It was revealed last night that former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner was number one on Barbara Walters’ list of the most fascinating people of 2015. According to USA Today, Jenner was the only person out of nine other selections to not be interviewed for the special.
“Our choice for the most fascinating person of the year was once called the world’s greatest athlete,” said Walters, towards the end of the special. “Traditionally that title was given to the man who won the Olympic decathlon.”
This referred to when the 66-year-old was known as Bruce Jenner, and won the award in 1976.
Walters continued, “When Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner, there was a seismic shift in the gender universe.”
Jenner first confirmed she had transitioned from male to female in a 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer in April, and made a well-publicized debut as Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair in June. She’s also chronicled her life as a woman further on TV specials and the E! reality show I Am Cait.
“Through her own transformation, Caitlyn Jenner transformed society this year, and that, for us, makes her the most fascinating person of 2015,” Walters concluded.
The other nine most fascinating people were presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, actor Bradley Cooper, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, designer Donna Karan, ballet dancer Misty Copeland, UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, and comedians Tracy Morgan and Amy Schumer rounding out the varied list.
New York Daily News writer Don Kaplan noted that while some of the interviews were memorable, he begged the question, “So where was Barbara Walters’ teary sit down interview with Caitlyn Jenner?”
That was least important to social media users whose reactions have been a mixed bag of criticism, claiming there were more deserving people, to praise for Jenner simply being fascinating and getting people talking.
— Connie Summers (@ConnieSummers8) December 18, 2015
Being Barbara Walters’ most fascinating person is just one of many accolades that Jenner has received since her transition. USA Today reports that she was also on the shortlist for Time‘s “Person of the Year,” which ultimately went to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And she was second on the list of Google’s most-searched people in 2015, coincidentally behind her estranged ex-son-in-law, Lamar Odom.
However, Jenner’s accolades haven’t been without controversy.
When she was awarded the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPY Awards in July, it was met with criticism from the public who felt that the choice was more about ratings than the actual merit, according to The Los Angeles Times. ESPN executives stood by the decision saying sometimes courage, “Is demonstrated in a single act that shines a light on an important contemporary issue.”
In November, James Smith, the husband of police officer Moira Smith who died on September 11, 2001, returned her award of Glamour’s “Woman of the Year,” when it was announced that Jenner would be receiving the same honor. According to CNN, when Jenner said that “the hardest part about being a woman was figuring out what to wear,” this angered Smith who felt it trivialized the transgender experience.
Earlier this week, in a post on her website titled “Still So Much To Learn,” Jenner apologized for a controversial comment she made in a Time interview. She noted that it was important for people to be at ease when they saw her, because people could be uncomfortable if a transgender person looks like “a man in a dress.”
“Our world really is still a binary one, and that people who look ‘visibly transgender’ sometimes can struggle for acceptance and may be treated poorly by others,” said Jenner. “And while this may be true, it’s also something that needs to change.”
With all the controversy surrounding Caitlyn Jenner, one wonders who else should have been considered for the list of Most Fascinating People of 2015?
[Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images]