2009's Top 12 Break-Out Stars

"Saturday Night Live" favorite Amy Poehler had a hit this year with bud Tina Fey in "Baby Mama," but will a new NBC show take this rising star to great new heights? "I don't know if the 'SNL' good will translate," said Entertainment Weekly staff writer Adam B. Vary. "Poehler certainly knows how to bring the funny, but comedy is a really hard sell right now."

Still, Essence entertainment director Cori Murray sees Poehler's new NBC show as a sure bet. "She broke out so much this year already," said Murray, "but post 'Saturday Night Live,' she'll really come into her own. I love Tina Fey, but Amy brings her own brand of funny. And with the possibility of 'The Office' spin-off, I think she'll be able to ride that popularity and avoid the 'SNL' curse."

Chris Pine

If you have a teenage daughter, she'll remember Chris Pine as the guy who wooed Anne Hathaway in "Princess Diaries 2" or Lindsay Lohan in "Just My Luck." "So far, he's always played the boyfriend, essentially arm candy," said Entertainment Weekly's Vary. "But he showed that he has chops in a really unrecognizable turn in 'Smoking Aces.' And now he's set to play Captain Kirk in JJ Abrams Star Trek remake, which is out May 9. If this movie hits, it will be in large part because people believe Chris as Captain Kirk. There's a lot of Shatner-ism to the part, but if he can shed that, this will be a career-defining role for Chris."

Dev Patel

"Slumdog Millionaire" leading man Dev Patel is set to go from an unknown playing bit parts on Brit TV to major Hollywood player – if he can ride the film's Oscar-buzz and sign the right projects. "He's got nothing else on his plate so far," said EW's Vary, "but if the film takes an Oscar for best picture – which it could – then his dance card will fill up very fast. This film will have such strong word-of-mouth in 2009, it certainly could launch his career. It all depends on smart career moves."

Essence's Murray agrees. "Mainstream America willl get to see the movie and Dev Patel in 2009," she said. "He's a critics darling and ripe for mainstream success, which is really hard to do for an actor of color. With Obama in the White House, Americans are eager to see more people who look like them on screen. For Patel, it's just a matter of time before his agent calls him with the right follow-up script. But he really has to strike while the iron is hot."

Maxwell

R&B crooner Maxwell could make a strong showing this year, if he actually manages to release his long-awaited album. "Maxwell has been selling out everywhere he's played," said Essence editor Murray of the singer, who's wrapping up a cross-country tour and is scheduled for another one this summer. "R&B fans are chomping at the bit for new music from him. I think he'll come back big this year and he'll be even hotter than before. Any audience loves a great song, and I'm sure his audience has grown up a bit with him. They're just waiting on him, and this is the year he's going to deliver."

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