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And the winner is ...

Stephen Colbert noses out J.K. Rowling for AP celeb of the year

While most TV characters remain boxed inside the frames of our sets, Stephen Colbert has routinely injected his on-screen persona into everything from the presidential race to ice cream.

In 2007, the mock pundit on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" exceeded the influence of most real pundits, orchestrating an ill-fated (and Doritos-sponsored) run for president and topping the best-seller lists with his book "I Am America (And So Can You!)."

Colbert failed to get onto the primary ballot in his home state of South Carolina, dooming his hopes for the White House. And his show went 0-for-4 at the Emmy Awards, including an especially painful loss to Barry Manilow.

But Colbert did win one honor: He was voted AP Celebrity of the Year by newspaper editors and broadcast producers who said Colbert had the biggest impact on pop culture in 2007.

He finished just a nudge above J.K. Rowling, who authored the final book in her enormously popular "Harry Potter" series. Finishing third was Al Gore, whose year included an Oscar, an Emmy, a Nobel Peace Prize and the global concert Live Earth.

Voting was otherwise spread out across many entertainers, including pop star Britney Spears, "Hannah Montana" star Miley Cyrus, rapper Kanye West, comedy director and producer Judd Apatow and country singer Kenny Chesney.

But it was the slight, bespectacled Colbert - his hair never ruffled, suits forever pressed - who dominated the year.

Even from the relatively small stage of late-night cable TV, his satire spread into all corners of media and society - and for a few weeks made a mockery of the democratic system.

Colbert has declined interviews during the writers strike that has shuttered his show, but he told the Associated Press by e-mail:

"In receiving this award, I am pleased that I was chosen over two great spinners of fantasy - J.K. Rowling and Al Gore. It is truly an honor to be named the Associated Press' Celebrity of the Year. Best of all, this makes me the official front-runner for next year's Drug-Fueled Downward Spiral of the year. P.S. Look for my baby bump this spring!"

Julio Diaz, entertainment editor for the Pensacola News Journal, explained his vote for the faux newsman:

"Colbert is more than an entertainer, he's a force of nature," said Diaz. "He's influenced the way we look at the news and even the way we speak. Whenever a major news story breaks, one of my first thoughts is what Colbert's spin on the story will be."

Colbert began his year by facing off against his inspiration, Bill O'Reilly. In one afternoon, Colbert and the Fox News commentator traded guest appearances on each other's shows in an exchange Colbert called "a meeting of the guts."

The meeting had been anticipated since Colbert's 2005 debut of "The Report," a deadpan fun-house mirror held up to "The O'Reilly Factor" and other conservative news programs.

In early 2007, Colbert became the namesake of the new Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor "Americone Dream."

This followed in a tradition of naming things after Colbert, like the mascot for the Saginaw Spirit, an Ontario Hockey League team, "Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle."

While taping an episode on June 27, Colbert fell and broke his wrist - a minor event for most, but weeks of fodder for Colbert.

The following month, he unveiled a "wrist awareness" campaign in which he urged anyone famous to wear a "WristStrong" bracelet (similar to Lance Armstrong's "LiveStrong" bands).

Showcasing his extremely detail-centric sense of humor, Colbert said on a September show: "If [Alan] Greenspan can do for my bracelets what he did for secured short-term lending through federal repurchasing agreements - can you imagine how great that would be?"

But Colbert's main act would be the run-up to his White House campaign and his ensuing bid for the nation's highest office.

While promoting his new book, Colbert appeared on news programs and wrote a guest column for the New York Times mocking the dance many candidates go through before officially declaring their candidacy.

Colbert eventually announced on his program on Oct. 16, where he made it clear he aimed to parody everything about image-sensitive political campaigns.

He appeared beforehand on "The Daily Show" sitting on a bale of hay and drinking a beer to show that he was an Average Joe.

The 43-year-old comedian jokingly suggested his ticket could read "Colbert-Huckabee," referring to former Arkansas governor Republican Mike Huckabee. Huckabee had made several appearances on "The Report" (making him a "friend of the show"). Huckabee's candidacy was then something of a joke; now he has zoomed to the top of the polls. *