Game Shows Wiki
Ed McMahon (1983–1995)
Arsenio Hall (2003–2004)
Sam Riddle (1983–1994)
Beau Weaver (1994–1995)
Star Search '95.jpg
Syndication (Weekly): 9/10/1983 – 5/20/1995
Star Search 2003.jpg
CBS: 1/8/2003 – 3/13/2004
Bob Banner Associates (1983–1988)
Al Masini Productions (1993-1995) Productions/2929 Productions (2003–2004)
Television Program Enterprises (1983–1993)
Rysher Entertainment (1993–1995)

Star Search (also formerly known as Ed McMahon's Star Search) was the world's greatest talent competition, long before American Idol & America's Got Talent.

1983–1995 Version[]

While categories varied slightly from season to season, the ten basic categories during the 1983–1995 version were:

  • Female vocalist
  • Male vocalist
  • Junior vocalist (Second half of the season)
  • Teen vocalist (First half of the season)
  • Junior dance (First half of the season)
  • Teen dance (Second half of the season)
  • Vocal group
  • Spokesmodel
  • Comedy
  • Dance

Eight categories were contested per show. Potential contestants auditioned to be on the show. In each category, two selected contestants would compete, a champion and a challenger. The challenger would usually perform first, while the champion performed second. In later seasons, the champion performed first.

All acts were judged by a panel of four judges, and each judge could award an act from one to four stars (later changed to five stars). Once both acts were complete, Ed would reveal the scores, and the best average won. If there was a tie, a studio audience vote broke the tie, in which case the results were revealed at the end of the show.

Any performer had to win at least several shows in a row, depending on the number of shows left in the season, to earn an entry into the next round of the competition; usually this was three or four wins in a row. In later seasons, three-match winners were automatically retired. In this case, two new performers would compete in that category the following week.

In most seasons, two semifinal shows took place, one in the fall, the other in the spring, prior to the championship show. Each semifinal used five judges. No scoring was used, and the judges' votes weren't revealed, but the acts that won their semifinals would then compete in the championship show.

On the championship show, winners of Male Vocalist, Female Vocalist, Vocal Group, Comedy, and Dance, were awarded $100,000. Many Star Search winners from the early seasons secured recording contracts within a few weeks of the end of the competition—first season vocal group winner Sawyer Brown, first season male vocalist champion Sam Harris and second season male vocalist champion Durell Coleman were the first three, and were later followed by second season vocal group winner Limited Warranty, third season female vocalist champion Linda Eder, second season junior male vocalist champion Jimmy Salvemini, whose album was produced by Luther Vandross, fourth season male vocalist champion David Slater, and first season (1985) junior female vocalist runner-up Tiffany. Despite not winning her competition (she lost to Melissa Moultrie), Tiffany, performing on Star Search as 'Tiffany Renee,' was the first Star Search alumnus to land a #1 hit, with her cover of the Top 5 Tommy James and the Shondells hit I Think We're Alone Now — actually improving on the original single's chart performance.[1] The winner of the Spokesmodel category was awarded $100,000 and a contract with a well-known modeling agency. The first Spokesmodel winner was Tracey Ross, who later became a leading actress on the soap opera Passions. Winners of Junior Vocalist, Junior Dance, Teen Vocalist, and Teen Dance won $10,000.

In early seasons, before the three match limit rule was adopted, the grand champions were determined by how long a champion held their title. While it is believed that Sam Harris holds the record for longest championship, at 14 weeks in Season 1, Harris was actually defeated by singer Beau Williams on Harris' 14th attempt. This record was actually held by Singer Durell Coleman (1985), who won the $100,000 in Season 2 with 15 wins and no defeats.

For the first few weeks of the 1992-1993 season, coinciding with the show moving from Los Angeles to the Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, the series expanded to six days a week. Each day featured specific categories, with the weekend show serving as a recap of the week. Due to poor ratings for the weekday shows (primarily due to post-midnight time slots), this format was abandoned and the show reverted to weekend only airings.

