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Posted at 11:32 AM ET, 11/14/2008

Friday List: Who Fascinates You the Most?

By Liz Kelly

What is it about Will Smith that fascinates Barbara Walters? Perhaps his on screen gravitas? (AP)

Today's task is easy. Barbara Walters yesterday gave a preview of her "Most Fascinating People" of 2008 list. The year's honorees include actor/paparazzi target and outspoken Scientologist Tom Cruise, actor and Tom Cruise buddy Will Smith, tween sensation Miley Cyrus, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and all around funny chick and Sarah Palin impersonator Tina Fey. The remaining four names will be revealed when Walters's soft-focus special airs on Dec. 4.

And those four had better be good, because otherwise Walters risks cementing a reputation for being either hopelessly out of touch or handing out superlatives to her friends.

We started talking this out in yesterday's Celebritology Live discussion. Tina Fey, we get. Miley Cyrus and Michael Phelps -- sure, they hogged their fair share of the headlines. But Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Rush Limbaugh? What have these three done for us lately? As far as I can figure from a little quick Googling, Cruise had an uncredited cameo in "Tropic Thunder" and a movie held over until 2009; Smith starred in a quickly forgotten summer blockbuster and cast his son in a "Karate Kid" remake; and Limbaugh wasn't investigated on any drug-related charges.

We can probably guess that Sarah Palin will be on the list and president elect Barack Obama, if Barbara managed to score a sit down. But on the entertainment side, how about a little love for Britney Spears, who used the last 11 months to totally turn her life around? Or the stars of "High School Musical," who continue to break box office records with their franchise? And shouldn't Rachel Maddow be on the list way ahead of Rush Limbaugh?

Since most of the interviews are likely already taped, it's too late to save Barbara from worldwide unequivocal humiliation. Still, no need for us to share in her shame. Today I ask you to open up about who you think was the most fascinating person of 2008. Share your nominees -- and the reason why you think he or she merits inclusion -- below.

By Liz Kelly  | November 14, 2008; 11:32 AM ET
Categories:  Friday Lists  
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Looks more like the "Most Fascinating Scientologists of 2008" at a quick glance. Or, upon closer inspection, the "Most Bland People of 2008."

If you want to fascinate me, Barbara, don't give me Michael Phelps, give me Marion Jones. Don't give me Will Smith, give me Eminem. Don't give me Miley Cyrus, give me, well, maybe that teen girl who plays iCarly.

You know, people with personality and (sorry Michael, but you swim, OK we got it) talent and who might have a good backstory we haven't already read about a zillion times (I'm looking at you, Crazy Tom). Is nothing new?

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | November 14, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I find my granddaughter endlessly fascinating but I don't think she'd sit still for an interview.

Yesterday we were puzzling over Frank Langella's inclusion on the list. He plays Richard Nixon in 'Nixon and Frost,' coming to theaters in late December, but he's also in what's supposed to be a wonderful revival of 'A Man For All Seasons' on Broadway. Still, most fascinating? I don't think so.

As far as celebrities go, I'm very interested in learning more about the oh-so-fascinating Jon Hamm AKA Don Draper.

Posted by: pras40 | November 14, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I'm very interested in learning more about the oh-so-fascinating Jon Hamm AKA Don Draper

Or better yet, how about the fascinating people who write and direct "Mad Men."

Posted by: pras40 | November 14, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I find Michelle Obama and Jill Biden really fascinating, for obvious reasons. I know they're not really Celebritology people, though. I nominate Amy Winehouse. Just because that would be darn fun to watch.


Posted by: RiverCityVA | November 14, 2008 12:01 PM | Report abuse

This is like Hank Steuver's In & Out List!

Tom Cruise? What did he do this year except stay in the closet?

My pick: Daniel Craig!!!

Tina Fey? Well, there's only so much you can say about playing Sarah Palin. However...wouldn't you love to see Babs interview

Sarah Silverman!!!

Will Smith? Zzzzzz. Unless Babs wants to convert to Scientology. Otherwise, she must interview the voice of our generation, or at least the decade

Kanye West!!!

Rush Limbaugh? Millions of TVs will switch off. My pick:

Stephen Colbert!!!

Michael Phelps? Zzzz...swimming, ADHD... he's got no poet's heart, but someone who does and whom we'd like to ask a ton of questions is

Alex Rodriguez!!!!

