For years, people have ribbed me for being what they insisted was an obsessive Oprah fan.
It’s a charge I’ve often denied, spouting all the intellectual reasons why I watched The Oprah Winfrey Show and admired her successes. But when I really think about it, I can see why my friends might categorize me as fanatical.
My DVR is 95 percent full with 37 episodes of Oprah, 15 Oprah Behind the Scenes and two Oprah Presents Master Class.
When I ran my first marathon, beating Oprah’s time was my goal – and I did it!
And throughout 25 seasons, I've been known to cite "Oprah" as the source of much of the information I've shared with friends.
So I was thrilled last week when a friend gave me her extra ticket for the taping of the two-day farewell event scheduled for broadcast at 4 p.m. Monday and Tuesday on WXYZ-TV, Channel 7. On Wednesday, May 25, The Oprah Show—as we know it—will come to an end. The talk show host has said she will now focus her attention on OWN, her cable network.
Those who know me best know that, for me, this farewell season is akin to the end of Seinfeld or Friends. Oprah’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, dating back to before syndication, when her show was simply called AM Chicago.
At the time, the affinity I had for Oprah may have been based on little else than the fact that Oprah and I were both black girls from Mississippi, born to teenage moms. (Coincidentally, our families had reunions there during the same weekend in 2007. Oprah didn’t attend, but I did spot her dad at our hotel and proudly introduced myself.) It's kinda cool that we’d both end up in Chicago, pursuing journalism careers and counting author and poet Dr. Maya Angelou among the people we most admire.
Today, I think of Oprah as the big sister I never had. She introduced me—and millions of others—to the best mascara and the best bra fit, and encouraged us to choose wisely in relationships. She shined a light on important issues ranging from texting while driving to sexual abuse, culiminating with a show this season in which 200 men who were molested spoke up to help others.
She’s the kind of person you want to be friends with—not because you’d have some fabulous adventures, but because she tells it like it is, she shows compassion, and she makes you smarter.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten came from some of her guests:
Angelou, on relationships: “When people show you who they are, believe them, the first time.”
Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, on showing your children you care: “When a kid walks into the room, does your face light up?”
An avid viewer, no doubt. But I'm not over-the-top, attempting to indulge in all of Oprah's Favorite Things. My short list: Chicago's Garrett Popcorn, grilled cheese from in Royal Oak, and Cookie Johnson's awesome fitting jeans.
It’s surreal to think I won’t be tuning in anymore—and that I was among the loyal viewers who witnessed the historic final episodes being filmed.
Dubbed Oprah’s Surprise Spectacular, it was a star-packed night, filled with performances and tributes by more than two dozen A-list celebrities, including Tom Hanks, Beyonce, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jordan and Stevie Wonder. One of the highlights was Angelou reciting her latest work, created just for O’s special night and the tapings capped with Usher singing one of my favorite gospel songs, “Oh, Happy Day.”
It wasn’t the first Oprah show I’d attended. During Season 12, I scored a seat in her intimate studio audience. (During one of the Iyanla Vazant self-help episodes, I’m the woman in the brick red jacket nearly falling over the railings trying to get O’s attention as she enters the studio. She gave me a high-five!)
This time the taping was at Chicago's United Center. As I sat there among the thousands of fans—and friends—who came to bid Oprah farewell, I noticed the stadium was adorned with “screen-grab” images from her TV show. I recognized every guest, from Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel to young poet and peace activist Mattie Stepanek. I had seen nearly every episode. When highlights from the past 25 years were shown, it was as if the producers had borrowed my VHS collection, because they were all among my favorites.
What I loved most was the event was less about Oprah’s celebrity and more about paying tribute to the difference she has made in the lives of so many—whether by encouraging people to read (and boosting the sale of books by about $30 million) through the Oprah Book Club; helping people in need through her Angel Network; or paying for the education of hundreds of Morehouse men through the Oprah Winfrey Scholarship.
Madonna said it best at that taping when she remarked that Oprah is "doing what she can to make the world a better place,” and she does so amid much criticism.
While most of us there just wanted to say “thank you,” some admittedly were hoping for some amazing giveaway.
Dan Markos of Ann Arbor said he appreciated the opportunity for what it was—a chance to be a part of history.
“Just being here is the ultimate gift,” he said.
I couldn’t agree more.