He earned extra cash as a busker on guitar and a djembe drum he had received as a gift. Singing on the streets for money is something Mallette said she never forced him to do but earned them thousands of dollars after the first time he tried for fun at age 6.
Success snowballed when Justin was 12 on the strength of YouTube videos Mallette posted for faraway relatives that were quickly discovered by young people and exploded with millions of views. Along came Scooter Braun, a persistent manager who launched Justin's career at barely 13, fresh out of junior high.
He's 18 now, his mother's age when she had him. Mallette said he's pushing for his independence, moving alone into a house he bought in Calabasas, California. Mom wasn't invited to join him but lives nearby.
"He doesn't want me in his space so much but he's doing really well for himself," said Mallette, who once traveled with him everywhere.
Justin has a fancy sports car that was a gift from Braun and earned him a speeding ticket in July as he was chased by paparazzi. He also has a girlfriend, Selena Gomez, whom Mallette adores.
"She's just a sweetheart. She's kind and generous and loving," said mom, who's often called just that by fans on Twitter.
Mallette first told Justin about her past when he was about 12, after she began sharing at small-group meetings.
"I felt like he was old enough, mature enough to hear my story, and, you know, talk about it," Mallette said. "I feel like it's really important for us to talk, and I've always asked him a lot of questions and always tried to protect him from going through the same sort of thing."