Voting in this round has now closed. View round two here!

Texans are passionate about our homegrown talent. We’re proud when they go on to become world-famous stars, and we’re also a little bit happy when they don’t and we get to keep them all to ourselves instead. The Lone Star State has produced a staggering array of both kinds of famous people, and we all have opinions about them. As March Madness gets underway, we’re bringing you the Ultimate Texas Celebrity Bracket as a way for Texas Monthly readers to determine who, in our vast constellation of stars, is the most beloved one shining in the Texas sky. 

Much like the NCAA tournament, our bracket is divided into four divisions: musicians, actors and other Hollywood figures, athletes, and “wild cards,” a category that includes influencers, business figures, chefs, and other personalities that don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories. Our seeding is determined by a mix of data and vibes—Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok followings are factored, as is our own experience with whom our readers are especially devoted to (hence Willie Nelson taking the top seed in music over Beyoncé). If you disagree with our seeding, you can let us know by voting for your preferred star to take the whole thing! 

Texas Monthly Celebrity Bracket: Round 1
Illustration by Max-o-matic

The bracket will unfold over the course of this week, with voting kicking off at 9 a.m. and closing at 4:30 p.m. Voting will be conducted both on this page and on Instagram and X (the platform that our top “wild card” seed bought when it was still called Twitter). If you see a discrepancy between the results on this page and the final results, it’s likely that social media voting swung the tally. Voting will be monitored to ensure that votes are cast by real human people—bot votes will be discarded.

Finally, a brief note on “celebrity.” For our purposes, it’s defined as an individual who is still alive and who is not a politician (with a special exception for Kinky Friedman). A celebrity is a single person, not a group (with a special exception for Chip and Joanna Gaines). The gauge of their worthiness for inclusion is their fame, rather than their accomplishments: there are hugely influential Texans who choose to operate behind the scenes (say, H-E-B CEO Charles Butt or Spurs owner Peter Holt) who are not included on the list because they actively shun fame. With only 64 spots available, there are a huge number of famous Texans who didn’t end up competing this time around, simply because the seeding requires a mix of the extremely famous and the less so to ensure the competitive balance of the bracket as it proceeds. Someone needs to lose to Willie Nelson in round one—but will he take the whole thing? We’ll find out when all six rounds of voting conclude, on April 2, and the winner is crowned.

Let’s get to voting! 

Who Rocks Texas? 

The Red Headed Stranger Versus Delta Dawn

Tanya Tucker has had a storied career. She is a Country Music Hall of Famer, a fourteen-time Grammy nominee, the performer of ten number one hits on the U.S. country music chart, and the pride of Seminole, Texas. Her 2019 comeback album, While I’m Livin’, revealed that her legacy is still being written—a fact confirmed by last year’s excellent Sweet Western Sound. When the great book of Texas music is written, Tanya Tucker will have her own chapter. 

We say all of this to honor the great Tanya Tucker, as she faces down what may well be the toughest challenge in the entire bracket: she’s got Willie Nelson in round one. Everyone loves Willie. We do not need to say anything about Willie. You already know it. We assume that if Ms. Tucker herself is voting in this contest, she is voting for Willie too. Sometimes you just get a rough draw in round one. 

Battle of the Country Queens

Miranda Lambert has been on a seventeen-year tear that now has her eight albums deep as a solo artist, with another four as the leader of the Pistol Annies, plus a collaborative COVID-19 pandemic swerve in the form of The Marfa Tapes, a front-porch song-swap session with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall. She won Female Vocalist of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards every year from 2010 to 2018. She has three Grammys and is in the midst of wrapping up a wildly successful Vegas run. Her defiant songwriting voice has helped carve out new paths for women (and some men!) in country music. She’s been a trailblazer since she was 21 years old.

One of the artists who’s benefited from the freedom to follow the trail Lambert blazed is Kacey Musgraves. Musgraves, who emerged from the tiny East Texas town of Golden in 2013 with an uncommon willingness to speak her mind, evolved into not just a songwriter with a unique perspective but also one with a yearning to explore the sonic range of country music—check out the robot voices on “Oh What a World” or the breakup disco of “Breadwinner.” Musgraves found her audience as she found that voice, earning Album of the Year honors at the Grammys for her 2018 masterpiece Golden Hour. (She also ended Lambert’s nine-year Female Vocalist of the Year run at the ACM Awards, in 2019.) Musgraves, who debuted eight years after Lambert, doesn’t have the same legacy to fall back on, but this is a true battle of greats nonetheless. 

