NEW YORK — So what really happened in that diner? You know, after the cut-to-black, after the juke box stopped playing "Don't Stop Believin'" and the onion rings were gone? Did Tony Soprano die , or did he live, perhaps not to return to criminal ways but to reinvent himself as an insurance salesman?
Tony wasn't the only pop culture figure to leave us hanging in 2007. And some weren't even fictional. As the year drew to a close, shock jock Don Imus took to the airwaves again , eight months after losing his job over a racist and sexist remark. Would he follow through on his pledge to foster racial dialogue? In the celebrity world, there was Paris Hilton , fresh from that jail stint (maybe you heard about it). How about her promised foray into charity work ?
Then there was Britney Spears, still the one we want to know about most, judging by Internet search statistics. What didn't happen to her in 2007? The shaven head , the swinging door of rehab , the comeback performance mercilessly panned , most sadly the custody loss of her sons . Would she rebound from her lowest depths?
Don't worry, these are rhetorical questions. Rather than speculate on an uncertain future, let's take a chronological journey back through a year of pop culture moments:
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T.S. Eliot may have said April is the cruelest month, but that was before "American Idol." In 2007 January is pretty cruel, for this is when the "Idol" judges sink to their snarkiest behavior ever, calling contestants names, laughing behind their backs, insulting their looks. The worst moment: Simon Cowell tells a stunned young man at Seattle tryouts, Kenneth Briggs, that he resembles a "bush baby." (Of course, Briggs is awarded a guest appearance on the finale.)
And at the Golden Globes, "Grey's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington inexplicably gets himself into further trouble by jovially repeating the same gay slur he was at the same time insisting he didn't use when he first got into trouble. Phew! Note to celebrities in hot water: Leave the jokes to the late-night hosts.
Helen Mirren and Martin Scorsese bask in long-overdue Oscar triumphs , and Mirren at least is looking very sexy ... yay, middle age! But in our pop culture memories, February will always be Anna Nicole Smith's month. Her strange life — Playboy bunny, jeans model, reality star, billionaire's wife, Marilyn Monroe impersonator — is eclipsed by her stranger death . As an unsavory cast of characters dukes it out over where she should rest eternally and who gets the baby, the medical examiner says Smith's body lies decomposing faster than expected — as if even this publicity-starved starlet has had enough.
Slideshow: The year in entertainment There are moments in political life that transcend politics. When Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democrat John Edwards, announces that her breast cancer has returned and spread, she impresses many — of all political stripes — with her openness and her determination to continue living life just as she lived it before. Some question her husband's decision to stay in the race, but cancer survivors cheer the decision to approach the illness as a manageable condition. At year's end she is still actively campaigning for her husband.
It's not even a moment, just a couple of seconds: A quick comment on a video clip of the Rutgers women's basketball team lands Don Imus in the biggest trouble of his career . His "nappy-headed hos" remark triggers a gathering storm of outrage that leads to his firing — and for once, the ritual apology by a celebrity just isn't cutting it. Imus' critics want consequences, not apologies, and they get them — but they last only eight months (see December.)
A big month for movies, especially the "threequel." Unfortunately, three isn't the charm for "Spider-Man 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," and "Shrek the Third," which don't quite reach the heights of earlier installments. Director Judd Apatow tickles our funnybones with his profane yet touching "Knocked Up," and Michael Moore fans publicity for his newest (and arguably most effective) documentary, "Sicko," with a trip to Cuba that gets him in trouble with the government.
Tony Soprano says goodbye, and countless fans curse the cable company, thinking that cut-to-black was a malfunction. Hillary Clinton spoofs the ending in a video satire that wins points for cleverness. But we're all equal in the YouTube universe, and thus Obama Girl gets just as much attention — that's Amber Lee Ettinger, the model/actress/former pageant contestant whose racy "I Got A Crush On Obama" is one of the most-watched clips of the year. Paris Hilton spends 23 days in jail for violating probation in an alcohol-related reckless driving case. Later she tells Larry King she spent her time reading the Bible, though she can't recall a favorite verse, or, well, any verse at all. And wait, we're not done! This is the month that Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho makes that fateful trip to the airport restroom. His "wide stance" explanation will be endlessly spoofed, including by Brad Pitt and George Clooney on a tribute show for Julia Roberts.
