TIME celebrities

15 People Who Were Almost Famous in 2014

The heroes, villains and phenomena that rose, briefly, to the top

This appears in the December 22, 2014 issue of TIME.
  • Alex From Target

    The Internet is constantly improving efficiency. In the past, tween girls had to discover their burgeoning sexuality by having a crush on some nonthreatening, mop-headed, baby-faced singer or actor even though they didn’t care about singing or acting. Now they have Alex Lee, a nonthreatening, mop-headed, baby-faced checkout kid in Texas that some girl took a photo of and posted on Twitter. A day later, he had 300,000 followers, a spot on CNN and a bunch of old people confused.

  • “Human” Hello Kitty

    15 Minutes
    Toru Hanai—Reuters

    The name Hello Kitty may sound absurd, but it definitely implies cat. At least it did until the Internet uncovered the Japanese icon’s official bio, which says her real identity is Kitty White, a “little girl” who lives in London, loves apple pie and has her own pet cat, Charmmy Kitty. That revelation caused a virtual pussy riot, forcing maker Sanrio to issue a statement clarifying that Hello Kitty is anthropomorphized–like Mickey Mouse, or a girl dressed up like a cat. Which makes sense in Japan.

  • Bob Costas’ Eyes

    15 Minutes
    Getty Images

    For decades, viewers of the Olympics have looked into Costas’ eyes and seen warmth, excitement and the spirit of the Games. But in Sochi, they saw the pus-crusted, cerise-rotted soul of Mephistopheles. To Costas’ credit, he tried to hide his pinkeye infection with glasses. But that didn’t stop his gaze from forcing us to confront the demise of our corporeal shells. He was replaced by Matt Lauer, whose hairline did the same thing.

  • Hot Mug-Shot Guy

    15 Minutes

    At some point, young ladies mature from fantasizing about nonthreatening checkout boys to parolees who were arrested for gun possession. The mug shot of Jeremy Meeks, whose piercing blue eyes, high cheekbones and teardrop tattoo–which means he’s gosh-awfully sorry–made women swoon and guys in the friend zone even more pissed off.

  • Jesse Helt

    15 Minutes
    Getty Images

    After winning MTV’s Video of the Year, Miley Cyrus brilliantly decided not to make a speech about the artistry of licking mallets and gyrating naked on a wrecking ball. Instead, she sent to the stage her superhandsome date: Helt, a homeless teen who asked people to donate to a Hollywood shelter. Then Oregon police saw him, realized he was violating probation and gave him six months in prison. During which, ironically, he will spend his entire time telling fellow inmates what Miley Cyrus looks like.

  • V. Stiviano

    15 Minutes
    Jonathan Alcorn—Reuters

    L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s part-Latino, part-black model mistress secretly audiotaped his racist rants, forcing him to sell the Clippers to Steve Ballmer and forcing her to wear visors so big, it made one wonder if Sterling had a Jennifer Beals fetish.

  • California Chrome

    15 Minutes
    Al Bello—Getty Images

    After winning the Kentucky Derby by a lot and then winning another race that wasn’t in Kentucky by a lot, California Chrome was expected to win yet another race that wasn’t in Kentucky, something no horse had done since Twitter was invented. He lost.

  • Smarf

    At 4 a.m. on Oct. 28, Adult Swim aired a surrealistic nightmare. The 11-minute short Too Many Cooks–which immediately went viral–is an elongated, cheesy 1980s sitcom opener that morphs into a slasher flick whose breakout star is a puppet that looks like an Alf knockoff that someone bought at a Tijuana flea market and then left in a Tijuana dryer too long. Smarf celebrates, Smarf kills, Smarf dies. And Smarf definitely entered a lot of stoners’ algebra-class doodles.

  • Peter Nyong’o

    When Academy Awards host Ellen DeGeneres took the most tweeted group selfie in the long history of tweeted group selfies, she arranged a tableau of Meryl Streep, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong’o–and Nyong’o’s 20-year-old brother Peter, who hopped in at the last minute to photo-bomb everyone. He blocked most of Angelina’s face, which only proves that he is wider than a pencil.

