Fans love Oprah, flaws and all
Countdown begins for Monday night’s Edmonton show
An Evening with Oprah
When: Monday at 7 p.m.
Where: Rexall Place
Tickets: Sold out
EDMONTON - She’s rich, generous, funny. She’s inspiring, glamorous, caring. But perhaps the most important reason why Oprah Winfrey is such an enduring phenomenon is this: she is someone we can identify with. Oprah is a person with flaws, a person with a past, a person who has suffered. She is one of us (with lots of money), a woman who cries, gushes, rants, gossips, kvetches, shops, gains weight, loses weight, gains weight. She’s not afraid to ask the dumb questions or the tough question, and she’s earned a loyal following thanks to her intimate interviewing techniques and her willingness to share her own stories.
“Oprah is a compelling story and she uses it every chance she gets,” says Julie Rak, a professor of English and film studies at the University of Alberta who has written about the American icon. “You feel like you know her and you probably do. She comes from rags to riches, she does not pity herself, she uses her past to connect with her interviews and her audience, and that’s why she’s different to anyone else on television.”
People have paid through the nose for tickets to the media mogul’s sold-out appearance at Rexall Place on Monday. Edmonton’s Kijiji pages are crammed with Oprah tickets for sale, as resellers are hoping to cash in on a major event. Why? Because Oprah is legend. It’s in part her “open heart” interviewing style, Rak says. “Oprah makes that her own genre. It doesn’t mean she’s the best interviewer. She’s good entertainment. She’s supposed to be ordinary. If she were brilliant, she’d alienate her audience.”
It’s also the reason so many major public figures — Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise, Barack Obama, Barbara Walters, Whitney Houston — have, over the years, sat down with Oprah for in-depth interviews and talked about sensitive subjects after turning other media away.
“Oprah is the most important interviewer in the English language world,” Rak says. “She can connect to her audience; you feel like you’re in the living room with her. You get a sense that Oprah’s in your life.”
That style makes interview candidates open up. On Monday, she did an exclusive interview with Lance Armstrong, the embattled cyclist at the centre of a doping scandal who has been stripped of his Tour de France titles. It’s being said that Armstrong comes clean in the highly anticipated interview, to be aired in two parts on the Oprah Winfrey Network starting Thursday (7 p.m. on Oprah’s Next Chapter, Thursday and Friday night).
But this is a coup as much for Armstrong as it is for the interviewer. Oprah is “one of the most popular television personalities of all time,” Rak explains, and it doesn’t seem to matter that her longtime daily talk show is no longer on the air. The Oprah Winfrey Show ended in 2011 after 25 years. It was the highest-rated talk show in American television history.
Oprah is more than a talk show. She is a brand that moves across media, Rak says, “a lot like Disney.” There’s O Magazine, the OWN television channel and Oprah.com. And the impacts of Oprah’s famous book club continue to this day. “Oprah was able to popularize the notion of a book club not just as a single thing in your house but something that’s shared with many people,” Rak says. “Her legacy, to me, is the book club.” Canada Reads would not exist if it weren’t for Oprah, she says, and she shifted the focus away from the product and onto the experience.
“Oprah was interested in what reading does for you, the impact of that. You could read something that’s a guilty pleasure or something that changes your whole life and both experiences are positive. She taught a lot of people who didn’t like reading that it’s a really good thing to do.”
The club faced criticism, especially from highbrow literary publications, and had its share of controversy over the years, notably the scandal involving James Frey, who it was revealed had fabricated elements of A Million Little Pieces (a book billed as memoir). But no one can deny the book club’s impact. The ‘Oprah effect’ turned obscure books into bestsellers and got people talking about reading.
“Because she does makeovers and because she gives stuff away, people thing she’s not smart enough to do the book club, because who does Nelson Mandela want as an interviewer? Oprah Winfrey. Who does Barack Obama want before he’s president? Oprah.”
While some revere her, Oprah has plenty of haters, too, people who resent her ridiculous wealth and sway, who think she’s a materialistic, power-crazed narcissist.
But diehard, devoted, hardcore, loyal, adoring — all of these characterize Oprah fans, who span the demographics but lean heavily toward women and left-leaning voters.
Oprah isn’t just one of the most famous people in the world. She’s one of the richest women in the world, and one of the richest Americans, too. According to Forbes, Oprah’s net worth in 2011 was $2.7 billion US, while her annual salary was $290 million. Her business savvy is why other female celebs like Madonna and Lady Gaga have cited Oprah as their inspiration. She “didn’t just want to be on television, she wanted to be in charge of the money,” Rak says. “She wanted to be an owner, not just a star.”
Oprah is renowned for her philanthropic efforts, for building infrastructure and being hands-on, rather than just writing cheques. And she’s equally lauded for her self-help efforts, her desire to encourage anyone and everyone to — as her slogan goes — “Live Your Best Life.”
Why will people pay hundreds of dollars to see Oprah in a massive arena?
Because she is one of the most influential people of our time, and so very human, too. “Since Oprah is so good with connecting with people on TV,” Rak says, “it’s possible she could be even better live.”
Join in the conversation on Monday night as Journal writers Marta Gold and Amanda Ash live-tweet from the Oprah show at Rexall Place. Follow along at edmontonjournal.com or on the hashtag #yegOprah. Use the same hashtag if you are Instagramming or tweeting any photos from the show. Watch for a collection of photos at pinterest.com/edmontonjournal.
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal