It’s New Year’s Eve 2010 and time to reflect on our first incredible year chronicling the city’s pop culture scene here at Intel Central. This year, Atlanta survived a zombie invasion, waved goodbye to a two-time Oscar winner, welcomed (?) the return of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and new TBS late-night star Conan O’Brien (and his big orange blimp) to town. Here are just a few of the fave things we had the honor of covering for you this year.
Best Comeback: Bad boy chef Paul Luna returned to our fair city from the West Coast via bicycle to open Lunacy Black Market downtown on Mitchell Street. On opening his new eatery in such an edgy neighborhood undergoing revitalization, Luna told us in January about the origins of the restaurant’s name: “Our prices are illegal. And I wanted the neighborhood drug dealers to feel included.” Luna also made good on his threat to become “more political” after Park Atlanta attempted to run roughshod on customers. Luna quickly became the much-despised ticketing company’s worst nightmare, turning up at city council meetings and public protests, often sitting in the front row, and offering choice quotes for the TV news cameras.
Best Prognosticator: TNT “Southland” actress Regina King who also provides the voices of Riley and Huey for Cartoon Network’s “Boondocks.” In January, King told us to be on the look out for a Tyler Perry-skewering episode in the ‘toon’s third season in June. Said King: “Sometimes I’ll get a script and think ‘Wow, we’re really going there?!'”
Best Contract Negotiation: Q100’s Jeff Dauler who was thisclose to inking a new deal with rival Star 94 until his agent used the old “right to match” clause to restore him to The Bert Show with a hefty raise.
Most Grounded Country Superstars: Sugarland‘s Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush who walked the red carpet at the Georgia Grammy nominee party at the Downtown W in January. Nettles told us how she finally beat Grammy night butterflies: “After you’ve made a fool of yourself in front of Paul McCartney, there’s really nothing left to be nervous about.”
Best “American Idol” contestant: Atlanta civil rights icon “General” Larry Platt delighted “Idol” judges and became an overnight pop culture sensation after performing “Pants on the Ground” at his Midtown audition for the hit Fox show.
Best Product Placement: Atlanta rockers The Swear scored two songs —”Last Breath” and “Shuttered Christine” that ended up being used on the trashy MTV reality hit “Jersey Shore. When we asked if she actually watched the show, singer Elizabeth Elkins laughed and said: “Guilty as charged.”
Best Musical Reinvention: Ex-Atlantan and 90s Evan and Jaron pop star Jaron Lowenstein, who reinvented himself as the credible country act Jaron and the Long Road to Love on the heels of the hilarious hit and video “I Pray For You.” Of the ex who inspired the tune, Jaron told us: “She’s such a piece of work, she would probably love it.”
Best Sports “Get” Interview: WSB-TV anchor Monica Pearson, who waited five long years to finally snag an interview with ex-Falcon and controversial convicted dogfighter Michael Vick just before he blew up this season with the Philadelphia Eagles. Said Pearson to us: “Ii took us almost as long to get him as Barbara Walters!”
Best Reason For a Restraining Order: The drama-filled remix release party in March for “Real Housewive” warbler Kim Zolciak‘s “Tardy for the Party” at the Gold Room by DJ and then-girlfriend Tracy Young. Alas, the party highlight was not Zolciak’s dubious lip syncing skills but Young’s “Fatal Attraction”-inspired beatdown of a ladies room door with Zolciak inside and security guards keeping the two ladies apart.
Best Late-Night Coup: In April, Atlanta-based TBS shocked everyone by quietly enticing exiled “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien to its late-night line-up. Tweeted O’Brien of the surprise move: “I’ll be playing Rudy on the all-new ‘Cosby Show.'”
Most Bittersweet Battle of the Bands win: Atlanta’s own Ben Deignan Band, who celebrated a win at the Hard Rock Cafe Ambassadors of Rock Battle of the Bands competition in late April. A week later, the grief-stricken band paid a heartfelt tribute to the band’s heartbeat Lance Tilton who was killed in a car crash just days after the win.
Biggest Celebrity Departure: After 19 years as an Atlanta resident, Jane Fonda moved back west in May to spend more time with new love and record producer Richard Perry. Explained Fonda to Intel of her unexpected romance: “It’s never too late!”
Best Bash for a Beard: In June, the Midtown W hotel threw a party for “Top Chef” contestant and Woodfire Grill chef Kevin Gillespie and the more than 8,000 Facebook fans of his beard. Said attendee Lindsey Anthony: “This is, without a doubt, the finest party for facial hair we’ve attended this year.”
Best Book by a Blaxploitation Superstar: In June, “Foxy Brown” actress Pam Grier came to town to sign copies of her dishy memoir “Foxy: My Life in Three Acts.” Spilled Grier on making the legendary ’70s action flick on a shoestring budget: “We couldn’t afford stunt people and we certainly didn’t have any stunt women back then. It really wasn’t until I broke my ankle on the set of ‘Coffy’ and they painted my cast to look like a boot that I even gave it a thought!”
Best Reason to Install a Drive-Thru: A Mazda Miata came crashing through Green’s Liquors on Ponce de Leon avenue in July driven by the same woman who sent a car careening into the store in 2009. Assessed one Green’s clerk: “She seems really determined for us to have a drive thru.”
Most, Um, Determined Fulton County Commission Chair Candidate: Even after two judges ruled against her continuing her campaign, Mary Norwood was still out securing names on a petition in July. “We’re still alive and kicking,” she told us smiling. Norwood’s determination later became fodder for Second City’s holiday send up at the Alliance Theatre. Norwood herself turned up in the audience and laughed at the sketch.
Best Art Opening: The High Museum’s outside the box “Salvador Dali: The Late Work” celebrates the eccentric artist’s often overlooked post-1940 offerings. The popular ground-breaking exhibit once again gave art lovers a reason to embrace life in Atlanta.
Best Reason for Fan Boy Heads to Explode: In August, “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novel fans thought they were cool when they scored seats inside an advance screening of the film adaptation “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” at the Plaza Theatre. Until, that is, stars Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman, along with director Edgar Wright showed up on stage post-screening for a surprise Q&A geek out session.
Best Surprise Gig: Prior to his retirement from Tweeting, ex-Atlantan John Mayer used the power of Twitter to tell fans about a secret late-night gig at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur in September. A line around the block promptly formed. Marvelled Mayer: “Can’t explain the fullness in my heart returning to Eddie’s Attic, my launching pad. I’m so moved.”
Best Watercooler Perspective on a National Sex Scandal: V-103 FM’s Frank Ski and Wanda Smith bravely opening up the phone lines to discuss all aspects of the Bishop Eddie Long scandal this fall after three former parishioners accused Long of sex abuse. Ski told listeners of his pastor: “I am loyal no matter where this goes.”
Best Celebrity Exclusive: Emmy winner Betty White, who graciously talked to us during a private dinner reception in her honor at Bacchanalia in October. Of why she accepted a rare dramatic role in the locally filmed TV movie “The Lost Valentine,” the 88-year-old told us: “It’s just a beautiful script. I don’t get a chance to do a role like this very often. I’m enjoying it thoroughly.”
Best Zombie Invasion: AMC scored an immediate hit with locally filmed horror-ific “The Walking Dead” series when it debuted on Halloween night. The Frank Darabont-helmed pilot set its characteristic tone in its opening minutes when sheriff Rick Grimes puts a bullet between the eyes of a stuffed animal clutching little girl who had been zombiefied. The show was quickly green-lighted for a second season shot and set in Atlanta.
Best Risk of 2010: While the box office receipts for Atlanta director Tyler Perry‘s brave film adaptation of poet/playwright Ntozake Shange‘s classic “For Colored Girls” won’t make Lionsgate forget the “Madea” franchise any time soon, when the gut-wrenching film worked, it worked big. Plus, what other filmmaker currently working in Hollywood would choose to take on the weighty material and assemble a power house ensemble cast that consisted of Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Phylicia Rashad, Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine and Macy Gray all in the same film?