The breakout stars of 2016

Anna Murray,
Spy News,
Publish Date
Thursday, 24 November 2016, 11:39PM
Liam Malone, Eliza McCartney and Julian Dennison. Photos / Instagram
Liam Malone, Eliza McCartney and Julian Dennison. Photos / Instagram

As we stare down the barrel of December, it's time to look back at the stars who made this year their own.

While 2016 might have been doom and gloom personified for many, there were still a few bright sparks to be found...

Liam Malone

If you'd asked the average Kiwi back in January who Liam Malone was, chances are they probably would have shrugged their shoulders.

Fast forward a year and the young man has instant name recognition, after charming the nation through a hugely successful Paralympics campaign.

Malone sprinted his way to two golds and a silver at the Rio Games and picked up global attention along the way for his self-deprecating jokes and easy manner. The Brits, in particular, clamoured for the attention of the world’s newest bladerunning star, with Malone jetting over to London to feature in an episode of hit TV show The Last Leg.

More recently, Malone was named Man of The Year by M2 magazine and proved a popular addition to the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards (VNZMAs). Not bad for a self-proclaimed "goofy dude from Nelson who just runs in circles and reads books".


Shooting for @m2newzealand

A photo posted by Liam Malone (@liammmalone) on Nov 9, 2016 at 7:25pm PST


Eliza McCartney

And Malone wasn't the only young Kiwi bewitching the masses in Rio this year.

Eliza McCartney’s bronze-medal-winning moment in the pole vault will go down as one of the most delightful of 2016 for many a Kiwi.

With such genuine delight at her achievement and an infectious laugh during her post-event interviews, it's little wonder McCartney has seen endorsement opportunities rolling in ever since.

And her effect on pole vaulting in New Zealand could be felt for some time, with many young Kiwis inspired to pick up the sport. Just a few weeks ago, McCartney's own Under-17 record was smashed by Auckland teenager Olivia McTaggart, with McCartney full of praise for the achievement.

"This amazing lady Olivia McTaggart jumped 4.22m at the age of 16!!! Smashing my record of 4.11m, so exciting to see our sport growing so fast," she wrote on Instagram.


A photo posted by Eliza McCartney (@eliza_mac_) on Jul 25, 2016 at 5:38am PDT


Julian Dennison

It's hard to believe Julian Dennison is still just 14 years old, such is his confidence on the big screen - and on the interview circuit.

Dennison has been a delight while promoting Taika Waititi's smash hit movie Hunt For The Wilderpeople. The film, which sees Dennison steal the show as main character Ricky Baker, became the highest-grossing New Zealand movie of all time and enchanted audiences around the world.

And the rapport Dennison has with his Wilderpeople co-star, Sam Neill, was evident for all to see on the promotional tour, as he poked gentle fun at the acting veteran at every turn.

Dennison also brought his cheeky brand of humour to the VNZMAs last week, hitting the red carpet as Spy's correspondent – and it was a treat


AMAZING night at the #vnzma and also got to meet the man himself @kingsmusicnz

A photo posted by Julian Dennison (@juliandennison) on Nov 17, 2016 at 3:23am PST


Tami Neilson

It would be hard to argue Tami Neilson is a "breakout star", seeing as this Canadian-born singer's already won multiple Tui Awards, an APRA Silver Scroll – and has been performing on stages since she was a child.

But 2016 saw Neilson finally nominated outside of the country music category at the VNZMAs. Off the back of her critically acclaimed album, Don't Be Afraid, the powerhouse singer was quite rightly nominated for Best Female Artist and Album of the Year. She also added the accolade for Self-Managed Artist of the Year to her collection back in May.

And 2016 has seen Neilson pushing her music hard in the North American market, with another tour in that region on the cards for 2017.

And let us not forget one of Neilson's personal highlights of the year – seeing one of her songs on US primetime series Nashville.  

The self-confessed Nashville addict was beyond excited to find out So Far Away was going to play in the background of an episode of the show.

"I was played about 30 minutes in, while Deacon shouted over a drunk, noisy crowd in his bar that drowned out my singing - now THAT is a truly authentic Nashville experience!" Neilson told her Facebook fans.




It's not just Spy who thinks Kings has been a breakout star of 2016 – he took out the award for Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the VNZMAs just last week.

His hit single Don't Worry Bout It has seen him catapulted to fame and has also seen him do the unthinkable: break one of Lorde's chart-topping records.

With his single sitting in the number one spot for 19 consecutive weeks, Kings has surpassed the record previously held by Lorde's Royals.

And if you're topping the charts longer than Lorde has, then you must be doing something right.



Special mentions

They may not be in quite the same league as our breakout stars above, but the following people still burst on to the scene this year in a big way and will be fondly - or not so fondly – remembered when we look back at 2016.

Nazanin Khanjani – Love her or hate her, Naz was easily the breakout star of The Bachelor NZ this year. In a sea of Bachelorette faces that we forgot rather quickly this time around, the second season's runner-up was the talk of the town week after week and a perfect TV villain (until many fans of the show decided they quite liked her after all).

The Real Housewives of Auckland – And yet another reality TV show yielded a whole swag of standout stars. But our personal favourite was French intern Lea. Her interactions with her boss, Angela Stone, were a highlight of the show - so much so, she had a satirical Twitter account set up in her name. (And you know you've made it when you have a satirical Twitter account.)