Here are Alabama’s Entertainers of the Year


Check out these 16 Alabama people and movements that made significant cultural contributions locally, regionally and nationally in 2019.

"The Bachelorette"

ABC

Hannah Brown looks ready to for romance in this publicity photo for the current season of “The Bachelorette.” But she’s definitely not at Mt. Bachelor. (Photo: ABC/Ed Herrera)

Hannah Brown: The Bachelorette

We were all just living in Hannah Brown’s 2019, folks. The star of ABC’s two biggest reality competition shows injected new life into a genre often devoid of authenticity and actual emotion. The year changed her life forever, catapulting her to overnight fame she’s since handled with aplomb and giving her home state someone to root for with all our hearts.

Blessed with a big personality, the Tuscaloosa native and former Miss USA Alabama was a surprise pick for the 15th season of “The Bachelorette” after she finished seventh overall in Colton Underwood’s season of “The Bachelor.” But she soon proved herself an assertive and lovable lead, strong-willed in her decision-making. Her season had multiple moments that proved important lessons for young women and men about gender politics, women’s rights, faith, Southern stereotypes and more. She even scored a People’s Choice Award for best competition contestant.

We’re a little biased, but we consider Brown one of the best leads on “Bachelorette” history. Like most couples in the franchise’s storied history, things ended almost as soon as they got started. But it’s about how Hannah bounced back and reinforced the resolve we saw from her all season long that land her among the most likable leads we’ve ever seen.

The Tuscaloosa native drew some skeptics during her first live appearance as the lead, stumbling through sentences during an admittedly awkward segment and making folks perhaps unfairly wonder how she’d do for an entire season. We quickly learned she was great. From night one to “After the Final Rose,” Hannah proved an assertive and lovable lead, strong-willed in her decision-making, especially when she finally got the information she needed to make final calls on her clown suitors.

Her season had moments that proved important lessons for young women and men about gender politics, women’s rights, faith, Southern stereotypes and more. Things didn’t work out in the end, as they often don’t in “Bachelor” world, but we wouldn’t trade Hannah for anyone else after a thoroughly entertaining season, anchored by an Alabama native from whom we hope to see more down the road. We wouldn’t mind an encore.

ABC quickly (and wisely) cast her on the next season of “Dancing with the Stars,” and she won the dadgum Mirror Ball Trophy after an electrifying series of numbers that drew praise from judges and viewers alike, catapulting her and her partner Alan Bernsten to victory. From her impressive debut with the cha-cha to her finale freestyle, Hannah won the hearts of nearly all who watched “The Bachelorette” star’s emotional journey to the top of the dancing world.

Add her hilarious and often-poignant Instagram account (including stories on hometown Target runs and bad hair days), and Hannah is a year-round source of entertainment. We don’t know what’s next for Ms. Brown, but nobody had a brighter year than the Bama Bachelorette. — Ben Flanagan

Carlton Bell

Carlton Bell looks at a script for “Choir Boy” during a rehearsal at the Hub in Birmingham’s Southside. (Credit: Shauna Stuart for AL.com)

Carlton Bell: ‘Radically Black, defiantly queer’

Carlton Bell wants to see good, black work. It’s the model for the Birmingham Black Repertory Theatre Company, the contemporary theatrical incubator that Bell started this year.

In August, the BBRTC’s debut production of “Choir Boy,” the coming of age story of a young “effeminate” gay student contending to secure his place as the choir lead at an elite black prep school, was the first licensed adaptation of the Tony-award winning play since it closed on Broadway in March.

Birmingham is a theater city. And during a weekend of sold-out shows, Bell not only made a joyful tribute to the city — Bell also demanded space for black and queer actors. Bell continued that momentum in December with a production of “Sugar in Our Wounds,” a play about two black men exploring love during the days of the Civil War.

Bell is building a world where black actors are in writing rooms and making production decisions as they create art that reflects their narratives. And better yet, Bell wants to build that world in Birmingham.

In May, Bell was the lead production assistant for the pilot of “Jefferson County Probation,” the sitcom in development from “The Daily Show” comedian, actor, and Birmingham native Roy Wood Jr. During the weeks of production, Bell worked closely with director Millicent Shelton, whose credits include “30 Rock” “Empire” and “Black-ish.”

“Carlton is also part of this wave of Birmingham creatives ready to grind both behind and in front of the camera,” Roy Wood Jr. said of Bell on Twitter. “Multi-hyphenates are essential to faster growth of the film and TV community in Alabama.”