Grand Prairie Meets Fort Worth

Selena Gomez is such a superstar that we had an internal debate over whether to include her in the music division or bump her to Hollywood. She’s the star of one of the most popular shows on television in Only Murders in the Building and a prolific voice actor who started her career as a teen star on the Disney Channel. But also: 50 million monthly Spotify listeners say that Selena’s music is still what she’s most famous for, and who are we to argue? She is one of the fifty most-listened-to artists in the world, a statistic that becomes mind-blowing when you realize that puts her above, say, the Beatles or Jay-Z. 

In the other corner, meanwhile, we have Leon Bridges. The size of Bridges’s following doesn’t compare—11 million monthly Spotify listeners is a big number, but it’s merely a fraction of Gomez’s. But Bridges is building a legacy slowly, with three albums since 2015 (plus a pair of collaborative EPs with Houston’s Khruangbin). He’s got an uncommon voice and a sound that’s evolved from the throwback soul of his debut to something more eclectic and vibrant. Is that enough to take on an icon like Selena Gomez? We’ll find out! 

A Generational Battle

Travis Scott is one of the biggest stars in the world. His fourth album, last year’s Utopia, spent four weeks at number one on the Billboard album chart (and was his third consecutive album to land on top). It led to a sold-out tour and continued a run of success that’s seen him partner with everything from Fortnite to McDonald’s. That rise hasn’t come without controversy—most notably from the 2021 Astroworld Festival, in Houston, at which ten concertgoers died due to a crowd crush during his performance—but Scott remains a superstar. 

Erykah Badu, meanwhile, has never reached the pinnacle that Scott has in her nearly thirty-year career—but that sort of longevity is a different kind of success, and one that doesn’t even encompass everything that makes Badu special. She helped define the nineties neo soul movement, and despite only sporadically recording new music (her last full album, New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh), was released way back in 2010), she remains one of the most vital artists currently working—as proven by last year’s arena tour, which saw her perform for fans in 25 cities. She may not have the breadth of Scott’s following, but given her depth, this one could be an upset. 

Two Different Kinds of Icons

What is there to say about George Strait? He’s one of the most iconic Texans to ever put on a pair of Wranglers, and King George’s discography is unparalleled—his 45 singles to hit number one on the Billboard country music chart are more than Willie Nelson and Garth Brooks have achieved combined. The final performance of his 2014 the Cowboy Rides Away farewell tour, at AT&T Stadium, in Dallas, was the largest single-show concert in U.S. history. (It also didn’t turn out to be much of a farewell, as he spent most of 2017 playing a Vegas residency and was back on the road in 2023, with more stadium dates coming.) 

In the other corner, we’ve got Lyle Lovett. Lovett’s a different kind of Texas music celebrity. While he enjoyed some modest chart success in the eighties, he’s more the kind of artist you listen to on headphones. (He didn’t have a single top forty hit in the 1990s, but all four albums he released that decade are certified gold by the RIAA.) His recording career has been spotty—he’s put out just two albums since 2010—and his biggest brush with the mainstream was probably his unlikely two-year marriage to Julia Roberts. But Texas loves him anyway. A prodigious horseman, he’s a rare member of both the Austin City Limits and Texas Cowboy Halls of Fame, with an honorary degree from the University of Houston to boot. He’s got an intimidating opponent in King George (the two are longtime friends), but Lovett is an iconic Texan nonetheless. 

Tina Snow Versus a Tejano Legend

The hot streak Megan Thee Stallion is on right now is pretty impressive. On a single day in February, she negotiated a deal with Warner Music that gave her full control over her master recordings while at the same time managing to dodge every shot taken at her in a diss song from Nicki Minaj. In the five years since she dubbed 2019 Hot Girl Summer, she’s only grown more relevant, a trend that’s likely to continue as she preps her third album.

Who can stand against a superstar like that? The answer might be a legend in his own right—Edinburg native Bobby Pulido. The son of another tejano icon, Roberto Pulido, Bobby emerged onto the tejano scene during the post-Selena golden age of the genre, and he’s remained one of its most vital artists, with fourteen albums and more than six million monthly listeners on Spotify. That might not be enough to take on one of the bracket’s tougher outs, but we’ll see how the votes fall. 

A Heart Attack in the City of the 915 

Demi Lovato released her first album right around her sixteenth birthday. Since that day, nearly sixteen years ago, even while making headlines for her personal life, she has never not been one of the biggest stars in music. Her music jumps genres—her 2013 album, Demi, is full of bubblegum pop, while she’s also shifted lanes to R&B (on 2017’s Tell Me You Love Me) and, more recently, nineties-style nu metal (on 2022’s Holy Fvck)—which is a neat trick to pull off without losing many fans. 

