The Best People & Media in the Valley in 2022

Editorial StaffJuly 5, 2022
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Best Valley Athlete
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
For the moment, we’re prepared to overlook that execrable playoff performance against the L.A. Rams last season.

Best TV Anchor/Reporter
Jaime Cerreta, 3TV/CBS5
She likes local stuff. We like local stuff… including her.

Best Public Servant(s)
Our City Librarians
Honestly, right? They help us find books, they give us free COVID test kits. Hugs to them.

Best Muralist
Ashley Macias
Her surreal landscapes and chaotic swirls of humanity are everywhere on Roosevelt Row, and can also been seen at The Rebel Lounge and the Cambria Hotel.

Best YouTube Personality
Joanie Simon, The Bite Shot
The charming food blogger essentially runs how-to YouTube lessons for other aspiring influencers, teaching them the art of on-the-fly food photography.

Best Local Royalty

Sicarya Seville – Miss Gay Arizona America

Talk about a compelling backstory: Salvadorean queer immigrant Adonias Arevalo-Melara came to the U.S. when he was 13 after losing his dad to gang violence. Fast-forward to 2021: His alter ego, Ms. Seville, beats nine drag notables to claim the esteemed MGAA crown. She’ll pay it forward holding workshops and advising others interested in pageantry. Experience Seville Fridays at Karamba Nightclub. @sicaryaseville on Instagram

Sicarya Seville, Miss Gay Arizona America. Photo by Alexis Mancio
Sicarya Seville, Miss Gay Arizona America. Photo by Alexis Mancio

Best Hometown Hero

Troy Kotsur

This year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, CODA, takes place on the East Coast. But one of its stars calls Mesa home. In a movie filled with phenomenal performances, Kotsur stood out for his raw, emotional performance as the deaf father of Ruby, a hearing teenage girl. His racy American Sign Language and loving relationship with movie wife Marlee Matlin earned him his own Oscar for Best Supporting Actor – and a spot in our hearts.

Troy Kotsur (center) in CODA. Photo courtesy Apple TV
Troy Kotsur (center) in CODA. Photo courtesy Apple TV

Best Ersatz Book Covers

Safwat Saleem’s “Self Help” Series

Like the rest of us, Valley artist Safwat Saleem struggled with life during the pandemic. As a graphic designer, he’d created just about everything but book covers – so not long ago he decided to make some, sans the actual books. Specifically, he created covers for imaginary (and hilarious!) self-help books he wishes had been around during the pandemic. Our favorite: AAARGH: Dessert Pairings for the Rage You’re Currently Feeling. Pass the sheet cake.

Best Novel by a Local

I Will Die in a Foreign Land

One of the best novels of the year is set in Ukraine – and written by a woman living in Arizona. Kalani Pickhart has gotten rave reviews for her work of historical fiction, which follows four characters through the tumult of Ukraine’s 2013 Euromaidan protests, when the country pulled away from Russia. Pickhart fans will be happy to know she’s at work on her next historical page-turner.

Best Theater Critic

Herb Paine

North Phoenix’s Herb Paine is a theater critic for Broadway World, a go-to site for theater lovers nationwide. His distinctive observations offer audiences intelligent and authoritative reviews of regional productions like Phoenix Theatre Company’s Camelot. A former nonprofit CEO and consultant, Boston-bred Paine loves living in the desert and is an actor as well as avid live stage connoisseur.

Best TV Investigative Series

“Unlocked and Unsafe” at ABC15

Known for their investigative work, the reporters and producers at ABC15 created a series of reports from inside Arizona’s Lewis Prison, revealing broken cell locks left defective with authorities’ consent. The report’s impact led to change in the penal system. ABC15 was honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award for journalistic excellence. 602-242-1515,

Best Old-School Newspaper Columnist

Laurie Roberts

Clowns to the left, jokers to the right, and smack in the middle is Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts, who plays a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole with the hypocrites and loonies of Sand Land politics. From kooky gubernatorial wannabe Kari Lake to wingnutty bigot Wendy Rogers to fatuous flip-flopper Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s bull-goose-loony political class practically guarantees job security for an old-school scribe like Roberts, who seems a tad too ornery (in print, at least) to spend her days writing up gooey human-interest stories.