  • Luis Suárez

    15 Minutes
    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno—Getty Images

    Prior to the World Cup, Uruguay, which fielded one of the top teams, hoped its star player would do two things: score goals and not bite people. Alas, Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, with his smooth shoulder skin the color of just-laid brown eggs, proved too irresistible for the Mike Tyson of soccer.

  • Flappy Bird

    15 Minutes

    Feeling that Angry Birds was way too complicated, Vietnamese video-game developer Nguyen Ha Dong created an alternative version, in which players tap to fly up as they avoid pipes. But once the game hit 50 million downloads and started earning more than $50,000 a day, Dong–who possibly read Infinite Jest or just saw The Ring–decided he did not want people developing a screen addiction and removed it from major app stores. This fixed everything in the world.

  • The Singing Nun

    During 26-year-old Sister Cristina Scuccia’s audition for Italy’s version of The Voice, the judges were shocked to see a millennial with a habit other than constantly Instagramming herself. Scuccia quickly converted her skeptics, though, and went on to win the whole season, belting out hits like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Her first single was a cover of “Like a Virgin.” This new Pope really does allow anything.

  • Thomas Piketty

    15 Minutes
    Metin Pala—Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

    The English translation of the liberal French economist’s 685-page proof of the Kuznets curve (when r > g, there’s trouble, dude) became No. 1 on the New York Times’ nonfiction best-seller list and caused rich liberals to be even more boring at dinner parties.

  • “Apparently” Kid

    Armed with the looks of the kid a family sitcom desperately hires in its fifth season after all the original child actors have lost their cuteness through puberty, 5-year-old Noah Ritter used a local TV-news interview at a county fair to abuse both the word apparently and America’s heart. Predictably, Ellen DeGeneres made him a part-time reporter.

  • Charlo Greene

    15 Minutes

    After her report on a medical-marijuana club in Anchorage, the local TV reporter revealed that she was actually the owner, ending her report with “F-ck it, I quit.” There is a fair chance that Noah Ritter will eventually end his Ellen gig the same way.

TIME person of the year

The Coolest Person of the Year

Joel Stein writes a weekly column for TIME magazine. His book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity, changes people’s lives.

For the first time in this column’s five-year history, we actually consult an expert

It is a great embarrassment that we here at TIME’s Coolest Person of the Year committee had never heard of Tulane associate professor Joel Dinerstein, who says he has taught a course for 17 years called the History of Cool and curated an exhibit of the 100 coolest Americans in history at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery this year. Considering how often the committee Googles itself and how similar the committee’s name is to Dinerstein’s, we really should have noticed.

But we are far more concerned that Dinerstein has never heard of TIME’s Coolest Person of the Year. Which means that while CPOY has become the definitive award of its kind–cited by Perez Hilton, the Huffington Post, Teen Vogue and the Google+ account we completely forgot we had–it hasn’t penetrated academia, which could be a pretty good gig for the committee when this journalism thing totally dries up.

So this year, we spent a lot of time kissing up to Dinerstein. We pretended to take notes when he told us that a cool person has to have at least three of four qualities: a signature artistic vision, rebellion, far-reaching fame and a cultural legacy. For 2014, Dinerstein suggested Jennifer Lawrence. In addition to starring in The Hunger Games, Lawrence gave an impressive response to the hack of her nude photos, placing the blame solely on those who looked at them. The committee wanted to ask Dinerstein if perhaps guilt was fueling his suggestion because he was one of those people, but it decided that was not the kind of question that lands a gig with summers off.

The committee ultimately decided that Lawrence has a bit too much enthusiasm to be the Coolest Person of the Year. We also considered the Pope and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. We were impressed by the Pope, who likes exorcisms (cool), Patti Smith (one of the 100 coolest Americans of all time), talking about his days as a bar bouncer (crazy-cool), the Big Bang theory (cool until the CBS show) and living like a pauper (cool, we guess). And at a time when nerdiness is very cool, Tyson wears his effortlessly, sporting celestial-patterned vests. But there were no Popes or scientists on Dinerstein’s 100 coolest Americans list, so we vetoed them. It was only later that we discovered that no Americans have ever been Pope. The committee looks forward to getting tenure and having grad students do its research in the future.

