Who Is The Next Big Star of ‘Saturday Night Live’?

Kate McKinnonNBC Universal Media 

Now that Seth Meyers has exited from Saturday Night Live, the search has begun in earnest to see who is “next.” After all, the show has proven to be the launching pad for some of the biggest names in Hollywood both in movies and television.

Over the last few years, longtime cast members like Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis, and Bill Hader preceded Meyers out the door, leaving a void that the show is still trying to fill. One thing we’ve learned over the year, however, is not to underestimate producer Lorne Michaels’ eye for talent. So, who is SNL‘s next big star?

Taran Killam

Mr. Colbie Smulders has been on the show since 2010 but was behind a crowded group of male performers that could do many of the same things until the last two seasons. Tall and good looking, Killam’s impressions are normally of various pretentious male celebrities, from Brad Pitt to Robin Thicke to, most recently, Matthew McConaughey. A veteran of The Groundlings, Killam seems also to have hit upon a strong recurring character with 1860s critic Jebediah Atkinson, who originally appeared on Weekend Update to explain why he panned the Gettysburg Address and has since popped up to offer his scathing opinions of holiday specials and the Oscar nominees for Best Picture. It’s taken a little while, but Killam is finally starting to stick out in the audience’s minds.

Kate McKinnon

McKinnon took the torch from Wiig as the female cast member that doesn’t mind going gonzo. Her impressions of Justin Bieber and Ellen DeGeneres bristle with a manic energy that hints at her barely contained glee at what she’s doing. She’s also has become the go-to for Weekend Update guests, whether as a Russian peasant trying to make money off of the Sochi Olympics or as a Connecticut soccer mom that doesn’t think Grand Theft Auto is violent enough. She’s been heralded for being the show’s first lesbian cast member (she was on The Big Gay Sketch Show prior to SNL), but her sexual orientation is completely secondary to her talent. In a short amount of time, she’s made a strong impression on viewers and critics alike with her fearlessness.

Cecily Strong

Strong has a little bit of Amy Poehler in her, which is never a bad thing. She may look nothing like the former SNL standout, but she matches her in diversity. A Chicago native and Second City veteran, she is equally adept at delivering timely quips behind the Weekend Update desk as she is playing self-absorbed teen Kyra, host of Girlfriends Talk Show. Like McKinnon, she started with the show in 2012 and has quickly made a name for herself. It’s not too far-fetched to think that after her run on the show that Strong will end up doing a sitcom, just like… well, you know.

Jay Pharoah

Pharoah is criminally overlooked when it comes to the current SNL cast. Like Killam, he’s been with the show since 2010, but he’s still only 26 years old. Besides doing President Barack Obama, Pharoah basically ends up playing any black male celebrity that longtime cast member Kenan Thompson can’t. He also normally gets called upon to rap or sing (his take on Ylvis’ “What Does the Fox Say?” with Kerry Washington was one of this season’s highlights) any time that the writers can fit it in. Pharoah was outspoken on the need for the show to add an female African-American cast member, so he’s not just happy to be on the show. He might end up being one of those performers whose career really takes off after he leaves SNL and everyone forgets that he cut his teeth there.

Vanessa Bayer

Aidy Bryant is more polarizing, and Bobby Moynihan and Thompson have been around longer, but what Bayer has is consistency. She’s taken over where Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer as the female cast member called upon to fill the suburban housewives and soccer moms. She’s not a one-trick pony, though. Her Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy is one of the show’s only standing recurring characters and her Miley Cyrus impression was funny enough to earn her a shot at doing it alongside the real thing when she hosted. Bayer is a dark horse candidate to become the show’s next big star, but she’s talented enough that all it would take is one buzz-worthy role outside of the show to change people’s perception of her.