Meeting Justin Timberlake

Look, we all have our heroes, and some mean more to us than others. Finding inspiration in someone is a basic characteristic we all possess. Where you find that inspiration depends on who you are and what you love.

Maybe you look up to a self made billionaire, an athlete, a humanitarian (very noble of you), a musician, or a family member. For me, I have many heroes. My mom, dad and my brother are my heroes. My grandparents, relatives, friends, and my girlfriend are all people I greatly look up to for various reasons.

I obviously have my sports heroes.

However, I was lucky enough to find someone at an early age that I could connect with on something that was central to my existence; creativity and imagination.

As a child I lived a good 3/4 of my life in my own head. My imagination always gave me the ability to create my own happiness (to a certain extent, obviously the people in my life GREATLY contribute as well). I would create worlds and keep myself endlessly entertained. As I grew older, that creativity took shape in the form of entertaining others. I found great joy in sharing the very thing that was keeping me internally happy with those around me.

I began dancing and singing for my mom in our living room from an early and tender age of probably around 3 years old (my prime. I peaked early AF). I would make up the song as I went and wouldn’t stop until I dropped dead from exhaustion, and my mother was more than supportive of these performances. She truthfully enjoyed them. So in turn, this creative side continued to be fed and nurtured, and eventually it found something to latch onto.

I remember watching the “Free Willy” music video that featured Michael Jackson performing “Will You Be There”, the greatest song in existence. I saw a man in all white, belting out this song as wind blew his hair in the most glorious way possible, like he was some superstar from another galaxy. The video was all set to the backdrop of orca whales gracefully breaching the waters of the pristine northwest coast, and I was hooked. There was no going back.


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Michael Jackson had entered my life. Now lets fast forward to the late 90s, when boy bands were becoming a big thing, and so too was a certain style of dancing. There was something about synchronized dancing that I latched on to. I remember being in 6th grade and seeing something called “Show Choir”. I was so jealous that they all knew these dance moves, and were doing them together. I never really stopped to think about whether or not something was socially acceptable or “cool”. If I liked it, I liked it. I played sports not to fit in, but because I truly loved them. The same goes for singing and dancing.

I always danced for fun, but I never really did it with other people. Around the same time, my older brother was dragged to an audition with a girl he was currently interested in. He basically just went to support her, and ended up auditioning himself. She didn’t make it, but he did.

Next thing you know, he starts showing me videos of this Show Choir he had just been accepted to, and I was like wtf?! How do they move like that?! I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, so I started attending all of their practices and watched them go through the steps. I was basically this creepy kid sitting in the back of the auditorium all by myself, staring at them without blinking. I was taking mental notes about what made the best performers the best, and studied their weaknesses and how I could exploit them (I didn’t do that. There would be no reason for this) Afterwards, I would go home and practice everything I saw.

Also, speaking of heroes, it’s worth noting that I looked up to my brother like a God (and still do). Anything he did was the coolest thing in the world to me, so to see him do these intense dance movements to the backdrop of a kick ass live band was making me sick with jealousy. For those of you who don’t know, Show Choir is basically a group of 20-40 individuals who dance and sing musical numbers on stage. I loved singing and dancing, so I was hooked.

My brother would come home from practice and teach me the moves, and he wouldn’t let me get away with doing it wrong. Simultaneously, the boy band NYSNC was huge, but really wasn’t socially acceptable to love if you weren’t a girl (its fucked up, but it’s how it was). So, I secretly admired everything they did without really sharing it with anyone other than my brother. We both loved them, and I particularly loved their dancing. So in turn, my brother and I did our best to learn their dances as well.

Soon after, the lead singer of NSYNC announced that he was going solo, which actually made me pretty upset. However, it strangely enough might have been the most important thing to ever happen to me.

I was in New Hampshire at the time looking for moose (again, another socially acceptable activity) when I got a call from my brother telling me that I HAD to watch Justin Timberlake’s debut performance. Wouldn’t you know, that I was looking for moose when JT was about to officially enter my life. God do you believe in magic or what, ugh!

He went on and on about it, describing to me how it featured “actual” dancing, unlike that of the boy bands. So once I was back at the hotel, I turned on a re-run of the Video Music Awards, and watched JT’s debut performance, and the rest is history.

