OWN
10/31/2014 09:24 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How 'Star Search' Champ Sam Harris Hid His Sexuality In The '80s: 'It Was Messed Up' (VIDEO)

Before "The Voice" and "American Idol," there was "Star Search." Celebrities like Beyonce, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears all appeared on the classic talent competition back in the '80s -- and, as many know, they lost. It was a true feat to beat out the other "Star Search" contestants and take home the coveted $100,000 prize, and few are better known for that honor than the show's first grand prize winner, Sam Harris.

More than 30 years ago, Harris walked onto the "Star Search" stage in its first season and sang his heart out in powerful and emotionally charged performances. After competing successfully in show after show, Harris was crowned the male vocalist winner. His life seemed to change overnight: He landed a record deal, he had an adoring fan base and began churning out chart-topping songs.

But while Harris was becoming a household name, he was also hiding a secret.

"The great irony of that period around 'Star Search' for me was that interviewers were always told, 'Don't ask him about his personal life,'" Harris says in the above video from "Oprah: Where Are They Now?". "Which was code for, 'He's gay. And we don't talk about it.'"

Throughout his rise to fame, Harris hid his sexuality. "You know, this was in the '80s," he says.

Today, Harris is happily married to Danny Jacobsen, whom he's been with since 1994, but felt the pressure to maintain a heterosexual public image all those years earlier as a young, upcoming star.

"When I would go to the Grammys or I'd go to an event, I would have a girl on my arm," he says. "It was a lie. It was messed up."

Sam Harris' full interview airs on "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" this Sunday, Nov. 2, at 9 p.m. ET on OWN. Find OWN on your TV.

