Hosted by Ed McMahon in between his other gigs—laughing with Johnny Carson, introducing bloopers with Dick Clark, handing out million dollar checks from American Family Publishers—Star Search featured many now-familiar faces, including Rosie O’Donnell, an early version of Destiny’s Child, Sharon Stone, and Justin Timberlake doing country (complete with cowboy hat and boots!). The show debuted in 1983 and immediately hit the top of the ratings, due in large part to the wholesome good looks and killer pipes of Oklahoma native Sam Harris and his dominant 14-week crushing of the competition.
Harris parlayed his win for Best Male Vocalist into a contract with Motown. His first single, “Sugar Don’t Bite,” came out the following year and just managed to scrape into the Top 40 — the only time Harris made it to the big leagues. The song was composed by Donna Weiss and Bruce Roberts, each of whom had co-written #1 hits — she for Kim Carnes with “Bette Davis Eyes,” and he for Barbra Streisand with “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)”—but would never see that kind of success again. And, after his platinum-selling debut, neither would Sam Harris. At least, not with pop music.
Instead, Harris co-created a TV sitcom which ran on cable for 4 seasons about a ghost maid from the 1920s (seriously — I remember watching the show as a kid), and later got himself nominated for a Tony, and also performed at the White House. He still releases the occasional album in between his gigs both on Broadway and off. So Sam’s doing great.
Aside from the Star Search connection, here’s the only other piece of trivia associated with “Sugar Don’t Bite”: songwriters Weiss and Roberts sued Madonna a few years later for copyright infringement when “Papa Don’t Preach” came out. And they won. (So you can keep your baby, Madonna, but not your royalties.)
There’s an official video for “Sugar Don’t Bite” but search for it at your own peril. It’s bad, even by the lower standards of the 80s.
Below is a performance of Sam’s signature song, “Over The Rainbow.” This is the number that gained him mass attention (and perfect scores). It’s perhaps a little over the top (or, as Simon Cowell would say, “a bit self-indulgent”) but Harris certainly does diva the hell out of the song and it was considered a powerhouse show-stopper at the time.