My Worst Day is a biweekly column dedicated to stories of massive failure and extraordinary success. Combing through interviews, biographies, and historical records, we examine society’s greatest achievers — both modern and historic — and take an in-depth look at the days they thought it would all come crashing down. By studying how these icons navigated and persevered through their worst days, we can all learn the skills we need to do more, be more, and achieve more in our lives.
October 16, 1992
To an 11-year-old, three years is an eternity.
But that’s exactly how long Beyoncé Knowles had been waiting for this moment. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of her all-girl group Girls Tyme, Beyoncé swayed eagerly in the dark.
She was ready for her time to shine.
It had been a long road to Star Search. What had begun nearly three years earlier with a simple proposition from a group of women looking to break into the music industry had turned into a full-blown saga. There was fighting amongst the parents. There were disagreements between the songwriters. There were lineup changes. And of course, all this trickled down to girls themselves, who were feeling immense pressure. Pressure that manifested itself in the form of group infighting that went well beyond the realm of normal teenage bickering.
All this, and Girls Tyme still had very little to show for all they had sacrificed. No record deal. No radio play. No major tours or performances.
So, when the group’s Producer Arne Frager landed them a spot on the hottest talent show at the time, Star Search, everyone knew that this might be their last shot. And no one felt this more than Beyoncé.
As the girls stood quietly in the dark on that Orlando soundstage, Beyoncé prepared herself for the performance of a lifetime. After what seemed like an eternity, the last notes of their competitor Skeleton Crew rang out, and Host Ed McMahon took to the podium to introduce the world to what was — as far as the girls and their parents were concerned — the next big thing in music:
Thank you, Skeleton Crew. Your challengers are a young group from Houston. Welcome Beyoncé, LaTavia, Nina, Nicky, Kelly, and Ashley…the hip hop, rapping Girls Tyme.
For the next minute and 59 seconds, Girls Tyme unleashed every weapon in their arsenal. They rapped. They sang. They danced. And on top of this all was a captivating lead vocal performance from Beyoncé herself.
As they hit their final mark and the audience erupted into applause, Girls Tyme stood confidently. The three years of grueling work had paid off. They had made it to the world’s biggest stage, and they were flawless.
Or so they thought…
Moments later, the judges returned with the results. At stake was a chance at a $100,000 prize, and more importantly, many more weeks of priceless publicity appearing on the show. It was the opportunity for Girls Tyme to make a name for themselves in every home in America.
Skeleton Crew received their results first. 4 Stars — a perfect score. Unfazed, the girls knew they could still tie their competitors, leaving their fate in the hands of an audience tiebreak (an audience they had just won over moments before).
The results flashed onto the screen. The four judges had voted unanimously:
3 Stars. Good, but not good enough. Girls Tyme had lost.
At the tender age of 11, Beyoncé had failed on the world’s biggest stage. And while the lights, cameras, and adrenaline kept a gracious smile plastered on her pre-teen face, inside she sank. As she would later recall:
“We were devastated…the second we got backstage we just bawled and bawled.”
Leaving Orlando, young Beyoncé felt like it was all over. She had worked so hard for the past three years, giving it everything she had…and still she lost. Walking away tired, defeated, and humiliated, Beyoncé knew she had to answer a difficult question that would forever change the course of her life:
Am I really meant for music?
To those that know her well, the idea of Beyoncé questioning her musical destiny is absurd. For so many years leading up to that Star Search stage, Beyoncé didn’t just like music…she was music.
Born in Houston on September 4, 1981 to parents Mathew and Tina, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles spent the first part of her childhood living a life not unlike millions of other kids around the globe. Fun-loving yet noticeably shy, Beyoncé and her younger sister Solange met daily with the other neighborhood kids to ride bikes, swim, laugh, and play. For parents Mathew and Tina, it was the picture-perfect American Dream. They wanted nothing more than to give their girls a wonderful life, and went out of their way to support and encourage them, wherever their interests may lie.
