#10 Neil Patrick Harris just so-so at the Oscars
After successful stints hosting the Tonys and Emmys, expectations were high in February when long-time out actor Neil Patrick Harris hosted the 87th Academy Awards, becoming the first openly gay man (Ellen hosted the year before) to take on the tough assignment.
Showing off a remarkably fit physique, he lampooned a scene from “Birdman” by appearing on stage in tighty-whities, a move that drew mixed reviews. The New York Times said overall he was “bland.” Time said he was “glum and low energy.”
Viewership was down 16 percent, the lowest rating in six years according to Variety. Harris told Huffington Post later he doubts he’ll ever do it again.
“I don’t know that my family nor my soul could take it,” he said in that interview.
After a white-hot run of successes in recent years, Harris fumbled in 2015. His fall NBC show “Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris,” a live TV variety series, was cancelled in December after just eight episodes.
#9 Return of Madonna and Janet
In March, Madonna released her 13th studio album “Rebel Heart.” Despite a massive leak, it debuted solidly at No. 2 on Billboard (121,000 units) and received generally better reviews than her previous two releases. Her “Rebel Heart Tour” opened in September with strong reviews and sales.
Janet Jackson returned in October with her 11th album “Unbreakable,” her first new studio project in seven years. With 116,000 units, the album was No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart the week it debuted and garnered strong reviews. The “Unbreakable World Tour” kicked off in August in Vancouver with several fast sell-outs. After taking December off, she goes back out Jan. 9 in Denver and plays Baltimore on Feb. 29 and D.C. on March 1. It’s her first tour since 2011 and marks a return to arenas after playing smaller venues last time.
Despite the buzz and media interest, U.S. radio continued to mostly ignore the singers. On the Hot 100, a chart the two dominated in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Janet’s first single “No Sleeep” made it only to No. 67. She found more success on the Adult R&B chart, where the single spent a record 10 weeks at No. 1. The title cut was the second single and didn’t chart. Neither did Madonna’s first single “Living for Love” or second single “Ghost Town.” Both singers had some success (Madge always manages a No. 1 dance hit for practically everything she releases) on other Billboard charts. Madonna’s third single “Bitch I’m Madonna” peaked at No. 84 on the Hot 100.
#8 ‘Hamilton’ hits big on Broadway
With a score “rooted in hip-hop but also encompassing R&B, jazz, pop, Tin Pan Alley and the choral strains of contemporary Broadway,” as the New York Times put it, “Hamilton,” which opened on Broadway in August, is this year’s monster hit where it’s turned the notion of the “Great White Way” on its head with a cast of mostly black and Latino actors playing the founding fathers.
Based on a 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton, the show has drawn raves for its ability to “redefine what an American musical can look and sound like,” as the Times wrote.
Out actor Jonathan Groff plays King George III, a nice change of pace for him after HBO’s “Looking” ended its second and last season in March.
#7 ‘Transparent’ goes through the roof
“Transparent,” the hit Amazon Studios show that tells of Maura Pfefferman’s (Jeffrey Tambor) transition process and the effect it has on her family, went through the roof this year.
In addition to the Golden Globe for Best Television Series — Musical or Comedy (the first time a streamed show has taken this award) Tambor also won a Globe and later an Emmy as well.
The show’s second season premiered in December. It’s been renewed for a third. It has an impressive 98 percent freshness rating on critical roundup site Rotten Tomatoes.
#6 ‘Glee’ signs off
Although it wound down with more of a whimper than a bang, “Glee,” the hit Fox series that debuted in 2009 and told of the ups and downs of the William McKinley High School glee club, the show, created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, deserves praise for its brave handling of LGBT issues.
From out cast members Jane Lynch, Chris Colfer and Alex Newell to its sensitive handling of LGBT storylines, the show was an awards magnet winning four GLAAD Media Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series, six Emmys, four Golden Globes and a bounty of other accolades.
Ratings had fallen steadily in recent years after a second season high.
