Voting in this round has closed. Check back Friday morning to vote in the Final Four!

As we’re heading into the homestretch of the Ultimate Texas Celebrity Bracket, some things have become clear: Texas Monthly readers have more affection for musician/author/overall colorful personality Kinky Friedman than we expected. You have a deep and abiding love for Fort Worth’s Kelly Clarkson, the American Idol turned daytime talk show host. You’re as proud as we are to claim Simone Biles as a Texas icon. And while Beyoncé has the heart of many a Texan, George Strait reigns supreme as the King of Country. 

We’re down to our last eight names, our top two finalists in each of our four divisions: Music, Hollywood, Sports, and Wildcards, where the names are random but your love for them is not. Let’s get to the voting! 

Texas Monthly Celebrity Bracket: Round 4
Illustration by Max-o-matic

Who Rocks Texas?

What’s a King to an Outlaw? 

George Strait’s run through the bracket is a fine reminder of why fans call him King George. The first round saw him dispatch friend and occasional tourmate Lyle Lovett with ease; he then cruised through the second round against the great Megan Thee Stallion. More impressive still, George edged out Beyoncé—let’s say it again, Beyoncé—in round three. In doing so, he ended a run in which she had been absolutely dominant, indicating that yesterday’s result was motivated by readers’ fealty to Mr. Strait. 

The battle was pitched on all three voting platforms, with George in the lead on, Beyoncé the overwhelming favorite on X/Twitter, and George with a slim lead on Instagram. Ultimately, the two were separated by around seventy votes, but when tallied across all three platforms, the cowboy rode away with the prize. Beyoncé will have to console herself with the feverish anticipation for her forthcoming album Cowboy Carter, whose track list—revealed Wednesday afternoon—includes a guest spot from George’s competition in round four, a celebrity who has crushed every opponent he’s encountered in the bracket: Willie Nelson

Willie’s success so far has felt inevitable; he trounced Tanya Tucker, Kacey Musgraves, and Selena Gomez in successive rounds, pulling in around 90 percent of the vote against each. George Strait is an icon, a living legend in starched, straight-leg Wranglers and a wide-brim hat, but Willie is Willie. If we were to poll only George Strait about who the greatest living Texan is, and present him with the choice in the box below, we are confident he’d pick Willie. Anything can happen, but we’ll be watching this one mostly to see if Willie wins by forty percentage points or eighty. 

Hollywood, Texas

Matthew McConaughey and the Ghost of Christmas Future

McConaughey entered the bracket as our top seed in the Hollywood division. After an easy round one victory over Sadie Sink—who could become a force in a similar bracket a few years down the line—he proved his popularity by defeating charming, enigmatic Central Texas star Jesse Plemons by a sixty-point margin. Plemons was no pushover, but McConaughey’s persona has not exhausted Texas Monthly readers, a fact that was further proved by his round-three success in ending fourteenth seed Carol Burnett’s Cinderella run. 

McConaughey embodies something very specifically and pointedly Texan. He has occupied a place in our hearts and remained relevant on the national stage for decades. He is one of us, and we love him for it. 

Then again, pretty much everything we just said about McConaughey is true for Tommy Lee Jones too. Both men are Texan to their core, hailing from small towns and going on to conquer Hollywood. The choice between them is less about the respective stars and more about how we see ourselves: Are we like Jones? Kindhearted but world-weary, avuncular toward those we meet, unwilling to suffer fools but ready to make space at the table for those who need a seat? Or do we see being Texan as something more like McConaughey, a little weirder than all of that, a little more gonzo? Would we spend our nights playing the bongos, our bare asses reflecting the moonlight, thinking about our heroes (ourselves, ten years from now), and contemplating how we might reshape the world, so that it has more room for us in it? To answer that question, choose your fighter below.

