This Was the Most Popular Teen Idol the Year You Graduated
Find out which trendsetting musician or heartthrob actor ruled your adolescent era.
Teen idols have existed ever since there were teenagers. So, really only since around the middle of the 20th century. (Although who knows if there was some hotshot ancient Egyptian all the kids were into.) As soon as teens became their own recognized group, teen idols, teen magazines, and teen-focused TV shows and movies followed, and we've never looked back. From Elvis Presley to Justin Bieber, famous faces beloved by teenagers have existed for decades. And they'll continue to—they just might be YouTube and TikTok stars from this point forward.
Now it's time to look back and figure out which teen idol was the most popular when you were a teen—specifically, the year you graduated from high school. If you were a high schooler in the '70s, there's a good chance you remember David Cassidy and his time on The Partridge Family, but if you were still collecting report cards in the early '90s, you'll probably have a New Kids on the Block song stuck in your head by the time you get through this article.
So read on to find out which teen idol was taking over the world the year you graduated and then bask in the nostalgia, ill-advised one hit wonders, and forgotten TV shows of years past. And for stars who've known each other since before they were famous, here are 35 Celebrities You Didn't Realize Grew Up Together.
1970: Bobby Sherman
Bobby Sherman rose to fame in the late '60s as an actor and singer, and he appeared on all the shows that could really solidify teen idol status: American Bandstand, The Monkees, The Partridge Family, and The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1970, many of Sherman's most popular songs were released, including "Julie, Do Ya Love Me," "Easy Come, Easy Go," and "Hey, Mister Sun." The previous year, he'd had his biggest hit with "Little Woman."
For famous faces who've already marked this milestone birthday, check out 40 Celebrities You Won't Believe Are Over 40.
1971: The Jackson 5
If you graduated in in 1971, you know that's the year The Jackson 5 were at their peak. The group was nominated for a Grammy in 1971 for "ABC," and they had their own TV special called Goin' Back to Indiana. It was also the year that youngest member Michael Jackson's solo career began. He was only 13 years old, and things were never the same after that.
1972: Donny Osmond
The Osmond family was already famous once Donny Osmond became a teen idol in his own right. After all, he had joined his brothers' singing group, The Osmonds, when he was only six years old. By 1972, Osmond was 15 years old and had a solo career. He had hits with his own songs, including "Go Away Little Girl" and "Puppy Love."
And for celebrities who stepped away from the business at an unexpected time, here are 15 Stars Who Quit Acting After Hitting It Big.
1973: David Cassidy
You didn't think that was the last we'd hear of The Partridge Family, did you? David Cassidy takes the 1973 spot for his role as Keith Partridge on the series, which made him a hugely popular teen idol. He performed on The Partridge Family albums—including singing the huge hit "I Think I Love You"—and also released his own solo music.
1974: Barry Williams and Christopher Knight
The actors behind Greg and Peter Brady, Barry Williams and Christopher Knight, became teen idols during The Brady Bunch's run, which spanned your whole high school experience if you graduated in 1974. Both Williams and Knight continued acting, but they'll always be remembered for appearing in those blue title sequence squares.
And for more series that have likely been a big part of your life, here are The 40 Longest-Running American TV Shows of All Time.
1975: Leif Garrett
Some teen idols are just beloved by teens, but plenty of them were actually teens themselves when they hit it big. Leif Garrett definitely fits into the latter category. In 1975, he was only 14 years old, but began appearing on the covers of teen magazines like Tiger Beat thanks to the series Three for the Road and his singing career.
1976: Farrah Fawcett
Farrah Fawcett hit it big in 1976. It was the year Charlie's Angels premiered and the year her iconic bathing suit poster was released, which reportedly sold 12 million copies. Basically, everyone either had a crush on Fawcett or wanted her layered hairstyle.
For more proof that Fawcett's breakout decade was the best, here are 23 Reasons We're Glad We Grew Up in the '70s.
1977: Mark Hamill
When Star Wars premiered in 1977, the world got a new movie star and a soon-to-be huge franchise. Mark Hamill had done plenty of TV work before playing Luke Skywalker, but this was his first starring role in a film. With the sci-fi hit, Hamill became a teen idol—and an action figure many times over.
1978: John Travolta
This was a huge year for John Travolta. He was nominated at the Oscars in April 1978 for his starring role in Saturday Night Fever, and in June, the massive hit musical Grease was released. He was also still starring on Welcome Back, Kotter at the time. So, yeah, it's no surprise he made it onto Tiger Beat, too.
And for the most acclaimed flicks of all time, here are The Best Movie That Came Out the Year You Graduated, According to Critics.
