The Rise And Fall Fall And Rise Of Hayden Panettiere

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Hayden Panettiere attending Golden Globes January 2013Happy birthday to Hayden Panettiere, who turns twenty-four on this very day! Only twenty-four years old and already she's been a star, a has-been, and a comeback kid. It's pretty impressive, dontcha think?

And the comeback part has really only been in the last eight months or so. If you'd told me this time last year that I'd be writing a whole feature post on Hayden today for her birthday, I'd probably have looked at you pretty blankly. Considering last year's birthday post on Hayden was titled ‘What The Hell Happened To Hayden Panettiere's Career?', it would have been a stretch to imagine that I'd even need to learn how to spell her name by now.

And I wasn't necessarily wrong for thinking that! Nashville hadn't premiered yet — it wouldn't until October — and it was by no means a guaranteed success. At first glance, it seemed to have a lot in common with that kind of garbagey Gwyneth Paltrow movie Country Strong, and we were hearing that Hayden's character was basically a thinly-veiled send-up of Taylor Swift. Plus, Hayden was coming off a slew of unimpressive B-list movies and minor television appearances that didn't show off her talent. She had become, definitively, that girl from Heroes who really liked dolphins, at least in my brain. She would still show up on red carpets every now and again, and I didn't have any distinctly negative feelings about her, I was just fairly confident that her career was over. Or that if it wasn't, I didn't have much interest in what was left of it.

Because let's examine this for a moment. Hayden Panettiere came out of the gate pretty hot. Her first notable role, aside from the appearances on soaps and rando modeling gigs that pretty much every young actress has to go through, was providing the voice for the character of Dot in A Bug's Life in 1998. Damn, girl! That was a suuuper popular movie, which I know because I saw it, and I took in approximately zero pop culture in the '90s. And then she did a variety of other small projects until she got cast in Heroes in 2006 and became a huge star. I mean, she even had a tagline about her: ‘save the cheerleader, save the world.' She was primed to make it huge.

And then she just…didn't. I think part of the thing about Hayden is that this is a girl who doesn't turn her nose up at work. Even in the four years she was on Heroes, she was never snobby about taking on other projects, even if they weren't impressive. Unlike other actors who are so picky about the roles they take that they drift into obscurity, Hayden was so non-picky about her choices that it had kind of the same effect. After all, even if someone Oscar-baity like Jennifer Lawrence was signing onto projects like 2005's Racing Stripes, a movie about a zebra that pretends to be a horse, or 2008's Scooby Doo And The Goblin King it'd be hard to get her to be taken seriously in feature films down the line.

And once you're doing those sorts of roles, it's only a matter of time before the movie you shot in 2009, The Forger, is being released straight-to-DVD in 2012, and you're agreeing to star in Scream 4 and playing Amanda Knox in a Lifetime movie. Deep sequels, DVD releases, and a softly lit true-life crime drama? This is a career graveyard from which few actors return, you guys. This is dangerous territory. Once you throw in Hayden's misspelled tattoo — Vivere senza rimipianti [sic] — which, with the correct spelling of the word ‘rimpianti', would ironically mean ‘living without regrets', and you've got yourself a Grade A Hollywood tragedy. Nobody's coming back from that. Nobody.

Except Hayden Mothereffing Panettiere. That girl's got grit, y'know? She really does. I don't know how she got cast in Nashville, but she did, and she's been on an epic comeback ever since. Not only is Nashville a really excellent, addictive show, but Hayden is well cast and, frankly, killing it. Going in, I wasn't a fan of country music, soap operas, or Hayden herself, but the show is so good that it's made me come around to all three.

Because Hayden is really really great as Juliette Barnes, you guys. Honestly. She's able to be convincingly irritating and diva-esque when necessary, but she also manages to endow the character with enough sympathetic qualities that I haven't completely written her off. She does an excellent job of showing us how Juliette came to be the way she is, and she's also proven that she has access to deep wells of convincing emotion that I've actually been really impressed by. Plus she can sing! What the eff? Where was all this talent in Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil and I Love You, Beth Cooper, y'know? Where have you been hiding it?

I don't know how she did it, because it was against all odds, but Hayden Panettiere is back, you guys. Totally back. She's got a Golden Globe Award nomination under her belt, Nashville has been renewed for a second season, and Hayden is rumored to be engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Wladimir Klitschko. You are killing it lately, girl. We're hoping for great things for you in the years to come, but even if that's not how things work out, you've proven that you can rise above mediocrity and reclaim your career, so I am zero percent worried about your future.

Happy birthday, lady! Keep on crushing this comeback.

(Image: LJT Images / WENN.com)