She’ll be facing off against El Paso star Khalid. While Khalid isn’t a native Texan—he only moved here for his senior year of high school, while his mom was stationed at Fort Bliss—he very much claimed his adopted hometown, littering his quadruple-platinum debut record, American Teen (released shortly after the singer turned nineteen), with references to “the city of the 915” and other pieces of inspiration he found in El Paso. Khalid is only two albums into his career—though he’s teased a third release on and off for nearly three years. Still, he’s a constant presence with nonalbum singles and collaborations, which have kept him relevant to the more than 51 million monthly fans who listen to him on Spotify. 

Bey Begins Her Run 

Alas, like Tanya Tucker, Rio Grande Valley native Charley Crockett has some tough sledding ahead of him. The country singer is on a hot streak at the moment, earning headliner status as he readies his eighth album in the past five years, April’s $10 Cowboy. His retro sound, gorgeous baritone, and impeccable styling have helped him find an audience eager to pursue the yeehaw agenda, and we expect big things in the future for him. 

However, he’s up against Beyoncé in round one. Someone had to be. Good luck, Charley. 

Hollywood, Texas

Alright, alright, alright or all too well? 

Love him or hate him (and most of us do a little of both), Matthew McConaughey has come to define a certain kind of Texan: brash, creative, iconoclastic, a li’l weird. He’s an actor, first and foremost, but also an author, a . . . motivational speaker?, and a possible future governor. The days during which he was a running joke smoking weed in his backyard and playing the bongos have passed, but so too has the McConaissance era, when we were all awestruck that this goof grew into a serious artist capable of using his talent effectively. Now we’re in McConaughey’s Act III, when he’s something of an elder statesman among a crop of younger Texas talent. 

The first opportunity to make that decision will come against 21-year-old Brenham native Sadie Sink. Sink began her career doing theater in Houston, and her family eventually moved outside of New York to allow her to pursue acting. It worked: she quickly landed on Broadway, playing Annie in Annie and splitting the role of Queen Elizabeth with Helen Mirren in The Audience. If you recognize her name, though, it’s probably because of Stranger Things, where she broke through in a big way playing tough tomboy Max, the Kate Bush–obsessed new member of the group, starting in season two. From there, she starred in The Whale (opposite Brendan Fraser, who won an Oscar for his work) and in Taylor Swift’s All Too Well short film. Most of Sink’s career is still ahead of her, but she’s off to a heck of a start. 

Two 35-Year-Old Blond, White Leading Men From Central Texas Enter: Only One Leaves

Austinite Glen Powell has been poised to break through to the A-list for several years, but the coveted status has always seemed just out of reach. His breakthrough in 2015 as part of the cast of the Ryan Murphy horror comedy Scream Queens led to scene-stealing roles in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! and the Oscar-nominated Hidden Figures (he played John Glenn), which in turn led to even more roles as a pilot—in 2021’s Devotion and, critically, as the scene-stealing “Hangman” in Top Gun: Maverick. He’s also popped up in a handful of likable rom-coms—Netflix’s Set It Up and last year’s Anyone But You among them—and is poised for more, starting with Linklater’s Hit Man (with a screenplay he cowrote based on a Texas Monthly story, we’re psyched too). Most recently, he’s announced a return to TV, playing a disgraced quarterback who attempts to return to the game by posing as a college football quarterback named Chad Powers, in a role he’s taking over from Eli Manning (sure, why not?). 

Powell’s in an unusual spot in his career: he’s a tabloid presence and costarred in one of the highest-grossing films of all time, but he isn’t yet a household name. His fellow 35-year-old blond Texan actor’s career is a little more straightforward: Jesse Plemons has been a regular presence on our screens since stealing scenes as Landry (not Lance) on Friday Night Lights, parlaying that into an unforgettable against-type role on Breaking Bad, then earning Emmy and Oscar nominations for Fargo and The Power of the Dog, respectively, while also providing a unique mix of levity and gravity in everything from the misunderstood 2012 sci-fi actioner Battleship to the 2018 comedy Game Night to last year’s Oscar-nominated drama Killers of the Flower Moon. These fellas are sort of like a DVD with an alternate ending—do you prefer Glen or Jesse? 