Miley Cyrus is the only one I'll grant her, thus far. She had a pretty interesting year. The rest? Not so much.

Posted by: mdreader01 | November 14, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I personally find Scarlet Johansson endlessly fascinating. Maybe she is one of the mystery four that have yet to be revealed.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | November 14, 2008 12:04 PM | Report abuse

What, no Brangelina? Owe, the humanity.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | November 14, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to hear and see more about Bear Grylls (Man versus Wild)and Les Stroud (Survivorman). What else would you expect from a stinky cryptid who lives in a virtual cave?

As for the Bahbwa Wa-Wah Special, I won't be able to watch it because I have a schedule conflict. I've already planned to clean the toilets in the Quatch Cave. I figure that's about as entertaining as watching the Bahbwa Wa-Wah Special.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | November 14, 2008 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Sas, I never watch this show either, just check the list each year in the news.

America Ferrera, who at 24 is not only already an esteemed actor but also went out campaigning with Chelsea Clinton this year. Bonus: she's on ABC, so probably would be contractually obligated to endure this nonsense.

George Stephanopoulos (also in ABC's stable), whose Sunday morning program has probably benefited from Tim Russert's untimely death.

Juanes, king of the Latin Grammies (cleaned up again last night).

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | November 14, 2008 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Rafael Nadal.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | November 14, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe no one has mentioned Mike Rowe.

Another choice would be Jon & Kate + 8. Mostly because that's one cute litter of kids, but also to have Bahbwa lean in to earnestly ask Jon why he hasn't offed Kate yet.

Posted by: jes11 | November 14, 2008 1:02 PM | Report abuse

"Most Fascinating People With A Project To Promote And Have Been Heard Of By A Septuagenarian Bubble Head" is more like it.

My Most Fascinating:

All those rather small Chinese sixteen-year-old gymnasts.
Amy Winehouse (just not in a good way)
Seth Rogen (how does a tubby guy like him become a sex symbol?)
Scarlett Johansson (duh!)
Barack Obama (double duh!)
Miranda Cosgrove (just because I as so sick and tired of Miley Cyrus)

Posted by: yellojkt | November 14, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Most people aren't really all that "fascinating" unless you're trying to get into their pants.

("Charming" is similar: I once told a roommate that I found Alyssa Milano "charming." Roommate didn't even look up when she said, "You want to see her with her top off, don't you?")

No wonder our lists don't sync up with Babs'.

Posted by: byoolin1 | November 14, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Hey, River City, are you taking a day off from teaching? How are things in the classroom?

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | November 14, 2008 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Byool, excellent observation, but it raises a number of epistemological questions.

What is the informal agenda if someone is "Scintillating?"

I think I can figure out "Titillating."

And if, as the Brtis often say during formal introductions, that they are "charmed," does that mean that they've already knocked Ferragamos?

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | November 14, 2008 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Sas, when a Brit says he or she is "charmed," he or she has already pictured the other person on Page 3 of The Sun.

Posted by: byoolin1 | November 14, 2008 1:26 PM | Report abuse

And "scintillating"? C'mon, nobody talks like that. Unless they're showing off to someone they find fascinating.

Posted by: byoolin1 | November 14, 2008 1:28 PM | Report abuse



Spock was a gay letch!!!!!!!

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | November 14, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

The bottom line is that Babs thinks SHE is the world's most fascinating person.

I think Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and their writers had a huge influence on the election. Of course Babs probably has never heard of them. She probably still thinks Kissinger is fascinating.

Posted by: possum_pouch | November 14, 2008 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Good one, possum! Let's just hope Babs doesn't choose Elisabeth Hasselbeck (almost typed Hasselhoff: paging Dr. Freud).

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | November 14, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Is 'Hoff a wine-soaked marsupial?

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | November 14, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

"wine-soaked marsupial"

Do you use Marsala?

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | November 14, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

"marsupial" anagrams to

A sure sign that NP needs to get back to work. Now.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | November 14, 2008 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Since I think the likelihood of Bab's selecting Fabio Cannavaro are extremely unlikely, I would vote for RDJ. He's had a heck of a year and has been quite the come back kid from drugs and such.

Plus he's going to be Sherlock next year...

Posted by: LTL1 | November 14, 2008 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Nastia Liukin.

While everyone was focused on her teammate as the next Mary Lou, she blew the world away with her skill and grace.

