“Am I going to get electrocuted?” asked the singer Chris Daughtry, who now goes just by “Daughtry,” as he took the stage on New Year’s Eve, in the middle of Times Square, as the sky poured down hail and sleet over the last few minutes of 2009.
He didn’t. He grabbed the live mic, belted out some cheerful ballad and barely made it out of this miserable decade alive—just like the rest of us.
It’s reassuring to know we can still get excited about an American Idol also-ran and a group of teenage over-achievers.
The Aughts went out like a cranky kid last night, kicking and screaming until the bitter end. In case we forgot what a rough period this has been, the last few weeks were there to remind us, the newspaper headlines reading like a best-of slideshow of headlines from the last 10 years: another would-be terrorist trying to take down another airplane, more protestors in Iran, more unrest across the Middle East, more troops in Afghanistan, more marital problems for Charlie Sheen (only with a different wife this time around). A “suspicious van” parked in front of a building in midtown on Tuesday almost ruined a test-drop of the famous Ball.
Enough already! Good riddance, 2009.
• Gallery: Year in Pictures• Celebrity New Year's ResolutionsUntold thousands braved damp, frigid weather to stand in Times Square Thursday night and scream that sentiment at the sky. They wore complimentary Nivea “Kiss and Be Kissed” foam top-hats and ate complimentary Papa Johns pizza and smiled and danced before the live television cameras. When Jennifer Lopez—the night’s main attraction—and her husband Marc Anthony tooted by in an oversized golf cart around 8:45 p.m., the shivering crowds let out a whoop of glee. “Daughtry” produced the same reaction when he took the stage, with his sculpted chin-strap beard and his band of alterna-rockers, who warmed their hands with towels between songs. Even the top students from the top 12 high schools in America—who gathered to help New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg lower the giant, glimmering New Year’s Eve Ball—drew enthusiastic screams.
After everything we’ve been through in this last decade, it’s reassuring to know we can still get excited about an American Idol also-ran and a group of teenage over-achievers. The optimism hasn’t gone out of us yet. We can still soak up the joy of standing around in a dense crowd wearing novelty glasses and plastic ponchos, dancing to keep warm in the rain. We can still slather on some complimentary Nivea lip balm and smooch in front of a live audience of millions—or at least, some of us can, those lucky enough to be hauled up to the Nivea Kiss Platform and goaded by on-again-off-again celebrity couple Nick Lachey and Vanessa Minillo.
Anderson Cooper showed up too, in a bright-red Christmas sweater, co-hosting his CNN broadcast with Kathy Griffin again. He joked about how there were lawyers on hand, in case she dropped another f-bomb, like she did last year. The emcee for the evening, a Broadway actor, asked Cooper if he had any wishes for the new year. He said he had two. His first was that the troops are safe and successful in Afghanistan. He didn’t get to his second. He was cut off by the booming sounds of the crowd, counting down the last 10 seconds until 9 p.m. This was the ritual, every hour on the hour, practice for the last big countdown to midnight. Cooper took it all in stride, scuttling off-stage and layering back up with coat and gloves.
Just before midnight, the great Ball began to drop, all 11,875 pounds of it. Old acquaintances were forgot, a new decade began. Will it be a reprieve from the last nine years, or is the century entering its terrible tweens? Who knows. Who can think about such things when there are 2,688 gleaming Waterford Crystal triangles floating down from the sky, capable of making, according to the official literature, 16 million vibrant colors and billions of patterns atop One Times Square.
There were fireworks and thousands of couples making out in the middle of Manhattan. Lachey, Minillo, and “Daughtry” were gone from view and instead Frank Sinatra piped out across the speaker system, reverberating across midtown. “I want to be a part of it, New York, New York…”
The mood was infectious. Like every January 1, everyone seemed a little more hopeful about the year to come. No one even pushed on the subway.
Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for the Wall Street Journal, she has also written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Rolling Stone and Slate, among other publications.