By Joshua Maloni
Following the death of his co-star and friend, Carrie Fisher, "Star Wars" actor Mark Hamill tweeted, in part, "Carrie was one-of-a-kind who belonged to us all - whether she liked it or not. She was OUR Princess."
Though crushed by the weight of his loss, Hamill still had the perspective to realize Fisher meant something to millions and millions of fans around the world. She was his friend, and our on-screen crush ... hero ... princess.
Such is celebrity.
We are, plain and simple, fascinated with famous people.
They are talented at their craft, as many are in different career fields; but, for some reason, we put them on posters and wear their faces on T-shirts and hats.
Though many celebrities are philanthropic and leading voices for change, screen stars and rockers are not curing cancer or educating the youth of tomorrow. So what makes them so grand?
They are, if nothing else, a welcome diversion from worry, work and woes.
I mean, sure, there's no time to shop for Christmas presents, and we're cramming for final exams and preparing special year-end projects while trying to lease a car and bake cookies. But we will toss these responsibilities aside without guilt or consequence to binge-watch a new Netflix series or wait in the IMAX line to see the newest Marvel blockbuster or "Star Wars" story.
Our princesses, secret agents, superheroes and knights in shining armor are tickets to escapism, drivers to distraction and just plain fun to watch, listen or dance to, and daydream about.
But it doesn't end there.
Celebrity is defined as the state of being well-known, and audiences definitely want to know more about their favorite performers.
That's where interviewers come in handy. We want to tell you more about your favorite celebrities. We make it our job (which, it kind of is - score!) to bring you a glimpse into the lives of the line-memorizers and guitar-string-pluckers.
The best of us present a backstage (or, in my case, a Behind the Screens) look into the minds, pens, pads and efforts of those entertaining the masses.
Here are my favorite celebrity interviews from 2016 (with clickable links).
Amanda Schull in "12 Monkeys" (Syfy photo by Kurt Iswarlenko)
Why: I heart TV.
It's hard to say the small screen's past 25 years weren't the golden era of television. My years between high school and 30-something yielded shows such as "The Simpsons," "Seinfeld," "Friends," "The Sopranos" and "Breaking Bad." The past quarter-century also was an advantageous time for serial and nontraditional crime-fighting shows ("Law & Order," "CSI:," "NCIS," "Homeland") and science fiction series ("The X-Files," "Lost," "Game of Thrones").
Generally speaking, those are my favorite genres. And, in 2016, I was fortunate enough to work with the stars of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," "12 Monkeys," "Supergirl," "Blindspot," "The Blacklist," "Person of Interest" and "Timeless."
From the article on Gabe: "It's something I've loved since I was 6 years old," Luna said. "And having come from this love, that I shared with my brother ... and he and I, we loved to collect the books. Action figures and comics was just how we rolled. He was a big Spidey and Ghost Rider fan. I was Hulk and Wolverine and X-Men, and all that stuff. And we grew up with it.
And he still has a great, great love for it, and a great, great knowledge of all that stuff. I just - it's hard to piece together, because, you know, you can't see the forest from the trees when you're inside it sometimes. But the fact that Captain America, Iron Man, all these guys exist in the same world as Robbie Reyes, as I do, it's wonderful, when you can just sit down and think about it."
KT Tunstall (Photo by Tom Oxley)
Why: The "Drastic Fantastic" Scottish singer returned to her rock roots with a sublime EP and a worthwhile full-length album. Both works were reflective of Tunstall's newly reacquired independence and surprise love for the Sunshine State.
She unabashedly spoke her mind and shared her feelings on music, touring and life.
From the article: "You know, you think when you have a really successful record, 'Wow, this is it. This is the pinnacle of success.' But, actually, it's now," KT Tunstall said. "It's now, where I'm in a place where I have a record deal where I can make good choices, and I call the shots, and I can decide who I work with, and how I'm going to work, and when I'm going to work.
"And that's the greatest gift, really, is to make music, and go on tour when you want to, and be in touch with your fans so that they're waiting for you to bring out the next thing."
Why: I've never been a big fan of classic violin, or electronic dance music, for that matter. But something magical happens when Stirling blends these two wildly different musical genres together. In 2016, she released a witty autobiography about growing up different, overcoming personal struggles and becoming one of the biggest internet stars of all time.