This year, Bell unapologetically wrote more black and queer characters into Birmingham’s theatrical playbill. And with the respect and admiration of fellow black actors, Bell is poised to carry on the mantle of contemporary black theater. — Shauna Stuart

Jamie Bonfiglio

Artist Jamie Bonfiglio holds the portrait she painted of Angela Davis at the Boutwell Auditorium on February 16. 2019 (Shauna Stuart for AL.com)

Jamie Bonfiglio: Painting Birmingham’s pride, joy and tears

It was sheer determination that catapulted Jamie Bonfiglio from a popular artist in Birmingham known for her live paintings, murals, and portraits, to one of the city’s most visible painters.

In February, Bonfiglio was one of two artists who presented Dr. Angela Davis with a portrait as a tribute to her activism. The weeks prior to the tribute had been mired in controversy, as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute announced it would rescind its decision to honor Davis with its annual Fred Shuttlesworth Award. But when Bonfiglio learned Davis would still come to Birmingham after a group of community activists decided to bring home the city’s native daughter and honor her themselves, she set her paintbrush to the canvas. The result: A portrait of Davis with two images — one current and one from the 1970s. Bonfiglio didn’t have a set plan when she brought the portrait with her to see Davis speak at the Boutwell Auditorium, but when the lecture ended, she decided to approach the stage as the activist greeted people and shook hands. As members of the audience waved Bonfiglio forward, others caught Davis’ attention, giving her the chance to present Davis with the painting.

Since February, Bonfiglio’s momentum has gone into overdrive as she’s become a documentarian for the city of Birmingham. In March, she presented Mayor Randall Woodfin with a portrait, inspired by his 2018 Birmingham Magazine cover. Months later, the mayor’s office would use a digital print of the portrait as the logo for Woodfin’s Magic City Mondays podcast. In July, stationed near the stage at the Birmingham Freedom Fest, Bonfiglio painted a live portrait of musician and 2003 American Idol winner Ruben Studdard.

In October, she painted Dr. Richard Arrington during a day of lectures commemorating his election as the city’s first black mayor. And days later she completed a portrait for the memorial service of Kamille “Cupcake” McKinney, the three year old whose remains were found after she was kidnapped from a birthday party.

This year, Jamie Bonfiglio has used a keen eye to capture the complexity of Birmingham — its pride, its joy and its tears — painting the bonds between the city’s residents and its engaging history. — Shauna Stuart

Hangout Music Fest 2019

Rapper Chika from Montgomery, Ala., performs on the BMI Mermaid Stage at Hangout Music Fest on Friday, May 17, 2019, in Gulf Shores, Ala. (Mike Kittrell/AL.com)

You could almost say Chika was an unknown at the start of 2019. She’d actually been flirting with fickle viral fame for a while, catching national and even international attention with her freestyle rapping, as seen in short social media clips.

By the end of a whirlwind year she’d appeared at Coachella and the Hangout Music Fest, signed a major-label deal, participated in Paris Fashion Week, and released two singles, one of which featured a video putting a same-sex twist on the core romance of the ‘90s sitcom “A Different World.” Not too shabby for a Montgomery native still in her early 20s.

The music release so far is fabulous. Her first Warner Records, “High Rises,” is her “origin story,” describing her own struggle to find self-worth and an outlet for her gifts as a “little black girl” unsure of her place: “Round face, thick thighs/ Full waist, bright eyes, she/ Wonders if they’ll judge her for her size, she/ Doesn’t compromise, she’s/ Seen this world before, this child is wise/ Never busy/ But her mind is occupied, she used to dream of high rises.”

There are a couple of good reasons to keep an eye on Jane Chika Oranica aside from the songs themselves. The first is that she’s case of the industry trying to convert viral indie spark into commercially viable art, and you can see the struggles of that process playing out in real time thanks to her open and active social media presence. The second is that thanks to that vibrant engagement on Twitter and other platforms, Chika could be one of the strongest Alabama voices to emerge in recent years. — Lawrence Specker

Brittany Howard strikes a pose atop a rock in a dramatic landscape

Courtesy photo

Brittany Howard is set to bring her solo tour to Birmingham in 2020.