It’s safe to say, that if this performance never happened, nearly everything about my life would be different.

I’m obviously someone who looks for various meanings in life, but at the same time I am more than aware that any random thing can happen to anyone at any time, for no reason whatsoever. However, if there appears to be meaning behind something, I don’t have to ignore it. In saying that, I have to point out that much of Justin Timberlake’s career has somehow coincided with extremely important moments in my life (maybe the most important moments).

So JT goes solo and performed “Like I Love You” at the Video Music Awards, and it was the most inspired I’ve ever felt while watching a musical performance. Once I returned home, I recorded both the performance and the music video, and studied it for hours on end. I learned the entire dance by pausing the video every two or three seconds until I had every step down. Part of my inspiration for doing this was to impress my brother, so I couldn’t wait to show him once it was perfected. However, it took forever.

At the time I wasn’t a very good dancer at all. For some strange reason, I’ve always been attracted to things I wasn’t good at, but others were. I wanted to be as good as they were, if not better. The jealousy inside me served as a burning drive to perfect it.

Singing always came naturally to me, but dancing was something that required a lot of work. Once JT had gone solo, I had more than enough material from which to practice and study. My brother still taught me his Show Choir moves every day, as I secretly continued to learn the “Like I Love You” choreography.

My brother was quickly becoming one of, if not the best dancer in his Show Choir, so impressing him became a top priority. Eventually I showed him the dance and he was blown away. His reaction gave me all the confidence I needed to take my dancing to the next level. I was obsessed.

On a more serious note, it was around that same time that my mom and dad had informed us that my father was diagnosed with cancer. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I was still able to find relief in my newfound passion. It gave me a distraction.

I loved every single song from Justin Timberlake’s debut album “Justified”. I learned every step of every dance he did. Just like young kids imitate the way Jordan moved on the basketball court, I imitated everything about JT. I idolized his songs, performances, and dance routines. Next thing you know, people were calling me Justin Timberlake and I really didn’t hate it. I would still sit in the empty auditorium watching my brothers Show Choir practice every day, but now I would start to show off my moves to some of the members, desperately seeking their approval.

By the time I was in 8th grade, Justin was on tour promoting his first album. I would literally have done anything in the world to attend one of the concerts, but my parents probably took my love for his music as hyperbole, and weren’t going to pay for a ticket. My dad definitely didn’t take it seriously. He always referred to him as “my friend Jason”. My friend Jason?? First of all, he’s not my friend. Second, his name is Justin. Please take my passions seriously! And don’t worryyyy…I’m still big into sports dad! Show Choir isn’t taking over my life (but it is).

Justin’s show in Boston was approaching as I sat in my bedroom dressed like him and practicing his moves, waiting for the radio to announce their ticket contests. I can’t believe I would do something like this, but I actually called in. Someone answered the phone and told me that I would have to speak by only using the names of his songs and various lyrics while they had me on the air. I said what the fuck does that mean! I hate you! So I understandably got freaked out and hung up. I sat there defeated, realizing that his biggest fan was going to miss the show. Getting my hands on a ticket would be similar to Charlie opening up that candy bar and finding the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The idea of seeing him in person was otherworldly to me, as he had taken on this mythical idea in my mind. His music was changing my life.

Soon after the radio debacle, my brothers girlfriend at the time told him that she had tickets for them to both go together and see his show. My brother was obviously thrilled as he was a HUGE fan as well. He then stopped, and told her he simply couldn’t do that to his younger brother. He couldn’t go without me, and turned it down.

The day before the show, my brothers girlfriend came over our house and my family stood by as if they knew something was going to happen. She walked up to me with a huge smile on her face, and told me I was going to the Justin Timberlake concert. She was giving me her ticket so that I could go with my brother. I fell to the floor in disbelief. Soon after, I lost all control and took off my clothes and went nuts, because for some reason, that’s a thing I do (this was the first time of many).

In one of the best days of my life, I got to somehow attend the concert side by side with my brother, and see my idol perform in person. My brothers girlfriend also found another ticket and was able to attend as well.

Fast forward a few years, and JT has not released an album in a while. In the meantime I’ve become a good dancer in my own right. I was taking hip hop dance classes and practicing as much as I possibly could in my free time. It was the summer going into my senior year, and I was to be the Dance Captain of our High School Show Choir. My dad had recently informed me that his cancer had returned, which was not good news at all given its newfound severity. This was all incredibly sad and overwhelming, yet I was able to find an outlet in dancing again. It gave me a reason to feel good when there was so much else going on. At the same time, JT announced that he was dropping his second album.

Here we go again. Video Music Award part 2. The announcement was that he was going to debut the first song from his next album in a performance for the show. The show began, and as a surprise, JT opened the show by coming out of the ground and onto the stage under a single spotlight, and performing a dance solo to open the show. BOOM! Michael is back.

My father passed away a couple weeks later, and my life was forever changed. We also very nearly lost my mom at the same time due to a major medical emergency. It seemed like I was always either in the hospital, or I was dancing – two very different activities. Justin’s music always picked me up. While emotionally recovering from these events, I began my senior year of High School once again obsessed with his new album.

Later in my senior year, a student who was well known for being an extremely good dancer, had approached me about performing a dance number at the High School Pep Rally. However, we were not to discuss anything yet, because there were serious matters that needed to be addressed, ASAP. Before we could even speak to one another, we obviously had to have a traditional dance off. This is actually a true story. He sent someone else to request a dance off. I was in the middle of teaching an after school dancing program, and kind of just laughed it off. Turns out the kid was serious, so we did it. I don’t drop names, but after he sent his disciple to request the dance off, the man himself walked through the doors that seemingly opened by themselves as a purple fog poured into the room. He approached me, and without uttering a word, began dancing in a deliberate attack on my talents. So, we had a dance off for the ages. Afterwards we became friends and he asked me to perform with him during the Pep Rally. I said hell no. Also, I’m going to save most of the details of this story for another blog because it definitely contains some meaty stuff. I didn’t want to do the Pep Rally because no one really knew I was a dancer, and I wasn’t sure how over a thousand high school kids would react to me dancing in front of them. In fact, I thought it would be a disaster. What if I walked out there and shit my pants?

Long story short, I did it, and it was a big success. I opened the performance by dancing to the same music JT had danced to when he opened his VMA performance. I also listened to his music prior to walking out to center court in front of my entire high school, in order to muster up some much needed confidence. There I was, center court, solo dancing to JT in front of my entire high school.

(This is from a different high school performance. Not the Pep Rally)

At this point in my life I was head over heals obsessed with dancing, and decided that I wanted to pursue it in college. I knew I had to either be in LA or NYC, so I chose the latter so that I could be relatively close to home. This decision to go to school in New York would have major affects on my life. It lead me to my best friend (and other friends) whom I met at Manhattanville College. Not only did this person become my best friend, but I became extremely close with his entire family, which changed everything about my life. Meeting him was possibly the best thing that’s ever happened to me for so many reasons.

So I chose to minor in dance and major in something else in case dancing didn’t work out (which was a smart decision). I found so much inspiration in the work of Justin’s choreographer, Marty Kudelka, who would become one of my heroes in his own right. I watched every one of his videos that I could. I even like to think that I became a good choreographer myself. I started choreographing several dance numbers to be performed in various showcases during my undergraduate at Mville, some obviously better than others. One of them (that I did not choreograph) had me dressed up like a sad and sparkly Las Vegas prostitute, which is absolutely going to be blogged about one day.

After graduating college and living at home for a while, two of my best friends and I decided to move to Hawaii. About a month before this major move and subsequent major shift in my life, JT released his third studio album, and I was possessed yet again. Just before moving down there, I landed a job as a hip hop dance instructor in Honolulu. JTs music had once again served as a major guiding light in my path through life. His single “Mirrors” basically became the definitive song of my experience in Hawaii. One of my other friends who moved with me was a big time fan as well, and we were able to blast his new album throughout our time there. The other friend I was with ultimately proved not worthy of being a true Justin Timberlake fan. Shame.

He ended up getting severely injured while we were all having the time of our lives in the ocean. Did this happen because he talked right through one of our major debuts of a new Justin song? I’m not saying it didn’t, that’s for sure. You don’t interrupt the first listen of a JT song in Michaels presence. You just simply don’t do it!

A little more than a year later, I moved back to New York City once I felt Hawaii had run its course.

