Eight most 'buzzworthy' San Diegans of 2009

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In 2009, there were many San Diego residents who made news. Some news was good, some news was bad. Some was shocking, or uplifting, or sad.

Before I continue to channel my inner Seuss (speaking of notable San Diegans), it's time we look back on the year that was, and the buzzworthy folks around town who had us Googling and Tweeting non-stop.

Presenting Eight Great Buzzworthy San Diegans for 2009:

Adam Lambert
Of course, a list of San Diegans in the news probably begins and ends with the flamboyant pop star, who cut his teeth in San Diego's junior musical theater scene before gaining worldwide acclaim for his runner-up finish on " American Idol."

After 'Idol' wrapped, the Mt. Carmel High School grad continued to make waves, coming out in a Rolling Stone Magazine cover story and polarizing audiences with a somewhat controversial performance at the American Music Awards in November. With his penchant for the spotlight, Lambert has assured that thousands of San Diegans will be following his every move in 2010.

Carrie Prejean
It started as a simple, honest answer to a difficult question. But what former Miss California Carrie Prejean didn't realize is that in people's desperate desire for fame, in today's age of 24-hour news cycles and the ever-expanding blogosphere, your 15 minutes can quickly turn into 15 days, weeks, or even months.

Prejean's promiscuous flirtations with the media began during the Miss USA pageant when answering a question about gay marriage, she said, "I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."

What followed was a firestorm of coverage that led to Prejean "laying low" of the media spotlight by appearing on the "Today Show" and coming out against gay marriage, being sued by the Miss California pageant over an unpaid loan for her to get breast augmentation, eventually being stripped of her Miss California crown, TMZ.com's release of topless photos taken when Prejean was only 20, her appearance on countless national talk shows, including an embarrassing interview on CNN's "Larry King Live," and the coup-de-gras admission that she made a private sex tape for her boyfriend several years ago. So much for laying low for the former Vista resident and San Diego Christian College student.

Jimmie Johnson
In talking about dominating athletes, names like Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer often come up. But despite his low-key demeanor, few athletes have dominated their respective sports the way that El Cajon resident Jimmie Johnson has in NASCAR. Johnson was recently named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, an honor largely due to his winning four consecutive Sprint Cup Championships.

Because the NASCAR schedule keeps Johnson mostly on the East Coast and in the Southeast, his trips back to his native hometown are few and far between. But he made some time to sit down with 619 Sports in October, when he was in San Diego for his celebrity golf tournament. The fact that there are dozens of talented drivers currently in NASCAR is more of a testament to Johnson's accomplishments. At 34, he is still in the prime of his career, as he strives for an unprecedented fifth straight title.

Shawne Merriman
The year 2009 wasn't supposed to be like this for Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman. This was going to be the year that he bounced back to his Pro Bowl form. This was going to be the year that he led the Chargers defensive unit deep into the playoffs. But while the second "supposed to" could still happen, it likely won't be only because of Merriman, as injuries to his knee and foot have slowed his return from last season's reconstructive knee surgery.

But a lack of big-time production (only 33 tackles and 4 sacks in 13 games played) was overshadowed by news of an alleged assault against reality TV personality Tila Tequila in September. Charges against Merriman were later dropped, as the San Diego district attorney found no evidence to Tequila's claims. She filed a civil suit against Merriman, who quickly filed a countersuit against her. As a free agent in the upcoming season, Merriman had hoped that a return to "Lights Out" would mean a big payday. That's likely not to happen, at least with San Diego.

Yun Zi
The fifth panda cub born to 18-year-old Bai Yun, the San Diego Zoo's baby panda Yun Zi ("Son of Cloud") came into the world with much fanfare in early August. He remained with his mother in a secluded den for about four months, but people were able to monitor his birth and development with the Zoo's live Panda Cam. Just this week, however, Yun Zi emerged from the den to an area not viewed by the public. There, he chomped on leaves, roughhoused with his mother, and climbed trees. San Diegans and millions from around the world will soon get to see the baby panda first-hand.

Alan Bersin
The man with the mile-long resume added to it this year, as Alan Bersin was named "border czar" by the Obama Administration in April. Having served as a U.S. Attorney under Bill Clinton, the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, and as the chairman of the San Diego Regional Airport Authority, weighty positions and even weightier issues have seemingly followed Bersin everywhere. With drug violence at the border and in Mexico at a seemingly all-time high, Obama charged Bersin with the task of overseeing and monitoring drug cartel activity, and trying to stem the flow of drugs, guns and money from one side of the U.S.-Mexico Border to the other. Bersin took time out to tell SDNN why he is suited for the job, and how his previous roles prepared him for the giant task.

Jeff Detrow & Jerry Cesak (aka Jeff and Jer)
The longtime champions of morning radio in San Diego made (air)waves in August when they announced that they were leaving Star 94.1 because of a contract dispute. Months later, radio personalities are still out of work in a faltering industry, leaving their many fans in need of an AM drive-time fix. The Showgram and its staff have been hosting an Internet-only show from Cesak's garage over recent months, and rumors abound about their possible return to the airwaves. But when Jeff and Jer went off the air, it definitely changed the landscape of radio in San Diego.

Stephen Strasburg
From year to year, even the well-versed baseball fan can only name a few collegiate players. Quick pop quiz: Name five, go ahead. I'll wait…

But a certain former San Diego State Aztec pitcher made damn sure that you could name one: Stephen Strasburg. He of the 100-plus mile an hour fastball dominated the college baseball ranks this year, posting a 13-1 record, a 1.32 ERA and recording an astounding 195 strikeouts in only 109 innings pitched. But the West Hills High School product made "national" news as the first overall player selected in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft, going to the Washington Nationals.

Touted by some scouts as the best prospect ever Strasburg also made headlines for signing a contract with Washington that will pay him more than $15.1 million. That pay day is the most ever by a drafted player, shattering the $10.5 million that Mark Prior got from the Cubs in 2001. But with a big contract and big arm come even bigger expectations. Strasburg will be counted on to help turn around a beleaguered franchise. Whether he can be as nearly as effective in the majors as he was toeing the rubber in Tony Gwynn Stadium will be one of the biggest storylines of the 2010 baseball season.

Honorable Mentions:

– J. Craig Venter, founder and CEO of Synthetic Genomics, Inc., for his company's $600M partnership with Exxon Mobil for biofuel research and development.

– Oren Peli, filmmaker who's debut "Paranormal Activity" became a global phenomenon and grossed more than $107M, after being made with a budget of only $15,000.

– Jeff Moorad, owner and CEO of the San Diego Padres. Bought the team. Fired the longtime GM and replaced him with a 35-year-old hot-shot. After so much change, the expectations are high.

– Megan Rickey & Cheyne Whitney, a San Diego couple who won the latest " Amazing Race."

So there you have it, San Diego. What do you think of the selections? And who will make the "buzzworthy" list in 2010?

Eric Yates is SDNN deputy managing editor. E-mail: eric.yates(at)sdnn.com or follow him on Twitter @eyates12.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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