Two Different Kinds of Influential Filmmakers

Forest Whitaker is a titan of the screen trade. From his childhood in Longview, he’s gone on to a forty-year career that started with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He’s gotten an Oscar (for The Last King of Scotland), he’s starred in two of the biggest movies of all time (Black Panther and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), and he’s worked with most of the great directors of the past four decades (Coppola, Fincher, Jarmusch, Jonze, Scorsese, Stone, Villenueve). The list of movies that might not exist without him includes some of the most interesting work of the past decade—he produced Dope, Fruitvale Station, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, and Sorry to Bother You. Also, he inexplicably directed the Sandra Bullock–Harry Connick Jr. romance Hope Floats

Whitaker has used his platform to springboard other filmmakers to success. Taylor Sheridan, meanwhile, has spent much of his career as a proud one-man band. (He once explained to a reporter that on Yellowstone, “they tell me there’s a script coordinator, but I don’t know who that is.”) He’s a veritable engine when it comes to producing television: he’s created Yellowstone, Mayor of Kingstown, Tulsa King, 1883, 1923, and Special Ops: Lioness. (This year he’ll add the Billy Bob Thornton drama Landman to the list, which is based on the Texas Monthly podcast Boomtown.) Somehow, focusing on his TV output doesn’t even capture the full depth of Sheridan’s work—he also received an Oscar nomination for writing the neo-western Hell or High Water in 2016, and he launched the Sicario franchise before that. Plus, he was on Veronica Mars as an actor. He must be exhausted. 

An All-Time Great or a Future Great?

Eva Longoria has come a long way since her breakthrough on Desperate Housewives. These days, she’s a full-on multihyphenate—an actor, a producer (you can thank her for John Wick), and a director (her feature debut, last year’s Flamin’ Hot, came after a decade of directing for television). She spent her final few years on Housewives finishing a master’s degree in Chicano studies, and she is active in both philanthropy and politics. The 49-year-old from Corpus Christi has carved an impressive path. 

To advance, she’ll have to overcome one of the towering icons of television history: ninety-year-old San Antonio native Carol Burnett, the namesake of the Golden Globes’ Carol Burnett Award for lifetime achievement. The list of accolades that Burnett’s collected in her career is downright gaudy—seven Emmys, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, a Tony, and a Grammy. She spent most of the past few decades in semiretirement, but in recent years, she hasn’t been resting on her laurels—in 2022 she appeared in four episodes of the final season of Better Call Saul, and she’s a main cast member of Apple TV+’s new Palm Royale

A Battle of Veterans

Here are some Tommy Lee Jones facts: He was a (by all accounts, quite good) college football offensive guard during his time at Harvard, where he roomed with Al Gore. He debuted in the 1970 film adaptation of the novel Love Story, which was written by another Harvard student (going to Harvard is, unsurprisingly, good for your career prospects). He is a member of the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, albeit for the way his on-screen career has promoted the Western lifestyle, rather than for his actual rodeo accomplishments (he prefers polo). His films have grossed $5.81 billion. He’s played unforgettable Texans in Lonesome Dove, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (which he also directed), and No Country For Old Men. He is an impressive fella, the man from San Saba, Texas. 

Also impressive: Houston native Phylicia Rashad. She is most famous for her eight seasons on The Cosby Show as Claire Huxtable, which is a role that comes now with a heavy asterisk. That’s hardly the only credit to her name, though, and younger readers may be more familiar with her for her work as Mary Anne Creed, the mother of the title character in the Creed franchise, or perhaps for her roles on This Is Us, 13 Reasons Why, or The Good Fight. Of course, that leaves out her theater career, which has earned her two Tony Awards. These days, she splits her time as the dean of Howard University’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts (a role she’ll be leaving at the end of the current semester) and as a stage director, with her Purpose currently running at Chicago’s venerable Steppenwolf Theatre. 


The Owen Wilsonaissance got less attention than the career revival of his fellow UT-Austin alum Matthew McConaughey, but it is no less impressive: after an early start to his career writing and acting in the films of his former classmate Wes Anderson, Wilson spent the early aughts as a core member of the “Frat Pack,” alongside Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and his brother Luke, bringing an easy charm to roles that would have been insufferable if performed by someone less downright likable. He then vanished for four years, starting in 2017, before breathing new life into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the post-Endgame breakout hero Mobius T. Mobius, an affable pencil pusher armed with a brown suit and a sacred duty to protect the timeline. 