Soon after, my best friend who I met at Manhattanville had me over his house (one of the millions of times). It was then that his sister introduced me to her friend, a beautiful girl seemingly full of life. This girl would eventually become my girlfriend, and everything I could ever dream of.

Justin’s first album is what got me into dance. His second album came out just as my father passed away and somehow was able to save me with the distraction and determination to pursue dance. If I never pursued dance, I never would’ve moved to New York where I met my best friend, which ended up leading to my girlfriend of the past three years. His third album came before the biggest decision I would ever make; the decision to move to Hawaii, and served as the soundtrack to the most memorable year of my life.

Nearly a year after meeting my now girlfriend, Justin had released his latest album, Man of the Woods. Not only that, but it was announced that he was going to headline the Super Bowl halftime show…the same Super Bowl that my other hero, Tom Brady was playing in. In addition, he would be releasing the album the weekend of the game. JT was working his magic again.

For my birthday, my girlfriend surprised me by buying us both floor tickets to see his concert at Madison Square Garden on March 21st, 2018 (what would be my dad’s birthday). The serendipitous magic was back and it was better than ever. However, in a wicked twist of fate, the Patriots lost the Super Bowl as Tom Brady fumbled in the final play of the game.

Okay, well at least I still have the concert. The day finally came, and I was electric with life. I was like a boy in a real life musical, singing and dancing my way through the streets of NYC, blaring his music in my headphones. There was a bit of a snow storm that day, but all I could think about was the concert. It was then that I saw Justin had posted something to his Instagram page. It was an announcement saying that the performance wasn’t going to happen because of the snow.

I was ruined. My life felt over.

I thought to myself that up until now, everything had always made sense in terms of timing. I was so crushed that my hero had canceled the show on my dad’s birthday. Now what?! Doesn’t he care about my dad’s birthday?! I honestly texted things like that to my friends (Michael had gone off the deep end, and was in a dark place). I always use his concerts/albums for inspiration. I knew then that my summer was doomed. All was lost.

It would take me months to come to grips with the idea that maybe not all of these things that have happened really had as much meaning as I thought, and it was more of me just creating what I wanted to believe in my head. It was an absolutely crushing idea.

However, Justin did announce that the show would be postponed until October 22nd, but at the time, that felt like a lifetime away, and who even knew if I would live that long. I honestly feel like I cheat death monthly, just waiting for that fateful day when the bus of destiny comes out of no where and gloriously takes me out.

A few months later, my girlfriend and I started planning a trip to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton. This was basically the greatest thing I could ever think of doing. Seeing these places would be a dream come true. After months of planning, it was finally the day before the trip. I was so unbelievably excited.

It was a really nice day in New York, as I was walking down the sidewalk thinking of nothing other than the trip of a lifetime. I thought to myself that I’m honestly more excited for this than I’ve ever been for anything in my life, even those epic JT concerts. And you know what? I’ll get to see Justin’s concert shortly after the trip is over.

So cool, I thought as I was walking down the street the day before my big trip. I’ll get to wear my “Montana” coat (that I obviously bought at JT’s pop-up store) in Montana, listening to “Montana” from JTs Man of the Woods. It doesn’t get any more super fan than that!! -or scary/worrisome to anyone else- but not this guy!

So I continued walking on the sidewalk, dreaming of tomorrow’s trip, when I looked to my left and saw none other than Justin Timberlake walking towards me!

This was it.

This was the moment I always feared my entire life. I always thought that if I ever saw him, I would sprint away in the opposite direction as fast as I could. I wouldn’t want him to see me. I’m simply not worthy. Not only that, but what if he makes fun of me? Or acts annoyed by something I say? Obviously I would completely fall apart even IF he was cool with me. There’s no chance in hell I would be able to formulate words and act even remotely normal. There’s so much I would want to say, but obviously wouldn’t be able to properly say it. Also, there’s no guarantee that I’ll be looking presentable that day, because way too often, I closely resemble Robin Hood, or Peter Pan (not in a good way). They also say to never meet your idols, and none would be more relevant than me meeting JT.

So I see Justin walking toward me, and I knew my plan was always to flee if I ever saw him, but it didn’t happen.