Brittany Howard: Solo, soulful and iconoclast

A lead singer of a successful band going solo is perhaps the least risky move in showbiz. If it works, maybe you get as massive and rich as Beyoncé or Phil Collins did. If it goes splat, chances are your former band takes you back (at least eventually) because (in nearly all acts not named AC/DC or Van Halen) they make tons more money with you than without.

But that doesn’t make Brittany Shakes quasar Brittany Howard’s solo debut any less satisfying. The Athens native’s 2019 album “Jaime” is musically adventurous, befitting such an iconoclastic and soulful talent. Grammy-nominated opening track “History Repeats” is funky, catchy and weird in all the right places. Gospel, soul and pop coalesce on the album’s standout cut, the buoyant “Stay High.”

Howard titled “Jaime” in honor of her late older sister, whom she credits with first teaching her how to be creative. Lyrics throughout the record reflect Howard’s take on everything from racism (“Goat Head”) to religion (“He Loves Me”) to sexuality (“Georgia”).

Her album’s more self-expression than entertainment, for sure. “Jaime” boasts the kind of retro-future, genre-smearing production guaranteed to make music-critics gaga. It’s obvious Howard arrived at these sonic shapes naturally though. Do I think Howard could’ve made “Jaime” with Alabama Shakes? Oh definitely. It’s less of a leap forward than the Shakes’ supersonic sophomore LP “Sound & Color” was from the band’s garage-soul bow “Boys & Girls.” But listening to “Jaime,” which NPR ranked the top album of 2019, it’s easier to hear why Howard needed to go solo. This time, as they say in action movies, it was personal. — Matt Wake

Jason Isbell

Jason Isbell continues to make Alabama proud. (Ben Flanagan / AL.com)

Jason Isbell: Fame with grace

Jason Isbell released his last studio album in 2017 and his last live album more than a year ago, so new music isn’t what puts him in this elite group for 2019.

Let’s consider a few highlights of this supposed slow year. 1) Isbell has continued to be a delight on Twitter, a prolific poster committed to maintaining an upbeat presence on an often hellish site, one who constantly surprises with everything from dad jokes to stunning insights into his art. 2) Early in the year, it became known that Isbell had become the owner of “Red Eye,” a legendary ’59 Les Paul previously owned by Ed King of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Isbell told followers “It’s the finest electric guitar I’ve ever played or heard, and it will be heard again, not locked away forever in a vault.” That promise, and Isbell’s delivery on it, have kept guitar nerds in joyful conniptions all year long. 3) Isbell has played a supporting role in one of the best things to happen in country music in 2019, a female supergroup called The Highwomen, whose membership includes his wife, Amanda Shires. 4) He has encouraged his followers to appreciate music from other genres and was himself an early fan of breakout superstar Billie Eilish. 5) When rising country artist Morgan Wallen dared to cover Isbell’s “Cover Me Up” – and worse yet, some people liked it – Some of Isbell’s fans took offense. Isbell stepped up to repeatedly, sincerely and firmly tell them it was all good. One particularly beautiful way he put it: “It can be so painful to bring a song from your heart into the world then watch it start to fade away after a year or two. I feel like Cover Me Up is very much alive right now and I’m so grateful for that.”

In short, Isbell is at the top of his game and he seems to be handling fame and success with all the grace and class anyone could want. It’s the way he seems to be living that “best life” the rest of us joke about that keeps him in rare air. — Lawrence Specker

John Paul White

John Paul White. (Courtesy Alysse Gafkjen)

Muscle Shoals’ musical renaissance continues

It’s one thing to enjoy a revival. It’s another to turn that into full on renaissance, as Muscle Shoals music has following the eponymous 2013 documentary film about the Shoals’ rich recording legacy.

Rising bands cut new records at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio that garnered 2019 Grammy attention (Los Angeles hard-rockers Rival Sons) and opening slots with Guns N’ Roses and Rolling Stones (southern combo Bishop Gunn).

FAME Studios hosted notable recordings by superstars including Steven Tyler and Jack White.

Iconic, Swampers session musician David Hood guested on ’90s hit-maker Sheryl Crow’s new album.

Unfortunately, Hood’s Swampers/Muscle Shoals Sound partner, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, who played on classic recordings by legends like Aretha Franklin, died this year. As did all-time Shoals songwriter Donnie Fritts.

