NC is well known for its basketball stars, but our state’s home to gifted musicians, actors, and maybe the most popular person on the internet. Here’s what they did this year.
When it comes to celebrities in North Carolina, the sports figure reigns supreme. A look through Bet Carolina’s recent analysis and ranking of the state’s most popular celebrities based on Google data shows that four of the top 10 most Googled North Carolinians are basketball players.
The list, which defines a North Carolinian as “a person who resided in North Carolina in their formative childhood and teenage years for over 10 years,” may not tell the whole story, though.
For example, influencer MrBeast is likely the most popular North Carolinian on the internet, but because people look for him on YouTube rather than Google, he ranks a modest 7th on Bet Carolina’s list.
That said, it’s a good place to start. So we took a look at what some of the most Googled celebrities from North Carolina in 2023 have been up to this year, and caught up with others who deserve your attention.
Most Googled celebrity from NC in 2023
Originally from Wilmington, Michael Jordan has lived in Charlotte at least part-time over the last 13 years, where he took on a majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets NBA team in 2010.
In June, however, he made headlines when he sold that stake for a whopping $3 billion, immediately making him the first professional athlete to rank on the Forbes 400.
While he could simply ride off into the sunset after a sale like that, Jordan, now 60, has kept busy with his latest venture in an unlikely sport: NASCAR. As co-owner of the 23XI Racing Winston Cup team, Jordan has become more actively engaged in the role since finalizing his sale of the Hornets, according to fellow co-owner and former NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin.
No. 2 most Googled celebrity from NC in 2023
Charlotte native Steph Curry became a hometown hero when he brought Davidson College to the NCAA Final Four in 2008.
Even after that Cinderella story, hardly anyone expected the guard would become one of the NBA’s best players of all time. Now he’s a nine-time NBA All-Star, four-time NBA champion, and two-time NBA MVP.
Though still a top-tier player in the league, Curry, like Jordan, has begun to dabble more in another sport—in his case, golf.
Not only has he been upping his own game on the course—check out his exuberant reaction to hitting a hole-in-one in July—he’s opening doors for underserved youth behind him.
This year marked the second iteration of Curry’s Underrated Golf Tour, a summer tournament that showcases talented junior golfers and aims to give access and opportunities that might be unavailable to some in a traditionally exclusive sport.
No. 3 most Googled celebrity in NC in 2023
Coming off a scene-stealing role as trans high school student Jules Vaughan in the hit HBO series “Euphoria,” Schafer has been poised for the big screen.
A four-month actors’ strike this year almost threatened that momentum, but now Schafer is back with a breakout role as Tigris in “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.”
Having never acted before landing the role of Jules through an Instagram casting call, the 24-year-old from Raleigh told ET during a red carpet interview at the NYC “Hunger Games” premiere in November that the new role was especially challenging.
“Tigris kind of feels like the first character piece I’ve really done that’s not like a teenage girl who is kind of like one step away from who I am,” Schafer said.
No. 6 most Googled celebrity from NC in 2023
Super awesome to see y’all love “Fast Car” as much as I do! Thank you, Tracy Chapman, for one of my favorite songs of all-time!!
Luke Combs cut his teeth as a singer/songwriter playing small gigs at bars and taverns in the small mountain college town of Boone. He’s since become one of the biggest superstars in country music, and 2023 was by far his biggest year yet.
One of the most unexpected hits of the year, Combs’ cover of the 1988 Tracy Chapman classic “Fast Car,” exploded in 2023, reaching No. 1 on the adult pop and country charts for two weeks each; No. 6 at Top 40 radio; No. 2 on the Hot 100; and No. 1 on Billboard’s overall Radio Songs chart for four weeks. And with all that success, Combs hasn’t forgotten where he comes from.
Before performing his single “Going, Going, Gone” at the 2023 Grammy Awards, Combs had his longtime friend and former boss Justin Davis introduce him to the millions of people watching at home. Davis owns Town Tavern in Blowing Rock, where he used to let Combs hone his skills between shifts, playing for the dozens of people who would show up on any given night.
No. 7 most Googled celebrity from NC in 2023
As mentioned at the top of this article, to describe MrBeast as the “No. 7 most Googled celebrity from NC in 2023” is to undersell his popularity in a major way. After all, MrBeast—aka James Steven Donaldson, 25, of Greenville—is arguably the biggest internet celebrity in the world.
Named one of Time’s Most Influential 100 People this year, MrBeast has 216 million YouTube subscribers. He ranked on the Forbes list as the highest paid YouTube creator in 2022 and has an estimated net worth of $500 million.
This year has seen MrBeast step up his extravagant stunts and antics, from the ridiculous (“Ages 1 – 100 Fight For $500,000”) to the wholesome (“I Built 100 Wells In Africa”). He has also continued to build his business empire, announcing in October a new partnership with the Charlotte Hornets that places the logo of his food company Feastables on the jersey of every Hornets player throughout the season.
