10 breakout stars of 2017
It takes a lot of work to become a breakout star.
For many of the stars who defined music, movies and TV this year, 2017 was their first brush with mainstream fame. Yet, from 9-year-old Iain Armitage to 20-year music industry veteran Luis Fonsi, USA TODAY's 10 favorite breakout stars of 2017 took wildly different routes to get to their present-day levels of success. For Lena Waithe, that journey involved making coffee runs for Ava DuVernay; for Timothée Chalamet, it meant an amateur rapping career in high school.
These 10 people enjoyed new levels of success in 2017, no matter how they got here.
The writer-actress-producer hailing from Chicago has had an exceptional year. Waithe, 33, received a standing ovation in September after becoming the first black woman to win an Emmy for writing in a comedy series for her work on Master of None. In the second season of the series, Waithe wrote a coming out episode for her character Denise, inspired by her own story. In January, her drama The Chi, a series centered around a group of working-class African-Americans on Chicago's volatile south side, will premiere on Showtime. Waithe created the series and serves as the show’s writer and an executive producer. — EJ
With one massive hit single, two Grammy nominations for song and record of the year, and a spot in People’s Sexiest Men Alive list, 2017 was most certainly Luis Fonsi’s breakthrough year in American pop music. Yet, the 39-year-old Puerto Rican singer is far from a newcomer. The 20-year music industry veteran released his first album, Comenzaré, on Universal Music Latin in 1998. He became a Spanish-speaking household name with his 2000 release, Eterno, and won his first Latin Grammy for song of the year in 2009 for his track Aqui Estoy Yo. Fonsi’s Despacito single with Daddy Yankee was already snowballing into a global hit by the time Justin Bieber heard it in a club, contributed his vocals to a remix and helped birth the version of the song that would tie the Billboard Hot 100’s record for the longest-running No. 1 hit ever. — MM
'Despacito' changed the music industry: Where does Latin music go from here?
Keery has played small parts on Empire and Chicago Fire, but the Massachusetts native didn’t become a household name until he embodied Stranger Things’ big-haired Steve Harrington. While Keery’s character had few redeeming qualities in the show's first season, the 25-year-old quickly became a favorite when the sci-fi series returned for Season 2 and Steve, with his bat full of nails, attempts to protect Mike, Lucas and Dustin. — EJ
The characters that the 21-year-old actor brings to life in Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name, two of the year’s buzziest Oscar contenders, aren’t all that different; two precocious teenage boys, engrossed in music and books, fumbling their way towards adulthood. Yet, Chalamet brings humor and empathy to both roles, particularly in his strikingly mature turn in Call Me By Your Name as a brainy teenager engrossed in his first love affair, which won him a Golden Globe nomination for best dramatic actor. — MM
The actress, who first appeared on an episode of Entourage in 2007, embodies the role of Zoey Johnson on ABC’s Peabody Award-winning Black-ish. Born with more than just acting chops, Shahidi, 17, announced in June that she would be attending Harvard. But having college plans doesn’t mean the activist is shying away from the spotlight. Zoey’s freshman year will be documented on the Freeform spin-off Grown-ish, premiering on Jan. 3. — EJ
Meghan Markle, the former Deal or No Deal suitcase-holder who just got engaged to a prince, isn't the best Cinderella story of 2017. That honor belongs to Cardi B, whose rise has been one of the most life-affirming narratives of the year. Cardi was already an engaging reality TV personality before she released her breakout hit Bodak Yellow, but her fanbase exploded in size as the single climbed up the charts, eventually becoming the longest-running No. 1 hit from a solo female rapper in the history of the Billboard Hot 100. Cardi capped off her best year ever with an engagement ring from Migos rapper Offset and two Grammy nominations for Bodak Yellow, both of which she celebrated with candid charm on her Instagram, the platform that catapulted her to fame back when she was, in her own words, “a regular degular shmegular girl from the Bronx.” — MM
For moviegoers who walked into Girls Trip never having heard Tiffany Haddish’s name before, watching the 38-year-old actress’ fearlessly funny turn as Dina was an exercise in, “where has she been our all lives?” But for longtime fans, Haddish’s breakthrough was a lifetime in the making, a culmination of the actress’ rags-to-riches story that began with her sleeping in her car in between auditions and took her to the Saturday Night Live stage for a hosting stint last month. As Oscar nominations get closer, a grassroots fan campaign has spawned online petitioning for Haddish to earn a best-supporting actress nod, which would cap off an incredible year for a star who absolutely deserves one. — MM
In 2017, Highmore, 25, seemed to cash in Charlie Bucket’s golden ticket from 2005’s Tim Burton-directed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Working steadily since 1999, the English actor spent five seasons playing the emotionally disturbed Norman Bates on A&E's Bates Motel. However, Highmore and his new series The Good Doctor have both had break-out years. In October, the ABC drama, in which Highmore plays autistic physician Shaun Murphy, averaged 17.4 million viewers. The newcomer series was TV's No. 1 show for the week of Oct. 9. — EJ
Pre-Thor, Waititi was a cult-favorite director best known for his wacky-costumed storytelling and his work with HBO's Flight of the Conchords. Then, Marvel tapped the 42-year-old New Zealand native to direct their next Thor sequel. Chris Hemsworth's heavily muscled superhero wasn't always the most compelling character of his Avengers squad, but that changed once Waititi entered the picture, recruiting Jeff Goldblum, Cate Blanchett and Tessa Thompson to make one of Marvel's most colorfully wacky films yet. — MM
Meet Taika Waititi: The director who gave the 'Thor' franchise a major facelift
Early in the year, Armitage played the adorable yet suspicious Ziggy Chapman on HBO’s acclaimed miniseries Big Little Lies. In September, the 9-year-old with an affinity for reviewing theater, acted with screen legends Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in the Netflix feature Our Souls at Night. That same month, CBS’ half-hour comedy Young Sheldon premiered. In the series, the actor plays a youthful version of The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper. — EJ