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • 1 Tom Daley
    Olympic british diving champion Tom Daly was <a href="http://www.sbnation.com/london-olympics-2012/2012/8/10/3231463/tom-dale
    AP
    Olympic british diving champion Tom Daly was rumored to be gay and then squashed the rumors in early September 2013. In December 2013, however, the diver posted an emotional YouTube video where he told the world that he was in a relationship with a man (who is reported to be Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black) and stated, "It was always in the back of my head that something like that could happen, but it wasn’t until spring this year that something just clicked... My whole world just changed, right there and then."
  • 2 Ricky Martin
    Pop star Ricky Martin<a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/video/ricky-martin-gay-homosexual-rumors-2000-10239360" tar
    Michael Tran via Getty Images
    Pop star Ricky Martin dodged gay rumors for years and even recently admitted to having bullied gay people when he was younger. In March 2009, Martin posted a message on his website telling the world, "I am a fortunate homosexual man."
  • 3 Raven-Symone
    Raven-Symone had long faced lesbian rumors and was <a href="http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/raven-symone-rumore
    shutterstock
    Raven-Symone had long faced lesbian rumors and was linked to former "America's Next Top Model" contestant AzMarie livingston. The star publicly -- but nonchalantly -- came out via Twitter in early August 2013, telling her followers that "I can finally get married! Yay government! So proud of you."
  • 4 Neil Patrick Harris
    Neil Patrick Harris' sexuality was hotly debated for years before he came out and the gay rumors were fueled by <a href="http
    Phil McCarten/Invision/AP
    Neil Patrick Harris' sexuality was hotly debated for years before he came out and the gay rumors were fueled by regular public sitings of the actor with his alleged boyfriend. The "Doogie Howser, MD" and "How I Met Your Mother Star" came out on the cover of People magazine in November of 2006. Harris told the magazine: "The public eye has always been kind to me, and until recently I have been able to live a pretty normal life. Now it seems there is speculation and interest in my private life and relationships. So, rather than ignore those who choose to publish their opinions without actually talking to me, I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love."
  • 5 Lance Bass
    Rumors ran rampant about the sexuality of Lance Bass while he was a member of 'N Sync, though the singer reportedly remained
    shutterstock
    Rumors ran rampant about the sexuality of Lance Bass while he was a member of 'N Sync, though the singer reportedly remained closeted over fears that coming out would "completely ruin" the boy band's lucrative career. The pop star finally came out on the cover of People magazine in July 2006. When asked why he decided to come out then, Bass said, "The main reason I wanted to speak my mind was that (the rumors) really were starting to affect my daily life. Now it feels like it's on my terms. I'm at peace with my family, my friends, myself and God so there's really nothing else that I worry about."
  • 6 Anderson Cooper
    Anderson Cooper's sexuality had been <a href="http://www.out.com/entertainment/2008/09/22/glass-closet">scrutinized for years
    Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
    Anderson Cooper's sexuality had been scrutinized for years but it wasn't until July 2012 that he finally addressed the issue when he came out in an email to his friend and fellow journalist, Andrew Sullivan. In Cooper's message, which was posted on Sullivan's blog, "The Dish," on The Daily Beast, the CNN anchor stated, "The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud."
  • 7 Michelle Rodriguez
    There was wide-spread speculation about Michelle Rodriguez's sexuality prior to the actress' coming out, with the star report
    shutterstock
    There was wide-spread speculation about Michelle Rodriguez's sexuality prior to the actress' coming out, with the star reportedly telling a member of the paparazzi "I'm not a lesbian... Michi likes sausage." Rodriguez went on to come out as bisexual in late 2013, reportedly telling Latina magazine, "Eventually it’s going to wrinkle up and I’m not going to be able to use it. I wanted to be honest about who I am and see what happens."
  • 8 Clay Aiken
    "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken had been <a href="http://www.realitytvworld.com/news/clay-aiken-says-he-tired-of-gay-rum
    Jude Domski via Getty Images
    "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken had been the subject of gay rumors since his days on the reality series in 2003. After becoming a father in August of 2008, Aiken came out on the cover of People magazine in September 2008 saying, "[Coming out] was the first decision I made as a father... I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things. I wasn't raised that way, and I'm not going to raise a child to do that."
  • 9 Wentworth Miller
    Wentworth Miller previously denied rumors about his sexuality in 2007 when he told the press  “<a href="http://www.newnownext
    AP
    Wentworth Miller previously denied rumors about his sexuality in 2007 when he told the press “I’m not gay, but that rumor can’t be killed." The "Prison Break" star went on to come out in August 2013 after being invited to attend the St. Petersburg International Film Festival in Russia. In the midst of massive anti-gay violence and legislation throughout the country at that time, he decided it was time to go public about his sexuality. "Thank you for your kind invitation. As someone who has enjoyed visiting Russia in the past and can also claim a degree of Russian ancestry, it would make me happy to say yes," the 41-year-old wrote in a letter to the festival's director, which was posted on GLAAD's website. "However, as a gay man, I must decline."
  • 10 Jodie Foster
    Jodie Foster's sexuality had been speculated about for years, with high-profile incidents, such as <a href="http://www.shekno
    Stefanie Keenan via Getty Images
    Jodie Foster's sexuality had been speculated about for years, with high-profile incidents, such as a joke by Ricky Gervais at the 2012 Golden Globes, regularly raising eyebrows throughout Hollywood. Foster finally broke her public silence about her sexuality in a heartfelt speech when she accepted her Cecil B. Demille award at the 70th Golden Globe Awards in 2013.
  • 11 George Takei
    The beloved George Takei, known as Sulu on "Star Trek," <a href="http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/9845944/ns/today-entertainment
    Steve Zak Photography via Getty Images
    The beloved George Takei, known as Sulu on "Star Trek," came out in a 2005 article in Frontiers, an LGBT magazine, after being the subject of gay rumors.
  • 12 Rosie O'Donnell
    The comedian and talk show host <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/life/television/2002/2002-02-27-rosie.htm" target="_hplink">
    AP
    The comedian and talk show host came out by revealing "I'm a dyke!" during her stand up act at the Ovarian Cancer Research benefit at Carolines Comedy Club in February 2002. Throughout her years hosting the "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" from 1996 to 2002, O'Donnell never publicly addressed her sexuality despite pervasive rumors.
  • 13 George Michael
    After being caught performing a "lewd act" in a public restroom, Michael came out to CNN in April 1998. <a href="http://www.c
    AP
    After being caught performing a "lewd act" in a public restroom, Michael came out to CNN in April 1998. Michael said, "This is as good of a time as any... I want to say that I have no problem with people knowing that I'm in a relationship with a man right now. I have not been in a relationship with a woman for almost 10 years." Later that year Michael spoofed the incident in the music video for his single "Outside."
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