1979: Scott Baio
Scott Baio became a teen idol when he joined Happy Days during its fifth season as the Fonz's cousin Chachi. His popularity led to the spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi, which only lasted for one season. Baio had a wide variety of roles in the years to come, including hosting a reality show called Confessions of a Teen Idol, which featured former teen idols trying to become famous again.
1980: Debbie Harry
As the '80s began, there was a shift from singing and acting teens and young men being the usual teen idols, to a wider variety, including male and female musicians, actors, and groups. In 1980, the band Blondie released the hits "Call Me" and "The Tide Is High," and lead singer Debbie Harry became a punk icon for both her music and her style.
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1981: Rick Springfield
If you're wondering why Australian singer Rick Springfield gets the 1981 spot, it's because that's the year "Jessie's Girl" was released. Of being a teen idol, Springfield told Billboard in 2015, "What it meant was that people would look at me and think, 'Oh, you've had some success, but you're not really that talented.' I felt that was unfair. Don't just write me off because young girls liked me—Sinatra started like that, and they wrote him off at first, too. It's not a bad thing to start as a teen idol."
1982: Duran Duran
The English band Duran Duran rose to fame in the U.S. thanks to their videos being played on the new network MTV. Their album Rio was released in 1982, which featured two of their biggest songs ever, "Rio" and "Hungry Like the Wolf." Soon, they were known as the Fab Five (in a reference to the Beatles' Fab Four) and were one of the most popular groups around.
Though it existed in many different forms for over 30 years, Menudo reached the peak of its popularity in the 1980s. The Puerto Rican group consisted of tweens and teens, and in the U.S., they were around the top of their game in 1983. That year, they appeared on the family sitcom Silver Spoons, performed in special segments on ABC, and were part of an American telethon in these very flashy outfits. These days, they're best known for being the group where Ricky Martin got his start—he joined in 1984 at the age of 12.
Madonna was one of the biggest teen idols in history. She's obviously one of the most popular musical icons of all time, but in the '80s, she was also responsible for popularizing several fashion trends, from rubber bracelets to hair tied with big scarves to lace everything. In 1983, her first album, Madonna, was released, which included the songs "Holiday," "Lucky Star," and "Borderline." Talk about a debut!
1985: Rob Lowe
It's Brat Pack time. Our first member from the hugely popular group of young actors to make the list is Rob Lowe. In 1985, he starred in St. Elmo's Fire with a bunch of fellow Brat Pack members, after already gaining popularity from The Outsiders. Looking back on his teen idol status, he said on Justin Long's podcast (via Showbiz CheatSheet), "You just happen to be the guy who is occupying a place in the Zeitgeist at that moment for every hormonal teenage girl. And when they outgrow you or you outgrow it, there'll be somebody else."
1986: Molly Ringwald
Brat Pack member number two on our list is Molly Ringwald, who was at the peak of her acting career in 1986. This was the year she starred in Pretty in Pink, after 1985's The Breakfast Club, and 1984's Sixteen Candles—all written or directed by John Hughes. Ringwald said in a 2019 interview that she thought she'd have special insight into raising a teen thanks to her former teen idol role. "And I don't," she told CBSN Chicago. "Sometimes my daughter looks at me with this look, like 'You don't get it', and I'm like, 'Did you just roll your eyes at me? That's my thing!'"
This year's teen idol might just be responsible for getting a song stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Tiffany's cover of "I Think We're Alone Now" was her biggest hit, and she was also known for her mall tour, which is so very '80s. "They thought my age group hangs out in malls, which is true. I hang out in malls when I'm home," the then-15-year-old said in a video interview. "And so they decided to put the tour together." And as the video clip shows, fans loved her.
1988: Alyssa Milano
In 1988, 16-year-old Alyssa Milano was starring on Who's the Boss as the daughter of Tony Danza's character, a role she started playing in 1984. Also in 1988, she also starred in two TV movies, Crash Course and Dance 'til Dawn, and was about to launch her singing career. Going into music was a move appropriate for a teen star, but her music was only popular in Japan.
1989: River Phoenix
River Phoenix became known as a young actor thanks to his role in Stand by Me when he was 15. By 1989, he was definitely a teen idol, but in a very cool, alternative way. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 1989 Academy Awards for his role in Running on Empty, and attended the ceremony looking very chic with his girlfriend Martha Plimpton. Later in the year, he played young Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Tragically, Phoenix died four years later at the young age of 23.
