Timberlake a messiah for the geek within

The beauty of Justin Timberlake is that more than any other pop star working today, he provides hope for the loser in us all. Logically speaking, the 26-year-old singer and serial celebrity-shagger should be sitting at the same pop-culture lunch table as Carrot Top, Vanilla Ice, and that drunk driver from The Sixth Sense. Instead, he's dating Jessica Biel, working with the í¼ber–MILF known as Madonna, and holding his own in the studio with rap's reigning gangsta, 50 Cent. Considering where Timberlake came from, he's an inspiring messiah for the geeks of America. If you're currently suffering through a protracted awkward stage, he sends a message that there's hope for you yet.

For all he's accomplished, Timberlake's greatest achievement is that he actually survived his time in a boy band. To put such a feat in perspective, ask yourself what's become of the members of the Osmonds, Bay City Rollers, New Kids on the Block, or Backstreet Boys. And no, starring in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, slinking out of the closet with Reichen Lehmkujl from The Amazing Race, or ending up as a punch line on The Family Guy doesn't count.

Three of Timberlake's former bandmates in *N STYNK are currently one step away from working as Wal-Mart door greeters. When not performing on the Dewey Duck stage at Disneyland, the fourth *N STYNKER, Joey Fatone (aka Joey Fat One), has been reduced to hosting The Singing Bee.

The most bizarre thing about Timberlake is that no one would have picked him for superstardom when he went solo in 2002. During his time with *N STYNK, he was no one's choice to bring sexy back. Check out the early promo photos of the poor man's Backstreet Boys, and you'll see Justin Randall Timberlake sporting the worst pubic fez this side of Nicole Kidman in Dead Calm. Fashionwise, well let's just say that even taking into account the styles of the day, no man looks good in white pants and fluffy sweaters.

That Timberlake's debut, Justified, ended up moving over seven million copies shouldn't, in hindsight, have been shocking. The singer went all mature on us just as the kids who made *N STYNK millionaires were starting to think about getting tramp stamps. The army of shrieking girls who spent the '90s stuffing socks in their training bras gave Timberlake a ready-made audience. And even if Justified had sucked worse than Britney Spears's summer-of-2007 "comeback" tour, give him credit for daring to approach Timbaland.

As much as Justified cast him as a poor white man's Michael Jackson (and, really, is there any greater indignity?), 2006's FutureSex/LoveSound was indisputably one of the year's finest. Timberlake's guilty of a lot of things: being an unrepentant momma's boy; owning a clothing line that designs polo shirts; shilling for artery-clogging fast-food empires; aiding and abetting the selling of Nelly Furtado's soul; and, lest we forget, ripping a Super Bowl titty tarp off Janet Jackson. All was forgiven, though, in the time it took to spin FutureSex's fantastically fucked-up "SexyBack". All electro-trash synth bombs and codeine-slurred vocals, the song finally made it okay to forgive Timberlake for being a boy-band byproduct. For that song, and that song alone, Jordan Knight is still watching in stunned awe, Cameron Diaz is wondering what she let get away, and geeky ugly ducklings everywhere are staring in the mirror, thinking that maybe, just maybe, things aren't as hopeless as they look.