Talk about needing a status update. In the new age of real-time posts and tweets, overnight sensations turned into global Web sweethearts. What used to take years now took scant days, as people traveled a high-speed circuit of fame and fortune...and sometimes downfall and redemption.
A quick rise can have a downside, and the Web's frantic pace and massive scale unleashed the masses' contrarian impulse: Build someone up, then tear them down for being overexposed. On the flip side, the fierce ardor given to second-rans like Susan Boyle or Adam Lambert gave the lie to the axiom, nobody remembers who comes in second. Here now the people—and one breed—whose sudden fame spurred frenzied '09 searches.
—Vera H-C Chan, Buzz senior editor
The marriage between America's fertility sweethearts Jon and Kate Gosselin unraveled in time for their season 5 premiere. The parents of twins and sextuplets had raised their family before TLC cameras, but tales of extramarital carousing, maternal entitlement, and all-around greed didn't make the script until 2009.
A TLC "Jon & Kate Plus 8" marathon brought rubberneckers by the millions. Tabloids swarmed; the couple snarled back. They marked a 10th anniversary—and then came a rapid descent: divorce papers, rotating girlfriends, plummeting ratings, lawsuits, apologies, regrets, and a subtraction to "Kate Plus 8." Kate may have found her niche as a hostess and Jon in swinging bachelordom, but their acrimony means eight kids without a parental pair. —VC
Video of an attractive blonde goes massively viral. Sounds like the usual Web tale, except this time, the story of ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews unfolded like a "Law & Order" episode. Without her knowledge, a stalker recorded her through a hotel peephole and uploaded the footage online. Weeks later, bloggers recognized Andrews, ESPN issued a cease-and-desist order, and the FBI investigated.
The violation didn't end there: The New York Post ran a screen grab, which led to a ban on NYP staffers as ESPN show guests. Outraged, NYP blamed ESPN for stirring up the mess, and much media moralizing ensued. The peeper finally got arrested, and Andrews vowed to help the fight against criminal stalking. As for those who tried to download the illegal pics, some met justice, too: Hackers attached a computer virus. —VC
The audience tittered when Susan Boyle, who had turned 47 years old just 10 days earlier, walked onto the stage for "Britain's Most Talented." She bore the look of the frumpy spinster who had been teased as a child ("Susie Simple"), tended to her mother, and lived with her cat.
Boyle had also pursued a lifelong dream, one her mother encouraged before she died. As her first eight notes of "I Dreamed a Dream" filled the auditorium, the audience was mesmerized, shamed, then jubilant. In a few hours, Boyle's Cinderella moment went historically viral online. But a tabloid-fueled backlash and her loss on the TV show prompted her retreat. She recovered and, under Simon Cowell's wing, recorded a top album. Fame, as Boyle told "The Today Show," hit her "like a giant demolition ball," but couldn't dim her dreams. —VC
Adam Lambert (aka "Glambert") wore "guyliner" and sang in Broadway shows. Kris Allen was a newlywed who hadn't ventured far from the church choir. The boys made the eighth season finale of "American Idol," in the eternal battle between polished urbanity and homespun charm. Simon Cowell resisted at first, but in the end, all four judges polished the superlatives for Lambert. They did dub Allen the "dark horse," but in "Idol" history, the horse—especially the Southern one—ends up the frontrunner.
The January 26 birth of octuplets sounded like a New Year's miracle. Tended by 46 workers, Nadya Suleman's babies beat the odds to become the second set of octuplets ever born alive in the U.S. But a watercooler tale of fertility science flared into a bioethical debate—Suleman has a child and adolescent development degree, but she was unemployed, living with her parents, and already tending to six other kids.
The "Octomom" nickname came within days of delivery, but Suleman bore it proudly (trademark pending). Diving into the media circus only helped her infamy: She got death threats, porn offers, book contracts, a reality TV show, and a slew of publicists. The "miracle" resulted in Suleman's doctor's expulsion from a fertility organization. For the Sulemans, their lives are under a microscope. —VC
Carrie Prejean's response about gay marriage during the Miss USA pageant made her a conservative darling. Even Sarah Palin defended her against a "liberal onslaught of malicious attacks." Then, just when the timer on her media spotlight was running out, lingerie photos leaked from Miss California's teen past.
The panties-only pics prompted California pageant directors to name a shadow alternate and to yank Prejean's state crown. But pageant-master Donald Trump forgave Prejean for her "lovely" images, and state director Shanna Moakler quit over Prejean's "lies." Prejean sued for religious discrimination and settled after a private tape popped up—a development too late to make it into her tell-all book. Maybe in the paperback. —VC
2009 wasn't the best year for 2012 GOP hopefuls, but few could compare with the bizarre detour taken by straight-arrow South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. The father of four went MIA on Father's Day weekend. Mystery solved: He was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Except the trail actually led to Argentina, and hiking meant a rendezvous with his "soul mate." Sanford confessed his sins. The local paper, which had received his email exchanges six months earlier, printed his lovesick declarations. Interest swarmed around the other woman and his wife, who landed a Vogue interview and a book deal while her husband faced impeachment and an ethics inquiry. Some believed he suffered enough, and would "walk the long road into the dark unknown." That's not the Appalachian Trail either. —VC
The first daughters had to wait for a puppy until Daddy won the election. Given Malia Obama's allergies, the pooch pick took more time than the search for a Supreme Court Justice. Ted Kennedy, owner of three PWDs, helped the Obamas fill the position. Even for animals, it's who you know.
The PWD became an online sensation, and requests for the pooches doubled. Breeders kept a tight leash on pups, of which only 1,400 are whelped every year. Coveted though they are, few will live the dog's life of Bo Obama. —VC
His name may be Falcon, but the six-year-old got dubbed "Balloon Boy" after his parents pulled a fast one. Amateur storm-chasers Richard and Mayumi Heene let fly a helium balloon shaped like a silver saucer, then called 911 claiming that their youngest son might have snuck onboard.
And the hoax was on. Cameras followed every tilt and sway. Millions watched. Thousands tweeted. Skeptics noted the family's earlier participation in "Wife Swap"—but tragedy could've been afoot. As it turned out, the nearly two-hour drama was a reality-TV audition, given away when Falcon told his dad, "you guys said that we did this for the show." The other clue, as searchers put it, was "balloon boy pukes." Much media analysis followed, and the sheriff even blogged about it. In a year when reality TV got too real, the Heene hoax topped the list. —VC
Openings on the Supreme Court bench are rare, but David Souter's retirement sent Barack Obama in search of a replacement just months into his presidency. Sonia Sotomayor personified the American story: A child of Puerto Rican immigrants, she went from the Bronx projects to the Ivy League.
Much was made of her 2002 "wise Latina" lecture, for which she apologized. It wasn't a dealbreaker. More important was her "elusive" pattern of legal rulings, which covered affirmative-action issues for firefighters, state rights against nunchuks, and World Series baseball. She remained elusive in the four-day confirmation hearing, and a partisan-line vote gave her the seat. —VC
Starting December 1 thru 31, 2009, we're giving away a 32GB iPod touch with $100 iTunes gift certificate each and every day for the entire month. Winners will be notified via @reply from the Yahoosearchdata Twitter account. See official rules for more details.