From Danica Patrick to Pastor Furtick, from wrestlers to rappers to “Real Side Chicks,” Charlotte in 2017 was the backdrop for pop culture moments that were by turns funny, frightening, foolish and fantastic. In no particular order, these are the 10 that have stuck with us the most.
1. Production (reportedly) began on a reality show titled “The Real Side Chicks of Charlotte” – but no one could prove whether it was/is an actual thing. What we’ve been told: The aim is to depict “the good, the bad, and the ugly situations of being a certified Side Chick” (i.e. extramarital paramour); our city is the setting because “it is (an) untapped market for the entertainment business”; filming was completed this summer; and recently, the website The Jasmine Brand – quoting “sources” – reported that the series is headed to Netflix. What makes us suspicious: Netflix has made no such announcement to confirm The Jasmine Brand’s story; in fact, not a single major entertainment news source has even acknowledged the existence of “The Real Side Chicks”; the only evidence a spokesperson for the show produced to support its authenticity was an Instagram account that for months has featured an endless stream of steamy shots of alleged female cast members. In other words, we’ll believe it when we see it.
Warning: Video contains explicit language.
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2. WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Ric Flair capped a year of extreme highs and lows in Charlotte, where he made a triumphant homecoming appearance at uptown’s Spectrum Center for WWE SmackDown Live. The rollercoaster for the 68-year-old former Queen City resident began with a serious health scare in August, when – after decades of hard-core alcohol abuse – he landed in the hospital because both his kidneys and heart were beginning to fail. He recovered in time to see the September release of a memoir he co-wrote with daughter Charlotte (aka Providence High School alumna Ashley Fliehr) and the October premiere of “30 for 30” documentary “The Nature Boy,” which turned into a ratings hit for ESPN. Then in November, he surprised his daughter by showing up for a hug and a good cry after she beat Natalya Neidhart for her first SmackDown Live women’s championship. In a post-match interview, he beamed as he stood next to her and crowed: “Providence High School should be over here enshrining her.”
3. Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church kept a characteristically low profile this year, except on two occasions: 1) He stepped outside the confines of his Charlotte-based church’s walls to lead a sassy sermon in the middle of the “Outcry” Christian music concert at Bojangles’ Coliseum in May, to preach the gospel in cool, casual terms – like when he said the Israelites “were bold” when they marched out of Egypt, “bolder than a spicy Cajun Filet Biscuit.” 2) In July, he took to social media to dispute a satirical online report that said he was leaving Elevation to sign a $110 million deal with Joel Osteen at Houston’s Lakewood Church. Funniest line in this fake-news story: “I wish Elevation the best of luck in the seasons to come, and hope they can find someone as ripped and godly as me.”
4. The PGA Championship brought perhaps fewer famous folks to the Quail Hollow Club than expected this past August, but TMZ magnet/pop megastar Justin Bieber’s surprise appearance probably caused as much commotion as any celebrity’s could have. During a practice round, the 23-year-old “Despacito” singer (wearing an all-black sweatsuit and rimmed specs, with his pastor, Judah Smith, in tow) was spotted with pro golfers Wesley Bryan and Bubba Watson, and TNT broadcaster Ernie Johnson Jr. The Biebs’s visit almost certainly led to the presence of a higher-than-usual number of teenage girls in the gallery the following morning, but sadly he did not return for an encore.
5. The celebrity-watching was more satisfying – for sports fans and hip-hop heads, at least – when the BIG3 3-on-3 basketball league brought its action to Charlotte’s Spectrum Center in July. Though the actual on-court action was a bit hit-or-miss, a number of courtside sightings generated lots of buzz. Among the key notables in the crowd: Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver (and future Hall of Famer) Steve Smith, Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker, BIG3 coach Julius “Dr. J” Erving, rapper/“Lip Sync Battle” host LL Cool J, and rapper/BIG3 co-founder Ice Cube.
6. In less-positive hip-hop news, rapper Young Dolph barely survived a seven-month stretch that began last February when he was caught in a hail of gunfire in uptown Charlotte. (The 32-year-old Memphis resident, whose real name is Adolph Thornton Jr., was in town for an unofficial CIAA party/concert.) In a case of art imitating life, Dolph released a new album – titled “Bulletproof” – containing a multitude of references to Charlotte and the shooting, as well as boasts that both he and the black SUV he was traveling in at the time of the shooting were impenetrable. Then, in a case of life imitating art, Young Dolph was proven vulnerable after all: In September, Young Dolph was critically wounded after being shot multiple times in Los Angeles.
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7. Charlotte Motor Speedway featured prominently in the low-budget crime dramedy “Logan Lucky,” which starred big-budget movie star Channing Tatum and marked director Steven Soderbergh’s return to filmmaking. Though most of the production actually took place in Georgia, Soderbergh had brought five camera units, Tatum and co-star Riley Keough to the track in May 2016 for the Coca-Cola 600, where they spent five hours fervently shooting the event and its trappings while trying to draw as little attention as possible. And when “Logan Lucky” came out in August of this year, critics raved about the offbeat tale of three down-on-their-luck siblings’ plan to rob the big NASCAR race in Concord. Unfortunately, the film struggled to make back its $29 million budget at the box office, making a hoped-for sequel (at Carowinds, maybe?) unlikely.
8. Indie crime drama “American Animals” likely will earn just a fraction of that upon its theatrical release in 2018, but the production made a whole lot of noise while in town earlier this year. Star Evan Peters – best known for various roles in FX anthology series “American Horror Story” – showed up regularly in Instagram selfies with fans, and traffic came to a screeching halt at Fifth and Tryon streets in uptown, where several actors carried umbrellas for a scene that in post-production will be made to appear rainy via special effects. In reality, it was a perfectly sunny day in early March.
9. And in other movie news, Concord-based musicians Scott and Seth Avett made the leap to the big screen in September, when Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio’s documentary “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers” got a one-night-only screening in select theaters nationwide – including several in the Charlotte area. It’s very, very good. If you missed it, you can catch it on HBO in early 2018.
10. It was a transitional year for Danica Patrick, who hit road bumps on her way to retirement (lost her sponsor, lost her ride) while at the same time cruising along as a business mogul – with new ventures like a clothing line and a book (out Dec. 26) that will feature recipes and workouts she came up with herself. She even was the focus of a high-profile documentary, directed by broadcaster (and long-ago Charlotte TV reporter) Hannah Storm and released in November. But the defining pop-culture moment for the 35-year-old Patrick came in June, when she responded to suggestions that the midriff-baring photo on her new book cover had been airbrushed by sharing the “raw image” on Instagram. “Minimal retouching has been important to me,” she wrote. “Many of you thought it was highly retouched and the main thing they do is even out the skin tone, mostly on the legs. I worked very hard. Anyone can be lean and muscular if they want to ... but you have to put in the work and learn how to eat right. It’s all possible, believe in yourself.” Any questions?