Jocelyn Kelley, founder and partner of Kelley & Hall Book Publicity in Marblehead, is among several Boston-area women who are going to Australia in December on Oprah Winfrey's dime. Kelley, who has appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" several times to discuss book club selections, will blog about the experience and the trip on Culture Desk. This is her first post, about her appearance on the show's season premiere last month:
You can feel the immediate presence of something larger than life the minute you walk through the doors of Harpo Studios, home to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in Chicago. Pictures line the walls showing Oprah with hundreds of celebrities, a virtual scrapbook of 25 years of television shows. Speakers broadcast previous shows, most specifically the "Favorite Things" episodes, in which audience members are given thousands of dollars worth of Oprah's favorite things. The cheering, applauding and general excitement gets the present-day audience members so pumped up that we start to resemble children waiting to get into Disneyworld. No one knows if the episode we have been invited to attend is a "Favorite Things" episode or the season premiere, but the feeling that something significant is going to happen is on everyone's mind.
"Oprah Winfrey Show" employees bustle around in a frenetic state of excitement and drive. They are all dressed head to toe in black and speak constantly into headsets that I can only assume connects them to the master control room.
To say it runs like a well-oiled machine is an understatement. After going through a quick security check we are presented with a deluxe boxed lunch. We are then led to a holding room, where we are instructed to fill out the forms that will allow us entry into the show. The details on the forms are straightforward, and the entire process takes just a few minutes to complete. As new people file in, the same instructions are repeated and by the end of our wait, we are amped up and ready for the main event!
When we finally make it into the studio, the excitement in the air is palpable. The studio is much smaller than it looks on television, but the enormous sense of awe, of being in the presence of such a major part of television history, is impossible to ignore. The audience is carefully filled in, as if each seat has been designated for a particular person. This is not a first-come, first-served approach, and there seems to be a method to their placement of audience members. Everything in the world of "Oprah" seems to be organized and efficient.
When we have all been seated, a member of Oprah's staff comes out and works on getting our energy up. "You've been watching this show for your entire life and now you're HERE!" she exclaims, clad in her all-black uniform. She dances across the stage in excitement, her feet barely touching the ground, as she gets the audience involved by asking questions and inspiring people to open up and share their own personal connections to Oprah and the show.
Finally, the lights dim and the audience shrieks with joy. The moment is upon us, and we have absolutely no idea what to expect. During our time in the holding room, many of us had come to the conclusion that we were all, in some way or another, ultimate viewers. Whether we had contacted the show producers through e-mail or by filling out information on Oprah.com, we had all been individually invited to attend this particular show. We could only surmise that this was a show of some significance.
The studio goes completely dark, and suddenly the back wall slowly starts to separate and bright studio lights shine from behind, illuminating two figures dancing toward center stage. The lights go up, and thunderous applause fills the studio as the dancing figures are revealed to be John Travolta and the one and only Oprah Winfrey.
The show itself centered on giving back to her audience, the people she credited with making her a success. We watched as guests of her first show appeared, 25 years later, with cute anecdotes of how the show had affected their lives. They profiled a man who has watched every single Oprah show from the comfort of his garage, in a barber shop chair. His wife considers Oprah the other woman in their relationship. There was a woman from Canada who started an orphanage in Africa because she wanted to make a difference in someone's life. And finally the group of friends from Boston who meet every day to watch "Oprah" and were surprised with a road trip to Chicago that eventually led them to center stage on the show.
The episode was filled with stories that ranged from light-hearted to enlightening. A past show started playing on the large screen behind Oprah. It was an episode in which she decided to take her entire audience to Philadelphia for the day. We sat watching the footage, waiting for the busload of people from that original Philadelphia trip to come rolling out on stage. But that didn't happen. Instead, the video stopped and Oprah started talking. "Because this is my last season, I wanted to do something BIG." And here is where the audience started to sense that we were in for something extraordinary. "I thought I could take you all to New York..." -- the screams intensified -- "but I don't have any business in New York." She teased, continuing through a list of possible destinations until finally saying, "Since this is my last season, I want to do something BIG, and when you want to do something BIG you want to take your ultimate viewers with you." If they say that true happiness is the anticipation of something wonderful, then I was smack dab in the center of happiness. "So that is why I have decided to take all of you ... with me ... to the other side of the world. WE'RE GOING TO AUSTRALIA!"
Confetti shot out of every square inch of the studio as men came out of the side doors wearing Crocodile Dundee-type hats, carrying koala bear stuffed animals and Australian flags. The stage doors parted again to reveal a life-sized Qantas airplane. The door to the plane opened, and a pilot descended the steps. But not just any pilot: John Travolta! He joined Oprah at center stage to tell us that he will be the pilot on our flight to Australia! The journey has only just begun, and I will update you every step of the way.