For 7-year-old Beyoncé, this support and encouragement came in the form of a dance class run by Darlette Johnson. Noticing that young Beyoncé was always breaking out into song and dance while playing with her friends, her parents thought she would appreciate an outlet for this creative energy. They also thought it might help her overcome her growing shyness. Beyoncé was so shy, in fact, that even though she couldn’t help but sing every time she danced at home, it took many months before her dance instructor would learn she could hit a note.
But that all changed with one fateful afternoon hum. As Johnson would later explain:
“She had been dancing with me for a little while and I still didn’t know she could sing. She was the last one in class that day, and I was just sweeping and, you know, just finishing the day. And I was humming…and she finished the song for me.”
That song was “Been Around the World” by Lisa Stansfield, and the part Beyoncé chose to finish was the impossibly high string of notes in the chorus.
Johnson was so startled by her quiet, shy student belting out this perfect melody that she literally dropped the broom she held in her hands. Having worked with young talent all her life, Johnson knew what she was hearing was special. So special, that it just had to be shared….
After hearing Beyoncé’s impromptu after-class performance, Johnson reached out to Mathew and Tina to share this newly discovered talent. Of course, the Knowles already knew that young Beyoncé could sing — she did it all the time around the house — but this was the first time someone outside the home had stopped to say that Beyoncé could really sing.
Johnson was so adamant about Beyoncé’s ability that she convinced the Knowles family to enroll her in a local talent show. With little time to prepare, and competing against kids 3 to 4 years older, the Knowles didn’t expect the show to be anything other than a fun experience for Beyoncé. But when their daughter took to the stage, she transformed. Gone was the shy, quiet child they loved. In her place was a fierce, fearless diva.
Beyoncé won the competition that day. It would be the first of many wins in her music career…
With clear talent and a passion for the stage, Beyoncé’s parents dove headfirst into helping her develop as a young performer. Music and voice lessons became a regular part of her daily routine, while Johnson continued to find local opportunities for Beyoncé to share her gift around Houston. Talent shows, pageants, parties; young Beyoncé did them all, each time strengthening the persona that took over the minute she stepped onto the stage.
By the time Beyoncé was 9-years-old, she had accumulated a great number of wins, as well as a number of fans — including local businesswomen Deborah Laday and Denise Seals.
Laday and Seals were on a mission to break into the music industry. At the time, vocal pop groups were dominating the charts. There were the all-male groups like Boyz II Men, all-female groups like En Vogue, and teenage boy groups like New Kids on the Block. But Laday and Seals felt like there was an opportunity to fill a niche with a teenage girl vocal pop group. So, they began scouting local talent to assemble an act that would take them to the top. An act they were calling Girls Tyme.
And Beyoncé was their first choice to lead the group.
After many long discussions, Beyoncé and her parents agreed to sign on with the project. With their vocal lead secured, Laday and Seals got to work building the rest of the Girls Tyme team. The project would undoubtedly be expensive, so they brought on a third local businesswoman as their financier, Andretta Tillman. The also found a Music Producer by the name of Alonzo Jackson, who quickly turned around and recruited Tony Moore to help with the songwriting.
With the business and creative teams in place, all that was left to do was round out the performers. Beyoncé jumped at the opportunity to invite a new friend into the mix — Ashley Davis — whom she had met the year prior at Houston’s Sammy Davis Jr. Talent Show (an event which Beyoncé won). With a powerful young voice herself, Davis was accepted on the spot.
As for the rest of the lineup, it took some time to get things right. In fact, Girls Tyme churned through over 30 young girls during the first 12 months, in an attempt to find just the right mix of skill, style, and commitment. Though exhausting, this relentless audition process eventually paid off, as Girls Tyme landed on six key girls, each with a unique set of skills to round out the group: Beyoncé, LaTavia Roberson, Kelly Rowland, Ashley Davis, and sisters Nikki and Nina Taylor.
With the lineup set, Girls Tyme could truly begin. The six young girls immediately began rehearsing in the Knowles’ backyard, performing songs written specifically for the group by Jackson and Moore.
