Ladies We Love: Wendy Williams
By John Koblin
Welcome to the Wendy Williams experience. For the last couple years, as host of The Wendy Williams Show, she has stood out by going big. She's made a transformation from a bad-girl radio shock jock to a morning television personality. And in the process, she's created a new species of daytime talk. Beige? That's for Oprah or Rachael Ray. Leave the sneakers and the blazers and finger-snapping dances to Ellen. This is a suede thigh-high boot show. This is a hot pink show. It's loud. It's filled with disco balls (six of them, to be exact). It's got the signature catchphrase ("How you doin'?"). It's a show heavy in gossip.
And then there's Williams, onstage, relatively new to television, trying to figure out how to look at the camera and talk at the same time. She's someone who has music cut off her interviews because she doesn't know when to stop talking; someone who pulls Post-it notes out of her wig. It borders on vaudeville.
It's a mess. And inexplicably, and sort of beautifully, it works. "Nobody wants a polished talk show host," she says, cascading into laughter. "They want'me! A messy woman from New Jersey."
Apparently they do want her. Consider the show's audience. Each morning, two hours before the show goes live, roughly 150 people come out to her studio. While they wait, they are entertained by a DJ blasting Top 40 hits. Less than 10 minutes before the show starts, the entire audience is invited onstage. There's a full-out, fist-pumping dance party. "Where's all my alcoholics!" screams the DJ, playing "Shots" by LMFAO, as the studio audience goes nuts before a February taping. It isn't even 10 a.m. yet. "They are my cohosts," says Williams, referring to her audience. "I want them to have a good time."
Part of her appeal is how approachable she is. "I love Wendy because she's so extra," says Nakia Richardson, a 25-year-old New Yorker in the audience. Williams routinely goes into the audience during the Ask Wendy segment. When she does her daily Hot Topics routine -- gossip ranging from the A-list to the D-list -- her audience is encouraged to shout down at her. Williams seems genuinely interested in what her audience is interested in. While other daytime hosts are falling over for Will Smith and John Travolta, Williams talks about breast implants and wigs with Kim Zolciak of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
"I don't carry myself like I'm better than," says Williams. "Like, I had no idea who Esperanza Spalding was" -- referring to the young jazz musician who beat out Justin Bieber for the Best New Artist Grammy -- "and I know some highbrow people who'd say 'Oh, yes, I know exactly who that is.' Well I don't! So I asked my audience 'Do you know who she is?' Ninety percent of them were like 'No.' I said, 'Well, let me put you onto the game, 'cause I did some research.' "