So the 2014 Coolest Person of the Year is a man who went from uncool to cool simply by deciding to. A Texan who is both a football-loving frat boy and hippie-dippie spaceman. A man with a clothing line who doesn’t seem to own any shirts. A man with a brother named Rooster and a nephew named Miller Lyte. A man who wouldn’t stop talking even if he were talking about religion with the Pope or celestial-patterned vests with Tyson.

Yes, as Dinerstein pointed out, “he loses a lot of points for his Lincoln car ads,” in which he pontificates deeply about nothing. Sure, it’s dorky to quote yourself in your own movies, and O.K., he tries harder than a 1980s sitcom character to create catchphrases out of “All right all right all right” and “Just keep livin’.” And yes, that is kind of a windblown mullet.

But that’s also what makes Matthew McConaughey so cool. Whereas others turn on their old uncool selves, mocking their dumb hair, dumb movies and dumb getting-arrested-for-playing-naked-bongos-too-loud-while-they’re-stoned, McConaughey defends his work as Kate Hudson’s rom-com co-star and says he still bongos pantless. The only thing that has changed is his transition from actor to ack-tor. This amalgam of mystic nihilist genius, self-help idiot, sensitive artist and cocky bro is authentic–and apparently makes the elderly want to buy crossover SUVs.

I verified our decision with a hardcore theater geek who sees cool actors saunter through her singing-and-dancing world all the time. “Matthew is a top-quality human being–exactly who you’d want to be lost in space with,” says his extremely talented Interstellar co-star Anne Hathaway. “He is as down to duke it out in a tough scene as he is to mix the margaritas for the after-party. And you know he is going to do both brilliantly.” Nevertheless, I suspect that Hathaway would be pleased if McConaughey did some more enunciation exercises.

Dinerstein approved of our decision, even though the real coolest person, he decided, was tuxedo-wearing psychedelic soul singer Janelle Monáe. At the risk of jeopardizing our future, the committee thinks Dinerstein is trying way too hard to be cool. He could take a lesson from McConaughey.

This appears in the December 22, 2014 issue of TIME.

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Inside the Weird World of House Staging Videos

It would be a crime not to buy my house

Although we are completely happy with our home, my lovely wife Cassandra and I are moving to a new house a half-mile away in Los Angeles that’s even older and more expensive and falling apart faster. We’re doing this so we can fight over trivial things instead of actual marital problems. You can’t hurt someone much when you tell her she selects tiles just like her mother.

To sell our home, we had to hire a stager. Staging, which a few years ago was just for superrich people, has trickled down to mid-priced houses; there are 1,000 members of the Real Estate Staging Association, and Meredith Baer Home is a nationwide staging firm. So the superrich are now also producing short movies about their houses. For an average of $12,500, filmmaker Curt Hahn will show a house through a story, of, say, a dad’s surprise birthday party in which his uniformed son who is stationed overseas Skypes in before appearing from behind the screen to hug his dad. After watching it, I wanted to own that house and invade a foreign country.

So I got my talented friends Marvin Lemus and Igor Hiller at Moose Hill Productions to shoot my movie for free. Hahn suggested that they aim for the kind of buyer we were when we bought the house: childless, new to L.A. and with values I could live with. Because buyers could be from overseas, he said, we should eliminate as much dialogue as possible and include multiracial families. This made even more sense when I watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner on mute and appreciated all the exposed brick and natural light.

My friends, however, are comedy writers, so they made a movie about two detectives who admire the house while questioning a woman named Cassandra about her husband’s untimely death, life-insurance policy and cost of their new screening room. Enjoy.

Cassandra is played by Scout Durwood, Detective Tommy Sparks by Jonny Cruz and Detective Melanie Lafonge by Katie Orr. The film’s cinematographer is Moira Morel. Taylor Gill is the assistant camera operator. Marvin Lemus is the director/editor. And Igor Hiller is writer/producer.

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