These rehearsals were grueling. Missed notes and music cues were not tolerated, and songs would be run again and again until they were perfect. Practicing for hours nearly every day of the week, it didn’t take long for the girls to find their groove. Soon, they were perfectly in sync.
It was as if they’d been together for years…
Girls Tyme was ready to take things to the next level. And to do so, they’d need an album to shop to major record labels.
Planting the Seeds
Nearly 2,000 miles away in San Francisco, music industry veteran Arne Frager was also in the market for a new album to shop. And much like Laday and Seals, Frager had his sights set on an all-girl vocal pop group.
Frager ran The Plant, a legendary recording studio where he worked with a number of icons, including Prince. As it just so happened, Frager and Girls Tyme Producer Alonzo Jackson shared a mutual connection — a music producer in Oakland. Hearing that Frager was in the market for all-girl group, this connection introduced the two so that Jackson could share what he was up to in Houston with Girls Tyme.
A few phone conversations later and it was official: Girls Tyme was heading to record at The Plant.
In the span of a few short weeks, Beyoncé and the girls recorded 15 songs, 12 of which would make it onto their album. Excitement throughout the Girls Tyme camp was at an all-time high. They sounded great. They performed great. And they had just finished recording a great album. They were ready for the big time.
With an established track record, Frager was able to book meetings with executives at every major record label in the country. He even shared the Girls Tyme album with Prince, who had just started a label of his own. Prince was so enthusiastic about the group after his first listen that he agreed to sign them sight unseen. However as the late, great icon was known to do, his attention quickly waned, and a deal never materialized.
While Prince was the first to pass on Girls Tyme, he certainly wouldn’t be the last.
In fact, Frager would spend over a year shopping the album, but to no avail. It was now mid-1992, and still Girls Tyme had no deal. Every open door seemed to be slammed shut on the group. While Frager maintained a public face of confidence, inside he knew the truth: things were bad. Really bad…
Where Fame and Fortune Happens
With label after label passing on the group, the Girls Tyme management team knew that they were running out of options. They had invested several hundred thousand dollars and countless hours into building what they believed to be the next “it” group. A group destined for the top of the charts, and all the fame and fortune that accompanies that position.
But in 1992, the only way to reach the top of the charts was with the help of a major record label.
Having exhausted all his contacts in the music industry, Frager needed a new approach. One day, while flipping through channels on the television, he heard a familiar voice…
The fame and fortune only happens here, on Star Search. The world’s greatest talent competition!
As Frager watched Ed McMahon give his introduction on what was, at the time, the world’s most popular televised talent competition, a thought raced into his head. If the music folks won’t listen, maybe the television ones will.
Moments later, Frager was cold calling Star Search producers. After finally making a connection, the producers asked him to send in a tape of Girls Tyme. Dropping one in the mail as fast as he possibly could, all he could do now was wait and pray.
Two weeks later, the show’s producers answered those prayers. It was official:
Girls Tyme was heading to primetime.
The group had two months to prepare for their big national television debut. Practicing daily in the Knowles’ backyard, they rehearsed every single move and note as if they were their last. Because in a way, they were. With no interest from radio or record labels, Girls Tyme didn’t just want to win Star Search. They needed to win. Time and money were no longer on their side. Though unspoken, the management team and the girls themselves knew that this was their last shot.
And what a shot it was. Not only did show’s champions receive a massive $100,000 check, but they also had the opportunity to perform weekly for millions of people watching at home. It was exactly the type of publicity that would nearly guarantee a major label record deal, and that would set them on the path to stardom.
After two months of grueling rehearsals, Girls Tyme and their families made their way to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where Star Search was filmed. The show featured a single elimination format, meaning contestants never knew exactly how long they’d be in Florida filming. Lose the first week, and they’d be back home in a matter of days. Put together a win streak, and they could be gone for many weeks straight.