1990: New Kids on the Block
The '90s kicked off with boy band fever. New Kids on the Block were at their height in 1990, releasing their fourth album, Step by Step, performing their "Magic Summer" tour with 100 dates in the U.S. alone, and even having their own animated series on ABC. All fans needed to worry about was what merch to buy and which member was their favorite: Jonathan Knight, Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, or Danny Wood.
1991: Luke Perry
When Beverly Hills, 90210 became the teen series of the '90s, the late Luke Perry became the TV teen idol by playing Dylan McKay. According to an Entertainment Weekly interview with the actor, at one point 10,00 fans came to see him at a mall and he had to be removed from the scene in a laundry hamper by police. If that doesn't scream teen idol, what does?
1992: The Cast of Saved by the Bell
During Saved by the Bell's run from 1989 to 1993, its cast, including Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zach Morris), Tiffani Theissen (Kelly Kapowski), and Mario Lopez (A.C. Slater), became popular teen stars. The cast taught life lessons to young viewers each week on their show, and off-screen they were living the celebrity life, appearing on teen magazines and being interviewed.
1993: Joey Lawrence
Another teen show responsible for creating a teen idol is Blossom, which ran from 1991 to 1995. With his one-word catchphrase "whoa," Joey Lawrence became a fan favorite on the sitcom. And, like many teen idols before him, he also had a music career. His first album, Joey Lawrence, was released in 1993. The newspaper The Morning Call wrote of Lawrence's appearance at a signing that the "full-blown teen heartthrob" was "threatening nearly 2,000 teen-age girls with hormonal meltdown."
The girl group TLC was popular throughout the '90s, but 1994 marked a real turning point with the release of their album CrazySexyCool. The album included two of their biggest hits, "Creep" and "Waterfalls." In addition to their music, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas, and Tionne "T-Box" Watkins were known for their fashion sense—including wearing clothes with condoms pinned to them—and social awareness, including openly discussing feminism and the AIDS epidemic.
1995: Alicia Silverstone
If you hear the term "'90s teen movie," there's a good chance that the comedy Clueless comes to mind. It's become a classic in the years since its release, but it was also a hit at the time and made Alicia Silverstone a big star. "It was really intense," she recently told Vogue of the time after the film's release. "I didn't expect any of the reaction that we got. It was a lot, and I think if anything it all pushed me away from doing this job for a while and got me so much more into my activism."
1996: Jonathan Taylor Thomas
In 1996, Jonathan Taylor Thomas—or JTT, as his fans called him—was a 15-year-old starring on Home Improvement and voicing Pinocchio in a new version of the Disney classic. (He'd already voiced young Simba in The Lion King two years prior.) The actor was a regular on the cover of teen magazines, and according to The Morning Call, received 50,000 pieces of fan mail each month. JTT stopped acting pretty much altogether in the early '00s, and after how overwhelming his teen acting years were, who can blame him?
1997: Spice Girls
1997 was undoubtedly the biggest year for the Spice Girls. Their first two albums, Spice and Spiceworld, were both released in the U.S., meaning that basically all the songs they're known for became hits for American fans during one year. Suddenly, kids and teens were deciding which one—Victoria Adams (now Beckham), Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm, or Geri Halliwell—they most related to. The Spice Girls capped off their year by releasing their movie, Spice World, in the U.K. (It came out in the U.S. in January 1998.)
1998: Leonardo DiCaprio
If you graduated high school in 1998, there's a good chance you saw Titanic—at least once—during your senior year. Leonardo DiCaprio had been acting since childhood and already had an Oscar nomination under his belt when the historic romance premiered in December 1997, but the film sent him into the highest level of superstardom. Asked about this by Entertainment Tonight at the time, he said, "I haven't purposely chosen to become widely known. That wasn't my reason [for doing the film]. But if it comes or if it goes, that's fine with me. I just want to keep growing as an actor and keep doing good work."
1999: Backstreet Boys
"Larger than Life." "I Want It That Way." "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely." All of these songs were released by the Backstreet Boys in 1999 off of their album Millennium, which sold 9.4 million copies during that year alone and was the top-selling album of the year. But BSB was more popular in Europe before they made it big in the States. Need proof? This interview with CBS This Morning talks about how they caused dozens of German fans to faint.
2000: Britney Spears
Anyone who graduated in the year 2000 spent the first half of high school not knowing who Britney Spears was and the second half not being able to avoid her. In 2000, Spears released her second album, Oops!… I Did It Again, with which she held the record for highest first-week sales for 15 years. She also gave one of her iconic performances at the MTV Video Music Awards (the crystal outfit one, not the snake one). And on top of that, she was dating a fellow teen idol, *NSYNC's Justin Timberlake, making them the pop star couple of the moment.