20 Stars and Influencers Who Radiate Creativity and Get Everyone Talking

From Queen Bey to Samantha Bee

What would you do with fame, if you had it? Would you simply enjoy all the perks and pay that come with it, or would you use it as a launching pad for your creative passions?

As part of Adweek's annual Creative 100, a list of the 100 most creative professionals in America, we honor 20 celebrities and influential figures who've consistently challenged themselves, their industries and their audiences.

Here is our list of 2016's multi-talented creative stars who just keep surprising fans and stepping up their game:  

 

 Milana Vayntrub

Actor / Director / Activist

Los Angeles

Best known as the unassuming and quick-witted AT&T spokeswoman Lily Adams, Vayntrub was intended to appear in only one ad for the brand. But thanks to her effortless charm, and her improv chops, she's now been in more than three dozen spots.

The 29-year-old was able to transform the initially small part into a defining role that's helped her pursue many creative passions, which include acting, directing and activism.

"Milana's Lily resonates with audiences because she's a multi-dimensional character in a way that's rare for commercials," says director Hank Perlman, who was behind the camera for most of Vayntrub's AT&T ads. "We try as hard as we can to not only make her funny, but to make her as strong, smart and human as possible."

In January, Vayntrub helped to bring attention to the Syrian refugee crisis, creating a short documentary of her experiences volunteering in Greece and revealing her own history as a Soviet-era refugee from Uzbekistan. She also started a nonprofit, Can't Do Nothing, where people can donate to help refugees. Earlier this month, she went to Jordan to visit refugee camps, and she will be releasing a follow-up documentary later this summer.

This month, she appears in Paul Feig's Ghostbusters reboot while continuing to advocate for refugees. She sat down with Adweek to talk about her creative process, activism, privilege, feminism and what she's doing next. Check out our full interview with her here.

—Kristina Monllos

 

 Jesse Williams 

Actor / Racial Equality Activist

Los Angeles

In his seven seasons as Dr. Jackson Avery on ABC's Grey's Anatomy, Williams has smartly used his Shonda Rhimes spotlight to create projects that push for social justice. He executive produced art project Question Bridge: Black Males and documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement. He and his wife, Aryn Drake-Lee, also created a keyboard app, Ebroji, featuring GIFs and images for people of all races and genders (including transgender). Last month, he cemented his status as one of the Black Lives Matters movement's most influential voices by accepting BET's Humanitarian Award with a passionate speech about race and police brutality. "There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of," he said. "There has been no job we haven't done, there's been no tax they haven't levied against us, and we've paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here."

—Jason Lynch

 

 Ashley Graham

Model / Body Image Activist

New York City

Already a rising star in the modeling world, Ashley Graham became a global celebrity when she was featured on a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover this year. She also starred in the body positive Lane Bryant "I'm No Angel" campaign, along with ads for Revlon and Swimsuits for All. She even appeared alongside Joe Jonas in his band DNCE's "Toothbrush" music video. Graham has used her newfound celebrity status to do more than score high-profile gigs. Becoming one of today's top body positivity activists, the model has delivered a TEDx talk (with nearly 1 million views) celebrating her curves and challenging the industry's perception of plus-size models. "We need to work together to redefine the global image of beauty," she says in the talk, "and it starts by becoming your own role model."

—Katie Richards

 

 Lin-Manuel Miranda

Actor / Writer / Composer, Hamilton

New York City

Few musicals have seen the level of success and explosive pop-culture impact as Hamilton, winner of 11 Tony Awards this year, including Best Musical. The face, heart and soul of the production is Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music and played the lead role of founding father Alexander Hamilton from its 2015 Broadway debut until his last show earlier this month. Beyond his Pulitzer Prize-winning work on Hamilton, Miranda also wrote the new cantina song for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is working on music for Disney's upcoming Moana and recently teamed up with Jennifer Lopez on the song "Love Make the World Go Round," a tribute to those affected by the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando,

—K.R.

 Beyoncé

Musician / World Dominator

Los Angeles

Beyoncé clearly came to slay this year. In February, she dropped the killer track "Formation," paired with a powerful music video addressing police brutality and racism in America. The next day, she grabbed the world's attention by performing the song with an army of dancers clad in Blank Panther-inspired outfits during the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. Then came Queen Bey's second visual album, Lemonade—a collective middle finger to cheaters everywhere. Outside of her musical and visual domination, Beyoncé demonstrated her marketing chops in 2016, launching a line of athletic apparel in partnership with retailer Top Shop called Ivy Park, which nearly sold out online just after launch. It would be almost impossible to name a more powerful creative force in the world today.

—K.R.

 

 Mike Judge

Director / Producer / Writer

Austin and Los Angeles

Who would have thought the man responsible for the phrase "I am Cornholio" would end up predicting the intellectual decay of U.S. politics (with 2006's Idiocracy) and even educating America on the infuriating intricacies of launching a tech startup (with HBO's current hit comedy Silicon Valley)? From his earliest days creating MTV's counterculture icons Beavis & Butt-head in the 1990s, Judge has balanced relevance and biting commentary with joyous stupidity. His creations, from propane salesman Hank Hill to the entirety of 1999's Office Space, remain enduring pop culture reference points. And with Silicon Valley—for which he's even tapped former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo as a consultant—Judge continues to create programs that feel less like farce and more like documentaries with each passing day.

—Tim Baysinger

 

 Lupita Nyong'o

Actor

New York City

Having stunned the world with her Oscar-winning performance in 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyong'o took a short break from Hollywood to dazzle critics and showgoers alike in the Broadway show Eclipsed, which tells the powerful story of five women all suffering as a result of the Liberian civil war. The actress, born in Mexico and raised in Kenya, has also made time for some big-budget films, including 2016's live-action remake of The Jungle Book (as the wolf Raksha) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where she finally wiped away the cinematic stain of Jar Jar Binks by creating a CGI character (Maz Kanata) who felt as real as the actors staring into her alien eyes. She will also star in the upcoming Disney film Queen of Katwe, about a young girl from Uganda who wants to become a chess champion.

—K.R.

 

 Samantha Bee

TV Host, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee

New York City

Before her brilliant TBS late-night show, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, debuted in February, the comedian worried that it might fall flat with audiences. "It's stressful on a very primal level when you're creating something that you really like," she told Adweek at the time. "Presenting it to the world and hoping they like it too is really terrifying." She had nothing to fear. While all eyes were on the debuts of fellow late-night hosts Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah, Bee was the one who became an indispensable presence, turning this year's political chaos into comic gold. She could have leveraged her inside track at The Daily Show to take over as host after Jon Stewart, but instead took a leap of faith by creating her TBS show, helping the revamped net sharpen its new, edgy tone. "It's fun to build something out of nowhere," Bee says. And now, she has constructed some of the most enviable real estate in late night.

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