People's Sexiest Man Alive: John Legend

Previously in this series:

Idris Elba, Sexiest Man Alive

“Gwen,” Idris asked, “Is there anything you and Blake have not told me that you should have?” He reached down to the floor and tugged the gag away from her mouth.

“Cooper lives,” she said dully. “Blake could never find him. It was a stag’s heart we presented to the council.”

“I always wondered,” Idris said, “how far Blake could have possibly gotten without you.”

“Not very,” Gwen said.

“No, not very,” Idris agreed. “I thank you for telling the truth to me.”

“If a lie could have helped me,” Gwen answered, “I would have used it.”

Blake Shelton, Sexiest Man Alive

"You shrink from me," Gwen said placidly, "even now you lean away from my presence. You would run, if you thought you could." She tapped the mask that covered her face. "I wear this for you, that you might never have to look upon the evidence of my love for you. That you might be protected from the consequences of what you asked of me, from the proof that my love is stronger than yours. Because it shames you, that I carved the beauty from my face, that I might add it to your own. Because it frightens you that I did not flinch from it, that I did not stay my own hand."

"I am not afraid of you," Blake said. 

"How like you," Gwen said, gesturing toward the fire and snuffing it abruptly out, "to try to lie to me, even now. May we get back to the topic at hand?"

David Beckham, Sexiest Man Alive

Hugh. George. Matthew. Johnny. Ryan. Bradley. Channing. Pierce. Ben. Brad. He kept these names always at the forefront of his mind, naming each one at the pace of his breath and his feet. For as long as he could remember, he had been running.

The names feed the machine. So it was Good not to be named. He had lost the name long ago, along with the Vanity he once wore on his face.

“Sexiest. Man. Alive.” Adam had told him that night, when they reached the Faceless Wastes. “Those are the three words that will kill you. Those are the three words that will make you take another man’s life. Those are the three words you will never say again.”

“The Three Words,” the hooded figures behind him had moaned. “Bid farewell to the three words.”

What-was-Chris had not whimpered when What-was-Adam shaved his head tight like a drum, stretching out his scalp and dredging a short blade across it, nicking the skull. What-was-Chris flinched only a little when they held a candle long and low across his forearms until the fat below the skin whistled and popped, when they slashed his eyelids and ripped the lashes out by the roots, when they hacked at his lips til his teeth stretched out into a skullhead’s grin and smashed every joint from shoulder to knuckle.

Chris Hemsworth, Sexiest Man Alive

Privately, he asked his agent — who had seen more than a few Ceremonies — how to handle the knife. She had looked steadily in his eyes for a minute, then nodded.

“You’ll want to apply enough pressure that you sever the major arteries without cutting too deeply into his neck and risk exposing the trachea and the esophagus,” she said. “It’s messy, and it’s embarrassing, and it’s never a good sign for the year to come. You want a clean bloodletting.”

He smiled, and nodded, as if that was a normal conversation to have with your agent.

“This might not be your year, though,” she added, but neither of them believed it.

Adam Levine, Sexiest Man Alive

“And on the last day of the Sexiest Man Alive’s reign, he shall baptize the new Man in his blood, and with his blood shall the new Man be consecrated,” Mary J. Blige read from a book of human skin. Everyone was looking at him. Why was everyone looking at him?

“I’m sorry,” he said vaguely to the air, still looking at everything but Channing’s ruined face. “I’m really, really sorry.”

“It has happened before,” Channing said. “It will happen again. It will happen to you. Do it now.” Adam squeezed the stone knife so hard he felt the outline of it against his bones. He has a child, he thought. A wife and a child. “I can’t,” he heard himself say. “I can’t.”

Channing rattled his chains. “It’s the Sexiest Man Alive,” he growled. “I watched Bradley Cooper twitch in a pool of his own filth at my feet, and I showed him no mercy with these two hands.” There was blood on his mouth. “While I live, you cannot reign. Kill me. DO IT. Kill me. Kill me.”

Adam lifted a shaking hand and pointed the knife at Channing’s throat. “What I am about to do, I do for beauty,” he chanted.

“What we are about to do, we do for beauty,” the hooded crowd replied. Somewhere, the ghost of Ryan Reynolds smiled.

He’d barked out something halfway between a squeal and a laugh when the bracelet activated, soldering itself to his wristflesh and pulsing with a steady, unassuming light. He imagined his reaction would be repeated later, a thousand times all over town, when everyone else learned the news, when every other Potential’s bracelet coughed open and clattered unblinking to the floor. People (not People) had been declaring the Idris Year for at least the last decade. That it had finally come seemed unthinkable. That it could ever end defied reality. Idris had brought back the romantic comedy, the true heart of Bradley Cooper, re-established the cableknit councils. That there could be an end to the Idris Year, once it had begun, was unthinkable.

And yet here John was, thinking it.

So. Very little time left, and a great deal to accomplish in it. Which left no time at all for thinking about how many people were, at present, repeating his name in incredulous tones, or placing bets, or bringing those old Arthur screenshots back into circulation, or laughing and turning off the news.

“You’re a nice guy,” his agent had reassured him earlier that year. “Everyone knows that – Nice guy, good father, loving husband, something about a piano, middle-of-the-pack, absolutely nothing to worry about.”

“So why give me the bracelet at all?” John had said. “If I’m such an obvious middle-of-the-pack non-contender.”

“Have I offended you in some way, John?” she asked. “I don’t mean it as an insult. I’m no Idris Elba myself. No one is.”

“I’m not insulted.”

“Good. You shouldn’t be. If I thought you’d be thinking of yourself as an Idris Elba type all this time, I’d never have signed you. You’ve got plenty going for you. It’s not a knock against you that you’re not – Him.”

They’d both sighed then, a little against their will.

Let the world set itself against his coming, then; he’d been set against it himself. The man against whom all contenders cometh. From downstairs there came a great clatter, and a great belch of smoke and fire. Fine; what need had the Sexiest Man Alive for a house, for a family – either they would make good their escape and honor him with their cunning, or they would remain and burn and serve as part of his coronation smoke. No matter the outcome, John Legend would gain from it.

“Tell me again what a safe choice I am,” John said.

Idris grinned widely up at him from the floor, panting still. “I do not accept this. You don’t kill me. You don’t even hold the gun of the man who kills me. I do not accept death from your hands.”

“John’s only for fetch-wood carry-water,” John sang, trilling his Rs a little. “John’s only for piano-nice, for stage-smiles, for sweetgrace, John’s the errand-dog, the middleman. John can’t tackle the big boys. John can’t even see past their kneecaps.”

“John can’t,” Idris said carefully, “see the forest – for the trees. You don’t understand, the plans I’ve already set in motion, the blood magic that protects me and binds you, can’t – see what’s right in front of you – too focused on looking for me –”

“I don’t have a good line for that,” John admitted before pulling the trigger.

No poetry, no heroics. Unglamorous and unexciting. But it was still a death. It still counted. John Legend was the Sexiest Man Alive, and if Idris had been sexier before him, had sculpted more compelling, more intricate, more dizzying deaths in the last year, well – that year was still over. Dead was dead. Nothing was safer than that.