2003–2004 version[]

In the wake of the success of American Idol, Arsenio Hall hosted a new version of Star Search, which ran for a year on CBS, before ending up in reruns on cable channel GSN for one year from 2004 to 2005. This new version was judged by four panelists, including Ben Stein, Naomi Judd, Ahmet Zappa and a rotating celebrity panelist (which in at least one case was McMahon himself). Among the winners were singer Tiffany Evans, comedian John Roy and singer Mark Mejia.

The revival consisted of four series. For the first series, the categories were Adult and Junior Singer, Comedy, and Modeling. In Series 2 and 3, Modeling was replaced with Dance. In the final series, the Comedy category was scrapped altogether and only the singing and dancing categories remained.

For the first three series, two new competitors faced off. The three house judges, along with the one celebrity judge, gave each contestant a score on a scale from one to five stars, making a maximum studio score 20 stars. During each commercial break, the home audience went to to rate the competitors who just performed. Each performer could earn up to another 20 stars from the home audience. In the climactic moment before the score from the home audience was revealed, Hall would often say, "Hit me with the digits!"

When the scores were tallied, the higher scoring performer won. If the score was tied, then Hall would read off each performer's score rounded to the nearest hundredth (the at-home score was initially rounded down to the nearest star, unless there was a tie). That performer would then go on to the next round of competition. The only real exception to this format during the first three series was that three people competed in the semi-final rounds, not two. After the first two series, a special, "Battle of the Best" show took place, where the two Adult Singer, Junior Singer, and Comedian Grand Champions (Modeling was only the first season, and Dance had only been around for one season) were brought back to face off for an additional $100,000.

For the final series, three contestants in Adult Singer, Junior Singer, and Dance were brought back to initially compete (Comedy was dropped, jokingly because Naomi gave many comics only one star). The three brought back in each category were not necessarily the Grand Champions of their series. The show scrapped the celebrity judge and had three house judges for the entire series: Naomi Judd, MC Lyte, and Matti Leshem (who tried to berate contestants as Simon Cowell was doing at the time on American Idol).

As in past series, two new contestants competed. With only three judges, a score of 15 stars was possible, and ties were broken by a majority vote between the three. This is where the former contestants came in. Initially, in each category, these three performers made up the "Winner's Circle". The winning challenger then had the chance to challenge one of the three performers in his or her respective winner's circle. The winner's circle performer then had to beat or tie the bar set by the challenger; ties were automatically given to the Winner's Circle performer. If they couldn't beat the score, they were out of the competition, and the challenger took his or her place in the Winner's Circle.

Halfway through the series, the three performers in each Winner's Circle competed against each other in a special show. The winner in each category not only received a trip home, but a free pass to the final show. From then on, there were only two people who could be challenged in each Winner's Circle. In the final show, the three people in each Winner's Circle competed against each other for $100,000. This, along with the Free Pass show, were the only two shows which re-adopted the at-home voting concept.

  • The Adult Singer group was the only group to record a complete shutout. The three performers in the beginning were there in the end as well.
  • The free pass was equally important in the other two groups as well. In both the Dance and Junior Singer categories, not only did the free pass save the winner from being challenged in an ever-changing Winner's Circle, but they ended up winning their group finals (Junior Singer Mark Mejia and Dancer Jon Cruz).
  • Adult Singer and Series 1 champion Jake Simpson was challenged a record four times during his tenure in the Winner's Circle. He not only went a perfect 4–0, but he also won his group final. The only match he lost that entire season was the Winner's Circle Square-Off Special.

This remake lasted two seasons before its cancellation in April 2004.

At the same time, a spin-off called Star Search – Das Duell der Stars von Morgen (Star Search - The Duel of the Stars of Tomorrow) hosted by Kai Pflaume was produced and aired in Germany, but with less success than the more popular show Deutschland sucht den Superstar (Germany is Looking for the Superstar), the German version of the Idol series.

