By Vera H-C Chan, Buzz Senior Editor
Leading up to 2007, the apology circuit was the place of penance for a rampaging celebrity, with a rehab tune-up along the way.
This year, celebrities who embodied our escapist fantasies crash-landed in rehab or jail. Our searches barely kept up with the twists and turns of troubled stars.
Moving violations drove socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie to jail. Lindsay Lohan kept the revolving door of rehab in full spin. New York morning radio veteran Don Imus made one too many shock-jock jokes and got the boot. The horrible tragedy involving Chris Benoit rocked the World Wrestling Entertainment family and its fans. The story of Anna Nicole Smith, the manufactured star who became our B-list Marilyn Monroe with her unexpected death, turned into a twisted travail of prescription drug abuse, estranged mothers, paternity suits, and a baby in the balance.
Bad girls weren't the only ones on the brink. Parental worthiness was called into question in 2007. Dads behaving badly (Alec Baldwin, David Hasselhoff) were caught on tape. Mothers of bad girls caught our attention (Dina Lohan, Lynne Spears). Bad girls who became mothers caught us off guard (Nicole Richie, Scary Spice). And mothers who became bad girls (Britney Spears) caught a lot of grief.
No other person may have embodied celebrity downslide more than Britney, former girl next door and heir to Madonna's throne. Her tale, drawn out over the past eight years, became our pop culture Greek tragedy and the stuff of many a search. The young girls who faithfully tracked her career were joined by Buzz rubberneckers relishing news of her escapades with Paris Hilton, shaving mishap, messy custody case with ex-husband Kevin Federline, and somnolent comeback at the Video Music Awards.
Perhaps nothing sums up our reaction better than the plaintive query, "what happened to Britney?" Drawn as we are to celebrity wreckage, we prefer happier endings — be they triumphant returns or reunions. Our frenzy of searches for Britney's first original album in four years speaks of our willingness to give second (or third or fourth) chances. As our bad girls and boys move to repair their image in the public eye, whether through lawsuits or goodwill missions to Darfur, we will be watching. And searching.