A new wave of Shoals artists kept the flame going though. Some guy named Jason Isbell (you know, the Grammy winning Americana badass and former Shoals resident) founded a new festival called ShoalsFest. Selling out in its first year, the ShoalsFest lineup boasted legends (Mavis Staples), zeitgeist (Isbell) and local contenders (Rob Aldridge & The Proponents). Dylan LeBlanc and Florence band The Pollies teamed with Isbell’s producer Dave Cobb for a must-hear album (LeBlanc’s “Renegade”). Meanwhile, Florence’s Single Lock Records offered further evidence it’s a formidable source of handmade indie music, including that of label co-founder John Paul White. Moving into 2010, Muscle Shoals music isn’t a museum. — Matt Wake

Mars Music Hall

An artist’s rendering of Von Braun Center’s new venue, Mars Music Hall, and restaurant/rooftop bar, Rhythm on Monroe. (Courtesy VBC)

For Huntsville music, new hope

It hasn’t always been easy to be a music fan in Huntsville in recent times. There hasn’t been a dedicated, large-club-sized venue here since Crossroads shuttered more than six years ago. As major tours increasingly dropped tertiary markets, there’ve been significantly less marquee concerts here than the city’s ’70s, ’80s glory days. So, fans wanting to see top tours now often have to travel to Atlanta, Nashville or Birmingham to do so.

But in 2019, Huntsville music future started finally started to glimmer. The Von Braun Center is close to opening its new Mars Music Hall, and, along with that 1,500-capacity venue, a swath of rising and established touring acts mostly bypassing the city in recent years.

Now Alabama’s second largest city and on target to become numero uno, Huntsville’s leaders recognized a vibrant music culture’s importance in retaining young professionals here. The city brought in London firm Sound Diplomacy to audit and advise how to best grow Huntsville’s musical resources. Plans moved forward on a landmark 8,000-capacity amphitheater here, which would fill a cavernous void in the city’s venue mix.

OK, The Mercantile, a planned venue in Crossroads’s former downtown space, fizzled before even opening. But SideTracks Music Hall deepened its foothold in its third year, booking compelling veteran acts (’80s rock icon Sebastian Bach), next-big-things (Badflower, Dirty Honey) and top local draws (funk collective Quantaphonics). Tangled String Studios and The Camp continued to evolve as unique, intimate venues.

Although Huntsville hasn’t been home to a true, large-scale music festival since the final Big Spring Jam in 2011, Microwave Dave Day continued to develop into a local music centerpiece this year. Huntsville native and Jack White drummer Carla Azar guested on the best cut on rock legends The Who’s new album. And funk-pop singer/TV show vet Lamont Landers showed potential to breakthrough to mainstream audiences…perhaps like no Huntsville musician has yet. — Matt Wake

Beered Black Man

Ralph Marion is the man behind Instagram account @beeredblackman where he discusses Birmingham’s beer culture.

Ralph Marion: The phenomenal year of the Beered Black Man

If you’ve spent time in Birmingham’s craft beer scene, it’s likely you’ve met Ralph Marion, the bartender from Hop City who runs the brand Beered Black Man. Marion created the brand in 2017 to highlight the work that he and other people of color were doing in the craft beer space. After nearly two years of curating an Instagram feed of eye-catching brews, Marion was ready to brew his own stout– a tribute to his great grandmother and his memories of helping her bake brownies. He reached out to Good People Brewing to set the wheels in motion and in March, Marion and Birmingham’s flagship brewery teamed up to release a limited edition Fudge Brownie Stout. That month would launch a party and a series of kicked kegs around the city, a welcome celebration for the Beered Black Man’s third anniversary.

But Marion’s journey this year was just getting started. Since Beered Black Man caught the attention of Nappy Roots, Marion had been in ongoing conversations with the Grammy-nominated rap group, who started their own ventures into the craft beer scene two years ago with a home brewing venture called Atlantucky Brewing and a selection of limited edition beers. When Marion pitched Nappy Roots the idea to do a special edition brew for Hop City’s “Lucky 7” anniversary celebration, the group was on board and in October, Nappy Roots’ Great American Beer Run made a stop in Birmingham, paired with a “Po’ Folks Lager” collaboration brew by Nappy Roots and Good People.

“He has a great spirit that brings people together and makes us want to work with him,” Nappy Roots’ Fish Scales told AL.com of Marion in September. “Whatever he’s doing, I’m down with.”