Harry Potter's month, hands down, with the release of the seventh and final installment in J.K. Rowling's insanely successful series. We won't reveal details of the adorable young wizard's fate in case any of you (like us) haven't gotten around to reading it yet, in any of the 64 languages that Potter books have been published in. But here's a choice tidbit not found in the book: later this year Rowling announces that the beloved character Dumbledore was gay .
What time is it? If you're a tween or live in close proximity to one, you know the answer: It's time for " High School Musical 2 ," the sequel to the hugely popular Disney Channel movie. In this scrubbed-up, 21st-century "Grease," high school never looked so clean, so gentle, so tolerant, with cliques that melt like butter and mean girls that aren't really mean. Realistic? As legions of fans would say, whatever!! More than 17 million watch the first telecast alone, making it TV's biggest event of the summer. Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens are bona fide stars, which makes it ...
... a little awkward when nude photos of Hudgens surface on the Web. Will Disney disown its dark-haired sweetheart, heroine to countless young girls? Surely you jest (for one thing, there's the upcoming "High School Musical 3" to consider.) Hudgens apologizes, and life at East High goes on. Britney Spears could only hope for such a smooth landing. But it's bumpy, bumpy, bumpy for the troubled pop icon, who hazards a comeback at MTV's Video Music Awards, only to stumble through her song as if she were sloshing through mud. An unfortunately revealing sequined bikini guarantees the next day's painful headlines, but not nearly as painful as a few weeks later, when ...
... Spears loses custody of her two toddler sons to ex-hubby Kevin Federline. Though her album, "Blackout," is well-reviewed , her personal struggles continue with no end in sight. On a less serious note, the world spends a few days pondering the fate of Iggy the terrier , first adopted by Ellen DeGeneres, then given to her hairdresser's kid, then taken away according to the rescue agency's regulations. "Please, please, please, just give the dog back," DeGeneres weeps on national TV. But later she has to plead with angry fans to stop threatening the agency.
Speaking of strange things on talk shows, is that really Lynne Cheney on Jon Stewart's show, greeting him with a Darth Vader doll (a joking reference to hubby Dick) and getting a friendly, respectful reception? And speaking of Stewart, we told you last year there would be no Stewart/Colbert ticket in 2008 'cause, well, these guys are just comedians. Turns out we were only half right. For in October, conservative faux-pundit Stephen Colbert announces he's running , but only in South Carolina, his native state, which ....
... rejects him. State Democrats vote 13-3 to disallow his bid. Their lame reason? That he's not serious. Bah, humbug! At least South Carolina will get Oprah: The talk-show mogul announces that she'll campaign for her favorite guy Barack Obama in the key early voting states. Can Winfrey sparkle her candidate with the same fairy dust that makes books — even really old ones — sudden best sellers? And here's one youngster that's obviously gotten her hands on some fairy dust: Miley Cyrus, aka Disney's Hannah Montana, turns 15 amid one of the very the hottest concert tours of the year. Hottest kids tours, you ask? No, hottest tours period, with tickets selling out in minutes and scalpers having a field day. In Florida, a man hangs onto a pole for much of six days in a contest to win tickets for his fiancee's daughter.
December completes the circle for Don Imus , who debuts his new show on WABC with a cast that includes two black comedians and a promise to "never say anything in my lifetime that will make any of these young women at Rutgers regret ... that they accepted my apology." He also pledges to use his new show to discuss race relations.
Will Imus be one of the first pop culture figures to actually make his apology mean something? We'll have to get back to you on that.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.