Justin Timberlake lost on "Star Search" in 1992, when he was 11 years old.
But he's been on a winning streak ever since.
The lean 'n' lithe singer from Tennessee made his mark first as part of "The New Mickey Mouse Club" -- where he hooked up with onetime girlfriend Britney Spears -- and then in the mega-platinum pop group *NSYNC. The ascent has only continued during his solo career, which began with 2002's quadruple-platinum "Justified" and is still rocking bodies with his new "FutureSex/LoveSounds."
Timberlake's sophomore set debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart with first-week sales of more than 684,000 -- 245,000 more than "Justified," which hit No. 2 for its debut. The album is nearing sales of three million and has launched three No. 1 hits -- "SexyBack," which won a Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording, "My Love" with rapper T.I., which took the Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and "What Goes Around Comes Around, Comes Around."
The video for the latter, which features actress Scarlett Johansson -- Timberlake's reported new squeeze, is iTunes' fastest-selling music video ever, with 50,000 downloads in its first four days.
Timberlake will host the Kids Choice Awards on March 31st.
"I don't place all of my enthusiasm, so to speak, into just album sales," explains Timberlake, 26, who with *NSYNC set a first-week sales record of 2.4 million copies for 2000's "No Strings Attached." He acknowledges, however, that "no one puts a record out to say, 'I hope it goes straight to No. 2. I think everyone wants to be No. 1.
"But I don't feel myself being competitive with the rest of the industry. It IS a business, but it's my art -- the latter half of that is more important to me. I'm just happy with the way the record came out. I think once I realized that success in the world of the music business is not as important as the personal success of what you feel you've created, that helped me a lot."
With cutting-edge club beats and old school soul melodies, plus hits such as "Cry Me a River" and "Rock Your Body," "Justified" helped Timberlake shed the image of teen pop star and lure a broader (i.e., more adult) audience -- though he claims "It wasn't something that I thought about."
But he had definite ideas in November of 2005 when -- after a lengthy break spent acting, globe-trotting with his then-girlfriend, actress Cameron Diaz, and working his golf game to a reported two handicap -- he and producer Timbaland (real name Tim Mosley) convened in the latter's Virginia Beach recording studio to craft Timberlake's next musical move.
"I was conscious of the fact I wanted to do something semi-different from 'Justified,' " explains Timberlake, who logged parts in the films "Black Snake Moan," "Southland Tales," "Edison Force" and "Alpha Dog" in the interim. He also voices a part in the upcoming "Shrek the Third."
"When we first met, I said to (Timbaland) that 'This has to sound like nothing that we've ever heard before. We have to find a niche in the studio that says, 'OK, not only are the songs equally as good as the ones on 'Justified,' but we have to grab people by the collar as far as the production and the sound of it.
"I definitely feel like, in taking our time and really being conscious of trying to create something that just sounded fresh, we did get, I don't want to say a NEW sound, but just something that sounded fresh."
Timberlake doesn't miss a chance to praise his main collaborator -- whose voluminous credits also include Missy Elliott, Snoop Dogg, the late Aaliyah, Jamie Foxx, Ludacris and Busta Rhymes -- for his sonic accomplishments on "FutureSex..." "He's so innovative, I think that he took to the challenge very well, and he definitely wasn't intimidated by it," notes the singer.
At the same time, however, Timberlake did not merely sit back and allow the producer to shape the album.
"Timbaland's always done his (musical) tracks. I never stepped on his toes before," notes Timberlake, who co-wrote all 12 songs and co-produced all but "Losing My Way," which was helmed by Rick Rubin. "But writing and producing this record was definitely more free. I would tinker with ideas on his drum machines, and it was just more open and free. If there was a guitar part, I would lay it down.
"We felt like we were baking a cake, adding these elements, giving it more ear candy. It was great."
Canadian singer-songwriter Nelly Furtado, who worked with Timbaland on her latest album, wound up recording some songs with Timberlake that may come out at a future date. She saw Timberlake and Timbaland working on "FutureSex..." and recalls that "there was just this real great vibe between them. You could tell they were being very creative and really excited about what they were doing. They knew they were into something hot."
Timberlake certainly came out of the box with some heat. The album's first single, "SexyBack," shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and on iTunes, while the title has become "the most worn-out phrase of 2006," according to its creator.
"I did coin the phrase," notes Timberlake, adding that "I don't think sexy ever really left. But I definitely didn't know it was gonna start what it started. It just sounded like a nice opening to the song."
As the title indicates, however, sex is a dominant theme on the album, including songs such as "Sexy Ladies," "My Love" (with rapper T.I.), "Love Stoned" and the title track.
"Why not? It worked for 'Sex in the City'," Timberlake cracks, before claiming that "it really isn't something that was conscious. After creating the music, I definitely felt it was appropriate to have (sex) in the title -- but it's only one-fourth of the title, as far as I'm concerned.
"I thought we were bringing fun back to music. We had so much fun in the studio making the music; that's what I feel translates. It's kind of hard not to feel that when you listen to it. So if that's what bringing sexy back is, then, so be it."
Timberlake also figures "FutureSex..." will confirm to all concerned that he's serious about being a solo artist -- which may be bad news for anyone hoping for an *NSYNC reunion. There were plans for the group to record again after "Justified" ran its course, but Timberlake -- who hosts Nickelodeon's Kid's Choice Awards on March 31, withdrew. "I think what we did doesn't work anymore," he says now.
But, he notes, the friendships remain. He's been supportive of bandmate Lance Bass, who came out as gay this year. And Timberlake is working with JC Chasez, another "New Mickey Mouse Club" alumnus, on his second solo album.
Timberlake doesn't rule out *NSYNC working together again, though he says "I don't see it in the near future." And, he acknowledges, that's mostly due to his desire to stay on his own path.
"I was the youngest one in the group; I was 14 when we signed our deal," he says. "I think as I started to learn more about music...I decided I wanted to do something that really met my creative urge. So (going solo) was just something inside me that said 'If you don't do this now, you might never do it.'
"I knew that it wouldn't work any other way. This is the venue for me."
Justin Timberlake and Pink perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (March 10)at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are 487.50 and $56. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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