Oprah Winfrey brought her charming and inspirational road show, dubbed An Evening With Oprah, to Vancouver's Rogers Arena Thursday night, mesmerizing the full house of 16,000 (mostly) sharp-dressed women who embraced her like a rock star.
Photograph by: Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald
No matter your opinion of her as a pop culture icon, no matter whether or not you are a charter member of her global fan club, it is hard not to admire Oprah Winfrey.
The impoverished upbringing amid racism and segregation in 1950s rural Mississippi. The sexual abuse and promiscuity as a teenager. The decades-long rise from regional broadcasting journalist to Fortune 500 billionaire multimedia mogul. The impressive present-day mantle of power as speaker, teacher, actress, producer, humanitarian and philanthropist with the unprecedented clout to sell a book, help elect a black president and, for many, be the voice of their generation.
No question about it: Winfrey is the poster girl for hard work, self-confidence, unwavering determination and the power of learning "to paint on the canvas that is your life."
And that was the message, loud and clear and often funny, on Thursday night when the influential one-time queen of daytime talk television and proprietor of both a best-selling magazine and an entire cable network, brought her charming and inspirational road show, dubbed An Evening With Oprah, to Vancouver's Rogers Arena, mesmerizing the full house of 16,000 (mostly) sharp-dressed women who embraced her like a rock star. (And they clearly didn’t mind that, like most rock stars, she was late to the stage, especially not after she was introduced by a surprise guest, her long-time boyfriend Stedman Graham, who called her “my girl” and a “transformer of peoples’ lives” and who was introduced by our very own Jimmy Pattison.)
Fresh off sold-out shows in Edmonton and Calgary, the two-hour love fest had Winfrey, five days shy of her 59th birthday, sharing insights from the good, the bad and the ugly of her own life, and along the way quoting her own personal prophets, from Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson and Toni Morrison to Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King and Joseph Campbell, with a few stories about Stevie Wonder, Chris Rock and Glenda the Good Witch thrown in for good measure.
Resplendent in a soft pink, big-pocketed gown, Winfrey gave a shout out to the Canucks and said she was grateful for the rain after a chilly Edmonton before telling the crowd what they had come to hear.
One part motivational, two parts spiritual, three parts confessional and all parts evangelical, the Winfrey message has varied little from the daily sermon she delivered for 25 years on The Oprah Winfrey Show, her renowned television pulpit.
The quotes, couched in common sense and sweet persuasion, came fast and furious, for at their core lie the things that Winfrey knows for sure. Thursday night was all about imparting her finely tuned life lesson, an expertly delivered repertoire of all that she has been and all that she has become.
Winfrey started with her humble beginnings and took the audience through to her recent struggles to maintain her media throne after decamping in 2011 from the top of the network ratings heap to kickstart her Oprah Winfrey Network. That much-hyped quest for "more meaningful television" suddenly found her out of the limelight and, to an even larger degree, off the celebrity radar. When her once record-setting audience, not to mention the support of advertisers and critics, failed to follow her dream, it "kicked my butt," she said, and prompted her to practice what she preaches, to embrace “Oprah’s Next Chapter.
“I’m in the climb,” she said. “I’m in the Grouse Grind. I’m climbing the mountain.”
The Winfrey we have come to know on-screen translates well in the flesh: There is about her an authoritative and energetic air, an aura that lets you know immediately that this is a strong woman who knows whereof she speaks, and to heed her school-of-hard-knocks advice might well be a good thing.
And as you watch her expertly work the crowd -- and there's no question she has the gift -- you realize that this universal worship of Oprah Winfrey, who after all is just a woman who became successful through a lot of toil and trouble, says more about ourselves than it does about her.
You watch the audience bask in her words and you think, here we are, seeking guidance, not from a village elder or a religious leader or even a family member or trained therapist, but from an enigmatic stranger who has somehow become the best friend in our living rooms, who has lived and survived our struggles, who gets us, and whose wisdom we seek to point us down the path of personal salvation. And if that nudging, that well-meaning self-determination lecture, comes wrapped in a dance with John Travolta or a controversial interview with a fallen-hero cyclist or even in a pair of My Favourite Things flannel pyjamas, well, that's why we love her.
As humans, we have always been attracted to the lights that shine so brightly among us -- consider our slavish and unholy devotion to professional athletes and red carpet celebrities -- just as we have always been in search of personal enlightenment, whether that means attending the "churches" of the Dalai Lama or Dr. Phil.
Winfrey, love her or not, is among the most revered new-age preachers on the planet, and we are her willing disciples, turning to her to help us unravel the mysteries of not only the universe but our personal orbits, our faces beaming with hope and the promise of a better future.
The irony, of course, is that Winfrey's message has always been to turn not outward for guidance, but inward, if we are truly to “become what we believe.”
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