Wilson’s career trajectory doesn’t exactly mimic that of Robert Rodriguez, but the two do rhyme a bit: both started as fiercely independent Texas artists and have maintained that identity even as they pursued the high-profile projects available to them in Hollywood. Rodriguez, the iconoclastic director behind From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids, and Sin City, also had a gap in his résumé, after 2014 (he mostly spent that time trying to build his own cable TV network, El Rey, which has been housed under the Roku Channel since 2021). When he reemerged, in 2019, it was alongside James Cameron as the director of Alita: Battle Angel, his largest-budget production and highest-grossing feature. That helped springboard him to Disney, for which he directed the Billie Eilish concert film Happier Than Ever before stepping into the Star Wars universe, where he executive produced and helped direct The Book of Boba Fett. Last year he revived the Spy Kids franchise for Netflix. Next up may be an Alita sequel, more Star Wars, or something else entirely. The dude is always working. 

What Makes a Texan? 

After starting with roles in a handful of Gen X–ploitation pictures (Dazed and Confused and Empire Records chief among them), Katy native Renée Zellweger enjoyed an incredible run as America’s sweetheart, starting in 1996, with her performance opposite Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. That stretched for nearly a decade, along with high-profile roles in the Bridget Jones franchise, Chicago (for which she earned her first Oscar nomination), and Cold Mountain (for which she actually won an Oscar). A quiet stretch of years followed, and while Zellweger these days is choosy about her projects, she’s still able to hit when she wants to: her most recent feature, 2019’s Judy, earned her a second Academy Award.

Dakota Johnson’s breakthrough came in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, but she quickly outgrew the whips and chains, from whence she emerged to prove herself a versatile screen presence. The Austin-born star has offered memorable turns in indies, rom-coms, thrillers, and dramas. (Her attempt to break into blockbuster territory, last month’s Madame Web, has proved a bit, er, mixed.) Johnson hasn’t lived in Texas—the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, she was born here while her father was shooting Dennis Hopper’s neo-noir thriller The Hot Spot—but does Texas claim her? We’ll find out. 

Battle of the Potential EGOTs

To EGOT is to win the four most prestigious awards in the entertainment industry: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. Only nineteen individuals have done so, and of them, only seven earned their screen awards for acting (most EGOT winners are musicians or composers). Both Jamie Foxx and Marcia Gay Harden are halfway there, though—Foxx with the Oscar and Grammy in his pocket, and Harden with the Oscar and the Tony. Will either achieve it? Foxx already has the two most prestigious awards—one can assume that, as a huge star, if he chose to do TV or Broadway, he’d have a good shot at claiming the top prize for each. Harden, meanwhile, is a UT-Austin grad who earned her Oscar for her role in 2000’s Pollock, and she has a a tough road toward winning a Grammy. Can she defeat Foxx in our bracket, though? That’s a tall order against the beloved East Texas native. 

Sporting Life

A Champ Takes on the GOAT

Simone Biles might be the greatest athlete in the history of Texas. Honestly, she might be the greatest in the history of the world. She’s earned more gymnastics awards than anyone who ever lived, and she has accomplished so many feats previously believed impossible that there are five entire elements of the sport named after her. At 27, she’s still at the top of her game in a sport in which many athletes retire while they’re still in their teens. Whatever superlative you want to apply to the young woman from the Houston suburb of Spring is appropriate. 

That’s a lot for anyone to compete with, but Rio Grande Valley native Raquel Rodriguez earned a spot to at least challenge Biles in round one through her seven-and-a-half-year career in WWE. That showing has been impressive—she was the NXT Women’s Champion for nearly a year in 2021 and 2022, then followed that up with two runs as a tag team champ. Biles is a strong Final Four contender, so Rodriguez has her work cut out for her in advancing, but she’d deserve her place in the second round. 

Two First-Ballot Hall of Famers*

On almost any other team, David Robinson would get the nod as the all-time great, but the San Antonio Spurs also had Tim Duncan, and Duncan’s five championships, two MVPs, and fifteen All-Star seasons mean he’s not just the best player in Spurs history, but also on the short list for the greatest to ever lace up a pair of Nikes. (Sports website the Athletic put him at number nine, between Shaq and Kobe, which is not a bad spot to be in.)

His opponent in the first round is a force unto himself too, though: diminutive Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve. Altuve is one of the most beloved Astros of all time, the rare player from the 2017 World Series championship team whose legend isn’t heavily marred by an asterisk from the cheating scandal (by most accounts, he was not a participant). Altuve is easily the best loved of all of the active Astros, and he’s right up there with the team’s all-time greats. Still, fans of other teams likely aren’t as forgiving of the scandal that rocked the team five years ago, so we’ll see if he can compete with a Spurs legend whose legacy includes no asterisks, question marks, or other punctuation.

