Photo Credit: ABC
"It's that time of year again, and Santa isn't the only one making a list."
With those words, Barbara Walters kicked off her Barbara Walters Special: 10 Most Fascinating People of 2009. Then she went straight into her selections. With 10 people to cover in only an hour, she had to hurry. Some of her picks did prove relatively fascinating; others fell flat. Here's how the show unfolded.
First up was Lady Gaga, the 23-year-old pop star and performance artist known for her outrageous get-ups and ambiguous sexuality. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this interview was watching the 80-year-old Walters teetering arm-in-arm with the unusual-looking Gaga. They were quite an unlikely pair. "I don't take my glasses off for many interviews, but I'll take them off for you," says Lady Gaga, and off they went, discussing bisexuality and masturbation.
The highlight: Hearing the song lyric "bluffin' with my muffin" come out of Walters' mouth. "I hope I'm allowed to say it on TV," she says.
Fascinating Rating: 9 (out of 10)
Next was Jenny Sanford, wife of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. The revelation last summer of his affair with an Argentinian woman was, as Walters put it, "the most bizarre and joked about political scandal of the year." In this, Sanford's first television interview since the scandal broke, Walters points out that Sanford broke the mold of political wives who stand at the podium beside their disgraced husbands. (She didn't stand with him.) Sanford says that he didn't ask her to. But "if he had asked me, I would have said no," she adds.
The highlight: "Certainly his actions hurt me and caused consequences for me," says Sanford. "But they don't in any way take away my self-esteem. They reflect poorly on him."
Fascinating Rating: 7 (out of 10)
This was followed by Tyler Perry, the actor, writer, producer and entertainment mogul best known for the Medea movies. Tyler aims for a middle class, African American audience, and in the run-up to the special, Walters repeatedly stated that "most white people never heard of Tyler Perry." (It might be more accurate to say that while they've heard of him, they haven't seen his films, but that's just a quibble.) Perry grew up with a loving mother, but his abusive, alcoholic father told him that he'd never amount to anything. When Walters asks how he endured it, he answers, "I would hear this voice inside of me that said 'You're OK. Don't believe that. That's not true,'" says Perry. "I know now it was the voice of God."
The highlight: Perry's face lights up with pride when he tells Walters about his greatest accomplishment: giving his mother, Maxine Perry, a long-awaited, comfortable home and life. Maxine was the inspiration for Medea, and she recently passed away at age 61.
Fascinating Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Kate Gosselin was the next one featured, and to Walter's credit, she kept the segment short, rather than rehash the dozens of interviews that Gosselin has already given. She asks if the children know whether they're famous, and Gosselin says that they don't use that word. "They watch the DVD's of our show," she says. "And it's family memories for them."
The highlight: Kate defends herself against those who say that she exploited her children. "The kids got to go on vacations that we never would have been able to do," she says. "Unless you live in my house and see how everything we've done with the show has been a great experience, you can't speak."
Fascinating Rating: 3 (out of 10)
Next Walters talked with Glenn Beck, the self-proclaimed libertarian host of "one of TV's most watched cable news shows" and the author of "six best-selling books." Beck is known for his inflammatory rhetoric, especially regarding the Obama administration, which he refers to as fascist. Walters asks him what he was so afraid of. "I'm afraid that, not by choice, freedom slips away, and people say, 'What happened?'"
The highlight: "People can call me anything they want," says Beck. "Here's what I hope they call me in 10 years: Wrong."
Fascinating Rating: 6 (out of 10)
Walters said that her next interviewee, Adam Lambert, "turned the music industry inside out [during the American Music Awards] doing things we can't show you here." (He groped his female dancer and kissed one of his male band members.) Walters asked why he did it. "To be honest with you, adrenalin is a funny, funny thing," says Lambert. "I got really excited."
The highlight: "I don't think you can come to a conclusion about me as an artist based on one performance," says Lambert.
Fascinating Rating: 5 (out of 10)
Walters' next interview wasn't an interview at all—just a montage of clips and her own voiceover. The segment was on Brett Favre, who "made history by going onto the field as a winning quarterback at age 40." Walters recounted the many ups and downs of Favre's admittedly interesting football career. But with no interview, it was hardly fascinating.
The highlight: None.
Fascinating Rating: 1 (out of 10)
Next up was Sarah Palin, whose selection for this list was understandable. She is a political lightning rod, and people on both sides of the ideological fence seem to love to discuss what she'll do next. But like Kate Gosselin, Palin has been interviewed extensively already this year. There was nothing new for Walters to mine.
The highlight: Palin describes a perfectly happy day as one with her family eating a bowl of moose chilli, and Walters tells her, "Remind me not to come to your house for dinner."
Fascinating Rating: 1 (out of 10)
After Palin came Prince, Paris, and Blanket Jackson—"three mysterious children who will have to live in the shadow of their father, the late, great Michael Jackson." This segment was perhaps the most disappointing. Walters obviously was not able to land an interview with the children, so she was forced to play a few home movie clips and recount their well-known story. The children, who are 12, 11, and 7, "appeared rarely, usually in veils, lived in statue-filled mansions, were schooled at home, and played with their father's pets." In sync with the last phrase is a photo of the kids with a chimp. (Ostensibly Bubbles?)
The highlight: In the home movie, the children sing a song to their daddy, to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine."
Fascinating Rating: 0 (out of 10)
When it came time for Walters to reveal the mystery person who had won the title of Most Fascinating Person of 2009, she said, "I was recently told I should pick this next person as most fascinating for her arms alone." Up flashed a picture of Michelle Obama, a most un-fascinating pick. Things only got worse when the interview began (although I suppose I should be grateful that Walters got an interview at all). Michelle talked about one of her goals while in the White House: "I've begun to lay the foundation to a conversation about the health of our kids," she says, and then cited some childhood obesity statistics. I was glad to hear it; it's a worthy cause. Not fascinating, though.
The highlight: Walters spent at least a third of the interview on the thing that made Michelle the most fascinating. That's right—her arms. "Do you feel pressure to have great arms?" asked Walters. "My personal [workout] routine hasn't changed much over the last 11 years," says Michelle. "If there's anything that I can attribute these arms to, it's probably just determination."
Fascinating Rating: 2 (out of 10)
All in all, the show itself was hardly fascinating. But Walters can only work with the people out there. Maybe this year, the fascinating pickings just happened to be slim. Better luck next year, Barbara.
Do you think Michelle Obama was the most fascinating person of 2009? Chime in below!