I saw him, and without hesitation, I turned so that I was facing him as he walked toward me. Just a few feet away, we immediately made eye contact, and the universe probably then exploded and all of this is now a figment of my imagination. I walked toward him and said, “hey man, I just have to tell you that I’m absolutely your biggest fan” (no statement has ever been more accurate).

The way he looked back at me was with complete sincerity. Now I understand that he’s heard this very statement over a thousand times in his life, but I honestly think he saw the authenticity in my eyes when I said that to him, because I said it with some serious meaning (and he’s probably not used to 6’4 men saying it). His eyes seemed to widen and focus as he looked back at me and replied, “hey thanks man”. I then told him that I was going to be attending his concert. It was then that he truly became interested and approached me closer as he asked me which show I was going to. I told him the October 22nd show, which he actually needed some reminding as to which show that was. I stuck out my hand and told him that he was the biggest inspiration in my life, and thanked him. He shook my hand as he looked me squarely in the eyes and thanked me for saying that. In the moment I was hyper aware of anything that would translate as annoyance or frustration in having to talk to another fan, but there was simply none of that. He was very present, and honestly interested in what I was saying to him, and it obviously meant the world to me. Just before we went our separate ways I told him to keep doing what he’s doing, keep pushing it, and killing it.

We split, and that was that.

For one moment of my life, I was standing eye to eye, talking to my life long hero, thanking him for what he’s given me.

I walked about a block away before everything hit me. I truly believe it all happened so fast that the nerves didn’t have time to catch up. I basically went into shock and acted before I could think, which was definitely for the best. Once I was a block away, my entire body started shaking and I was overwhelmed with the emotions of meeting my childhood idol.

It was the greatest moment of my life.

Somehow, someway, I had met my hero Justin Timberlake the day before the biggest trip of my life (a week that would become the best week of my life, by far, and deeply affect me. A week where it felt like I was in heaven at times, sharing a paradise in the memory of my father). I even was able to tell Justin that I would be attending his show. None of this would’ve happened if he hadn’t postponed that March 21st show. Instead, he had appeared at a pivotal moment in my life yet again, this time in person.

I immediately texted my brother, thinking about the time he gave up his ticket so that he wouldn’t see JTs show without me. My brother better than anyone, understood how important this was. He joked with me that the timing of all this made him think twice about whether or not there could be other forces of work at hand.

It felt as if my life had come full circle. I simply was in disbelief.

Picture yourself meeting your #1 hero or idol. This is what had just happened.

My girlfriend was in disbelief. One of my best friends from college came all the way down to see me so that he could hear the story in person. Most of the people in my life (especially from earlier on) understand what JT means to me. Many were just worried that now I might die, given that I just reached the pinnacle. Going into a major trip made up of epic hikes and skydiving, I too realized that my chances of not dying on this upcoming trip were now slim.

I always thought that if I were ever going to meet him, it would be on my death bed. He would come in just as I was dying, take my hand as he compliments my hair and tells me that I seem like an incredible person, and that he was a big fan of my dance videos on YouTube. I would say “thank you Justin Timberlake”, and then die.

I simply couldn’t believe how perfect our interaction had gone. He wasn’t on the phone. He wasn’t in a rush, and I was already in a fantastic mood. It was all so perfect.

I couldn’t help but think about everything I wanted to say to him, but realized it might have been too much had I told him that the only reason I’m standing here right now on this sidewalk in New York is because of him, or that he lead me to my life changing best friend who introduced me to the love of my life, or inspired me to become a dancer and that I also idolize his choreographer and watch his videos every day and that I also listen to his music whenever I’m looking for a confidence boost but also for any situation whatsoever in life and that I’ve modeled so much of my singing after him and know all his songs on guitar and piano and that his music helped get me through some of the toughest times in my life but also the best, and that if anyone talks through the debut of one of your songs in my presence that they are forever cursed and that his “Like I Love You” performance was the most inspired I’ve ever felt ahhhhh!

I get the feeling that he might’ve been freaked out had I told him too much.

So, instead it was perfect. And off into the sunset he went.

Somehow, through all the ripples and variations in my life, Justin Timberlake has remained a constant. For a single moment in both of our lives, fate intertwined, and I got to look my hero in the eyes as he looked back at me.


**For copywriting inquiries, feel free to email me at michaelswanders@gmail.com–Guest blogging, website copy, product descriptions, email, social media posts, and more**

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