Posted by: mgc7830 | November 14, 2008 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Definitely Rachel Maddow over, gag, Limbaugh. she is THE hottest item in news media these days. Love her show.

Michael Phelps is not "fascinating" (even in Byoos terms--sorry, nice muscles but his body is freakishly out of proportion). Great swimming, nice records, yawn. Nosey's suggestion of Nadal much better. Hell, even young golf star Anthony Kim would be better.

Cruise, Smith, Langella, all clear indicators that Baba is desperately out of touch with anything current, pop culturey, or relevant.

Myley I will grudgingly allow as she's been ubiquitous this year.

Posted by: sorcerers_cat | November 14, 2008 2:24 PM | Report abuse

LTL, great call on RDJ. I think he was just named entertainer of the year or something. What a great resurgence.

Posted by: sorcerers_cat | November 14, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

ooooo good one mgc!

Posted by: LTL1 | November 14, 2008 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I believe you will find a mathematical correlation between the fascination level of these guests and the number of decades since Barbara was the "it girl" of journalism.

You want modern relevance? Get Rachel Maddow to HOST and select the guests.

Posted by: 44west | November 14, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Liz, I agree. When I think of people who did really interesting things in 2008, I don't think of Will, Tom, Rush, or Miley. Unless the question asked is, "why didn't you do anything relevant or new in 2008?"

I'd like to see those 4 replaced by Britany or Jamie Lyne Spears, Barak or Michelle Obama, Katy Holmes (Odd that I'm more interested in her than in Tom?), and Beyonce.

Posted by: ideallydc | November 14, 2008 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Howard Stern! And I think he and Barbara are friendly so a definite possiblility...

Also, that Fabio guy...Anne Hathaway's ex who just got busted for fraud. Hold the interview from a jail cell, it'd be great!

Posted by: BPal | November 14, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

ideallydc, I'd prefer a Katie Holmes interview instead of a TC one, too.

And re the Obamas over the Palins: if McCain had won, would viewers have found the opposing party's defeated VP candidate fascinating? I think not.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | November 14, 2008 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Nosy: It's not because one party beat the other, it's because Palin was undeniable a more interesting persona than Biden during the election.

Posted by: BPal | November 14, 2008 2:50 PM | Report abuse

I'd nominate songwriting prodigy Taylor Swift and Obama campaign brain David Plouffe.

Posted by: molsonmich | November 14, 2008 2:54 PM | Report abuse

I'd much rather watch a panel discussion-cum-interview where Tom Cruise, et al. tackle the fascinating Barbara Walters herself.

TOM: "So, Barbara, I understand you had an affair with a married congressman during the 1970s. You talk about it in your new book."

PHELPS: "Whoa, man, I wasn't even born then. Did I miss a history class on this or something? Senator who?"

WILL: "SwimBoy, he's talking about U.S. Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts. As they say, when you go bl---"

CYRUS: "Was he older than you, Ms. Walters, say five years or so? I'm. All. Ears. Spill it, grrl!"

RUSH: "Brooke. A good Republican. I mean hey, if you have to break someone's marriage vows, might as well go for the right party after all."

TOM: "And people call me crazy? The man wasn't even a Scientologist."

FEY [aside]: "Man, I wish I could write sh_t like this. Comedy gold."

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | November 14, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

How about the Emanuel brothers? One's the new presidential chief of staff and model for Josh Lyman on "West Wing," one's the model for the lead character on "Entourage," and the other's a scientist at NIH. What a brood of over-achievers!

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | November 14, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I think the people who made those amazing swimsuits (LZRs) may be more fascinating than Michael Phelps. But that's the kind of stuff I like to hear about -- not bubble headed celebs.
(Although Sarah Palin was fascinating BECAUSE she was bubble headed -- and now I'm just confusing myself...)

Posted by: msame | November 14, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I'll take some of Jon Hamm's John Ham please!

Posted by: peepmonger | November 14, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Phelps definitely DOES belong on the list. He had the greatest athletic performance in the history of the Olympics. That is newsworthy to the vast majority of the country.
Miley definitely DOES belong on the list as well. She is still the hottest star in the U.S. for tweeners. (Zac may be close)
The rest of the list - not so much.
RDJ, A yes vote for him.
Anyone from Mad Men is a big NO vote. Less then 1% of the U.S. population has ever seen the show and I doubt if more then 10% has ever watched a single minute.

