At 14, Mandy Moore was confused by 'Candy' lyrics

Mandy Moore realizes on homecoming that her days as an ordinary teenage girl are behind her. Just months after the release of her hit song "Candy," the budding pop star returned to high school for her prom and overheard some classmates "talking dirty" in the bathroom. When she heard their complaints—"I can't believe she's here. Who does she think she is?"—the teenage Moore hesitated whether to step out of the cubicle to confront them or remain in hiding.

"Of course, I waited for them to leave," Moore told Busy. "When I came out, I made a promise to myself: I didn't think I was going to come back and do anything at school events because I wasn't sure if it was my place."

Luckily, she's happy with her new home in the music industry, something she's dreamed of since she was 6 years old. At age 13, she was discovered by a talent agent and recorded her first record , So Real, the following year. Since then, Moore has spent her teenage years on MTV's Total Request Live and touring with NSYNC.

During those years, she was constantly compared to Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson, and while she was flattered by the connection, Moore quickly distinguished herself by seriously pursuing acting. Her early work included playing mean girl Lana in 2001's The Princess Diaries and making teenage girls cry around the world in 2002's A Walk Down Memory Lane , laying the foundation for her career today. Starting with her Emmy-nominated performance on This Is Us , the 39-year-old actor continues to showcase her talents by co -starring in the second season of Peacock's Dr. Death. She also returned to music after an 11-year hiatus, releasing pop-folk albums in 2020 and 2022.

Mandy Moore at the 1998 homecoming dance . Instagram/mandymooremm

However, despite her decades of experience in the industry, she claims her anxiety levels are worse now than they were when she was 14. "I didn't know that I should be so nervous, like you're entering the adult world and you're on the precipice of your life changing forever and any kind of autonomy as you know it disappears by the wayside," she said. Later adding, “Looking back, I’m really grateful that no one took me out of my comfort zone. I was always allowed to be myself. "

Below, Moore reflects on her life as a 14-year-old, confused by "Candy" lyrics, and Justin Timberlake making embarrassing comments about her feet.

Mandy Moore, 1999 . KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Let's go back to 1998 and '99, when you were 14 years old. What does a typical day in your life look like?

I just started my freshman year of high school in Orlando, Florida. I was getting ready to leave because I had a record deal. I was about to start recording my first album.

I went from getting ready to go to Catholic high school — where I would put on my uniform and watch MTV every morning — to eight to 10 months later, playing music videos on MTV. This is very, very strange.

I read in a 1999 Billboard interview that you said you were known as "the anthem girl." How did this come about?

When I was 12 years old I went to an Orlando Magic basketball game and saw a kid my age singing the national anthem. It was like a eureka moment for me. I've only seen adults come out and sing the national anthem. So I took the ball and ran. I sent my audition tape to the Orlando Magic and I was chosen to sing. And then that then went into the [local] football team, ice hockey team, and roller hockey team. Honestly, I just toured the greater Orlando area singing the national anthem.

Mandy Moore, 2000. Steve Azara/Corbis Entertainment/Getty Images

When you were 15, you said you felt like you weren't growing up fast enough. How is your time going?

I feel like I'm not growing up very fast. I was allowed to work and still go to movies, malls, and amusement parks with friends. I am able to maintain a healthy balance between the two. Maybe that's because times have changed. I mean, we're talking over twenty years ago. There was no social media; there was no social media. There’s no fear of missing out. You don’t know what you missed in school, or the effects weren’t in front of you. So, in that sense, I feel like I have the best of both worlds.

Did you face any scrutiny when you became famous?

Scrutiny never really entered my orbit. To be honest, I'm lucky enough that if there are any comments, concerns, or questions, they are filtered out before being sent to me. Each one made me choose what to wear, how to present myself, or how to answer questions. Looking back now, it’s so embarrassing; some of my choices were questionable. My voice was too high and the way I answered the question was too silly. But I'm still a kid. I don't know what I'm doing.

Mandy Moore, 1999 . Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

What do you remember from recording "Candy"?

It's interesting. I feel like at that time - and maybe in the music industry now as well - it was very much my choice. This is the song and they're going to make it work in some form. I was lucky enough to be able to do that and it helped kickstart everything. But yeah, at a different Sliding Doors moment, it could have been anyone who sang the song and could have made it what it is.

What did you think of the song at the time?

I liked it immediately. I'm confused too, like, I miss you like candy. I can't understand what it means. Because I took it literally and I thought, well, I do like candy. I like sugar. I like to go to 7-11 and buy sweet pies. As a 15-year-old boy, I simply couldn't fathom what this meant because I'd barely ever French-kissed a boy. In a lot of my music at the time, I was singing about things that I had absolutely no experience with, but at least ["Candy"] was the more innocent side of the coin.

How were your relationships with boys at that time?

I definitely had a crush. I think I French kissed a boy, but that was about it. Just holding hands with someone still makes my palms sweat, but, yeah, I had the opportunity to be on MTV with Carson Daly and all these boy bands and NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys. I was just a regular young girl with a crush on them all.

Justin Timberlake and Mandy Moore, 1999 . Instagram/mandymooremm

Did you have any funny or awkward moments meeting the boy band?

I remember touring with Justin Timberlake and NSYNC, and at one point we were all backstage. They were comparing height and foot size, and [Timberlake] looked at my feet and said, "Wow, you have big feet for a girl." I'm about 5-foot-10 and a size 10. Back then, I was just a long, skinny thing with boat-like feet. It didn't scare me, but I was like, "Oh, this is not something you want this very handsome, famous guy to notice you for."

Years later he came up to me and apologized for it, which I thought was completely unnecessary, but he was completely kind and sweet. He was like, "I know how traumatic this can be for you." I was like, "Justin, no, no, no, I'm fine." He was so sweet. It was a humbling moment. But you know, that kind of stuff is good for you.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.