Pop Stars Before They Were Famous

It's difficult to imagine life before Bieber and Gaga, but what's even weirder is thinking of pop stars' lives before they hit it big. How fierce a rapper was Nicki Minaj before all the wigs? Was Rihanna always so "Hard"? How emo was Skrillex back when he was just Sonny Moore? Has Lady Gaga always had a thing for wearing inanimate objects on her head?

Here at Billboard.com, we have answers. We've compiled some of the better -- and better left alone -- footage of music's most popular acts before they hit it big. Watch how pageants, talent shows and less-than-successful boy bands and girl groups shaped your favorite stars.

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Nicki Minaj, circa 2007


A couple of years before Lil Wayne signed her to the Cash Money/Young Money family and long before she was sitting next to Anna Wintour at New York Fashion Week, Nicki Minaj was living in Queens, rapping on the streets of New York. There are no pink wigs or synchronized "Super Bass" dancers in this James Del Gatto directed video, just Minaj, thanking her fans and freestyling about life in the city and the questionable state of hip-hop.

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Bruno Mars, 1992


When Bruno Mars was just six years old, he appeared in the Nicolas Cage-Sarah Jessica Parker comedy "Honeymoon in Vegas" as a miniature Elvis impersonator. Born Peter Hernandez, Bruno's musical family had him onstage, emulating the King by the time he was three.

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Previous: Bruno Mars Next: Katy Perry

Lana Del Rey, 2009


Lana Del Rey began her music career as Lizzy Grant, but when blonde Lizzy's career flopped, the singer reinvented herself and flew to fame with her videos for "Video Games" and "Born To Die." In the video, dated June 8, 2009, you can see Del Rey in her Lizzie days, dressed in a vintage Capitol Records T-shirt and shyly performing to a handful of people -- a far cry from today's long, sultry dresses and glamorous magazine covers.

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Katy Perry, 2003


When Katy Perry started out, she had a blonde bob, sang Christian music and went by the name Katy Hudson. Before becoming the pop princess she is today, the "Teenage Dream" star went through a punk phase, dying her hair black and scoring a slot on the Warped Tour. In her video for "The Box," Katheryn (not yet Katy) Perry shows off her angst and a lot of black eyeliner. Oddly, cupcake bras and personified gummy bears are nowhere to be seen.

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Previous: Katy Perry Next: Selena Gomez & Demi Lovato

Skrillex, circa 2004


Now a Grammy Award-winning DJ, Skrillex was once famous on the emo scene, back when he was just Sonny Moore, the singer of Warped Tour-staple From First to Last. Watch the band's video for "Note to Self" -- off their debut album "Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Body Count" -- and you'll see the electronic star dancing and screaming into the mic, before he swapped his black nail polish for turntables and a pair of shades.

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Selena Gomez & Demi Lovato, circa 2002


Before landing record contracts and starring roles on the Disney Channel, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato met on the Texas set of "Barney," where the pint-sized pals sang, acted and even -- at the two-minute mark -- played the trumpet. After making it as Gianna and Angela on "Barney," both teens found stardom when their families moved to L.A. together.

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Previous: Selena Gomez & Demi Lovato Next: Justin Bieber

Lady Gaga, 2006


Before she went " Gaga" and put pop music in its place, Stefani Germanotta got her start performing on the Lower East Side. Here, the singer looks more like a Flashdance extra than the "Just Dance" hit-maker she would become as she plays her original song, "Hollywood," for anyone who will listen at a NYC rock club.

Previous: Selena Gomez & Demi Lovato Next: Justin Bieber

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Justin Bieber, circa 2004


At the Stratford Star Singing Competition in Ontario, a tween Justin Bieber belts Aretha Franklin's "Respect," dancing awkwardly, dropping the microphone and playing a mean air sax. Bet no one in the room knew the Biebz would go off to become one of the biggest pop sensations just years later.

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Ke$ha, 2000


She may be pop's It-girl now, but a decade ago, Ke$ha was just another middle schooler looking to get her share of the spotlight in a school talent show. The difference? She performed a song by the indie-est of all bands, Radiohead. See the clip for yourself and witness a barely recognizable Ke$ha sing "Karma Police" at age 13.

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Drake, circa 2007


Blame Canada for not giving us Drake sooner! Aubrey Drake Graham kicked off his career as Jimmy Brooks, the basketballer turned wheelchair-bound teenager on the popular Canadian TV series "Degrassi: The Next Generation." Back in the day, Jimmy dealt with more drama -- a controlling father, lying girlfriends, school shootings, and paralysis -- than any rapper from the streets.

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Rihanna, 2002


In the days before she got "fan mail from 27 million," sultry singer Rihanna was just beginning to dabble in vocal performances. Check out a clip from 2004 of RiRi singing Mariah Carey's "Hero" at the Miss Combermere Pageant in her native Barbados. Needless to say, she won the contest that year.

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Chris Brown, 2002


In the last seven years, singer and dancer Chris Brown has gone from adorable R&B-boy next door to sexy, hit-making crooner. That's not to say that he didn't have it going on at the tender age of 13, though, which is when he made the video for "Whose Girl Is That?"

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Beyoncé, 1994


Plenty of stars got their first taste of the spotlight on Ed McMahon's "Star Search": Britney, Justin, and Beyonce. At the age of 12, Ms. Knowles brought her pipes and her Houston hip-hop group Girl's Tyme to living rooms across the country. And while they didn't win the competition, they won elsewhere -- Girl's Tyme eventually became Destiny's Child, and we all know what happened from there.

previous: Chris Brown Next: Ne-Yo

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Ne-Yo, circa 1997


According to archival footage of the songwriter-turned-singer, Ne-Yo used to be a blonde! Dating back to the late 90s, the following clip showcases the performer, who then called himself "Go-go," in a boy group called Envy performing at Amateur Night At the Apollo. Steve Harvey hosted and the boys weren't exactly well received.

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Fergie, 1997


Long before Fergie Ferg was added to the Black Eyed Peas' lineup, Stacy Ferguson was a bleach blonde R&B singer struggling to make it in an all-girls group called Wild Orchid. Here's a video the group made in 1997 for a single called "Talk To Me."

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Previous: Fergie Next: Britney, Christina, Justin

Notorious B.I.G., 1989


At just over a minute in length, this clip of a 17-year-old Biggie Smalls rapping on the streets of Brooklyn showcases the MC's lyrical prowess and larger-than-life persona. Proving that even from a young age he rapped about what he knew, the B.I.G. states that he was, "never considered a thief/until I started hustlin' on Fulton Street," before diving into an aggressive and self-aggrandizing verse. The confident teen rocks a button-down shirt and old school microphone while performing for the crowd of about a dozen.

Previous: Fergie Next: Britney, Christina, Justin

Previous: Notorious B.I.G. More: 100 Pop Stars' Real Names

Britney, Christina & Justin, circa 1994


As you well know, before these pop tarts each got their own flavor, Britney, Christina and Justin were all part of Disney's Mickey Mouse Club. The three danced, sang, acted and smiled (is there anything they can't do?!) into living rooms and hearts as part of Mickey's crew. Here, the kids give us a taste of those acting chops we'd come to see in classics like, say, "Crossroads." It even looks like little Justin is gearing up for bigger and better sketch comedies. SNL, anyone?

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