Best Non-Partisan AZ Pollster

OH Predictive Insights  

The political career of Mike Noble has its roots in conservative Republican politics, working in one capacity or another for various GOP campaigns, everyone from Congressman David Schweikert to former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. But as chief of research and managing partner of OH Predictive Insights since 2016, Noble has moved steadily to the center, offering the public nonpartisan, unbiased data analysis. When out-of-state pollsters push a political agenda concerning an Arizona issue or politician, Noble’s been a welcome counter to the know-it-alls who don’t really know it all.

Photo courtesy OH Predictive Insights
Photo courtesy OH Predictive Insights

Best Ears Reminiscent of Mister Spock

Mark Kelly

If you didn’t know Senator Mark Kelly used to be an astronaut, you’d guess he’s the spawn of alien creatures. With a pate like Captain Picard and pointy ears reminiscent of Mister Spock, he obviously belongs in outer space. And in case you’ve forgotten that he’s piloted Space Shuttle missions, his campaign ads routinely remind you, with footage of Kelly literally flying through the air, weightless, like Superman.

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

Best Political Underdog

Sam Stone

Roly-poly and bespectacled, Sam Stone looks like he should be teaching economics at some Midwestern university rather than running for office. Regardless, he’s looking to take over for his former boss, Sal “The Disruptor” DiCiccio, who’s retiring from Phoenix City Council’s District 6 and has endorsed his erstwhile chief of staff in the November election. With Republican registration numbers tanking in that district, Stone – who also serves as Kari Lake’s policy advisor – seems a longer shot than Lake Mead surviving the drought. Hey, we like underdogs.

Most Creative Political Spin

Karrin Taylor Robson’s “Honorary Commander” Boast

Despite wildly outspending her competitors in the GOP primary for governor, polls still show attorney/developer Karrin Taylor Robson trailing former Fox TV anchor and Trump acolyte Kari Lake. Perhaps that’s why Robson decided to pump up her résumé a bit in one campaign ad, showing her meeting with uniformed officers while noting she once served as “Honorary Commander of Luke Air Force Base.” Thing is, “more than 350 community and business leaders” in the greater Phoenix area have held the same distinction since the start of the Honorary Commanders program in 1999, according to LAFB’s website. In other words, it isn’t exactly the Purple Heart.

Best Political Move

Governor Ducey’s No-Senate Bid

Doug Ducey may have all the charisma of a wet bag of cement, but dumb, he ain’t. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried his darnedest to recruit Ducey to take on incumbent Democrat Senator Mark Kelly this year. But Ducey begged off, claiming he was having way too much fun being – um – chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association. A crowded GOP field, Kelly’s massive war chest and Donald Trump’s vow to “never” endorse Ducey no doubt also factored. Who knows? If Mike Pence runs for prez in 2024 and needs a running mate even less exciting than the top of the ticket, bigger things could be in store for the Ducester.

Best McCain-esque Modern Politician

Senator Kyrsten Sinema  

Modern Arizona Democrats love to hate fellow Dem Kyrsten Sinema more than they hated Joe Arpaio or Evan Mecham back in the day. Granted, Arizona’s senior U.S. senator has earned every ounce of enmity – voting no with a curtsy on the minimum wage hike, declaring her “love” for Republican Rep. Andy Biggs, et al. But she seems to revel in her infamy, and the message is clear: She doesn’t care what her fellow Dems think, or anyone else, for that matter. Nor is she worried by the possibility of being primaried in 2024 by Congressman and fellow Dem Ruben Gallego. She has firmly staked out the middle ground, and that’s where winners reside in maverick-y Arizona.

Best Voice of Reason

Chuck Coughlin

Convinced the GOP must retake the political middle if it’s to remain relevant in Arizona, political guru Chuck Coughlin – once known as the “shadow governor,” due to his influence over the Jan Brewer administration – is enjoying a strong third act at the public relations firm he founded 25 years ago, High Ground, Inc. Analyzing a recent poll showing “undecided” as the most popular pick in statewide GOP primaries, Coughlin warns that GOP candidates must “cultivate a narrative that does more than just win them enough primary votes – they need to begin positioning themselves for a general-election audience.”