Can a Women’s Soccer Great Get Hit With a Stone Cold Stunner?*

As a five-year-old in 1977 joining her first soccer team in Wichita Falls, Mia Hamm couldn’t have known that she would go on to be one of the greatest female soccer players of all time. One hundred and fifty-eight international goals later, Hamm’s legacy is secure: she’s a member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the National Soccer Hall of Fame, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and the World Football Hall of Fame (she was the first woman inducted). By the time she started in her first World Cup, she had been with the U.S. Women’s National Team for four years and was still the youngest player on the squad (the team won the tournament). She was the most dominant force in the game for an unparalleled fifteen-year stretch, between 1990 and 2004.

If Hamm’s highs and lows were so fantastic that they feel almost scripted, well, her first-round opponent’s absolutely were—but that takes nothing away from what made Stone Cold Steve Austin so great. As the face of the WWE’s Attitude Era, Austin (whose ring name came from his hometown) helped redefine sports entertainment in the nineties and early aughts. In a rare move for a pro wrestler, he also chose to retire in the midst of his prime, ensuring a hard-to-match legacy.

The Latest Great Cowboys QB or the First Great WNBA Player? 

Dak Prescott is still writing his legacy with the Cowboys, but one thing is certain: he’s part of a chain of great signal-callers the franchise has seen, which started with Don Meredith, in the 1960s, and includes Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, and Tony Romo. Some won championships (Staubach and Aikman more than once), while others maxed out at the playoffs. It remains to be seen whether Prescott will end his time in Dallas in the former camp or the latter—and a disappointing end to the 2023 season has only made the question more urgent—but his stats, leadership, and playmaking ability tell a story of someone who could retire with a few rings. 

Sheryl Swoopes, meanwhile, emerged from the Great Plains city of Brownfield to become one of the most important players in the history of women’s basketball. Few players in any sport can claim the success she’s seen: an NCAA tournament championship, three Olympic gold medals, and—after being the very first player signed to the WNBA upon the league’s formation, in 1996—the key to the league’s first dynasty, rattling off four consecutive championships to inaugurate the league with the Houston Comets.  

An Old Legend Versus a New One

Nolan Ryan is the all-time strikeout leader in Major League Baseball, and his number 34 jersey number has been retired by both the Astros and the Rangers, one of the few things fans of both teams can agree on. His longevity is part of his storied legacy—he debuted for the Mets back in 1966 and kept on throwing strikes until his retirement as a member of the Rangers, in 1993. (Along the way, he also notched seven no-hitters, good for the most in MLB history—no other player has more than four.) 

Patrick Mahomes doesn’t have that kind of tenure—yet—but that just means the Tyler native and Texas Tech great has only needed a short time to establish himself as a face on the NFL’s Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks. He’s been the starting quarterback for the Chiefs since 2018, and in those six seasons, he’s led the team to the AFC Championship Game every single year, winning it four times—and claimed three Lombardi Trophies. There is a long list of Hall of Fame quarterbacks who never won a Super Bowl—Mahomes has done it half the seasons he’s been in the NFL. That said: he did all of that in Kansas City, which is famously not in Texas. Do Texans claim him as one of our own? 

A Newly Minted Texan Takes On a Proud Native

Let’s qualify this: C. J. Stroud hasn’t even lived in Texas for a full year yet. He grew up in California, went to college in Ohio, and came to Houston after being drafted by the Texans just over ten months ago. But also: what a year it’s been! The Texans were one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2022, and then—thanks to Stroud’s early development as a pro quarterback—found themselves not just a playoff-caliber team, but one capable of winning in the postseason, with the youngest quarterback to ever do it (Stroud was nine months away from his twenty-third birthday when the Texans beat the Browns). Stroud may not have been born in Texas, but he got here as fast as he could, and Texans fans are deeply grateful. 

Brittney Griner, meanwhile, was born in Texas, and her legend began spreading when she was still in high school; the City of Houston declared May 7, 2009, Brittney Griner Day when she was just eighteen years old. She went from Nimitz High School to Baylor, where she continued her reign of terror as both a shooter and a shot blocker; she is the only player in the history of the NCAA to finish her career with two thousand points and five hundred blocked shots. She was the first pick in the 2013 WNBA draft, which means she’s spent her pro career in Phoenix, rather than Texas, but as a nine-time All-Star, what a career it’s been. 

The UT-A&M Rivalry Continues

We’re just getting this out of the way in round one: Which of the Heisman winners have you got? Ricky Williams brought glory back to Austin, while Johnny Football did the same for College Station. They’re both among the most interesting sports personalities Texas has ever produced—no mean feat, if you look at the rest of this division—and are fairly evenly matched in terms of their statures among their respective fan bases. Manziel might mean a little more to A&M, but Williams had a much better NFL career, so we’ll let y’all decide right now which of the two advances. 