This was a year of parties and partnerships, but Marion had one more surprise for the city. In December, he released a third beer — this time, a horchata milk stout with Cahaba Brewing. — Shauna Stuart

Allison Moorer in Mobile

Lawrence Specker | LSpecker@AL.com

Allison Moorer speaks during her appearance Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019, at Cedar St. Social Club in Mobile. Moorer, assisted by moderator Hayes Carll, shared material from her new memoir and album, both titled “Blood.” (Lawrence Specker | LSpecker@AL.com)

Allison Moorer: Healing, forgivness and ‘Blood’

In October this gifted singer-songwriter delivered an extremely rare artistic accomplishment: “Blood,” a memoir that explores a family tragedy, and a companion album of the same name. Both address the murder-suicide that left Moorer and her sister, future Grammy winner Shelby Lynne, parentless. But “Blood” isn’t just about the horror of that event and its lasting impact. By turns clinical, poetic and fierce, it explores the roots of her parents’ discontent as she tries to understand everything that can be understood about a family dynamic that ended in disaster. It also lays bare Moorer’s lifelong effort to truly understand the aftermath, so that she can find healing and forgiveness and move on.

That means forgiving her father and herself. In the pages and songs of “Blood,” Moorer does express scorn for the man who killed her mother and himself with a rifle. But she also sings a song he wrote, which seems to express prescient sorry for his failings, and another that she wrote in his voice.

“I’m trying to show the world that they were more than how they died,” Moorer said in a November appearance in Mobile. “That my daddy was more than what he did. And that my mama was more than a victim.”

The musical careers of Moorer and Lynne will bring many readers to “Blood,” but it’s likely to have a long-lasting resonance with those seeking to understand, or simply to survive, the legacy of domestic violence. “I wrote it to be a witness, to shine a light on something that I felt like needed shining a light on,” Moorer said in an October interview. “But what’s also been interesting is, now that I’ve written it … people want to come to me and tell me their stories. So I hope that it serves as a balm for some people who have experienced abuse … [or] anyone who is experiencing abuse, or has been abused, maybe they will feel okay talking about it.” — Lawrence Specker

Haley Sharpe

Huntsville teen Haley Sharpe has become a popular content creator on TikTok, a video sharing social media platform. (Courtesy photo)

Haley Sharpe: The down-to-earth, social media star

I know what many of you reading this are thinking right now: What the (expletive) is TikTok? The social media platform is a byte-sized, star-making mashup of classic MTV and “Saturday Night Live.” And

Huntsville high-school student Haley Sharpe is emerging as a major star on TikTok and even an internet famous celebrity. Sharpe’s lowkey-comedy and dance talents are shining on the platform, gaining millions of likes and more followers than many cities have inhabitants.

If you’re not a teenager, TikTok, with its 15 second to one minute videos of inside jokes, dances, funny clips, sound bites, etc. can initially seem odd or lowbrow – if you’re even aware TikTok exists at all. But adults were once similarly dismissive about punk-rock and hip-hop, and both eventually became hugely influential. Just because youth culture eventually passes many by doesn’t make it any less important to actual youth.

Like top YouTubers, who make way more money than you even want to know, popular TikTok creatures are shaping youth culture. For example, a viral TikTok meme can rocket a musical act to mainstream success and record deals, as in the case of rapper Lil Nas X and his smash hit “Old Town Road.” TikTok is also becoming influential on fashion and personal style. Some YouTubers have achieved relative mainstream fame. TikTokers like Sharpe, whose down-to-earth-yet-youthful personality is the antithesis of fame-hungry wannabes, could very well be next. — Matt Wake

Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema

Joe Songer | jsonger@al.com

View inside the brand new theater spaces. Just under 100 people can be seated in each theater. There are ADA compliant areas as well. Sidewalk Film Center and Cinema sneak peek. This is the new home of the Sidewalk Film Festival and will open tonight. (Joe Songer | jsonger@al.com).

Sidewalk Film: For film lovers, by film lovers

They pulled it off. The folks behind Sidewalk Film Festival unveiled their 11,000-square-foot cinema and film center at Second Avenue North and 19th Street in August, delivering the city (and state) a much-needed alternative first-run option for those who truly adore movies.

Visionaries at Sidewalk have been dreaming of an art house cinema — brainstorming ideas, scouting locations and discussing possibilities — for about 20 years. (The Sidewalk festival was founded in 1998 by Erik Jambor, Alan Hunter, Michele Forman and others who wanted to develop an independent film community in Birmingham and bring more indie movies here.)

