Starting Nine is the method a lineup nerd uses to rank his personal favorites. These are not necessarily the nine all-time best entries of the subject being covered. It’s an exercise in finding the entries that best fit the profile for each spot in the batting order.
I’m a lineup traditionalist: I like dependable table-setters in the 1 and 2 spots, world-beating franchise powerhouses 3rd and 4th, potent sluggers 5th and 6th, hard-nosed role players 7th and 8th, and an underrated, dirt-dog workhorse in the 9-hole.
Every boy first learns about the funny things that the fairer sex can make you feel via the boob tube (pun intended). The girls that we see on TV initially shape the shallow ideals of how we think that a woman should look and act, which most of us carry into adolescence and adulthood. The incredible thing is that the TV girls we really like actually convince us that their personalities would also somehow mesh well with our own — that we would somehow be compatible with each other — even though most of what we have ever heard them say or do is scripted by teams of writers that academically endeavor to generate that exact reaction from us.
Our first celebrity crushes create the first link in our minds between fantasy and anatomy. They convert the subject matter of our daydreams from game-winning grand slams and knocking out the school bully into cracking the perfect joke with impeccable timing as the object of our desire looks on. What our crushes offer us is completely manufactured and artificial, yet they leave unforgettable marks on us that endure for the rest of our lives.
Here is the Starting Nine of my biggest celebrity crushes.
1. Tiffany Amber Thiessen
Good luck finding a better leadoff hitter than Kelly Kapowski. As cool as Zach Morris was, the first instinct I had toward him during the golden age of Saved by the Bell was bitter envy. Hell, I even hated Slater early on just because Kelly was attracted to him. She was the first girl-next-door archetype I ever discovered, and her hypnotic smile haunted my pre-teen dreams. Tiffany also did a pretty good job portraying a bad girl sexpot in Beverly Hills 90210 a few years later, but let’s be honest. She’ll always be Kelly to us.
2. Christina Applegate
We balance out the leadoff hitter with her exact opposite … aside from the first name, that is. Kelly Kapowski was pretty; Kelly Bundy was hot. Kelly Kapowski was sweet; Kelly Bundy was nasty. Kelly Kapowski voluntarily skipped the prom when her father lost her job; Kelly Bundy left her dad with an unpaid restaurant bill and used his money to buy concert tickets. Moral turpitude aside, no pubescent boy could take his eyes off the screen when Christina Applegate lit it up with her bleached blonde hair and painted on crop tops. For many guys my age, Kelly Bundy was the person who first taught me that girls have an unrivaled power of manipulation. Watching her made me feel helpless … in an indescribably amazing way.
3. Alyssa Milano
She was older than me, but still a kid when I first saw her on Who’s the Boss. Maybe that’s why she left such an indelible impression on me as a youngster. She was a beautiful teen by the time that show ended, and she owned my soul once Embrace of the Vampire came along. Alyssa was in my mind nonstop for a good month after I saw that film, and you better believe Melrose Place became appointment television viewing for me once she joined that cast (though I was already watching pretty regularly for Josie Bissett). Charmed is some of the worst crap I’ve ever seen, but I still watched plenty of those reruns because she was my “it” girl. A first ballot Hall of Famer in my book, and my franchise player of celebrity crushes.
4. Jennifer Connelly
I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, the wife from A Beautiful Mind? Really???” Well, allow me to introduce you to an otherwise unnoteworthy little film called Career Opportunities. She plays the loser main character’s dream girl in that movie, and I related with that loser more than I’ve ever related with a loser in my life (and I easily relate with most). I accidentally caught this flick on HBO when I was 11 or 12, and I was infatuated with her to the point where I got literally angry every minute she was not on screen. A teenaged Luke would’ve climbed Mount Everest barefoot just to smell the hair of Jennifer Connelly. I saw The Hot Spot a couple years later at like midnight on Showtime, and let’s just say that if DVR was a thing back then, I’d still be watching it at this very moment. She’s still stunning to this day, but every time I see her face I’m transported right back to that living room in Upton, Massachusetts, unable to blink for fear of missing a hot second of her performance.
5. Kari Wuhrer
Another scantily clad bad girl. Much like Kelly Bundy, Kari is the girl you fawn over and brag about to your friends, but don’t dare bring home to meet your parents. Then, at the end of a torrid affair, she breaks your heart, steals your car, and runs off with the guy you hated most in high school. I used to wonder what those feelings were that stirred in my gut when I watched her on Remote Control, but you need to check out Beyond Desire and An Occasional Hell to truly appreciate all that Kari brings to the table. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
We’re not supposed to crush on girls like the ones who Kari Wuhrer played. But if we ever met one, every one of us would be putty in her hands and do just about anything she asked us to. Why? Because science, that’s why.
6. Jenny McCarthy
The prototypical blonde bombshell. I first caught sight of her on MTV’s Singled Out, and I’m guessing about 70% of that show’s audience was teenaged guys like me that watched just to see Jenny, who had great energy and charisma in addition to being drop dead gorgeous. I had a good 20 episodes of that show under my belt before I heard she had posed for Playboy, and I obviously sprinted to the nearest dial-up internet connection once that news reached me. I even watched a few episodes of her sketch comedy show before my brain started to hurt. She’s still kicking around Hollywood today, and she’ll always have a place there in my eyes. The greatest Playmate of all time.
7. Gabrielle Union
So, I was actually creeping on Kirsten Dunst when I came across Bring it On one day in college. After watching Kirsten cheer and smile for a few minutes, I was about to change the channel when I saw this leggy vision playing the leader of the rival cheerleading squad. I bought what she was selling, and I was all in once I saw Cradle 2 the Grave and an all-timer issue of Maxim. She’s the type of girl that rolls out of bed looking like a 10 and then shows up on set looking like a 13. As disappointing as Bad Boys 2 was, Gabby (I like to pretend I can call her Gabby) saved that entire theatre experience for me. Dwayne Wade clearly chooses wives far better than he chooses teammates.
8. Alicia Silverstone
Aerosmith’s “Cryin'” video ran on MTV no less than 17,000 times per day for about two years after it was released, and no boy my age complained about it for a second. We happily watched “Amazing” and the surprisingly erotic “Crazy” with just as much reverence. Alicia Silverstone wasn’t just a hot girl in a music video. Her eyes permeated with this rebellious attitude topped with beaten-down vulnerability that made you want to kiss her, possess her, and stand guard over her as she slept. I’d still like to knock Stephen Dorff the f*** out just for playing a guy that cheated on her in a damn video. Dudes like me watched slop like The Crush, The Babysitter, and Excess Baggage just to get a look at her. She carved out a place for herself in movie history with Clueless, but the Aerosmith trilogy is where she truly left her mark on me. Steven Tyler should send her a Christmas card every year, because who knows how many copies of Get a Grip would have sold without Alicia’s involvement.
Every wrestling fan my age is incredibly familiar with Sunny, one of the very few positives of pro wrestling in the mid-90s. She managed like 30 different tag teams that nobody cared about, all of whom probably got the best quarter-hour ratings on every Monday Night Raw because they were accompanied to the ring by the original diva. She was reportedly the most downloaded woman on the internet at one point, and I’m proud to say that I contributed significantly to those metrics. The camera loved her almost as much as she loved it, and she pulled off the near impossible feat of portraying both the girl next door and the evil temptress simultaneously. Sunny was the Shohei Ohtani of wrestling valets.