Best Profiles in Courage

House Speaker Rusty Bowers and State Senator Paul Boyer

Politicians with vertebrae of bone rather than Jell-O pudding? Yes, they do exist, Virginia. For refusing to bow to the entreaties of President Trump and supporters like Rudy Giuliani, who sought to undo Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the Grand Canyon State, Bowers recently won the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. Similarly, Boyer deserves props for playing little-Dutch-boy-at-the-dike and holding off a flood of deranged election legislation in the state Senate. Boyer’s reward? Wacko threats aplenty on himself and his family. Boyer’s not running for re-election. Who can blame him?

Best Way to Learn about Arizona Politics

Robbie Pfeffer

Playboy Manbaby front man Robbie Pfeffer has made a name for himself with fun, unabashedly goofy indie rock, but his latest project is more serious. Pfeffer is using TikTok and Instagram – where he’s got tens of thousands of followers – to educate the younger masses about politics. The Maricopa County Democratic Party has even hired him to do it. If this is the face of the future, we’re here for it.

Photo courtesy Tik Tok
Photo courtesy Tik Tok

Best Band

Harrison Fjord

The former Chandler schoolboys have a hard-to-characterize sound, but let’s try Loggins and Messina with “sprinkles of math rock and soul and light hints of ambient music,” the band told PHOENIX magazine. Now at work on their third EP, Presents, the quintet scored a multi-million-streamer hit with an earlier single called “Approximately 906 Miles” and currently look like the Valley’s best bet to score breakout stardom. Follow them on or @harrisonfjordmusic for show dates.

Go behind the scenes with the band here.

Photo by Puspa Lohmeyer. Wardrobe by Mitch Phillips/Rare Scarf Glam Vintage
Photo by Puspa Lohmeyer. Wardrobe by Mitch Phillips/Rare Scarf Glam Vintage

Best YouTube Samaritan

Juan Gonzalez, That Was Epic

Amazingly, the Tempe resident and ASU hang-around has amassed 6.64 million subscribers by paying unsuspecting strangers’ rent and performing other good-natured pranks on his popular YouTube channels. Gonzalez first went viral running a basic will-they-won’t-they scheme: conspicuously dropping a $100 bill within eyeshot of an oblivious passerby to see if he or she returned it or not. The pranks got more elaborate, and the subscribers grew. @thatwasepic

Michael Cassini of Cannabis Cactus. Photo by Michael Woodall
Michael Cassini of Cannabis Cactus. Photo by Michael Woodall

Best Reefer-Related News Source

Cannabis Cactus

It was New Year’s Eve 2017 when local cannabis scribe Michael Cassini rolled and passed a joint to CNN reporter Randi Kaye, marking the first time a spliff had been consumed on national television. The controversial moment sparked a vision for more mainstream cannabis media, and Cassini launched Cannabis Cactus the next year. The monthly “Always Free & Never Prickly” periodical, which covers everything from cannabis-related business profiles to law reform, can be picked up in various smoke shops and college campuses in greater Phoenix.

Best Scatological Children’s Book

Steve the Dung Beetle on a Roll by Susan R. Stoltz

  • It’s local: The author of this 17-page opus is Scottsdale-based.
  • It’s informative: The tome is full of scientific information about dung beetles.
  • It’s, you know, about poop. Kids are amused by poop; this book is full of it.

Photo courtesy Pygmy Giraffe Publishing
Photo courtesy Pygmy Giraffe Publishing

How to Be a Poop Detective by Dr. Kristin Struble

  • Written by a perennial PHOENIX Top Doc pediatrician, so you know it’s the sh*t.
  • Teaches your younglings the importance of diet and gut health with colorful illustrations and easy-to-grasp narratives.
  • You get to learn about the “5 S’s.” (Spoiler: One of them is “sink.”)

Photo courtesy Dr. Bubbles Publishing
Photo courtesy Dr. Bubbles Publishing