For the Girls Tyme crew, losing wasn’t a possibility that entered their minds. In fact, they even rented an extra hotel room just to store all their luggage. As far as they were concerned, they were going to be in Orlando for quite some time.
Not long after settling in, the Girls Tyme team made their way over to the studio for rehearsal, catching their first real-life glimpse of the Star Search set, and the stage that would forever change their lives. The team also caught a glimpse of their first-round competitor — an adult acoustic rock band named Skeleton Crew.
The news of their matchup came as a bit of a shock, as Star Search traditionally grouped competitors based on style, gender and age. Pairing an all-girl R&B group against an adult male acoustic rock band was quite unusual. Making matters more concerning was the fact that Skeleton Crew had been accumulating several early wins on the show, and were quickly become a favorite amongst the judges.
Nevertheless, the girls and their crew accepted their fate. They didn’t care who they faced, because it really didn’t matter. They were going to win.
With their rehearsals complete, it was finally showtime. Audience members took their seats, house lights dimmed, cameras steadied, and right on cue, Host Ed McMahon took the stage.
As the non-music categories of the competition got underway, Beyoncé and the girls waited nervously backstage. Skeleton Crew’s Scott Christy tried to break the tension with some small talk. As he remembers:
“We were having a great time, and so I was asking them ‘Isn’t this great? How did you guys like Magic Kingdom? Did you go on Space Mountain?’ And they were like ‘We’re not going to go on anything until after we take care of business.’ They basically said, ‘We’re not going to Disney until we beat you.’”
Clearly, Girls Tyme was here for one reason, and one reason only: to win.
Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait long to get down to business, as minutes later they were on stage listening to Ed McMahon read their names aloud on national television.
It was time.
What the world witnessed next was three years of passion, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears condensed down into a single minute and 59 seconds.
Girls Tyme was flawless.
The girls felt a victory in their bones. They had worked so hard for so long to reach this point, and they just knew that things were finally going to go their way. For Beyoncé and the gang, it was all about to turn around…
Unfortunately for Girls Tyme, the judges didn’t agree.
Awarding their competitor Skeleton Crew a perfect score, the girls’ only chance was to also get a perfect score, after which they’d head into an audience tiebreak. But things didn’t even get that far, as Girls Tyme was awarded just 3 stars.
As fast as they arrived on the world’s biggest stage, they were gone. And the cracks in the foundation they had been building for the last three years quickly began to show.
It didn’t take long for Girls Tyme to crumble.
Already on shaky ground heading into Star Search, their surprise first round defeat left the group in shambles. Ashley, Nina, and Nicky departed soon after their appearance, their parents not wanting them to devote any more time to a group that seemed destined for failure. And the core management and creative teams parted ways as well. As far as they were concerned, Girls Tyme had died on that stage in Florida.
Overnight, three years of extremely hard work unraveled before Beyoncé’s eyes. And she was left with a decision to make: was it time for her to give up the dream as well? Or would she continue on in the face of yet another setback?
After much soul searching, she landed on the latter. Mathew Knowles took over as Manager of the group, and together with Kelly Rowland and LaTavia Roberson, Beyoncé pressed on. Joined by a new 4th member to round out their sound, LaToya Luckett, the foursome prepared for yet another attempt to scale the mountain to stardom.
But before this journey could begin, there was one last thing that needed to be done. Girls Tyme had been left on the Star Search stage. This new group needed a new name.
While it took several iterations (including Something Fresh, The Dolls, Cliché, and Destiny), by 1996, the foursome officially landed on Destiny’s Child.
Though they were just 15-years-old and had “child” in their name, by this point, the girls were seasoned pros. With new Music Producer Darrell Simmons working his impressive roster of industry contacts, Destiny’s Child picked up where Girls Tyme left off. The grueling rehearsals. The endless meetings. The nerve-inducing showcases.
It was a familiar grind with familiar results. An empty showcase here. A failed record contract there. “No” after “No” after “No”.
