By Joshua Maloni
Famous people are real, and they walk among us!
But what makes someone a celebrity, and why do we care?
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines celebrity as a person with “wide recognition; fame; renown.” In 2018, that often meant one who participated in (or caused) a scandal, dated someone well-known, made a trendy or “viral” video, or scored with social media.
Though the people on this writer’s role of fame did some of those things, they were chosen for two different reasons: talent and quality of interview.
That is to say, this year-end list tips a carded fedora to those creative types who used their skills to become noticed – and their voice to share the behind-the-scenes process with our readers.
These celebrities are not overnight flashes in the pan, but rather innovative actors, artists and musicians who have built a career on accomplishment, and not gossip, their parents’ wealth or flipping a bottle on its bottom. In fact, many would resist the term “celebrity,” choosing instead to say they’ve been blessed to be given a platform to touch others.
Call them what you will. In 2018, they were the best of the best interviewees for this writer.
(Click on each person’s name to read the full interview.)
Artpark & Company, this past summer, offered its best lineup of acts in a handful of years. The strength of the schedule was variety – an ’80s hitmaker, blues-rock outfit and Scottish pop star, for example.
Both Bailey and Tunstall were making a comeback. He returned to the stage with “Hold Me Now” and “Doctor! Doctor!” after a long hiatus, while she rediscovered a sound (and a passion) found on her breakout album, “Eye To the Telescope.”
Tedeschi was continuing the popular “Wheels of Soul” tour, which was been a big hit on recurring Artpark stops.
"Taken": Jessica Camacho as Santana. (NBC photo by Panagiotis Pantazidis)
•Jessica Camacho (“Taken”) and her special skills.
After stealing scenes as Gypsy on “The Flash,” Camacho made the move to “Taken,” a prequel series to the iconic Liam Neeson movie of the same name. Though the show struggled to find an audience, Camacho had no problem proving her chops as an action heroine.
Emily Beecham as Minerva - The Widow - on "Into the Badlands." (Photo by Aidan Monaghan/Antony Platt/AMC)
Two of the most over-the-top TV characters of the year – and we mean that in the best way – were portrayed by “The Emilys.” Beecham reprised her role as The Widow, the swashbuckling “Into the Badlands” baron desperate to save her people. Hampshire brought levity (and pop culture references) to “12 Monkeys” as Jennifer Goines, a troubled girl who trains her inner voices to help save Team “Otter Eyes.”
Matthew West (Photo courtesy of The Media Collective)
Seeing the state of the world, both West and David Zach of Remedy Drive brought a sense of urgency to their respective concert tours. Saying waiting is wasting, they challenged audiences and listeners to do better – to be better – if they really want to make a difference in this world.
•Famous Facebook-er Violett Beane (“God Friended Me”).
Like Camacho, Beane was a stellar standout guest-starring on “The Flash.” The former Jesse Quick slowed things down in playing Cara Bloom, a journalist working to find the source of the “God account.” Beane’s new role has her teaming with “The Mayor” star Brandon Micheal Hall to help potential Facebook friends as suggested by the almighty.
Two of Buffalo/Niagara’s favorite rock bands returned to local stages in 2018. Rzeznik and the Goos brought their “Dizzy Up the Girl” anniversary tour to Shea’s, while Maida and OLP took 20 years of “Clumsy” to The Rapids Theatre. Between the two acts, fans were treated to an overflowing abundance of hit songs, including “Slide,” “Black Balloon” and “Iris,” plus “Superman’s Dead” and “Automatic Flowers.”
Over the holidays, audiences could’ve caught both VanSanten (“A Golden Christmas 3”) and Lawson (“Christmas Encore”) in Christmas movies. Those who caught a glimpse would’ve been hooked – absolutely glued to their couches and recliners cheering on these two super-likable actors. And yet it was respective action series that brought VanSanten and Lawson to this writer, as each flexed new actor-craft muscles with more-high-octane roles.
Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush of Sugarland. (Photo by Shervin Lainez)
•The return of Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles.
Following her guest mentor gig on “American Idol,” Nettles and Kristian Bush – better known as Sugarland – made a long-awaited return to the area. With “BIGGER” new songs in tow, they performed two shows at Fallsview Casino.
•1980s scrunchie-junkie Hayley Orrantia (“The Goldbergs”).
Our favorite decade has been meticulously revived thanks to Adam F. Goldberg and his often-autobiographical sitcom “The Goldbergs.” The ABC series has a terrific cast of characters … that would likely walk the plank “Goonies”-style, or be blown to bits à la the Death Star on “Star Wars,” if not for Orrantia’s Erica. What’s most impressive is this voice of reason is, herself, a big-dreaming, sometimes-scheming future rock star.
Gene Simmons (and his soda) in Niagara Falls.
•Soda pop purveyor and rock legend Gene Simmons.
It wasn’t pyrotechnics, makeup and wigs, or even rock-and-rolling all night (and, yes, partying every day) that brought Simmons to Niagara Falls. Rather, it was MoneyBag Soda, a pop he co-founded with the Johnnie Ryan Bottling Company. On this visit, the music legend was down-to-earth as he met fans, signed autographs and swapped stories with his KISS nation.
Amanda Schull as Cassie on "12 Monkeys." (Syfy photo)
Two top time-bending sci-fi series concluded this year, as Schull and Spencer brought sweet satisfaction to fans of “12 Monkeys” and “Timeless.” The latter’s work was unexpected, as “Timeless” was cancelled by NBC, but then allowed to tie up loose ends in a special two-part concluding chapter. The former wrapped a story underappreciated by the masses and overlooked by critics. In doing so, she delivered a marvelous, star-making turn as … well, it’s super-involved. Read the article and – better yet! – go and on-demand the series. You won’t be disappointed.
Roxburgh, meanwhile, is the breakout star on “Manifest,” which was one of the top new shows this fall. The series centers on passengers who went missing in time when their plane disappeared.
Lindsey Stirling at Artpark.
•Wandering winter warrior Lindsey Stirling.
Stirling gave perhaps the best concert of the summer at Artpark. Her show was unlike anything this reviewer has seen inside the Mainstage Theater. What would she do for an encore? Stirling returned to Western New York earlier this month to raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House, and visited the organization’s Buffalo home to spend time with family and children.
Despite her many obligations as an EDM breakout, “Dancing with the Stars” finalist, “America’s Got Talent” guest performer, best-selling author, visionary YouTube video creator – you see where I’m going here? – Stirling was gracious enough to give two interviews within a relatively short period of time. In both chats, she shared her heart, which, like the lovable Grinch, seems to grow larger and larger each time she visits.
Lindsey Stirling, and Santa, greet children at the Ronald McDonald House in Buffalo.
Honorable mention, and also great chats:
Chris Henderson from 3 Doors Down, Will Turpin of Collective Soul, Warren Haynes from Gov’t Mule, Matt Maher, Christy Nockles, Seth Condrey of North Point InsideOut and Mike Donehey from Tenth Avenue North.