By Stacy Jenel Smith
It is a great vintage for breakout stars, 2006 - with brand new faces on the celebrity scene as well as many who've been toiling in the show business field for years, who have finally arrived to reap the rewards of major stardom.
Hunky Eric Dane, formerly of "Charmed," was dubbed McSteamy on -- and off - "Grey's Anatomy." Oh, that shower sequence!
America Ferrera became a new style America's Sweetheart by starring in "Ugly Betty," the U.S. version of a Mexican telenovela.
This year, viewers were captivated by NBC's hit "Heroes" and its multicultural cast, including Japanese American actor Masi Oka and blond Hayden Panettiere, who widened her audience beyond the juvenile demographic.
Jennifer Hudson, who was on "American Idol" a few seasons ago, is emerging as a movie name with "Dreamgirls." They are talking Oscar buzz with her - not to mention tabloid tales that have Beyonce resentful that Jennifer is getting so much advance notice.
Craig, Daniel Craig was already known to film aficionados as an actor of quality, but the blond Bond boosted his fame to the max in '06, taking over the 007 franchise and earning kudos for his performance in "Casino Royale."
And 27-year-old Scottish actor James McAvoy, who is mostly known hereabouts for playing brave Mr. Tumnus in "The Chronicles of Narnia," is being hailed as a breakout film talent thanks largely to his performance opposite Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland." Esquire dubbed him Great Scot and noted that with four more movies on the way (including, in 2007, "Atonement"), he's soon to become "a household name."
Emily Blunt got a ton of attention for her role as the snotty assistant in "The Devil Wears Prada." She now has six movies on the way.
At the dawn of 2006, a box of wheat crackers was merely a box of wheat crackers. Now, as the year comes to a close, a box of wheat crackers serves as yet another background for a photo of perky home ec juggernaut Rachael Ray, exhorting consumers to try one of her delicious easy recipes. Yes, the smiling cook who is all about short cuts and budgets has broken out of the ranks of Food Network personalities to quite literally become a household face, no small thanks to her "Rachael Ray" syndicated daytime show, which scored the most impressive debut numbers since Dr. Phil.
The year 2006 has certainly been Ray's year.
And it's been Sacha Baron Cohen's year, too. Although the "Da Ali G Show" star had earned a big following, won awards and spoken at Harvard prior to '06, he broke into a new league this year, with vast numbers of people who'd never heard of him before becoming angry and confused - while others laughed their Kazakhs off - thanks to his surprise monster hit movie, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."
Speaking of gifted comedians with faux characters and preternatural nerve -- who leave some people spitting mad and others thrilled -- 2006 also gave us Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents Dinner last April.
In the guise of his Comedy Central "The Colbert Report" conservative cable show host, he delivered a 23-minute presentation roiling with jaw-dropping sarcasm aimed at President George W. Bush and the White House press corps, while standing just a few yards away from the President. ("...I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq..."). The routine became an internet sensation and made Colbert a hero to anti-Bush forces. That and his hit show, launched the October before, landed him among Time Magazine's 100 most influential people of 2006, among the New Yorker's top 12 influential people in the media, and among People Magazine's Sexiest Men Alive. Well, the latter not so much.
Funny, funny, funny man Dane Cook broke out last year - and continued to do so this year, with HBO playing his "Tourgasm" show and "Vicious Circle" special, the launch of his and Jessica Simpson's "Employee of the Month" movie, and fans buying up his double platinum "Retaliation" album. Plus we love what he wrote about his mom and dad on MySpace.com and he's adorable.
Ashley Scott of "Jericho," Josh Henderson of "Desperate Housewives," Elizabeth Mitchell of "Lost," Kelly Carlson of "Nip/Tuck" and Justin Hartley - a.k.a. The Green Arrow - of "Smallville" won our attention this year.
So did Abigail Breslin of "Little Miss Sunshine" and beautiful Paula Patton of "Idlewild."
Virginia-born 17-year-old Chris Brown became the youngest male to have a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Top 100 last year with "Run It!" In '06, he broke into new areas with the hit Up Close and Personal Tour, his role on "The O.C.," and production of the upcoming big-screen "Stomp the Yard."
Fellow breakout star Ne-Yo was also on the Up Close concert trek, and he stars in as well as contributing to the soundtrack of "Stomp the Yard" -- in addition to providing soundtrack songs for "You Got Served" and "Save the Last Dance: 2."
In 2006, Billy Ray Cyrus' effervescent 14-year-old daughter, Miley, debuted her own show, "Hannah Montana," on The Disney Channel - and watched as it instantly became the cable network's No. 1 series. This fall, the "Hannah Montana" soundtrack debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 - reportedly the first-ever TV soundtrack to accomplish the feat. It also shipped platinum. Not surprisingly, Disney is readying "Hannah Montana" merchandise like mad - including apparel, stationery and dolls. In a sea of over-produced teen talents of passable ability, Miley really kicks it as a singer and she has stage presence galore. Watch for her next album to be even bigger.
Disney's other phenom of '06, the original movie "High School Musical," spawned "the only album to sell more than 3 million copies so far in 2006," reported Billboard in November. DVDs, a CD-Rom game, clothing, notepads, dance instruction, a live performance tour and at least two sequels are already in the mix. It all adds up to a breakout vehicle for the cast, including Zac Efron, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Gabreel, Monique Coleman and Corbin Bleu.
The Fray is one of the newest, hottest groups this year. They've already performed at the VH1 Big in '06 Awards and the Billboard Awards and they've been featured on "Grey's Anatomy."
Brooke Hogan, daughter of Hulk Hogan, came out of the big fella's shadow to become an entertainment personality in her own right this year, complete with cheesecake pictures and a well-received debut album.
Also this year, "American Idol" gave us singers Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee. The 22-year-old beauty comes complete with tabloid fodder troubles including battles with bulimia. She dabbled with Scientology and sparked pregnancy rumors, and caused an outbreak of "McPheever," a term made up by L.A. rock station KROQ's pop culture front linesman, Ralph Garman of the Kevin & Bean Show. Kat won the Big "It" Girl of 06 award on VH1's "Big in '06" special. She has a new album coming out in January. All of which adds up to a celebrity we'll be watching for years to come.
Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith are featured in over 100 print publications and other media outlets with cutting edge celebrity news and insider scoop. Have a burning showbiz question?
Ask those in-the-know, Marilyn and Stacy, and get the real skinny daily in their "Ask BeckSmith
" column on CompuServe and Netscape.