Is the Pride of Slovenia a Beloved Texan?

There aren’t a lot of Slovenians on this list of beloved Texas celebrities, but we had to make an exception for Luka Dončić. He’s the best player on the Dallas Mavericks, and maybe the best currently in the NBA (okay, at least he’s in the top five). He has as many lifetime All-NBA First Team honors as Dirk Nowitzki and David Robinson, and he only turned 25 years old last month. Luka is one of the faces of the current NBA, and Mavs fans can look forward to having him around for a long time to come. 

In the other corner, we’ve got—checks notes—the fastest woman alive. Sha’Carri Richardson grew up in Dallas and is one of the major forces in the world of track and field. A failed test for THC kept her out of the 2021 Olympics, and she hasn’t yet had the chance to win Americans’ hearts in this summer’s Paris Games, which keeps her as a low seed at the moment—but if any fifteen-seed has a shot of pulling off an upset in this bracket, we’ll assume it’s the sprinter from Dallas who doesn’t know how to lose. 

Bring On the Wild Cards

A Main Character Versus a Man Who Wants to Be

Love him, loathe him, or go to sleep at night clutching a pillow with his face on it, you probably have thoughts about Elon Musk. Over the past several years—coinciding with his purchase of Twitter, his subsequent renaming of it to X, and his ongoing insistence on airing every thought that crosses his mind in public to an audience of 177 million followers (as well as his move to Austin)—Musk has made himself one of the main characters of contemporary life. There are few people more famous than he is—though whether that means he’s beloved is another question. 

Thomas J. Henry, meanwhile, seems quite invested in getting you to know his name. The San Antonio–based personal injury lawyer airs nigh ubiquitous ads on television, including during pricey time slots such as the Super Bowl, and if you’ve never seen one of his billboards, well, that just means you’ve never driven in Central Texas. But that’s hardly the end of it. He self-funded a reality show about his family; in 2019 he sponsored a (free!) music festival in Austin with headliners including Daddy Yankee and Da Baby. His current promotion involves giving away Taylor Swift tickets. Why does a personal injury lawyer do these things? Why does Rice play Texas? Can his quest for fame make him the Cinderella story of this particular bracket? Let’s find out!

Battle of the Network Stars

Both Kelly Clarkson—a native of Fort Worth—and Jenna Bush Hager, born in Dallas and raised there until her dad was elected governor, when she was nearly thirteen years old, host daytime syndicated talk shows. 

Clarkson’s talk show host duties are something of a moonlighting gig for her career as a musician—she’s eight albums deep, not counting a pair of Christmas records—while Jenna Bush Hager rose to prominence as first daughter but has since carved her own path as a television personality and author. 

The Shark Takes on a Self-Made Woman

Texas has its share of big-personality sports team owners, but even in a club that includes Jerry Jones and Tilman Fertitta, Mark Cuban stands alone as an icon: in addition to his ownership of the Dallas Mavericks, he’s also a host of Shark Tank and the founder of, a low-cost online pharmacy. Plus, he played the president in Sharknado 3

Kendra Scott doesn’t own a sports team, but the jewelry line she started with some spare cash by hand-selling her wares in local Austin businesses has grown into an enterprise that employs some 2,000 workers and brings in at least $360 million in annual revenue. Do Texans love affordable yet stylish fashion accessories more than the Mavs? We’ll find out in round one. 

America’s Most Listened-To Podcaster or the Prophet of Smoked Meat? 

Joe Rogan is the host of The Joe Rogan Experience, the most listened-to podcast in the United States for four years running. On it, he talks to comedians, athletes, politicians, entertainers, and some of the most unhinged conspiracy theorists who exist, spreading misinformation to his fifteen million subscribers. To describe Rogan as controversial is putting it mildly, but there’s no denying that he is extremely famous. Should he advance to the next round? That’s your call. 

To get there, he’ll have to overtake Austin barbecue titan Aaron Franklin. Franklin bears no small amount of responsibility for transforming barbecue, not just in Austin but, through his YouTube instructional videos and cookbook, also in smoke shacks throughout rural, suburban, and urban Texas. If you’ve enjoyed a tender brisket with the fat melted expertly into the meat in the past fifteen years, there’s a good chance that Franklin’s influence is part of why. 

An Odd Pairing, But Maybe They’d Hit It Off?

