What word cost Justin Timberlake a spelling-bee win?

If ever a celebrity were proof that small losses don’t necessarily lead to failure, Justin Timberlake is it.

In 1995, a then-14-year-old Justin participated in the Memphis-Shelby County Spelling Bee, a regional bee held every year in Memphis, Tennessee, in the lead-up to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

At  the time, Timberlake had already made a bit of a name for himself on the national stage- among the younger set, at least- after appearing on “Star Search” at age 11 and as a player on “The Mickey Mouse Club” beginning at age 12.

According to Mary Lou Brown, promotions and community relations manager for The Commercial Appeal, the newspaper which sponsors the Memphis-Shelby County Spelling Bee, he was swarmed with fans even in the eighth grade.

“I have this vision of him walking in wearing blue jeans and girls running to him as if they recognized him from somewhere. They were wanting to get close to him -- other little speller girls who were there and somehow knew who he was, whether it was ‘Star Search’ or ‘Mickey Mouse Club,’” Brown said.

Though he won his school bee, spelling the word “emerald” correctly, he was eliminated from the regional bee after misspelling “wharf,” and did not go on to the national bee.

However, the artist has done pretty well for himself since then.

“Spelling obviously wasn’t his thing, but he went on to bigger and better things,” Brown noted.

In fact, though the group wouldn’t be a household name in the U.S. until the release of the album “*NSYNC” in 1998, the boy band ’N Sync was first formed in 1995, with Timberlake and former “Mickey Mouse Club” castmate J.C. Chasez serving as lead singers.

Though he may not realize it, Timberlake’s bee journey inspires the paths of others today.

According to Brown, the Memphis-Shelby County Spelling Bee uses Timberlake’s story as an example to kids who participate in the program.

“It just goes to show, if you don’t win today, you may go on to do something even better,” Brown said she tells bee participants.

Justin Timberlake was on tour and unavailable for comment at the time this article was written.

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