But that all would change one fateful day in 1996. Nearly five years after they had performed a showcase as part of Girls Tyme, Beyoncé and company were invited back to New York City to show off their new group to Columbia Records.
And those five years? They did the girls well. Situated in stools in front of an intimate group of Columbia executives and talent scouts, Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child absolutely crushed. They finally gave the performance of a lifetime.
Within weeks, Destiny’s Child was signed to Columbia records. And on February 17, 1998 — nearly six years since their heartbreak on Star Search, and a full nine years since young Beyoncé first broke out into song in Darlette Johnson’s dance class — Destiny’s Child released their major label debut album, the self-titled Destiny’s Child.
The accomplishment of releasing a major label record alone would make for a great fairy tale ending. But we all know that’s not where this story ends…
Destiny’s Child went on to earn a Platinum Record certification, selling over one million copies in America. It also earned the group their first Billboard Top 10 single, “No, No, No”.
In the years that followed, the group continued to climb the charts, eventually becoming a worldwide sensation with the release of their third album The Writing’s on the Wall. In the span of six short years they released five chart-topping albums, embarked on three massive international arena tours, and won three Grammy’s.
And for Beyoncé, Destiny’s Child was only the beginning…
After the group officially disbanded in 2006, Beyoncé dedicated herself full-time to her growing solo career — one that began with the 2002 single “03 Bonnie and Clyde” (alongside future husband Jay-Z), and the 2003 release of her debut album, Dangerously in Love.
Since then, Beyoncé has become one of the most celebrated music icons of all time, selling a jaw-dropping 100 million albums worldwide… in addition to the 60 million she sold as part of Destiny’s Child. In 2010, she was named Billboard’s Top Radio Artist and Top Female Artist of the Decade. She has more Grammy nominations and wins (24) than any other woman in history.
And with fame came fortune and power. Beyoncé is recognized as the highest-paid black musician in history, and has been named multiple times to Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.
All this amazing success and power, and it’s easy to forget that this is the same woman left sobbing on that Orlando soundstage, wondering if she had what takes to make it in music.
In 2013, Beyoncé released her 5th album — the eponymous Beyoncé. Nestled inside this stellar collection of tracks was a career-defining song titled ***Flawless.
***Flawless has everything you could ever want in a Beyoncé song. Thunderous beats. Catchy melodies. And of course, fierce, empowering vocals from Beyoncé herself. But it also has something else that makes it particularly special. An unexpected guest vocal at the end that serves as a callback to the worst day in Beyoncé’s career, and one that would forever change the course of music.
That guest? It’s none other than Ed McMahon himself.
That’s right. In the final few moments of ***Flawless, Beyoncé chose to shine a light on her worst day, letting millions around the globe hear McMahon deliver that devastating blow on national television:
The judges give champion Skeleton Crew four stars!
A perfect score, the challenger, Girls’ TYME, receives three stars!
Skeleton Crew, champions once again
Congratulations, we’ll see you next week
While she did not know it at the time, this blow — though heartbreaking — would not prove to be fatal. Instead, it served as the world’s first introduction to an amazing young talent who would go on to become a name known round the world…
There is a lot to take away from Beyoncé’s rise to stardom. Let’s examine the four most important lessons:
1. Overcome Your Weaknesses with a Stage Persona
Watch but a few minutes of Beyoncé on stage, and you’ll see one of the most fierce, confident performers of all time. That’s why it comes as such a shock to learn that, to this day, Beyoncé considers herself that same shy little girl she was growing up in Houston.
This dichotomy between her personal self and her stage self is a great example of how humans are capable of things well beyond our comfort zones. Just because Beyoncé is shy in her day-to-day life doesn’t mean she can’t flip that switch, and become an empowered performer the second she takes the stage.
We can all benefit from the idea of creating a stage persona. Someone that doesn’t share the same weaknesses we do in our day-to-day life. Just because you’re shy most of the time doesn’t mean you can’t become gregarious when in meetings or on sales calls. Just because you’re not a “numbers person” doesn’t mean you can’t become a financial machine when it comes to dealing with your startup’s key metrics.
