Year in Review: Locals shine on national TV

Abby Major, 9, makes pasta at her Winchester home. Abby was a contestant on the Fox TV show "MasterChef Junior." Photo courtesy of Maggie Major.

Abby Major, 9, makes pasta at her Winchester home. Abby was a contestant on the Fox TV show "MasterChef Junior." Photo courtesy of Maggie Major.

In a year that began with a ubiquitous, twerking Miley Cyrus and ended with the North Korean kerfuffle over “The Interview,” the entertainment world was full of surprises.

The past 12 months also saw a variety of local residents achieve their “15 minutes of fame” on TV, and in some cases, many more.

Abby Major on “MasterChef Junior”

The brash and oh-so-talented youngster from Winchester stole America’s collective cooking hearts when she appeared on the second season of “MasterChef Junior” this fall.

Although Abby, 8, was the youngest contestant on the Fox reality show, competing against cooks from across the nation as old as 12, Abby cooked dish after dish — including a yummy blood orange cream pie topped with jelly beans — and made it to the semifinal round.

Man-PACK makes pitch on “Shark Tank”

2014 has been a life-changing year for Aaron Tweedie, 34. The Man-PACK inventor and Front Royal native developed two more versions of his sling-style backpack, moved into a new warehouse in Linden and appeared on the ABC reality show, “Shark Tank.”

The sharks didn’t quite eat him alive on the show, but they didn’t bite on his idea either. Tweedie might have walked away from the celebrity investors without a deal, but the seven minutes of primetime TV exposure surely paid off.

After the episode aired in early November, his phone has been ringing nonstop with orders and Man-PACK sales have increased by thousands.

Sean Astin returns to Apple Blossom Festival

The movie star, immortalized in roles as Samwise Gamgee in “Lord of the Rings” and as the titular football hero in “Rudy,” returned to the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in May to crown his oldest daughter, Alexandra, as this year’s Queen Shenandoah LXXVII.

Astin served as grand marshal of the festival in 2004 and was glad to be back.

“[T]here’s more people per square foot than I’d ever seen on a parade,” he told reporters this spring. “It’s just really an incredible outpouring of humanity.”

Peter Muhlenberg student performs on “Ellen”

At an age when most kids would be excited to appear on the school morning announcements, 13-year-old John-Robert Rimel appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in March and wowed viewers with his singing.

John-Robert, who was an eighth grader at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School when the episode aired on NBC, was invited on as a guest after DeGeneres heard him sing in a YouTube video.

After hearing him perform, DeGeneres said: “I think we all feel like we just watched somebody start his career.”

Front Royal fan wins TCM co-hosting gig

Onalee McGraw, a lifelong fan of classic movies, won the chance to introduce one of them on TV this spring.

McGraw, 72, of Front Royal, won the Turner Classic Movies Ultimate Fan contest and appeared on the channel in April to introduce “12 Angry Men” along with host Robert Osborne.

Tommy Heslep breaks world record

Tommy Heslep, of Front Royal, earned his place in the record books when he yanked out 16 nails from wood in one minute using only his teeth.

The 40-year-old sanitation engineer was shown performing the feat on an episode of “Guinness World Records Unleashed” that aired on TruTV in February.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or

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