Concrete plans for the cinema and film center had been underway for more than two years, and fundraising for the $5 million project started in April 2017. The cinema and film center — designed by Birmingham’s Davis Architects and and built by the Stewart Perry construction company — includes two 95-seat screening venues, two lounges, a bar and concession stand, offices for the Sidewalk staff and an education space for classes, meetings, seminars and the like. Plus a bathroom modeled after the one in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”

The cinema and film center will be open 360 days per year, with daily programming in both of the theaters.

“It’ll be about 50 percent first-run indies that will run just like a movie theater seven days a week, with multiple screen times every day,” said Rachel Morgan, Sidewalk’s creative director last summer. “About 50 percent is retrospective or one-off screenings — in other words, where we do a screen talk, or something like that, and screen a film once and move on.

“A lot of those retrospective screenings are auteur series, or celebrations of particular actors, or a flashback series representing a particular generation or decade,” Morgan said. “It’s a calendar model, meaning that every single day will look different in the cinema. You can put the calendar virtually on your computer or on your fridge, and you can kind of go, ‘What do I want to do on Wednesday?’ There’s several different things happening at the Sidewalk Cinema.”

So far, so good. They’ve screened some of 2019′s most highly acclaimed films during their initial releases including the Cannes Film Festival winner “Parasite” and the Adam Sandler thriller “Uncut Gems,” plus a “12 Films of Christmas” series.

The venue debuted during Sidewalk’s 21st annual film festival in August, another triumph onto itself, with organizers scheduling and screening another litany of films from artists in-state and abroad, fostering traditional and cutting-edge technologies and formats and keeping Sidewalk and Alabama as relevant and vibrant as ever in the film world. — Ben Flanagan and Mary Colurso

Octavia Spencer in “Ma”

Image via Universal Pictures

Octavia Spencer is “Ma” in director Tate Taylor’s 2019 psychothriller.

Octavia Spencer: Indefatigably incredible

The Montgomery-born actress and Auburn graduate hasn’t stopped working since her debut in “A Time to Kill” 23 years ago. She just took a breath and earned three best supporting actress nominations for performances in “The Shape of Water,” “Hidden Figures” and “The Help” (for which she won) in between before she just kept on trucking on through 2019 and beyond.

With a pair of notable films to her name this year plus a key streaming series that could play a big role in the future of television, Spencer re-upped her cred as one of the hardest-working women in show business.

First it was Julius Onah’s thriller “Luce,” which earned rave reviews at Sundance Film Festival. Then came “Ma,” a Blumhouse horror flick about a lonely woman who befriends and then terrorizes a group of teenagers, which earned $60 million on a $5 million budget. She rounded out her 2019 by producing and starring in the Apple TV+ drama series “Truth Be Told” (also starring Aaron Paul) about a true crime podcaster who investigates the case of a man she incriminated after he murdered the father of identical twins. It’s one of just a few series from Apple’s new streaming service which looks to compete with Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Amazon Prime, NBC’s upcoming Peacock and others seeking to revolutionize modern entertainment in the cord-cutting era.

Spencer has an even busier 2020 slate ahead, starring in “Dolittle” with Robert Downey Jr., Pixar’s “Onward” with Chris Pratt and Tom Holland and then “The Witches” with Anne Hathaway, plus the Netflix drama series “Madam C. J. Walker.” — Ben Flanagan

Conrad Thompson

Conrad Thompson of Huntsville has grown his podcasting empire even further in 2019. (Image by Benjamin Stark)

Conrad Thompson: Podcasting’s top guy

Conrad Thompson can’t stop. The pro wrestling podcast pioneer had already established himself as a force to be reckoned with in a sea of competitors, but he upped his game this year to further cement himself as the top guy in the business by adding greats like Jim Ross and Arn Anderson to his already-incredible lineup of interview shows.

Born in Guntersville, the 36-year-old Thompson still owns and runs 1st Family Mortgage in Huntsville, while hosting five now-globally popular wrestling podcasts with other legends like Ross, Anderson, Bruce Prichard, Tony Schiavone and Eric Bischoff that have stretched far beyond his spare time. His shows have become bonafide podcasting phenomena, needles in the ever-growing haystack of wrestling podcasts that amass millions of downloads per month. Even Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment empire wanted in on the action last year, signing a deal to create “Something Else to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” for the WWE Network.

