The Oprah bonanza

16 December 2010

Written by: Renee Tibbs

‘O’ Day has been and gone.

O-mazing, O-ver exaggerated and O-lot of fun best sums up the Oprah Winfrey extravaganza.

35 days after receiving the email that said, ‘Congratulations, your Oprah Show ticket request has been successful,’ the day finally arrived to see one of the most powerful women live on stage.

I stood in line in Macquarie Street in Sydney, three and a half hours early, with my purple coloured wrist band and my highly saught-after Oprah’s Ultimate Australian Adventure ticket grasped tightly in my hand. I was surrounded by die-hard Oprah fans, mostly middle-aged women who had spent many an afternoon sitting in front of the television at 1pm to catch their favourite talk show host. Some had taken the day off work, others travelled from interstate (like me) or even from overseas just to get amongst the Oprah hype.

I considered myself lucky to have scored a ticket to the show after my sister went into the ballot system with no realistic expectation of ever getting an allocated ‘golden ticket’. Oprah herself confirmed that 350,000 Australians had applied in the ballot, with only 12,000 being successful.

I wouldn’t label myself a ‘die-hard’ Oprah fan. Sure, I know who she is, I’ve watched the show and always been intrigued with her access to the Hollywood stars, her ‘favourite things’ episodes and ‘wildest dreams’ adventures, but I wasn’t going to pass up this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see the queen of American TV at work.

As I took to my plastic seat in Section C of the forecourt area, I realised just how spectacular this production was. Six thousand people covering the steps of the Sydney Opera House, perfect blue skies, the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a backdrop, Oprah’s 302 American guests seated front and centre of the stage amongst Australian celebrities like Curtis Stone and Oprah’s ‘bestie’ Gayle King. It was quite a spectacular sight.

Ross ‘Daddy Cool’ Wilson treated the crowd to some pre-show entertainment, lifting everyone to their feet with a rendition of Eagle Rock, and at 4.55pm there was a buzz of excitement as the countdown to Oprah’s Ultimate Australian Adventure began.

‘Oprah, Oprah, Oprah, oi oi oi,’ chanted the crowd.

Squeals, shrieks and high-pitched yells could be heard any time the word ‘Oprah’ was mentioned, but it was the mesmerising presence of the lady herself that saw the audience transfixed in awe of the famous media mogul.

And there from the wings of the stage came Oprah Winfrey, dressed in a Collette Dinnigan-designed pink top and long white coloured skirt. ‘Helloooo Sydney!’ were the first words she shouted. ‘Hello Australia!’ She then went on to say, ‘You haven’t lived unless you’ve wandered through Australia.’

Whether a die-hard fan or not, to see this billionaire in person, (even if she was just that speck in the distance), an African-American woman who has made a career out of talking with celebrities and everyday people, establishing charities and making  dreams come true, was unexpectedly an overwhelming moment.

She talked in her usual exaggerated form with an air of confidence and excitement. She chatted willingly to the audience in the ad breaks, talking about her Australian adventure and her fear of tasting Vegemite,  careful to remember the support she’d received from the audience over her 25-year career, saying that the show was ‘all about the people.’ Despite an allergic reaction to the eye-shadow she was wearing, she appeared genuinely excited to be in the Sydney sun.

She talked about her love for the Australian people, our way of life, and made continuous mention to the red ‘O’ featured predominately on the Sydney Harbour Bridge at night time. ‘I’ve got an O on the Bridge,’ she said. ‘I can’t believe I’ve got my own O.’

She wasn’t shy about her wealth or lavish lifestyle either, telling the crowd it normally takes ‘a village of people’ to get her ready in the morning. ‘That’s what happens when you get rich, you get somebody to dress you,’ she said. She is worth an apparent $2.5 billion after all. ‘And I still can’t get TVs to work, I need people to help me with that, so by the time the weekend comes I don’t know what to do with myself,’ she laughed. Lucky then that her ‘entourage of people’ were in attendance at every ad break to fix her hair, touch up her makeup or wipe the sweat off her brow.

The show itself featured a start studded line-up, with U2’s Bono, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban and Olivia Newton John all taking the stage with Oprah to share their Australian experiences, traditions and memories. Oprah even tasted Vegemite and declared it ‘delicious’ and ‘not something to fear.’

But the show wasn’t without its glitches. Hugh Jackman made a grand entrance flying from the top of the Opera House to the stage, travelling too fast on a flying fox and coming to an abrupt halt, leaving him with an eye injury. Nicole and Keith’s interview was less than entertaining with conversation turning into Oprah’s love for Scrabble as she attempted to drag the conversation into greater length. Oprah also lost a fake eyelash, had watery eyes from her makeup and some microphones failed to work. But as they say in showbiz, the show must go on, and go on it did.

The finale was nothing short of spectacular as all the guests united on stage to sing I Still Call Australia Home, alongside the Gondwana National Indigenous Children’s Choir, as a huge Australian flag was draped over the audience.

Oprah ended the show with some wise words: ‘Live your life on purpose, it’s the only one you have. I believe if you give your best then the best will come to you in return.’

And then, after 140 minutes on stage, just like that, she was gone and the Oprah extravaganza was over.

So was ‘Project O’ worth the $4 million taxpayers spent on the TV talk show queen? That’s debatable, but I will say one thing in her defence: she’s approachable. She doesn’t shy away from the media, she answers questions, she stops to talk and takes photos with guests, even winding down the window of a passing vehicle to wave and chat to media and passersby as she left Sydney airport last week. She may be powerful, but she’s not a total snob.

But all good things must come to an end. Oprah came, she saw, she conquered and promised she would be back.

And although I didn’t walk away with a new car or a trip overseas, I did pick up a pink diamond necklace and the once in a lifetime chance of seeing the great Oprah Winfrey herself.

Sarah Baker is a La Trobe Journalism graduate. A slightly different version of this article was published over at Crikey.