Scoop! 10 celebrities whose lives changed in ’06

10. Jessica Simpson: America’s “Newlyweds” sweetheart just could not hit her stride as a new divorcee in 2006. While ex Nick Lachey flourished with a hit album and new love Vanessa Minnillo, Jessica’s album flopped and a series of high-profile flings fizzled. Then came her mortifying flubbed Dolly Parton tribute, which was just edited out of the Kennedy Center Honors broadcast. Let’s hope Jess regains her perky mojo in ’07.

9. Matt Damon: With a wife, stepdaughter, new baby and starring roles in two acclaimed movies (“The Departed” and “The Good Shepherd”), Matt made critics and fans realize how much he’s matured as an actor and a man. Like bud Ben Affleck, he’s mastered the art of living under the radar with his family.

8. Rosie O’Donnell: Her new job as co-host on “The View” made news … as did her reported refusal to work with Star Jones. That feud was followed by conflict with the Asian-American community — insulted by her imitation of Chinese speech — and with Donald Trump, whom she criticized on air. Rosie, there’s outspoken … and then there’s obnoxious.

7. Carrie Underwood: Like all new “American Idol” winners, Carrie had to prove her real-world musical mettle. And she’s done just that in ’06, with a quadruple-platinum debut CD, a cartload of awards and four Grammy nods. But she may have earned a rival along the way. Granted, Faith Hill insists her freakout over getting beaten out for the CMA was just a joke … but we’d watch our backs if we were Carrie.

6. Katie Holmes: Last year, she was starring in “Batman Begins” and grinning giddily as new fiancé Tom Cruise trumpeted their whirlwind romance to the world. But then Katie suddenly traded in the role of leading lady for that of soccer stepmom … and since giving birth to daughter Suri in April, she’s seemed oddly reclusive.

5. Jennifer Lopez: Speaking of reclusive … other than her appearances with husband Marc Anthony at TomKat’s Italy wedding and L.A. reception, did anyone see J.Lo this year? In ’06, the double-threat diva who used to own the A-list scene dropped completely out of paparazzi view. Jenny, we miss your drama — resolve to stir some up in 2007!

4. Katie Couric: The bright-eyed “Today” host’s departure after 15 years was commemorated with effusive TV tributes mourning the end of an era. And she was lauded as a trailblazer for being named the nation’s first solo female network news anchor … at first. By year’s end, critical backlash to Katie’s performance had the former media darling lashing back at haters: “Bite me.”

3. Keith Urban: He began the year as a Nashville star but married into Hollywood’s A-list via Nicole Kidman. Fans envisioned Keith as Nic’s post-Tom Cruise white knight, but his relapse into addiction rapidly sparked marriage trouble rumors. With breaking allegations of an affair (see above), Keith is poised to kick off an equally turbulent 2007.

2. Britney Spears: Delivering a second son and ditching husband Kevin Federline meant Britney broke even in terms of dependents this year. But careerwise, fans fear 2006 marked an irreversible downward slide. A world of bad publicity plus a dearth of new music have brought the erstwhile pop queen to the brink of “Surreal Life” territory. But we still cherish hopes that our Brit-Brit can turn it around in ’07!

1. Ashlee Simpson: Of all 2006’s celeb transformations, hers was the most literal. The singer metamorphosed everything from her hair color to her now-twiggy figure to her facial features. Although Ashlee played coy about reports of an April nose job, before-and-after photos made it as plain as … well, you know.

Kitty Raymond is an entertainment writer who has a celebrity astrology blog at www.celebastroblogy.com.

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