I’ve always wondered why Barbara Walters chooses the word “fascinating” to describe the people she discusses at the end of each year. After all, the word can mean fantastic — or freak show. Sometimes, the people she highlights are both.
They are a wide variety of pop stars, reality stars, politicians, authors and actors. And while they all come from different backgrounds and live vastly different lives, they all have one thing in common: People can’t stop talking about them.
Walters' most recent list of her "10 Most Fascinating People" included actor Ben Affleck, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, Prince Harry, Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson, Gen. David Petraeus, "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane, British boy band One Direction, author E L James, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
I'm not sure I agree entirely with Walters' list, though. Some of these people have been dubbed "most fascinating" before, including Petraeus. Hillary Clinton has also been featured previously, and quite frankly, the most fascinating thing Barbara Walters talked about on the TV special was her hair.
So here's my modified version of Barbara's list, including some commentary and a few additions of my own.
I definitely agree with the selection of British boy band sensations Harry (currently dating country superstar Taylor Swift), Louis, Niall, Zayn and Liam. These guys have more than 11 million Facebook likes, 8 million Twitter followers and 900 million views on YouTube. They have won three MTV Video Music Awards and are estimated to have made $160 million. Not bad for two years.
I discovered through watching the special that I have something in common with One Direction: We were both discovered by another British icon, Mr. Simon Cowell.
Originally cut from the reality show “X Factor,” the singers were brought back to compete (hmm again, oddly familiar!) but this time as a group. Simon signed them to his record label after the show, and since then they’ve been around the world “absolutely having the most amazing time and enjoying the moment.”
An actor, producer, writer, singer and voice of most of the main “Family Guy” characters, MacFarlane is described by Barbara Walters as a “genius.” He wrote and directed “Ted,” which is the highest-grossing rated-R movie in history. He is also slated to host the Oscars this spring, which may make some people a little ... uncomfortable.
When asked by Walters how he seems to get away with doing so many crude, racy and sacrilegious jokes, he laughed a little and said (in a normal voice), “It’s called ‘tonnage.’ It just can’t be in the same place. If it makes you laugh, it’s an honest joke.”
I’d argue that it’s an easy joke, but then again, I’m not the "genius."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
One of the first questions Walters asked Christie was if he thought he helped President Barack Obama win by praising his efforts after Hurricane Sandy. “No,” responded Christie, going a little deeper. “Was I supposed to lie? I was grateful for his help.”
His fans call him frank, candid and open. His critics call him “hotheaded.” But when asked if he thought he had a temper, he laughed and said, “There are times where anger is an appropriate emotion to show.”
Almost as talked about as his "non-temper" or single black fleece sweater is Christie’s weight. But Christie brushes the issue aside, and when asked if he thinks it would ever interfere with him running for president, he responds with a heated, “That’s ridiculous.”
(Fun fact: Gov. Christie is an avid fan of Bruce Springsteen, but turned down attending his concert to come to Utah and speak at my father-in-law Gov. Gary Herbert’s gala this year.)
Olympic gold medalist and part of the “Fab Five,” Gabby Douglas is as down to earth as she is dedicated. Home-schooled since age 6, she spent on average 40 hours a week practicing gymnastics. It was tough supporting such an expensive sport, though, and Douglas’ family eventually went on food stamps and then declared bankruptcy. Douglas moved to Iowa and stayed with another family at age 14 so she could work with Shawn Johnson’s coach. I couldn’t imagine letting my child move hundreds of miles away from home — away from me! — in order to pursue a lifelong dream, but watching Gabby win that gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics this summer “was all worth it,” according to her mother.
The only thing I was somewhat disappointed in was the fact that the rest of the "Five" weren't featured. What about Jordyn Wieber's shocking elimination? Aly Raisman's near-perfect floor routine? McKayla Maroney's famous (and infamous) vaults, not to mention her "not impressed" face? If they can interview five boys, they can certainly handle five fierce women, too. All are fascinating, in my opinion.
Alana Thompson, aka “Honey Boo Boo”
OK. I’ll admit it. I have seen several episodes of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” And I think the word “fascinating” fits this 7-year-old and her family perfectly. I still can’t believe and don’t understand why people are so enamored with her and her Southern family. She’s a pageant diva whose goal is to win a “Grand Supreme” title, and that (toddler pageants!) in and of itself is crazy. But I honestly am worried for this little girl being the star of one of the most talked-about reality shows in the country.
I would add the author of the blog "Nie Nie Dialogues" to the list. This incredible Utah woman may not be as well-known as some celebrities, but she is an amazing example of faith, resilience, and the strength and determination of the human spirit. After surviving a horrific plane crash in 2008, where she was burned on more than 80 percent of her body, Nielson wrote a beautiful memoir this year called "Heaven is Here." Her journey is certainly fascinating.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
While she has traveled to 67 countries, been “at the highest levels of American and international activities” for the past 20 years and is married to former President Bill Clinton, the most fascinating thing about Hillary Clinton is ... her hair?
“Haha!” she laughed as Walters jokingly brought it up. “One of the great fascinations of our time! I don’t travel with a hairdresser, and I’m not very competent myself. I’ve been saying that for years and it should be obvious to everyone. And it just became really burdensome to try and find a hairdresser in some city somewhere, so I said, ‘Enough, I’m just going to go with as simple as possible.’”
I find it very hard to believe that the secretary of state can’t find a hairdresser — or at least find someone to cut her hair so that she does feel confident doing it on her own.
When I first heard Hathaway was playing the part of Fantine in the movie version of "Les Miserables," I was a little disappointed. I thought that role deserved a much more experienced woman, maybe someone who was conflicted, dark and dramatic.
Well, turns out from what I've read and the previews I've seen, Hathaway is not only the perfect person for the part, but she portrays Fantine in a way that leaves viewers weeping. I'm impressed and, well, fascinated that this woman can play such differing roles such as the awkward, shy Mia in "The Princess Diaries," the butt-kicking, stiletto-wearing Catwoman in "The Dark Knight Rises," and then the troubled, heartbroken Fantine in "Les Mis." This woman proves she's a jack-of-all-trades, and I think she was wrongly passed by.
Gov. Mitt RomneyComment on this story
Walters' pick was Petraeus, and while it was rather shocking, confusing and sad when his affair came out and he retired as director of the CIA ("The keeper of the nation's secrets unable to conceal his own,” Walters said), I think a much more fascinating person — if not THE "Most Fascinating Person of 2012" — is Mitt Romney. His presidential run would have made for a much more important conversation than Petraeus' affair.
Well, that sums it up for this year. Here's hoping to another fascinating year in 2013.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.