ST. PAUL — Oprah Winfrey played many roles Saturday, Jan. 11, at Xcel Energy Center. Motivational speaker. Master interviewer. Sunday morning preacher. Infomercial spokeswoman. Philosophy professor (whose edibles just kicked in).
But what could have felt like a dry, dull seminar in lesser hands turned out to be a high-energy day of inspiration with moments of both pure joy and deep introspection, all delivered by one of the most famous women on the planet.
It certainly helped that Oprah was — to use a very Oprah-like word — extremely present. From the moment the 65-year-old Mississippi native took the stage at 9:43 a.m., she went out of her way to engage with the sold-out crowd of about 15,000 and make the St. Paul hockey arena feel more like a backyard barbecue.
“Helloooo Twin Cities,” she boomed as Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” played in the background. “This may be the one place where the color purple means as much to you as it does to me. Let’s go Vikings!”
She kicked things off talking about her obsession with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which was strong enough to drive her to apply for a job at WCCO. She thanked the women and “the few cool men” who showed up for the event, which ran more than six hours. She gave clothes to a pair of pajama-clad fans wrapped in blankets because they were locked out of their hotel room.
And each time she invited a guest on stage — reality television star Julianne Hough, fitness trainer Angela Manuel Davis — Oprah didn’t scurry off backstage, but walked out onto the arena floor, took a seat in the crowd and listened, clapped and cheered along with everyone else.
One thing that may have surprised some of Oprah’s fans who paid hundreds of dollars for tickets was the hard sell for WW, the rebranded Weight Watchers that she now partially owns. To be clear, the full event title is "WW Presents Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus," so it’s not like she was hiding it. Still, she kept WW — or at least its “wellness that works” philosophy — front and center all day and even pulled out WW CEO Mindy Grossman at one point.
Oprah didn’t give anyone cars, but ticketholders did find a burlap tote bag at their seat with a workbook, pen, travel-size samples from the tour’s sponsors (Degree, Vaseline and Love, Beauty and Planet), a $10 Kohl’s gift certificate and two WW snacks. It also included a voucher for a boxed lunch from Panera served during a mid-event break.
Wait, a workbook? Yup, a 56-page workbook filled with soft-focus photos of nature and Oprah being awesome along with many of the terms and phrases she used throughout the program, like “wellness intention,” “aligning your life choices with your beliefs” and “realize your focus.”
She told the crowd “you can have it all … you just cannot have it all at once” and “when you’re overweight, you don’t need anyone to tell you” and “you have to create the vision and then name it, claim it, own it.” Oh, and this: “I don’t need any more money or any more shoes, I just want to take what I know and … help others. I want you to receive it. I want you to live a life you deserve.” (Oprah, if you’re reading this, I do need more money and more shoes.)
With all the talk of WW, Oprah did open up about her own weight issues, relatable (“I was eating my fears”) and not so much (she once skipped a party at Don Johnson’s because she was ashamed of her weight). As she famously did on her TV show, Oprah did both the down-to-earth thing and the wealthy celebrity thing. She casually dropped names like Beyonce, Stevie Wonder and Tina Turner in her anecdotes, which were heavy with quotes from the books she’s read. At one point, she talked about growing up in poverty and vowing she would someday own a house with six trees and how now she has 3,600 trees in her front yard alone. (She hired a guy to count them for her.)
The tour is visiting nine cities, each with a unique guest Oprah interviews on stage. Some of the stars, like Lady Gaga and Michelle Obama, can headline arenas on their own. Los Angeles got Jennifer Lopez, Atlanta got Dwayne Johnson and San Francisco got Kate Hudson.
In St. Paul, “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” star Tina Fey was the guest and she got into the full Twin Cities spirit. On Friday, she joined Oprah at the Mary Tyler Moore statue on Nicollet Mall to recreate Moore’s iconic beret toss, video of which Oprah screened for the beaming crowd. Fey opened by speaking, at great length, about her long-running WW membership and even gave a big plug to the company’s smartphone app.
From there, the pair chatted about Fey’s career, her impending 50th birthday (Oprah said you’re just getting started in your 50s) and how Fey wants to steal Gayle King from Oprah.
One of the biggest laughs of the day came when Oprah asked Fey what excites her most. Her response: “I’m dead inside, Oprah.”
Fey ended her interview by telling Oprah that’s she’s the closest thing Fey has to a religion. “You. You are my church,” she told Oprah, a sentiment surely shared by more than a few in attendance.