before leaving, citing tension with another dancer. But her tense stay on the show paid off: ­ She reportedly landed her first acting gig through the producer husband of another fly-girl, setting her on a the path to superstardom.

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Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake

Before there was Xtina, there was "The Diva," the nickname 12-year-old Christina Aguilera earned for her stratospheric voice when she, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears were newbies on the second-to-last season of Disney's Mickey Mouse Club. The platform was a direct pipeline into the hearts of little girls, and its alums didn't waste any time. Justin found a girlfriend and a future bandmate in Britney and JC Chasez respectively, and Britney and Christina went on to score solo record deals during a time of boy-and-girl-band mania. Meanwhile, that kid that the three future superstars are dancing behind is nowhere to be found.

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Tori Amos

Tori Amos might be the queen of dark piano rock, but her first nationwide appearance at the piano was a sunny 1985 commercial for Kellogg's "Just Right" cereal, a spot she won over a then-unknown Sarah Jessica Parker. The song is limited to a grand total of five words ­ "Oooh," "Mmm," "Aaah," and "Just right!" ­Not exactly profound, but Amos credits this and other disappointing gigs she took after moving to L.A. as the kick in the pants she needed to land a record deal.

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Sean Combs

Sean "Puffy" (or whatever) Combs honed his managerial instincts by dropping out of Howard University for an unpaid internship at the now-defunct hip hop label Uptown Records. The position had him shlepping for coffee, washing cars and running tapes for nothing but pats on the head, but the hungry baby mogul-in-the-making managed to impress founder Andre Harrell enough to nab a paid position, eventually rising to A&R exec and signing artists like Jodeci and Mary J. Blige before Uptown fired him over managerial differences. A few signings, albums and name-changes later, and Combs became the scowling superstar we know today.

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©MGM Television/ Courtesy: Everett Collection

Fergie

In the cartoon world of Charlie Brown, Charlie's sister Sally dreams of growing up to be a nurse, just so she can wear the white shoes. In real life, the girl who played Sally on TV grew up to become the lead singer of a band that performs to sold-out stadiums and disappointed Superbowl-goers. Yes, the grande dame of the Black-Eyed Peas was once the voice of Sally Brown, Charlie's headstrong younger sister. Stacy Ann Ferguson, as she was known then, voiced two movies and four episodes of the Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show back in the Eighties while also starring in Kids Incorporated, before going on to win a Grammy. It's not practical nurse shoes, but it's something.

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Ke$ha

Of all the girls who Katy Perry pretends to kiss in the music video for “I Kissed a Girl,” only one emerged as a rival: Kesha Sebert, a.k.a. Ke$ha. After moving with her mom and brother to Los Angeles under the advice of girl-pop tastemaker Dr. Luke, Ke$ha started out in high-profile bit parts ­ singing background vocals for the likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, and making bedroom eyes at Katy Perry. She wasn’t so game though when it came to appearing in the video for the single that launched her career, Flo Rida’s “Right Round,” refusing on the grounds that she didn’t want to look like a “sexpot” for Flo’s sake.

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Diana Ross

Before Diana Ross signed to Motown Records, she worked as a secretary for Motown CEO Berry Gordy. At the time, Gordy considered Ross too young to represent, so he paid her to file papers in the Motown offices until she turned 17, at which point he relented. What followed was a storied singing career and an equally storied romance between Ross and the thrice-married Gordy, who's managed to sire eight children with six women ­ (Ross included) ­ over the course of a romantic life that reads like a Playboy manual. Let the secretary innuendos begin!

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