Sporting Life

One of the Most Difficult Decisions Any of Us Will Have To Make

Three of our four top seeds have sailed past the competition with ease in each round. (Elon Musk, number one in the Wildcard division, lost in the first round to San Antonio personal injury lawyer Thomas J. Henry.) No name has dismantled the competition quite like Simone Biles has, though. Willie Nelson has been a Texas darling for more than six decades; Matthew McConaughey has occupied his place in our hearts since his performance in A Time to Kill took Hollywood by storm in 1996. Simone Biles would not even be born until the following year. 

Biles, who was born, raised, and trained as a gymnast in the north Houston suburb of Spring, won her first taste of Olympic gold in 2016, when the McConaissance had already faded from memory and Willie Nelson was preparing the release of his sixty-fifth album. Her place in Texans’ hearts, in other words, does not come from longstanding affection or childhood nostalgia; most of us did not grow up idolizing her, because when she entered the public consciousness she was still a child herself. And yet we clearly identify her as possessing all the qualities of a great Texan: excellence, of course, but also heart, character, an unyielding sense of self, a desire to push beyond the limits of everything that every gymnast who came before her ever achieved. Biles turned 27 two weeks ago, and she already stands among the McConaugheys and the Willies. It’s been magical to watch. 

To continue her run, though, she will have to challenge a sportsman who many Texans did, in fact, look up to in their youth: Astros and Rangers great Nolan Ryan. The impossibly long-tenured ace pitcher played baseball longer, and at a higher level, than anyone else (only Cap Anson, who ended his 27-year career in 1897, two years before the fly swatter was invented, matches Ryan’s longevity). Ryan was born in the small South Texas town of Refugio and raised near Houston, in Brazoria County, and he would spend fourteen major league seasons with the New York Mets and the California Angels before returning to Texas, where his legendary status is one of the few things upon which Astros and Rangers fans can agree. In retirement, he’s remained in his home state, working for both teams—first as the Rangers CEO and president and then as a special assistant to the Astros—and serving as owner of the minor league Round Rock Express, ranching (concession stands at Express games serve Nolan Ryan beef), and being the definition of a class act. 

Bring On the Wild Cards

Kelly Meets Kinky

As the Ultimate Texas Celebrity Bracket has unfolded, we’ve seen Cinderella stories rise and fall and underdogs humble giants only to be felled themselves. One long shot, however, remains alive: Kinky Friedman, the foul-mouthed, cigar-chomping multihyphenate who was born in Chicago and raised in the Hill Country, has toppled Brené Brown, Ms. Tina Knowles, and Chip and Joanna Gaines. If Texas Monthly readers were the only ones who voted in our statewide elections, Kinky Friedman would be on his fifth term as governor right now. 

His opponent is a beloved homegrown talent from Fort Worth, a North Texas gal who’s made good: Kelly Clarkson, whose career started when she won season one of American Idol and has yet to slow down. She’s settled into a comfortable role these days, splitting time between her duties as the host of The Kelly Clarkson Show and her music career. She recently concluded a Las Vegas residency to promote her tenth studio album, last year’s Chemistry, which debuted at number six on the Billboard chart. Clarkson has had an unusual path through the bracket—after besting fellow talk show host Jenna Bush Hager in the first round, she rolled over the aforementioned Thomas J. Henry (Henry, recognizing that he was defeated, posted his congratulations to the star a few hours into voting and announced a ticket giveaway for her forthcoming shows in Atlantic City). In round three, though, she faced what appeared to be a tougher challenge from former Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and she handily dispatched him, tool. Will she be the one to end Kinky’s Cinderella story, or does the self-styled Texas Jewboy have it in him for another ride? We’ll find out soon.

Featured image credits: Biles: Jamie Squire/Getty; Clarkson: Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal via Getty; Friedman: Paul Natkin/Getty; Jones: Jeffrey Mayer/Getty; McConaughey: Lloyd Bishop/NBCUniversal via Getty; Nelson: Paul Natkin/WireImage; Ryan: Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty; Strait: CBS/Getty

Bracket image credits: Biles: Tom Weller/picture alliance via Getty; Beyoncé: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP; Longoria: Christopher Polk/Variety via Getty; Nelson: CBS Photo Archive/Getty; Cuban: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty