While 2020 was a year to forget for sports and entertainment, East Tennessee celebrities bounced back in a big way in 2021 — winning championships, releasing new music and being forever enshrined as hall of fame performers.
Some celebrities, however, faced controversy within their industries.
Let’s look back at what some of East Tennessee’s most recognizable faces accomplished in 2021 and what others hope to put behind them.
There’s no bigger accomplishment for a female professional wrestler than winning the women’s championship in WWE. Unless, of course, the title is won on the grandest stage of them all. That’s huge.
Bianca Belair, a former track athlete at Knoxville’s Austin-East Magnet High School and the University of Tennessee, did just that when she defeated SmackDown women’s champion Sasha Banks at WrestleMania 37 in Tampa.
Belair no longer holds the title but still was ranked the No. 1 women’s wrestler in 2021 by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. She finished 23rd in the top-150 list in 2020 and continues to perfect her craft as a member of the WWE Raw roster.
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Vols legend Peyton Manning continues to make headlines in 2021, five years after hanging up the cleats.
He has joined his brother Eli as an alternative announcer for NFL “Monday Night Football” games this season, and a video of him pretending to be a Denver Broncos intern went viral when the team’s schedule was announced in May.
But the biggest news of all was Manning’s well-deserved induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His acceptance speech was one to remember, packed with jokes and emotion from the Sheriff.
“A legacy is only worthwhile when there is a future to fuel,” Manning said during the speech. “God bless you, and God bless football.”
Peyton Manning: Hall of Fame speech was ‘a love letter to the game of football’
Peyton Manning wasn’t the only athlete to enter a hall of fame in 2021.
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, known internationally for his Kane persona in World Wrestling Entertainment, accepted an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame just days before WrestleMania kicked off in Tampa.
During his acceptance speech, Jacobs referred to his on-camera relationship with The Undertaker as the “greatest story WWE has ever told” and gave a nod to superstars who helped him on his journey.
“You are in my opinion the most talented, the most versatile — the best entertainers in the world,” he said about WWE performers. “It may sound corny and cheesy, but you put smiles on faces. And the world is better for it.”
If WWE superstars put smiles on faces, “Jackass” stunts destroy them.
Just ask Steve-O, who is shown in the trailer for the forthcoming “Jackass Forever” film removing a false tooth while sitting in a wheelchair with a neck brace.
Jackass co-creator and Knoxville native Johnny Knoxville made headlines in 2021 for the movie — advertised as the final film the series — being delayed due to COVID-19.
Knoxville also was in the news when Bam Margera named him, Paramount and director Spike Jonze in a wrongful-firing lawsuit earlier this year, according to Variety. The Variety report states Margera allegedly was fired for violating a “wellness agreement” he signed with the film’s producers.
“Jackass Forever” is now scheduled to hit theaters in February 20222.
Actress Megan Fox continues to draw attention in 2021 — not for any particular film but for who the Oak Ridge native has been dating.
While Fox and rapper-turned-punk Machine Gun Kelly have been together since May 2020, according to People, their love blossomed in the public eye throughout 2021.
Fox and Kelly, who met on the set of “Midnight in the Switchgrass,” appeared alongside each other on the autumn/winter cover of British GQ Style magazine and continue to be hailed as a Hollywood power couple prone to PDA.
Calling 2021 a breakout year for Kelsea Ballerini seems a bit odd considering she’s been a Nashville favorite for years. But now, she has the awards to back it up.
“Half of My Hometown,” performed alongside fellow East Tennessean Kenny Chesney, took home the prize for musical event of the year and music video of the year at the 55th annual Country Music Association Awards.
The video was shot in Knoxville, most notably Fountain City, where Ballerini attended high school. In fact, a cutaway shows Ballerini decked out in red near the 50-yard line of the Central High School football field.
Kelsea Ballerini: Go behind the scenes of music video with Central High cheerleaders
Ballerini also filled in as a voice coach for Kelly Clarkson on “The Voice” in 2021, co-hosted the CMT Music Awards and recently released her own book comprised of original poems.
No East Tennessee celebrity has had a more tumultuous year than pop-country star Morgan Wallen.
Let’s first look back to 2020, which partially was defined by controversy following social media videos of Wallen partying maskless. This ultimately led to his “Saturday Night Live” performance being canceled.
The Sneedville native kicked off 2021 with controversy, as well, by leaking songs from his own album after Walmart put it on shelves early. The following month, Big Loud Records suspended Wallen following a video that surfaced of him using a racial slur.
Mistakes made, lessons learned: Morgan Wallen’s ‘Dangerous’ delves into his past
But Wallen is seeking redemption, as he will hit the road starting in February for a 46-city tour in support of “Dangerous: The Double Album.”
Briston Maroney was able to have the year he deserved in 2021 after shows were canceled the previous year just as the singer-songwriter was beginning to break out.
“Sunflower,” the debut album from the Knoxville native, was released in April and quickly became a hit among alternative music fans.
The first headlining tour from Maroney traveled across the United States in 2021, with stops in Canada and Europe. Maroney also toured in support of Mt. Joy and was part of major music festival lineups.
Even though Candace Parker no longer wears Tennessee orange and Lady Vols blue, she continues to give East Tennesseans a reason to cheer.
Parker won two championships on the hardwood while playing in Knoxville and, in 2021, she brought a championship to Chicago.
The Chicago Sky, which also features former Lady Vol Diamond DeShields, took home its first WNBA championship in October.
Parker was honored at Neyland Stadium during the Vols football homecoming game Nov. 13 for helping lead her team to the title.
Dolly Parton was her typical self in 2021 — raising money and raising eyebrows.
Parton and The Dollywood Foundation raised $700,000 for the United Way of Humphreys County to assist those impacted by flooding. And when it comes to the iconic theme park, big plans are in the future.
Knox News exclusively reported The Dollywood Foundation will be adding HeartSong Lodge & Resort in 2023 and will invest more than half a billion dollars over the next 10 years across its Pigeon Forge properties.
Plus, the Smoky Mountain Songbird released her debut fragrance, Scent from Above, earlier this year.
Original posted at www.knoxnews.com