We admit we were bowled over by 17-year-old Jordin Sparks from the moment she first performed on this perennial pop music fest, but we were so busy being crushed out on Melinda Doolittle that we forgot to root for our hometown girl.

That is, until Week 5, when Miss Thing stood there in an evening dress, belting out the most exciting version of "I (Who Have Nothing)" we've heard since Shirley Bassey made it famous a hundred years ago.

After that, it became clear that this statuesque home-schooled songbird was our fave — and she still is (in spite of that first single, "This Is My Now." Yikes!), even if we're not entirely convinced she's not actually a 34-year-old because, really, how can a Glendale teenager sing so beautifully and with this much style? One last question about our favorite songstress: Where's that debut album?!

We can't stop thinking about Superbad, the late-summer smash starring Seth Rogen and Jonah Goldberg of Knocked Up fame. (Another of our favorite summer movies.) That blood, those drawings... Okay, sorry, we're digressing. Go see it. Here's another reason: How cool is it that one of the Superbad girls hails from Scottsdale? Super-cool, we say! It seemed as though, mere minutes after heading for Hollywood, the actress formerly known as Emily Stone began getting great roles in cool TV shows and hot indie films. First, she turned up in an episode of NBC's Medium, then just as quickly, scored as a member of the cast of Fox's high-profile auto race drama Drive. Not too shabby for someone who started out playing Eeyore in Valley Youth Theatre's A Winnie the Pooh Christmas Tail, and whose first professional job was as Laurie Partridge in The New Partridge Family. And now, she stars in our favorite movie of the moment. When she lived here, Emily/Emma was, briefly, a Xavier High School Prep girl. We should have known, because her Superbad character Jules does have that Xavier look. But Jules is way nicer. We bet Emma is, too, and we wish her all the best!
We're not 100 percent sure that Kate Walsh (of Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice fame) has never been to north Scottsdale, but if you think you've seen her wandering around Kierland Commons, chances are good that it wasn't her. Debra Rich Gettleman — a Valley resident with the same red hair and an uncanny resemblance, both in face and figure, to the good Dr. Addison — gets stopped often by would-be adoring fans. Coincidentally, Gettleman's an actress — albeit a bit less famous than Walsh. So someday, maybe people will stop Kate Walsh on the street, mistaking her for Debra Rich Gettleman.
In Phoenix, it's not six degrees of separation — it's more like two. This summer, those two degrees got cozier when John Spiak, a curator at the Arizona State University Art Museum, married Cassandra Coblentz, a curator at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Originally from Orange County, Spiak has been an arts-scene cheerleader for more years than many of us have lived here. Coblentz, also from SoCal, arrived in Arizona to take the SMoCA job in 2005 and hit the ground running; one of her primary responsibilities was the southwestNET series, a showcase for artists from the region. Spiak champions video art and is the force behind the popular ASU Annual Short Film Festival, while over at SMoCA, Coblentz curated a painting show with the goal of demonstrating that abstract art is still relevant. What they'll do together is anyone's guess, but it should be interesting, and good for the rest of us — if they stick around. Local contemporary gallery, anyone?
We are sad to report that two of our area's brightest lights recently packed up and moved to that snooty little one-horse town known as Santa Fe, New Mexico. So why the "Best of"? Just because Lowenthal and Cedar, a husband-wife team with big, big hearts, deserve recognition and thanks for what they added to our community.

We remember seeing Lowenthal — a beloved and longtime ASU law professor (and all-suffering Sun Devils basketball fan) — tooling around campus on his one-speed bicycle, hurrying back home from teaching a constitutional law class to play with his young daughter, Angela.

And we remember Cedar, a devoted teacher and counselor who ran the beloved Family School for years, leaving it in capable hands that will miss her sorely.

These two have spent their lives doing for others. Now, as they sidle into well-deserved retirements (well, not quite — they already have more on their collective plates than most folks who haven't hit 40 yet), we applaud their new life, but just selfishly wish more than a little bit that they hadn't known the way to Santa Fe.

