Yahoo!'s Top 10 Searches often tell us more about our guilty pleasures, distractions, and obsessions than news headlines do, like this year's continued pursuit of online gaming, reality TV, sports, and starlets. The unexpected death of a troubled legend also drew record Web traffic and tributes.
It's also worth noting who fell off the Top 10 list: In 2008, Barack Obama became the first politician to crack the Top 10. Despite sliding off, he still commanded plenty of online attention in '09—enough to warrant his own list. Here now, the people and events that dominated searches in 2009.
—Vera H-C Chan, Mike Krumboltz
& Claudine Zap, Buzz editors;
Lisa Hix, contributing writer
News that Michael Jackson had been rushed to UCLA Medical Center had just broken when doctors called the King of Pop's death at 2:26 p.m. Within hours, searches on Yahoo! transitioned from "breaking news Michael Jackson" and "is Michael Jackson dead" to "r.i.p. Michael Jackson." The telling query "Elvis died" showed that the icon's shocking, premature death evoked another's.
Although Jackson's death was ruled a case of homicide, that final indignity didn't define his end: A spectacular show of mourning matched his supersized life but reminded onlookers that Jackson had been a son, brother, and a good father. His death took him out of tabloids' tales of scandal and back into the affections of the public, who honored him in costume, music, and film. Jackson had been denied his comeback, but not the spotlight. —VC
The brainchild of a Mormon housewife, the series centers on high schooler Bella Swan, whose romance with vampire Edward unfolds over four books, each patterned after a literary classic ("Pride and Prejudice," "Wuthering Heights," "Romeo and Juliet," "A Midsummer Night's Dream").
Relative unknowns Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart broke out big as the 2008 film leads. This year's record-making sequel "New Moon" introduced new blood: Buffed-up Taylor Lautner as a teen werewolf vying for Bella's affections and dividing (most female) fans into opposing camps supporting Team Edward or Team Jacob. —VC
World Wrestling Entertainment fights may be staged, but there's nothing fake about its No. 3 search position. WWE fighters love the drama, and fans love to search for the faceoffs, players, and divas, plus all those auxiliary games. The older generation also mourned the passing of Captain Lou Albano, dubbed the "godfather of wrestling."
But not all the drama happened in the ring: CEO Linda McMahon (married to Chairman Vince McMahon) recently resigned her position in order to run as a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Connecticut. No doubt she'll be well-prepared for the fight of her life. That's not the only thing in the works: The family-friendly operation is setting its sights on the PG-rated set. WWE's 2010 goal is to expand its audience to a younger crowd. Its new tag-team partner? Mattel. That pairing should soften up smackdowns. —CZ
Like her or not, Megan Fox was one of the biggest stories of 2009. Best known for looking sultry on the red carpet and acting offended when compared to Angelina Jolie, Ms. Fox also made (more) headlines by bashing "Transformers," the film franchise that made her famous.
The lower ranking reflects her lower (but calmer) profile. In the last couple of years, the singing sensation has been known as much for her antics—her shaved head, breakups, and boyfriends—as for her music.
But this year the comeback kid got serious—and showed her show-biz stuff. The "Circus" tour has gone global, and breakout hits from the album are topping the charts. The blond bombshell can console herself knowing that now that she's got her mojo back, No. 5 is really the new No. 1. —CZ
To the uninitiated, "Naruto" makes about as much sense as Ozzy Osbourne or the United States tax code. But to followers of the manga series, "Naruto" offers drama, action, and about a zillion products to search for online.
So what the heck is it all about? Naruto is a young kid with a serious secret. His quest: to become the mightiest ninja in the land, while dealing with typical adolescent problems like girls, friendship, and authority.
This year's story line featured an older, wiser Naruto and an assortment of new mysteries, dangers, and jutsu. It proved to be a winning story arc, and one that searchers couldn't get enough of in 2009. —MK
“American Idol” re-established itself as the water-cooler show this year with a finale upset: Nonthreatening all-American guy Kris Allen took the title over flamboyant vocal powerhouse Adam Lambert, a favorite of judges and critics alike. Of course, “Glambert’s” star kept rising, as he outed himself in Rolling Stone magazine and rumors swirled that he might join classic rock band Queen.
But the shocking finale wasn’t the only buzzworthy “Idol” drama. Who could forget the Kara DioGuardi vs. Bikini Girl throwdown, the hysterics of Tatiana Del Toro, and most recently, the earthshaking news that judge Paula Abdul was resigning and Ellen DeGeneres would be taking her place. What madness will the next season bring? —LH
Two years ago, you might have said "Kim who?" But in 2009, the celebutante Kim Kardashian swiped the famous-for-being-famous crown from Paris Hilton and placed it squarely on her own long-locked head. Fans love the curvy socialite for keeping it real on "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" (E!) which portrays Kim's hybrid family as kind of a "Brady Bunch" for the new century.
Searches soared as Kim broke up and then reconciled with NFL player Reggie Bush, gained and lost weight (with some help), and announced a perfume launch. Wealth and instant fame aside, her blog reveals her to be surprisingly accessible. As the tabloid queen says in one of the show's earlier episodes, "There's a lot of baggage that comes with us, but it's like Louis Vuitton baggage. You always want it." —CZ
Jimmie Johnson was NASCAR’s golden boy this year. The 34-year-old has youthful good looks, talent, drive, and a top-notch crew. Even after a wreck set him back in Texas, No. 48 driver busted a record by winning his fourth Sprint Cup championship in a row.
But he wasn't the only racecar driver revving up NASCAR mania, as 24-year-old Kyle Busch prepared to clinch his first-ever Nationwide Series title, and Ron Hornaday broke a record to win his fourth Trucks Series: He became, at 51, the oldest NASCAR champ ever. With big names Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also gunning for the checkered flags, it’s no wonder playing fantasy NASCAR was all the rage in 2009. —LH
One of the hottest video games of the year can't be played on the Wii, PlayStation 3, or Xbox 360. We speak of Web-based RuneScape, the insanely popular (and free) massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that has captured many gamers in its web. But this is hardly the first year it has conquered Yahoo! Search.
Ever since it launched back in 2001, the game has garnered millions of registered users. In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records calls it "the most popular free MMORPG in the world." —MK
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.