Posted by: Iowahoosier | November 14, 2008 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Iowahoosier, I have to respectfully disagree with your statement of Mr. Phelps giving the greatest Olympic performance. Jim Thorpe won the gold in the pentathlon and decathlon in 1912, that's like doing 15 events.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | November 14, 2008 4:32 PM | Report abuse

I am torn on the whole Phelps thing, I agree with the epic-ness of his accomplishment, but at the same time, I kind feel like the soccer equivilent (don't I always bring it back to soccer) is to win medals in corner kicks, goal kicks, and penalty shots. I mean they are different things but at the end of the day you are kicking the ball...

The pentathalete/decathalete argument is a bit false too, because it isn't like they are completeing against the very best javalin tosser, the very best discus tosser, etc. It is a bunch of spectacular utility players competing with one another, great athletes for sure but they are not the best at one thing, they are extremely good at a lot of things...

I was having this debate with the man one day, what sport requires the greatest combination and level of physical effort and skill? Its a tough one. Triathaletes? Rugby?

Posted by: LTL1 | November 14, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

maybe martial arts?

Posted by: LTL1 | November 14, 2008 4:41 PM | Report abuse


I was having this debate with the man one day, what sport requires the greatest combination and level of physical effort and skill? Its a tough one. Triathaletes? Rugby?


These questions have been argued for a long time, whenever someone achieves greatness in a particular sport. The last time this question was raised was within the context of comparing Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods. Who is a better athlete?

Lance and Tiger met at an awards dinner and said they were big fans of each other. Each one said he was in awe of the other's accomplishments. So it's apples and oranges. Is Tiger Woods the greatest golfer in history? Probably. Is Lance Armstrong the greatest cyclist in history? Nope. Even egotistical Lance recognizes Eddy Merckx as the best of all time. All the same, Lance can't play with the PGA pros, and Tiger can't ride with Team CSC.

Was Michael Phelps' performance one of the greatest in the history of Olympic swimming events? Yes. That's a matter of fact.

Was Michael Phelps' performance the greatest in Olympic history? Your answer may vary. That's a matter of opinion.

I'm with LTL1 on this one. Michael Phelps' plethora of medals is like a world class futball player getting medals in dribbling, penalty shots, heading, and so on. Feh.

The number of Olympic medals in swimming needs to be cut. Significantly.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | November 14, 2008 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Come on guys!

The Lindbergh baby, of course!

Posted by: elias_howe | November 14, 2008 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Who fascinates moi?

Why little David Miscavige, the high and mighty oompa-loompa of Scientology, of course.

He got at least two of his people on to Barbara's List this year.

Not bad.



Posted by: bmschumacher | November 14, 2008 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Not that it really ups his "fascinating" factor by much (although I'm not among the TomKat haters...), but Valkyrie is being released December 26th, 2008.

Posted by: stellalouise | November 14, 2008 10:33 PM | Report abuse

Bill Maher would be my choice rather than that guy rush (who).
Give us some really interesting people who can talk! That would be the first thing to do. Don't be so syrupy either Babs. I don't want tears...I want juice...
Give me Tom Hanks, he has been doing something...John Adams...remember? Now there is a guy who knows history...Tom I mean not John...But since I don't watch you, who cares?

Posted by: thebabe | November 16, 2008 1:25 PM | Report abuse

thebabe, I agree with you on both Maher and Hanks! I suppose very few people are still checking Friday's blog two days later, but for anyone who missed SNL's "Weekend Update" last night, Seth Myers commented re Babs' selections that they indicate that apparently "she's easily fascinated."

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | November 16, 2008 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Wow, people actually look at this site on the weekends. I would say get a life, but you would say the same thing to me about my 10 hours of football watching every weekend.
I do agree that decathlon participants are incredible athletes. Jesse Owens, Jim Thorpe, Bruce Jenner, Carl Lewis, etc., all great athletes.
However, Phelps won 8 gold medals swimming several different stokes and distances. I have ran in several 10k's, biked for hours, and am an former Marine, so I know about physical exertion. To me swimming is tougher then running or biking. Much tougher for me. Phelps is a great athlete.

Posted by: Iowahoosier | November 17, 2008 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Who fascinates me the most? MADONNA. Noone else can entertain us the way she does! Her LV ad campaign will bethe bomb! Her new single MILES AWAY from her hit album HARD CANDY is available now for downlod from iTunes today.

Posted by: roncerod | November 18, 2008 9:50 PM | Report abuse

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