I should first come clean and admit that I am not a rabid, lifelong fan of the Oprah Winfrey show. In fact, in the last 25 years that her show has been on air, I’ve probably only seen it a handful of times, most likely home with the flu, propped up on one elbow eating Raman noodles. Otherwise I’m just not a big consumer of daytime television. But regardless of this, you simply can’t deny that the woman is an absolute powerhouse – a dynamic, creative, philanthropic tour de force with a Midas touch for new talent, books, and presidential candidates.
So two weeks ago when our Dove client offered me and a work colleague tickets to attend the final taping of Oprah in Chicago, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. Dove has had a long relationship with Oprah, and she’s been a great supporter of their work to foster young girls’ self-esteem. It made sense that Dove would have access to the final shows, but I had no idea what to expect. Because of Oprah’s notorious history of exceptional audience swag, everyone had theories about what we’d “get.” Cars. Planes. iPads. Trips to Tahiti. I, personally, was hoping for an email with flash mob choreography instructions and black-tie wardrobe direction. (By the way, if you’ve never seen the famous record-breaking flash mob with the Black Eyed Peas, you must: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aSbKvm_mKA )
“It’s got to be big. I heard about the car thing, so maybe everyone in the audience gets a twin-engine plane,” offered my husband, John.
But upon arrival in Chicago, it became quickly apparent that this was not a small, intimate affair. So plane/car swag was unlikely. After navigating throngs of fans outside the United Center, we made our way to the Dove sky box where we were able to grasp the scale of this party. This was not a studio taping of a talk show. This was a star-studded awards show, with 13,000 dedicated fans, and just one honoree.
By the way, we also learned that it was indeed NOT the last show—it was both the third and second to-last; *he last show remains a mystery to riffraff like me. The rest of the evening unfolded as a virtual cavalcade of A-list stars, each paying tribute to the Big O. Tom Hanks played MC. Following were Tom Cruise, Madonna, Jerry Seinfeld, Katie Holmes, Dakota Fanning, Michael Jordan, Maria Shriver, Diane Sawyer, Rosie O’Donnell, Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, Josh Grobin, Rascal Flatts, Jamie Foxx, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Maya Angelou (poetry accompanied by Alicia Keys), Usher... I know I’m forgetting several. And then there were the hundreds of South African students, Katrina victims, scholarship recipients, library benefactors, sponsored Morehouse graduates, and more. It lasted over five hours and was literally exhausting.
But as overwhelmed as I felt in a sky box hundreds of yards away, I was totally impressed by Oprah’s composure throughout the evening. She had no idea what was coming next (and publicly admits she hates surprises), yet she graciously acknowledged each tribute with just the right amount of emotion and appreciation. I would have been on the floor.
It became so clear. This woman was rightfully dubbed (arguably) one of the century’s most influential people by Time, CNN, and countless national publications. Not because she had a successful daytime talk show, but because she uses every angle of her success to pay it forward, to encourage people to read, to become tolerant, to get educated, to plant trees.
So do you want to know what I got from my experience at one of the last Oprah shows? Literally? A sweatshirt (which my daughter Alex has already adopted), and a vinyl tote bag filled with DVDs, t-shirts, a visor, a blanket, picture frame, whatever. But in all honesty, what I really got was an extraordinary chance to witness a bit of broadcast history. And I came to appreciate a woman whose humanitarian spirit transcends talk shows, book clubs, and spin-offs.
Ms. Winfrey, I’m late to the fan club. But I look forward to seeing what you do next.