#5 Danny Pintauro comes out as HIV positive
Although he’d been out of the pop culture limelight, former “Who’s the Boss?” and “Cujo” actor Danny Pintauro, who’d been out for years, told Oprah on an episode of her show “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” in September that he’s been HIV positive for 12 years.
Although initially embraced for his candor, Pintauro later drew criticism for saying on “The View” that he believes he contracted the virus through oral sex, a possibility HIV experts said was highly unlikely.
He later told the Blade at the AIDS Walk in October — he was on hand to accept an award — that he didn’t mean he knew that definitively but that it was his “best guess” as to how he contracted HIV.
#4 ‘Stonewall’ tanks
In August when the public got its first look at “Stonewall,” this year’s dramatization of the 1969 New York LGBT riots from director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day”), the trailer was widely trashed for slickly whitewashing the watershed moment for gay rights.
Upon its September release, critical consensus was extremely negative in both the gay and mainstream press with a wide spate of reviews condemning the filmmaker’s decision to center the events around a fictional hunky white character (played by straight actor Jeremy Irvine) and reducing trans women and people of color to the sidelines.
Although Emmerich said he was intrigued by the issue of LGBT youth homelessness, a Vanity Fair critic said he managed to take “one of the most politically charged periods of the last century” and make it into a “bland, facile coming-of-age story.” Some activists called for an LGBT boycott of the movie.
The film cost about $17 million to make with part of it self-financed by Emmerich. It bombed at the box office. According to IMDB, its U.S. gross as of October was just short of $200,000.
#3 Big year for LGBT film
There’ve always been LGBT movies but even just a few years ago, most of the gay content was in smaller indie fare with a token mainstream release like “Brokeback Mountain” here or there. That is no longer the case.
With “Freeheld,” the Julianne Moore project about a woman’s fight to have her pension benefits transferred to her domestic partner after being diagnosed with terminal cancer; to “The Danish Girl,” the Eddie Redmayne vehicle that finds him starring as trans pioneer Lili Elbe; to “Carol,” the Todd Haynes-helmed film based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, LGBT themes in major films were no longer token occurrences.
#2 U.S. women’s soccer team out and proud
When the U.S. beat Japan in July to take the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the international women’s football (i.e. soccer) world championship, it was not just a triumph for the United States women’s national soccer team, the tournament was a watershed moment for out athletes with 18 publicly out players on the field for various countries including the U.S.’s Jillian Ellis (coach), Ali Krueger, Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach.
“While the men’s professional game has been reluctant to be fully inclusive and supportive of anyone within the game who identifies as LGBT, it’s generally regarded that football is much more accepting of women who are lesbian or bisexual,” said Lindsay England, head of Just a Ball Game, an organization that works to end anti-LGBT bias in soccer, in an Out Sports interview.
Wambach, who treated media interest in her 2013 marriage to Sarah Huffman bemusedly, retired in
December with too many accolades and wins to count, including two Olympic gold medals and a ranking in this year’s Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year.
#1 The world meets Caitlyn Jenner
It was in many ways the year of Cait and few would argue she is anything but the most prominent transgender person in the country.
The Olympic champion who found a second wind of fame as patriarch of reality show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” came out officially as transgender in an April Diane Sawyer interview on ABC’s “20/20” and was first seen as Caitlyn in a lavish cover story and fashion spread in the July issue of Vanity Fair.
Her (what else?) reality show “I Am Cait” debuted over the summer on E! and has been renewed for a second season (no premiere date for season two announced yet). It’s enjoyed decent if hardly rapturous ratings and reviews and has been noted for a more serious tone than that of the “Kardashians.”
Jenner’s long-held Republican views, especially her half-hearted endorsement of same-sex marriage for one, have induced winces on several occasions from LGBT activists. After speaking at a luncheon in Chicago in November, Jenner — camera crew in tow — was confronted by an angry mob of trans protesters who said she was a “disgrace.” Their basic beef was that the 65-year-old Cait has enjoyed such a life of privilege that she could never fully understand their plight. To her credit, Jenner engaged them.
In an early episode of her show, she seemed to grasp the import of her role and said, “I just hope I get it right.”