But fans went beyond Madonna, Nicole, and Julia to contribute surprising finalists
Britney Spears
Credit: Britney Spears: Mike Flokis/Headpress/Retna

Glance at the results of EW.com’s nomination poll for the Entertainer of the Year, and you’ll see some usual suspects — Julia, Britney, Madonna — but also a few surprises. For instance, James Marsters. Though he plays the spiky-haired Spike on ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” he seems like a long shot compared with his show’s main star, Sarah Michelle Gellar. But Gellar didn’t even make the top 40, and Marsters finished in the top three with Madonna and Britney Spears (who earned the most votes).

Well, it just goes to show, ya don’t always know what will happen on the Internet. Especially when it comes to a poll. As EW.com viewers seem very happy to prove, online polling methods are far from scientific. Fan groups tend to regard it not just as an opportunity — but a duty — to get their favorites on the list. But because we’re looking for the year’s top entertainer — not necessarily the person with the most avid fan base — we reviewed the top contenders and, when the voting was roughly equal, selected only those for whom 2001 was an important year.

That disqualified some fan favorites, including Insane Clown Posse, the Detroit-based, makeup-wearing hip-hop performers who put out two albums last year but lost their major-label deal this year. Likewise for Wil Wheaton, a favorite with entertainment fans from the discussion site Fark.com. Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on ”Star Trek: the Next Generation” until 1993, appeared in some indie movies this year and runs his own website, but it’s a stretch to say that 2001 was his shining hour. (Maybe next year, though, when he has a cameo in the movie ”Star Trek: Nemesis.”) Another contender who didn’t make the final cut is Dave Grohl, frontman for the Foo Fighters and guest drummer for Queens of the Stone Age. Though he toured this year, Grohl didn’t release an album.

Then there are those who got thousands of votes — but only from a few sources (a hacker’s trick that our polling system can detect and correct). One that’s worthy of special mention: Rich ”Lowtax” Kyanka, who runs the humor site SomethingAwful.com. To reinforce their case, fans launched an email campaign in his favor. We received praise (”he is undoubtedly the most brilliant man of this decade”), incentives (”I will gleefully pay newsstand prices for any issue of your magazine with any mention of Mr.Kyanka”), and near poetry (”[His site is] amusing like a clown. And sometimes scary like a clown too, but a good scary. Like a roller coaster.”) Alas, the repeated votes from few addresses (and the similar phrasing in many of the emails) were a giveaway of something fishy. So Kyanka didn’t make the cut. At least until next year.

Which leaves us with the 10 finalists. Other than Spears, Madonna, and Marsters, there’s Christina Aguilera (who qualified for her ”Lady Marmalade” video), Nicole Kidman, ‘N Sync (Surprise! Well, not really?), Julia Roberts, Jack Black (who earned more than twice as many votes as his ”Shallow Hal” costar Gwyneth Paltrow), and a fictional guy who’s entertaining a few people this year, Harry Potter. Oh, and finishing off the list, there’s another longshot entry: Les Claypool, singer/bassist for the alt-rock band, Primus; he’s also a member of the supergroup Oysterhead (with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and Police drummer Stewart Copeland), which released its debut album, ”The Grand Pecking Order” this year.

So now it’s time for the final poll when viewers will choose one Entertainer of the Year from these 10 nominees. Voting begins at 5 p.m. EST on Fri., Nov. 30, only on AOL — and it continues through 5 p.m. EST Thurs., Dec. 6 (AOL Keyword: EWPoll). The results will be printed in the yearend issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine, on newsstands starting Dec. 14. You can also check in with Rich ”Lowtax” Kyanka, who will — undoubtedly — have something to say about it.