Wendy Williams Grateful for Tupac, Will Smith Insults
This story first appeared in the May 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Last fall, the Debmar-Mercury daytime talk show The Wendy Williams Show — No. 1 among women 25-to-54 in key markets including Chicago, Philadelphia and New York (where it is filmed) — was renewed for two more seasons through 2014. Now host Wendy Williams, 47, who parlayed an incredibly successful 20-year-plus career in radio into a TV show, faces her 500th episode since the July 2008 premiere (she gave up her radio show a year later). It’s only her latest milestone: She’s a New York Times best-selling author and designer of a QVC fashion jewelry line, Adorn, that this fall will include shoes.
“I’m going to have everything from bitchy, stylish, five-inch heels to very comfortable flats with a pointy toe,” she says, adding that her shoes will be available up to a size 12. She’s competed on Dancing With the Stars; appeared in numerous television series including daytime soap One Life to Live and Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva; and has a cameo in the Steve Harvey hit film Think Like a Man. Williams, a married mother of an 11-year-old son, is finalizing a wide-ranging production deal that will have her producing reality and scripted fare. She also wants to turn her two memoirs (The Wendy Williams Experience and Wendy’s Got the Heat) into a biopic. Asked who would play her, the New Jersey native replies: "I'm ready to play myself."
The Hollywood Reporter: You will mark your 500th show on May 23. What have been your best show moments?
Wendy Williams: Well, gee, I certainly have enjoyed the times Paula Abdul coming on the day of the 500th show. And Paula Abdul is our kind of people.
THR: How is she your kind of people? Explain.
Williams: She’s slightly tilted. Like the show, like me, like the people who watch the show. I mean, we’re all flawed, nobody’s perfect.
THR: How are you a good interviewer?
Williams: I’m a curious person. My mom and dad are very, very smart. Writing and conversation were musts when I was growing up. There was no TV in the kitchen; you had to come with intelligent talk about something. They didn’t want to hear any stupid foolishness.
THR: Have you ever found yourself in a really uncomfortable interview?
Williams: Meredith Baxter was here [on May 2] and she’s a really deep and interesting woman but it was really awkward talking to her. It didn’t seem like she wanted to be here.
THR: What do you do in situations like that?
Williams: Just power through. [Baxter has] written a very interesting book [Untied] about alcoholism and abuse. She’s been making her rounds. But I appreciate all my guests, the uncomfortable, the comfortable, all of them.
THR: When your show pans to the audience, I see a lot of hair.
Williams: Thanks for observing that! (Laughter.) Those are my people. See, that’s the part that makes our show so special. It starts with me, but it includes a fabulous co-host — my studio audience. We do remind them that this is not just any talk show, so when you come, we want you to be lively, use the extra hairspray. You know how they say that when you think you’re over-accessorized, take one thing off? Not us! Put something else on and come to Wendy!
THR: Who do you think your daytime competitors are?
Williams: Everybody from Judge Judy, Rachael Ray, Dr. Drew. Judge Judy isn’t even a talk show. But I’m a Judge Judy junkie.
THR: Do you think you’re filling a void for African-American audiences?
Williams: Yes. I’m the only black person at this point on daytime with my own show. Sherri [Shepherd] and Whoopi Goldberg are there with Barbara Walters [on The View]. When I first got started, a lot of people were like, “So now that Oprah’s gone, do you feel it’ll be easier for you?” And my answer was always, “While I love and respect Oprah, that’s not the kind of talk show I plan on doing.” And people couldn’t see beyond that because all they saw was my blackness. Now I think people get it.
THR: You have a fashion line on QVC, you’ve written books. Would you want to have your own network like Oprah?
Williams: No. I’ve learned that’s way too much work. I would love to be able to do a few more years of the talk show, to send my son to college off the Wendy show money and for him to grow up to be a good human being, unaffected by his mother’s craziness.
THR: Have you ever considered political office?
Williams: No! I’m not scared to be investigated because I’ve outed myself regarding everything. I just don’t have time for the waffling.
THR: President Obama recently made news for finally coming out in favor of gay marriage. How do you feel about gay marriage?
Williams: I’m for gay marriage. I’ve been married for 14 years. Marriage is not for everybody, it’s not easy and divorce is there for a reason. If a gay person wants to get married, get married.
THR: Are you disappointed in his first term?
Williams: No. I feel as though the country was in such a pit and it’s not just the fault of the politicians. It’s people who were spending more money than they were bringing in, the banks for signing off on loans when they knew damn well people couldn’t afford it. It's our fault for having champagne tastes on a beer budget.
THR: You said you would never run for office, but would you ever campaign for Obama?
Williams: I’m having a very softball conversation with you right now about politics. But I would never share with you what I talk about around my kitchen table, you know what I'm saying? And I suspect that for most entertainers, if their fans knew what they really thought about issues they probably wouldn’t like them.
THR: Many people think that Oprah alienated some viewers when she endorsed Obama in 2008.
Williams: Which is a shame, but that is a cautionary tale. It’s not just that. George Clooney is a wonderful philanthropist. But I’ve heard regular people say, "Would he just shut up and be hot?" Maybe it’s your obligation to use your celebrity for more than just your new BMW. I use mine to make people smile and hopefully there is something in your personal life that you can take away from every Wendy show, whether it’s that that lump in my throat could be thyroid disease like Wendy has, or I didn't realize so-and-so was an alcoholic. Learning and entertaining can go hand-in-hand. But the second Wendy starts talking about politics in a deeper way; I don't know that I care anymore. Just stick to the formula that’s working, Wendy.
THR: Do you think you’re nicer now than you were when you were on the radio?
Williams: Being on TV in front of people is a lot different than sitting in a dark room with a microphone. When I had my radio show, I was on four hours a day for 20-something years. If you put a live microphone in front of Mother Teresa for that amount of time, she’d piss somebody off. I was 21 years old when my radio career began out of college. By the time I was 26-years-old, it was on fire. There was a little money; there was a lot of popularity. I’m not a different person necessarily, but I have different responsibilities in my life. Like, to my son, I want to do right by him. I want him to be proud. But I still have my edge.
THR: Tupac, Jay-Z, Will Smith and Mariah Carey have all insulted you in songs. How do you feel about that?
Williams: Without those song mentions, I might not be on TV right now. There is a large segment who may have never heard about me on the radio, but they heard Tupac tell me I needed to go to Jenny Craig. Or Mariah Carey tell me that I’m all up in her business. So I love them for that.
THR: Who will your next feud be with?
Williams: I don’t pick them, I never have. Things just happen. (Laughter.) People are so sensitive.