Instead of defining and limited yourself based on weaknesses, adopt a stage persona. Another side of you that is not restricted by these perceived personality faults, and one that can be accessed with the flip of a switch, much like Beyoncé walking out onto the stage.
2. When the Front Door Closes, Find an Open Window
When Girls Tyme Producer Arne Frager ran out of music industry contacts to pitch, he could have thrown up his hands and called the whole project off. To many, it seemed as if the door to stardom had officially closed on the group.
But instead of giving up hope, Frager found an open window instead: Star Search. And while this ultimately did not lead to fame and fortune for Girls Tyme, it was the catalyst for Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, and LaTavia Roberson to start Destiny’s Child, eventually becoming one of the best-selling female vocal groups of all time.
Through those nine difficult years from Beyoncé’s first talent show to the release of Destiny’s Child’s first major label album, many doors were closed on her and her team. But time and time again they found their way in through an open window.
When a door inevitably closes on your journey, see if you can find that open window instead. It might be just what you need to break through to the other side.
3. Your Challenges Make Your Stronger
If there is one constant in the story of Beyoncé’s rise, it’s hard work.
Girls Tyme and Destiny’s Child faced challenge after challenge. And each time a challenge appeared, Beyoncé’s response was to work a little bit harder. To get a little bit better. To become a little bit tougher, and a little bit smarter.
Beyoncé wasn’t born the fierce, unstoppable performer she is today. She was built challenge by challenge, each time emerging that much better and stronger than she was before.
While life is filled with many unexpected hurdles, there is very little that can’t be overcome with hard work. At a certain point, with enough dedication and enough persistence, those that refuse to be outworked will eventually prevail…not in spite of the challenges they face, but because of them.
4. Failure Is an Event, Not a Person
When Girls Tyme was handed an unexpected loss in front of millions on Star Search, no one would blame Beyoncé for feeling like a failure. She had worked relentlessly for years to reach that point, and still she lost.
But instead of labeling herself a failure, Beyoncé labeled the event a failure. And by their very nature, events correspond with a single moment in time. Sure, that moment was a failure, but young Beyoncé knew that this did not make her a failure.
By separating the event of failure from her personal self-worth, Beyoncé was able to muster up the courage to continue on with music, and eventually move beyond this singular moment of failure to become the world’s brightest shining star.
My Worst Day
October 16, 1992 was a horrible day for Beyoncé Knowles. At the tender age of 11, she was given a lesson in just how cold and unforgiving the world can be. How you can put your absolute all into something and still come up short.
No one would have blamed her if she decided to give up music. That the heartbreak of losing on that prominent stage was too much to bear. But instead, Beyoncé chose to carry on. To face this heartbreak in the eye, and use it as fuel to drive herself to become one of the most iconic performers of all time.
And for that, the world will forever be grateful.
Guerra, Joey. “As Fame Grew, Bey’s Circle Shrank”. Houston Chronical. 12 November 2015. https://www.houstonchronicle.com/entertainment/books/article/As-fame-grew-Bey-s-circle-shrank-6630624.php
Hopkins, Jill (Host). (2019) Making Beyoncé [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/podcasts/500692140/making-beyonc.
Kaufman, Gil. “Destiny’s Child’s Long Road to Fame” MTV. 13 June 2005. http://www.mtv.com/news/1504044/destinys-childs-long-road-to-fame-the-song-isnt-called-survivor-for-nothing/
Parker, Lyndsey. “Losing to Win: Remembering the Real Stars of ‘Star Search’”. Rolling Stone. 18 April 2014. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/losing-to-win-remembering-the-real-stars-of-star-search-117560/
Roy, Jessica. “Meet Skeleton Crew, the Band That Beat Beyoncé on Star Search and Inspired ‘***Flawless’”. Time. 20 December 2013. http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/12/20/meet-skeleton-crew-the-band-that-beat-beyonce-on-star-search-and-inspired-flawless/