Judges (CBS Version)[]

Naomi Judd
Ben Stein
Carol Leifer
Ahmet Zappa
MC Lyte
Matti Leshem
Jessica Andrews

Notable competitors on Star Search[]

  • 4 Boys & a Babe, 1991 (Junior Dancers)
  • Aaliyah, 1988 (Singer, Actress)
  • Adam Sandler (Comedian)
  • Alanis Morissette, 1988 (Singer)
  • Alisan Porter, 1987 (Junior Vocalist), starred in the 1991 film Curly Sue and won season 10 of The Voice
  • Ami Dolenz, 1984 (Teen Actor)
  • Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, 2003 (Junior Vocalist)
  • Ashley Argota, 2003
  • Beth Hart, 1993 (Female Vocalist winner)
  • Beverly Leech (Leading Lady)
  • Beyoncé (Female Singer)
  • Bianca Ryan, 2004 (Singer)
  • Blake Ewing, 1992 (Junior Vocalist Winner)
  • Bill Engvall (Comedian)
  • Bill Kaulitz, 2003 (lead singer of Tokio Hotel; appeared on the German version of Star Search)
  • Billy Dean
  • Billy Porter, 1992 (Male Vocalist Winner)
  • Bobbie Brown[2], 1987 (Spokesmodel, 13-time winner)
  • Brad Garrett, 1984 (Comedian)
  • Britney Spears, 1992 (Singer)
  • Carlos Mencia, 1991 (Comedian)
  • Charles Divins (Male Spokesmodel winner)
  • Cherie Wimberly, 1993 (Spokesmodel)
  • Christina Aguilera, 1990 (Singer)
  • Coors Light Twins (Diane Klimaszewski & Elaine Klimaszewski), 1987 (Teen Dance category) They later appeared as models in the 1990 vrsion of Let's Make a Deal.
  • Countess Vaughn, 1988 (Junior Vocalist Champion) She would come back as celebrity judge in the 2003 version
  • Cynthia Gouw, 1988 (Spokesmodel Winner, 3 time Emmy award winning TV anchor/reporter)
  • Dana Gould, 1987 (Comedian)
  • Dave Chappelle, 1993 (Comedian)
  • David Archuleta, 2003 (Junior Vocal Champion)
  • David Raleigh, 1990 (Singer, songwriter, piano player)
  • David Slater, 1987 (Male Vocalist Champion)
  • Debbie James, (Spokesmodel) Went on to star in the film 976-FILM II, and later co-hosted alongside Bob Eubanks in Powerball: The Game Show.
  • Dennis Miller (Comedian)
  • Destiny's Child, 1991 (Singers as Girls Tyme)
  • Devin DeVasquez, 1986
  • Diana DeGarmo (Singer)
  • Drew Carey (Comedian)
  • Eddie & Lisa (Dancers)
  • Elisa Fiorillo, 1983 (Female Vocalist winner)
  • Garcelle Beauvais (Spokesmodel)
  • Greg Mowry (Singer)
  • Ingo Oschmann, 2003 (Comedy champion)
  • J.D. Roth, 1984 (Teen Actor) He would come back as celebrity judge seasons later.
  • Jackie Martling (Comedian)
  • James Bonamy
  • Janel Parrish, 2003 (Singer)
  • Jenny Jones, 1986
  • Jessica Sierra (Singer)
  • Jessica Simpson (Singer)
  • Joey Pearson (Singer)
  • Jon "Do-Knock" Cruz (Member of Super Cr3w, champions of America's Best Dance Crew Season 2)
  • Jordis Unga, 2004 (Singer)
  • Joseph Williams (Toto lead singer from 1986 - 1988)
  • Josephine 'Banig' Roberto, 1989 (Singer)
  • Josh Strickland, 2004 (Singer)
  • Julie McCullough, 1987 (Spokesmodel)
  • Justin Timberlake, 1991 (Singer, as Justin Randall)
  • Karen Thomas, 1985 (Spokesmodel, as Karen Marie Thomas) She later became the co-host for $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime alongside Jim Lange in 1987.
  • Karina Pasian
  • Ken Ober
  • Kent James, 1993 (as a part of the music group Kent & the Kommotion)
  • Kevin James, 1995 (Comedian)
  • Kiana Tom, 1992 (Spokesmodel, Fitness Guru)
  • Kimberly Caldwell (5-time Junior Vocalist winner)
