The heroes, villains and phenomena that rose, briefly, to the top
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This appears in the December 22, 2014 issue of TIME.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hot Mug-Shot Guy
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.
Bob Costas' Eyes
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.
"Human" Hello Kitty
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.
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.