Okay. So you've just moved to Phoenix, and you want to know where the action is. Or you've just moved back here after a decade away, and you're in search of a cool coffee house and an authentic taco stand in your part of town. You know the sweet life is out there, somewhere — but where? Look no further than www.cenpho.com, which claims to be a directory to bars and restaurants in the cenpho (that's Central Phoenix, natch, defined by the cenpho folks as "the area from Glendale Road to Broadway Road, and 20th Street to 20th Avenue"), but actually one we've come to rely on for all things hip and happening. We found links to our fave new pita place; a list of cool neighborhoods where we should be living; and even a directory of well-regarded local dentists. Cenpho.com also turned us on to some better modern architecture blogs and filled us in on locally published magazines and newspapers and what we can expect to find in them. We found the site's list of bars where smokers are still welcome to be indispensable, and so now, if you'll excuse us, we're going to go light up and order a mojito at our favorite new nightclub. Thanks, Cenpho!
If you've ever wondered where most of the people are heading when they're heading downtown, chances are it's toward Fifth Street in the Evans-Churchill Neighborhood. While the block-long stretch of road between Roosevelt and Garfield Streets has always been popular with the masses on First Friday and other big nights, the area has gotten even more crowded in recent months because of a few additions to its palette of groovy galleries, boutiques, and art hangouts. Along with stopping by such mainstays as MADE art boutique, Route 123, and the Longhouse, art lovers of every stripe — be they tattooed punkers, scruffy college kids, or more serious collectors — have been visiting lavish wine-and-beer joint The Lost Leaf (run by the boys behind jazz trio Sonorous) as well as oddball painter Michael Little's bizarre new pad IN Gallery, and Derrick Pacheco's funky HoodRide Bodega (which hosts DJs and live bands). The other streets downtown better get their acts together, because Fifth Street is getting all the love.
Cindy Gentry's a mover and shaker, but only in the best use of the term — no bone-crushing handshakes or slaps on the back from this lady. Two years ago, Gentry started the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, which turned an empty lot near First Street and McKinley into a bustling Farmers Market. Thanks to her tireless efforts, Saturday-morning shoppers find a variety of locally sourced items — root beer, olive oil, flowers, and handcrafted goods — while stocking up on locally raised produce. Later this year, the Downtown Public Market moves into a permanent structure, adjacent to its current location, and will be open six days a week. For that, we'll gladly shake her hand.
Great Arizona Puppet Theater
In recent months, we've heard about at least two local historic Mormon churches abandoned to the bulldozers. That makes us more grateful than ever to the Great Arizona Puppet Theater, and the folks who restored it. If you watch HBO's Big Love, you might think some sort of divine intervention (or at least comic relief) led to a group of people who pull a lot of strings coming to own the former Second Ward Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but really, all it took was good taste and patience. The puppeteers waited for years for the state (which bought the building in 1972, intending to raze it for the I-10; luckily, historic preservation laws prevented that) to finally fork over the 1932 relic, then spent more time on the renovation.

We recommend you take in a puppet show — all the details of the current season are posted on the theater's Web site — but if you don't have time for that, you should really pop your head in sometime. The decorative ceiling panels in the Spanish colonial revival style, almost completely ruined by leaks and lack of maintenance, were restored by a muralist/scene painter (those puppeteers have good connections), and the entire complex has the kind of 1930s throwback vibe you feel all the time in southern California — and so rarely here in Phoenix.

BEST CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS TO POKE YOUR HEAD INTO

Empire Southwest

Empire Southwest
What? Heavy machinery as art? In a building off the 60, in Mesa? Trust us. Empire's HQ is way cool, using construction-related materials from copper ore rock mulch (trucked in from a client's mine) to "sheep's foot compactor drums," placed sideways on stone pillars to mimic Stonehenge. From the salvaged bulldozer stabilizer arms (now supporting a garden awning) to the antique bulldozer (now under glass, beneath the floor of the conference room), it all sounds like too much, but it works, somehow, particularly when you enter the concrete-hued (with a touch of Caterpillar yellow) lobby and check out the history on display. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was metropolitan Phoenix — and the Whiteman family, owner of Empire, has had a lot to do with the latter. It was gracious of them (and not surprising — they're wonderful philanthropists) to create such an intriguing monument to their industry and to the Valley.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of