And despite his newfound intimate relationship with pro wrestling, including befriending a few legends in the business, and success with podcasting, his one-time “hobby” has certainly taken a toll. With the shows, Thompson piles countless hours per week on top of an already-busy schedule helping families buy homes in the Huntsville area. He also makes frequent appearances for living tapings of the podcasts in different parts of the country. He also runs Starrcast, a professional wrestling fan convention that features wrestlers, wrestling personalities and podcast hosts, interviews, fan activities and meet-and-greets to which die-hard fans would flock on annual basis. He’s hosted four so far, including three in 2019, in Chicago, Las Vegas and Baltimore, featuring icons like Bret Hart, Ricky Steamboat, CM Punk, Sting and many others.

“I’m just a wrestling fan. I’m not in the business. I make no bones about that,” Thompson once told us. But his importance to the industry speaks for itself, breathing new life into the history of the business fans hadn’t considered beyond surface level nostalgia, and igniting excitement for new ventures like AEW. He’s developed genuine friendships with these legends and earned enough trust to push them for insight that changes and enhances the way fans watch it altogether. Simply put, Conrad Thompson is the best thing to happen to pro wrestling in years. — Ben Flanagan

Deontay Wilder

WBC Heavyweight Champion and Tuscaloosa native Deontay Wilder at Skyy Boxing gym in Northport, Ala. (Alex Kiker)

Deontay Wilder: The champ…’til this day

Pain shouldn’t feel this fun. Tuscaloosa’s own Deontay Wilder inflicts it with a ear-to-ear grin on his face, usually with just a single blow that sends his opponents into other dimensions.

The undefeated WBC champ scored a draw against Tyson Fury late last year, setting up an uncertain 2019. But the Bronze Bomber defended his title with a pair of devastating knockouts, including a first-round fistful of dynamite to Dominic Breazeale in May and then a seventh-round haymaker to Luis Ortiz in November. Wilder was also one of three Alabama-born men to land on Forbes’ annual list of the 100 highest-paid athletes in the world, taking in $30.5 million over the preceding year — $30 million in winnings and $500,000 in endorsements.

More than his triumphs in the ring, Wilder delighted us in the weeks leading up to the bell. Arguably his sport’s finest showman since Muhammad Ali, he’s better on the mic than any professional wrestler, and he backs up every single word with what some experts consider the most powerful right hand in boxing history. When he connects, it lights the Twitter world on fire, with everyone marveling at force and destruction and making amazing memes to further immortalize him. He even took a minute after a sparring session to reveal his daily diet and favorite boxing movies to AL.com ahead of the Breazeale match.

Wilder will fight a Feb. 22 rematch against lineal champion Tyson Fury at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The pair had one priceless joint interview after another in the first contest’s lead-up, so we can hardly wait for any and all antics that come with the next round. And yes, we want to see the fight, too.

Oh, and Wilder met the pope. Yes, that pope. Score another round for the champ. — Ben Flanagan

Roy Wood Jr.

Nicol Biesek

Comedian Roy Wood, Jr. (Photo by Nicol Biesek)

Roy Wood Jr.: Chicken sandwich raconteur

Production of Roy Wood Jr.’s sitcom pilot “Jefferson County: Probation,” which is being filmed in Birmingham, began in May and features Wood as a parole officer “willing to bend the rules to help the parolees on his watch, much to the chagrin of his partner and everyone else in his life.”

He continues his amazing corresponding work on “The Daily Show” and hosting duties on Comedy Central’s “This is Not Happening,” but we contend Wood’s finest achievement in 2019 remains his Twitter series “The Coalition,” a would-be UPN crime drama about the great chicken sandwich debate, sparked by the emergence of the new Popeye’s that dared to challenge the greatness of Chick-fil-A.

Partially inspired by HBO’s much-balleyhooed saga “The Wire” and, uh…poultry, Wood’s epic (featuring puppeted chicken sandwiches from every fast food joint that offers one) is one of the best written and directed pieces of entertainment you will see in all of 2019. A send-up of every crime show or movie you’ve ever seen, it shines especially for how quickly Wood turned it around amidst the fiery discourse that won the taste-buds and imaginations of the country. Plus, unlike much of the humdrum drivel we get on cable on a daily basis, it has stakes and feels urgent and is about…chicken sandwiches. Only a brilliant man could muster such a fuss.

Mary Colurso contributed to this piece.





Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close

Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 67108864 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 12594 bytes) in /home/content/52/11237452/html/celebratyworldorder/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 1972