BREAKOUT STARS of 2008

You may not have heard of them in 2007. Now just try to imagine your world without them.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Breakout Brainiac

DAVID PLOUFFE Barack Obama would never have become the Man if David Plouffe, his 41-year-old campaign manager, hadn’t built the Machine. With a swarming ground game, staggering online fundraising skills, and a gift for working those Excel sheets, Plouffe changed the equation for how to get elected. And for his next act, many believe he should replace Howard Dean as chairman of the DNC.

L: John Shearer/WireImage R: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Breakout Actors Who Can Actually Act

JON HAMM and ROSEMARIE DEWITT AMC’s Mad Men began airing in the summer of 2007, but this year it became absolutely unacceptable not to be obsessed with all things Don Draper and the man behind him, Jon Hamm. The debonair actor has been working steadily for years, but suddenly came out of nowhere to land a GQ cover and the heart of every woman in America whose heart formerly belonged to George Clooney. Meanwhile, Hamm's onetime Mad Men co-starlet, Rosemarie DeWitt, went on to have her own stellar year. She stood out in Rachel Getting Married in the title role, and landed a main part in Diablo Cody’s new Showtime series, The United States of Tara. See her in two starring roles in 2009, and on just about every “hot list” of magazines that can still afford to print.

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Breakout Heartbreaker

ROBERT PATTINSON Not two months ago, Twilight had yet to hit theaters and actor Robert Pattinson was only known to some very devoted Harry Potter movie fans who knew him as Quidditch champ and (spoiler alert!) killed-off Hogwarts student Cedric Diggory. But in November, after starring as the celibate vampiric hunk Edward Cullen—he can never kiss the one he loves lest he suck her blood—Pattinson became the most-wanted and least-touchable tween idol to send young women reeling since the Jonas Brothers and their chastity rings. Case in point— when Robert cut his hair, his new ‘do was a top five search term in Google for days. Days.

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Breakout Chartbreaker

TAYLOR SWIFT This was a year of several new music phenoms—Lil Wayne, Leona Lewis, and (sigh) David Archuleta—but no star received as much honeyed praise as Taylor Swift, the bubbly blond 19-year-old country singer/second coming of Faith. The New Yorker and The New York Times wrote her gushing love letters in the same week, the former calling her a “prodigy” for her twangy hits about love and wild horses. Kids grow up so fast these days, they have all the essentials for good country songs by senior year.

Boston Globe/John Tlumacki /Landov

Breakout Pundit

RACHEL MADDOW We may have lost Tim Russert in 2008, but we gained Rachel Maddow. After years of being a permaguest on MSNBC, the network finally gave Maddow her own show in August, and her ratings have already topped those of her patron Keith Olbermann and Larry King. With self-deprecating wit wrapped around intellectual steel, Maddow has succeeded in redefining a few L-words—a liberal people like.

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Breakout Swami

NATE SILVER In 2007, Nate Silver was mainly known as a world-class seamhead, a Baseball Prospectus geek who could do sexy things with ERAs. Then he started applying his statfreak principles to presidential politics under the pseudonym Poblano. When he finally outed himself in June 2008, it was clear that Silver and his website www.FiveThirtyEight.com had everyone’s number—his primary projections became gospel. In the end, though, Silver only correctly predicted how 49 of the 50 states would vote. Better luck in 2012.

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Breakout Accessory

KAZUO KAWASAKI 704 GLASSES One thing that wasn’t on Sarah Palin’s shopping list this year was a fashionable pair of eyeglasses. Her titanium Kazuo Kawasaki frames run about $375 (without lenses), but you won’t be able to see Russia from your house without them.

George Napolitano

Breakout Breakup

MIKE AND THE MAD DOG Forget about Guy and Madonna, or Anne Hathaway and Rafaello Follieri, or even Peter Cook and Christie Brinkley—those splits were just a matter of time. But the professional divorce of WFAN’s Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo was a true shocker. Sure, they fought nearly every day for 20 years, but what couple doesn’t?

Breakout Breakdown

BIKINI CORRIE Corrie Loftin was just a simple Playboy model and Hawaiian Tropic finalist before she hit it really big with a phenomenal meltdown as a contestant on the reality series Paris Hilton is my BFF. As she was getting kicked off the show, Corrie made one final plea to be Hilton's made-for-TV soulmate status—they were both born so beautiful that they have suffered…terribly. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” Loftin said, lamenting the majesty of her beauty. She then added that people call her “Bikini Corrie” back home because "I have earned it." If only it hadn't gone to her heavy head.

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Breakout Maritime Enemy

THE SOMALI PIRATES Okay, so Michael Phelps had a pretty good year in the water. But these guys would steal all that gold before his Speedo had time to dry.

Breakout Word

SEXTING Sending nude or suggestive photos from a cell phone is hardly a new concept, but the phenomenon got a name in 2008—sexting. And according to one survey, 22 percent of teen girls and 18 percent of teen boys say they have sent or posted sexy photos of themselves. The other 80 r not v. hot. But u r.

Police Niederoesterreich/AP

Breakout Psychopath

JOSEF FRITZL The Austrian dungeon dad had quite the year. In April, news emerged that he had locked his daughter (and the children he fathered with her) in a soundproof cellar for 24 years. It’s stomach-turning, vile, and hell-worthy, but in total creepy psychotic terms, the bar is now set very, very high for 2009.

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Breakout Meme

RICK ROLLING It was hard to choose just one big Internet trend this year, but popular viral sites like barackobamaisyournewbicycle.com couldn’t compare to the always funny bait and switch that was the Rick Roll. The idea is very simple—send someone a link that promises to be interesting, and when they click through, their screen is suddenly irreparably dominated by a video of '80s white soulster Rick Astley singing “Never Gonna Give You Up.” It may sound goofy, but thanks to this gimmick, Rick's career is actually rolling again — he performed at this year’s Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. By the way, here are the first pictures of the Obamas' new puppy.