It’s the first such partnership between a professional sports team and a content creator, and while the financial details haven’t been disclosed, Forbes called the deal “revolutionary.”
No. 9 most Googled person from NC in 2023
Having broken onto the scene with an unforgettable role in the 2009 film “The Hangover,” Zach Galifianakis has continued to entertain audiences with hilarious characters on stage, TV, and the big screen. Despite being one of the country’s biggest comedic stars, he has remained humble and kept himself out of the tabloids.
Born in North Wilkesboro, he now lives in the Canadian wilderness, though he has returned to western NC often since finding fame, sometimes participating in charity drives under the agreement that the media not be alerted to his work.
This year saw Galifianakis face a new type of challenge. While many of his characters are so ridiculous as to be unbelievable, in his latest film “The Beanie Bubble,” released in July, he plays Ty Warner, the billionaire creator of Beanie Babies. While the real Warner is still alive, he is famously private, which didn’t help Galifianakis with his prep work.
“Mostly I drew from the book and then I would have to be inspired by the time of it, meaning the ’90s,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “There’s very little information on [Warner]. He was not one to be interviewed. So, I didn’t really have that to rely on.”
No. 10 most Googled person from NC in 2023
Jermaine Cole, the 38-year-old rapper from Fayetteville known as J. Cole, came out of the gate hot in 2007 with his debut mixtape “The Come Up,” garnering critical acclaim. It was only two years later that he signed with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, and then he was off to the races.
Since then, Cole has launched his own label, Dreamville Records. In 2018, he launched Dreamville Fest, an annual outdoor weekend music celebration held in Raleigh to help bring big acts to his home state while also placing local artists in front of huge crowds. The festival sold 100,000 tickets for this year’s event in Dorothea Dix Park.
Fans of J. Cole know he’s always been a basketball fan, even playing with the Canadian Elite Basketball League’s Scarborough Shooting Stars for a stretch in 2022. This year, he made it to the NBA—albeit in the owner’s suite.
Cole was part of a large group that bought the Charlotte Hornets from former owner Michael Jordan back in August. Country musician and fellow NC celebrity Eric Church is also included in the new ownership group. Both artists have minority stakes in the team.
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Born in the Charlotte suburb of Huntersville, 23-year-old Reneé Rapp has had a breakthrough year. You can fully expect her to be on the list of “most Googled North Carolinians” in 2024.
It was just five years ago that Rapp was performing in her high school production of “Big Fish” (and already winning awards for that performance), and it’s been all uphill since for the singer and actress. In 2018, she landed the role of Regina George in the Broadway production of “Mean Girls,” then scored a major recurring part in Max’s popular series “The Sex Lives of College Girls.”
This year saw Rapp rocket to stardom, gaining critical acclaim following the release of her debut studio album “Snow Angel” in August. In October, a clip of Rapp singing Destiny Child’s “Dangerously In Love” with Jennifer Hudson went viral, with fans praising Rapp’s soulful voice. We wouldn’t usually direct you to the comment section of a YouTube video, but in this case they’re worth checking out.
Then in November, the trailer dropped for the new “Mean Girls”, a musical film remake of the 2004 original, in which Rapp will reclaim her Broadway role of Regina George. The movie drops in January, and 2024 is looking like another promising year for Reneé Rapp.
Though born in Detroit, Ken Jeong moved to Greensboro at the age of 4 and was raised in North Carolina. Before making it big in entertainment, Jeong was a medical doctor, having studied at Duke University. Ironically, it was his role as a doctor in the 2007 Judd Apatow film “Knocked Up” that proved to be his breakout role.
Jeong has served as a judge on the Fox reality show “The Masked Singer” since its creation in 2019, but news broke in October that he will soon be hosting his own syndicated talk show.
In the meantime, he finds ways to stay connected to his home state. In September, he returned to his alma mater to kick off a week of arts events across campus by joining members of a Duke student improv group in a boisterous comedy routine.
High Point native Fantasia Barrino was thrust into the spotlight in 2004 after she won the third season of “American Idol.” Like her first cousins K-Ci & JoJo—also from NC—Barrino has seen her share of ups and downs throughout her career, experiencing personal struggles in the public eye.
Despite that, Barrino’s vocal talents have never wavered—she has consistently released critically acclaimed music over her nearly 20-year career, drawing comparisons to her idols Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle.
Having put her acting and music on hold while working to earn a college degree, Barrino will return to show business and end her year with a splash on Christmas with the release of “The Color Purple,” in which she will star as Celie Harris-Johnson, reprising a role she played on Broadway from 2007-08. Her performance has already garnered Oscar buzz.
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