  • LeAnn Rimes, 1991 (Singer)
  • Linda Eder, 1988 (Female Vocalist winner)
  • Lisa Tucker, 2003 (Singer)
  • Lizette Santana (a.k.a Lizé), 1994 (Singer)
  • Loni Love, 2003 (Comedienne)
  • Machel Montano, 1987 (International performing and recording artist)
  • Marc Summers, 1983 (Comedian)
  • Mark & Laura Sellers (Teen Dancers)
  • Marne Patterson, 1989 (Junior Vocalist)
  • Martin Lawrence (Comedian)
  • Nadia Turner (Singer)
  • Natalie Horler, 2004 (lead singer of Cascada; appeared on the German version of Star Search)
  • Nick Lazzarini, 2003 (as a part of the dance group Hot Under the Collar)
  • Norm Macdonald (Comedian)
  • Pat McCurdy (Singer)
  • Phil Vassar, 1987 (Singer)
  • Q'Orianka Kilcher, 2002 (Singer)
  • Rashaan Patterson (Singer)
  • Ray Romano (Comedian)
  • Reva Rice (Singer)
  • Rissi Palmer (Singer)
  • Rondell Sheridan, 1991 (Comedian)
  • Rosie O'Donnell, 1984 (Comedian)
  • Ruben Gomez, 1986 (Junior Male Vocalist), lead singer for Menudo 1987-1990
  • Sawyer Brown, 1983 (Vocal Group Champion)
  • Scott Hoying, 2004 (Junior Singer) Lead singer for Pentatonix 2011-present
  • Shanice Wilson (Singer)
  • Sharon Stone, 1984 (Spokesmodel)
  • Shayna Steele, 1992 (Teen Vocalist)
  • Sinbad, 1985 (Comedian)
  • Sophie Tamiko Oda (Singer)
  • Spensha Baker 2004 (Junior Singer Finalist)
  • Steve Oedekerk (Comedian)
  • Sutton Foster, 1990 (Singer)
  • Támar, 2004 (Singer)
  • Tareva Henderson, 1986 (Singer)
  • Tatyana Ali (Singer; actress on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)
  • Terri Lynn Doss (Spokesmodel)
  • The Boys, 1986 (Vocal Group)
  • The Kingpins, 1987 (Vocal Group Champion)
  • Theresa Ring, 1987 (Spokesmodel; she was also a model on Strike it Rich, 1986-87, a card dealer on Card Sharks & model The New Newlywed Game, both in 1988; a card girl on The Grudge Match; 1991 and a tryout model on The Price is Right in 1993)
  • Tiffany, 1985 (Singer, second place finalist)
  • Tim Christofore (1995 Winner)
  • Timiney Figueroa 1990 (singer, semi-finalist)
  • Todd Berry, 1991 (Singer)
  • Tommy Gardner, 1991 (Junior Vocalist Grand Champion)
  • Tori Kelly (Singer)
  • Tracey Ross, 1984 (Spokesmodel winner)
  • Tracie Spencer, 1987 (Female Vocalist Champion)
  • Ty Herndon
  • Tyce Diorio (So You Think You Can Dance choreographer)
  • Usher, 1991 (Singer, as Usher Raymond)
  • Vic Mignogna, 1993 (Singer)
  • Vickie Natale, 2003 (Female Vocalist winner)
  • The Chavan, 2003 (Male Modeling winner)

In Popular Culture[]

In the 2000 documentary film Just Melvin, Just Evil about James Ronald Whitney's grandfather named Melvin Just, clips of James' appearance on Star Search from 1986 and 1987 can be seen.

Just Melvin Just Evil Star Search clip.png

ADDITIONAL NOTE: a clip of him appearing on Body Language could be seen as well.


Trade ads[]


Earl Carroll Theatre Hollywood, California (1983–1992)
Disney-MGM Studios, Orlando, Florida (1992–2004)


72px-TV-PG icon svg.png


Theme composed by Joey Carbone; Carol Connors added lyrics to the theme in 1992 to use as the show's closing theme for its final 3 seasons.


Al Masini


Pet Star – Pet themed version ran on Animal Planet from 2003-2005


  1. Chart positions courtesy Billboard Publications, Inc.


Official Site (CBS Version|via Internet Archive)

YouTube Videos[]

1984 Intro
1986 Intro