Brené Brown was already famous before COVID came to our shores, but the Houston-based academic, author, and podcaster effectively became America’s therapist during the roughest stretches of the pandemic. She’s been an influential Texan for well over a decade, with six number one best-sellers, two documentaries about her work, and two regular podcasts, all in the service of helping us be more vulnerable and find deeper connections. 

Kinky Friedman, meanwhile, doesn’t do any of that stuff. The lone exception to our “no politicians” rule for the bracket, Kinky has a long and storied career that includes so many odd swerves that his foray into politics—he garnered 547,000 votes in a quixotic 2006 independent run for governor, good for 12 percent of the vote—is merely a small chapter in a larger story. He has released seventeen albums, published eighteen mystery novels and nine other books, and been a columnist at Texas Monthly (albeit more than a decade ago). As his gubernatorial campaign proudly declared: Why the hell not? 

Two Houston Icons Enter the Thunderdome

Joel Osteen, pastor of Houston megachurch Lakewood Church, came to fame with his preaching of the “prosperity gospel,” which holds that faith can be accompanied by material success. It’s earned him many devoted followers, who’ve found him through his church, his televangelism, or his twenty-plus books on faith, success, and self-help (it’s also drawn criticism among other faith leaders). 

Tina Knowles, meanwhile, is well loved for both being Beyoncé’s mom and an icon in her own right. Ms. Tina, as she’s known by her admirers, is a fashion designer and philanthropist who maintains a truly iconic social media presence, as enjoyed by more than four million devoted Instagram followers. 

Can the King of Houston Do Downward Dog?

Bun B is, of course, a musician—but he’s also so much more than that that we had no choice but to place him in the “wild cards” category. The Houston icon is a restaurateur, a college lecturer, a coloring book author (!), a philanthropist, and—of course—a founding member of UGK and an accomplished solo artist who bears a good deal of responsibility for the Southern hip-hop that began to proliferate in the mid-1990s and has come to dominate the genre’s sound. More than any of that, though, Bun B is something of a spiritual avatar for his hometown, the informal mayor, and one of its most beloved personalities. 

Adriene Mishler is some of those same things in Austin. (Her dog, Benji, is the unofficial mayor of Austin, a fact grudgingly acknowledged by at least one of the city’s actual former mayors.) The YouTube yoga instructor’s calm presence and approachable persona have provided an entryway to the practice for more than 12 million subscribers. 

Shiplapping Over COVID Misinformation

To close out round one, we have an unlikely showdown: one between Chip and Joanna Gaines—the lone exception to our rule that celebrities are individuals, not groups—and Baylor professor of molecular virology doctor Peter Hotez. Besides their joint ties to Waco, the two have little in common: the Gaineses have changed the way Americans construct, decorate, organize, and think about their living spaces, building an empire along the way—first through Fixer Upper, then through their Magnolia brand (which includes Magnolia Network) and their Silos destination, in their hometown. They’re also very much a duo, with the empire built off the interplay between the couple’s personalities—Jo as the pragmatic realist and Chip as the fun-loving dreamer, building open floor plans and decorating them with shiplap together. 

Hotez, meanwhile, has spent the past several years becoming an unlikely star on MSNBC and other cable news programs for combating COVID misinformation. Like many who became media figures during the pandemic, Hotez’s work—which includes the development of low-cost vaccines for deployment in developing countries—isn’t without its critics, most of whom earned their medical degrees from YouTube and TikTok, rather than Cornell’s Weill Medical College. Hotez has exhaustively argued with many of those critics over the past four years, making his wire-framed glasses and staggering collection of bow ties instantly recognizable to most who followed news of the pandemic closely. 

*An earlier version of this story paired these matchups incorrectly.

Featured image credits: Beyoncé: Kevin Mazur/Parkwood via Getty; Biles: Jamie Squire/Getty; Bridges: Timothy Norris/The Recording Academy via Getty; Brown:  Amy E. Price/SXSW via Getty; Cuban: Brian Fluharty/Getty; Duncan: Jim McIsaac/Getty; Foxx: Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty; Gaines: Mireya Acierto/FilmMagic via Getty; Gomez: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty; Hamm: Mark J. Terrill/AP; Longoria: Jerod Harris/Getty; Mahomes: Ryan Kang/Getty; McConaughey: Lloyd Bishop/NBCUniversal via Getty; Musgraves: Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic via Getty; Musk: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty; Nelson: Paul Natkin/WireImage; Prescott: Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty; Ryan: Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty; Stroud: Carmen Mandato/Getty; Wilson: Monica Schipper/The Hollywood Reporter via 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