From the article: Writing a book about your life - at the ripe, old age of 29 - isn't normal.
Then again, neither is wearing elaborate costumes out in public.
Nor is having 1 billion people watch you perform a rock concert ... with a violin. Or seamlessly (and oddly logically) meld classical music with EDM.
Of course, if these things were ordinary or typical, then Lindsey Stirling wouldn't be "The Only Pirate at the Party," as she describes herself in a new autobiographical book of the same name.
Robby Takac and John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls. (Photo by Bob Mussell)
Why: You would be hard-pressed to find bigger Buffalo backers than the Goo Goo Dolls.
Having previously worked with bassist Robby Takac, I was interested to learn more about the secret to Rzeznik's success as a hall-of-fame songwriter.
He was delightfully candid in sharing his "Buffalove," and in describing how the band's newest release, "Boxes," came together.
From the article: As you enter the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, inside the Hard Rock Cafe, Niagara Falls USA, there is a large sign with scores of inductee names. It's an impressive roster of rock royalty, with talented singers, songwriters and musicians from the past 100 years included.
Countless bands have been birthed in Buffalo, and countless bands have been told "You can't make it in Buffalo." Among those listed in the BMHOF, many found fame and fortune outside of the Queen City. Some, I'm sure, would be hesitant to call Buffalo home, or eager to downplay their roots.
But the most successful group in the BMHOF, a band that has ruled the Billboard and radio airplay charts over the past 20 years, has no qualms saying "Made in Buffalo."
"It's my home, man, and I'm so proud of it," Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik said. "Every time I go there, there's something new."
Why: Musical acts from '80s remain a popular draw in Western New York and, fortunately, my favorite venue, Artpark, has begun welcoming acts from my first full decade.
Though Jones is not necessarily a household name, or among the highest-charting artists of that era, he did create some of the '80's best synth/pop-rock songs.
Live on stage, Jones is in top form - and his affinity for tech has made both his songs and showmanship better than ever.
I had to call Jones in the U.K. On our initial connection, it sounded as if I was speaking with the teacher from "Peanuts." Once we switched to a landline, and eliminated the "wan-wah, wan-wah-wan-wah-wah," it was a fun conversation.
From the article: Concertgoers headed to Artpark on June 14 for the first "Tuesday in the Park" concert this summer are in for an unexpected treat - especially if A) they're in the age 25-45 group, and B) they arrive on time.
Howard Jones, creator of myriad boss hit singles from the 1980s, will open for the Barenaked Ladies. It's an unexpected (and unlikely) paring - and having OMD as the second support act really makes it weird - but what a pleasure to hear live performances of Jones classics "New Song," "Things Can Only Get Better," "What Is Love?", "Pearl In The Shell," "Like To Get To Know You Well," "Hide And Seek," "Everlasting Love" and "No One Is To Blame."
The added added bonus: Fans will have an opportunity to hear these songs in an optimal form.
"I'm always going back into the catalog and sort of renovating old material," Jones said in a phone interview.
Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Why: As someone who grew up at the peak of the WWF, "WrestleMania," "Hulkamania" and the NWO, it's always a special treat to interview Superstars from the squared circle.
A finally (thankfully) clean and sober Roberts shared stories of getting stuck babysitting his giant python - and revealed the origins of the DDT. This interview was filled with "You're kidding me, right?" moments, as I learned more about Roberts' entry into the world of pro wrestling and ascension up its talent ladder.
From the article: Today, four years sober (and counting) Roberts has earned a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame - and he's connecting with his fans like never before.
In fact, a funny thing has happened along the way: The man whom parents begged children to stay clear of, whose malevolent whispers sent chills down viewers' spines and whose snake, Damien, struck fear in the hearts of opponents, has become a good guy in real life.
Alisan Porter (NBC photo by Tyler Golden)
Rachael Leigh Cook (Crown Media photo by Ryan Plummer)
Why: One was a childhood idol, the other starred in the first film I ever reviewed (eighth-grade newspaper!) and the third was a college crush.
I had "Now I can retire"-type bliss interviewing Newton-John, whom I first adored as a child and later as a hand-jiving teen; Porter, who sprang to stardom in "Curly Sue" before transitioning into music and winning season 10 of "The Voice"; and Cook, who starred alongside Freddie Prinze Jr. and the late Paul Walker in the 1999 "Pygmalion"-inspired rom-com "She's All That."
Though I never had posters of these women, I would still liken these moments to how it would feel if your wall-mountings came to life and called your cellphone. Just surreal ... and awesome.
From the article on Alisan: When Christina Aguilera says your musical talent is amazing, you know you're on the right track to a successful career.
After being cast in "Parenthood" and starring in "Curly Sue," Alisan Porter had a promising acting career before she hit her teenage years. But, deep down, it wasn't the career she wanted.
Alisan fell into addiction in her 20s, but battled back to reclaim her life, start a happy family, and focus squarely on what she said she was born to do: sing.
Today, midway through season 10 of NBC's hit "The Voice," Alisan, 34, has shed the labels of her past and put herself in position to win the Emmy-winning singing competition.
There's nothing clever to write about Grimmie's untimely death, which occurred mere weeks after our phone interview. The sickening, murderous act of a misguided fan robbed the world of someone who was not only immensely talented as a singer, actor and TV personality, but a genuinely good person with a heart for helping others.
Grimmie loved, loved, her fans, and they will sorely miss Christina.
I had first spoken with her when she appeared on "The Voice" in 2014, and then again before a performance in Niagara Falls. She was funny, and smart; a hard-working entertainer with a booming voice and a keen wit, who was a gracious interview subject.
While 2016 had an overabundance of premature celebrity deaths, none was more tragic than Grimmie's - and none saddened me more.
Rejoice in peace, Christina.
Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk
Why: He's the frontman for Our Lady Peace, one of my favorite bands of all time. She is an inspired singer, songwriter and pianist whose songs dot my iTunes devices. Together, they are dedicated and lauded philanthropists.
And, selfishly, I had sought face time with each for the better part of a decade.
Like they have nothing better to do, right?
It's not that I asked, you see. There's nothing more amateurish than "Hey, can I come backstage and hang out?" requests. But, on multiple occasions, the dynamic duo had invited me to come and say hey.
A comedy of unexpected hindrances - and a former mayor who swallowed a meet-and-greet whole - had prevented me from connecting in person with Maida and Kreviazuk.
To my surprise (and that is a gross understatement), my alma mater, Niagara University, welcomed the husband-wife team to participate in commencement exercises last spring. Upon learning of this super-cool and totally legit booking (seriously, folks, Maida and Kreviazuk are working overtime to help the oppressed), I sprang to action with a story idea in mind - and a way (I thought) to finally get a face-to-face.
With the interviews booked, I headed to campus to chat with Maida and Kreviazuk. I had but a small window before their dinner and gown fittings, but it was a window. Upon my arrival, I learned they were delayed crossing the bridge from their native Canada.
As I waited and waited inside building A, the available time to talk grew smaller and smaller. An offer to conduct the interview over the phone was made, but graciously declined.
I had made it this far, after all, and I wouldn't be denied.
Thanks to the efforts of several NU staffers, and one respected, stylish, UCLA-loving dean, I was able to squeeze in a full interview in building B right before Maida and Kreviazuk were whisked away to perform their commencement duties.
From the article: At the occasion of his inauguration two years ago, the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, said, "We are a community embracing the eternal mission of St. Vincent de Paul, making central the lives of the poor and marginalized. ... We will find our identity and destiny in the eternal legacy of St. Vincent de Paul, a man of immense intellectual and social gifts whose life turned from a status-seeking upwardly mobile track, to one that turned toward human misery and suffering, offering the healing balm of divine mercy and compassion."
Two ideal representatives of that philosophy are Niagara's 2016 graduate commencement guests: Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk. Mahar presented each with an honorary degree on Thursday.
The Juno award-winning musicians - he's the frontman of Western New York's favorite Canadian band, Our Lady Peace, while she's a successful solo artist who recently collaborated with Drake and Kendrick Lamar - have used their fame and resources not for self-promotion or creature comforts, but rather to better humanity.
Had any memorable celebrity experiences of your own in 2016? Leave a comment below, or tweet me with details.