On a recent episode of Ellen, the audience of mostly young women went guano crazy when they found out Justin Timberlake was the show’s primary guest. When the surprise was revealed, the audience went wild. Not ‘Oprah’s Giving Me A Car’ Wild, but close.
Amid the initial pandemonium, the camera pans the audience on three white-haired women who may or may not know who Justin Timberlake is. I’m pretty sure that they missed Ellen’s clue that the mystery guest “looks good in a suit and tie.”
After Justin reveals himself, he dances up the aisles and the women shift to a new level of screaming zombies Every now and then, the camera finds one of the few men in the audience calmly watching Timberlake, but so calmly that it’s hard to tell if they’re fans or not. One thing for sure, they’re an uncomfortable minority in the sea of near-orgasmic women. Same for the older trio – even if they were fans, their quiet demeanor set them apart.
Alone in my office, I laughed out loud, remembering my own Oprah moment. Through a friend’s contact, I was in the audience of The Oprah Winfrey Show (above left) at Harpo Studios in Chicago. I have never loved Nan as much before or since. It was 2003 or 2004, and for me, it was a dream come true. It wasn’t until we were allowed to leave the holding area for the actual taping area that we learned what the show’s subject would be. [insert ominous music here]
I drove from Cleveland to Chicago with another lucky friend who was also gifted with a golden ticket. Our lucky group numbered 5 in total, and the night before the show we slept scattered across Nan’s apartment; I was on an air mattress on the floor. No price too high for O.
People who signed up for tickets to The Oprah Show never knew what the topic would be on the date they wanted. Topics were never revealed in advance unless a producer wanted an audience of certain types of people. (I think Ellen is the same way.) Instead, on taping days, that day’s topics would be disclosed online in the early morning.
And so, on the morning of the show, we were SO excited to huddle around a laptop and learn what magic awaited us: Movie stars? Global influencers? Top chefs? Authors? We clicked through the website to find that day’s topic: Working Moms vs. Stay-at-Home Moms.
That was the moment we realized that of our group, there wasn’t even one Mom. And every one of us, each in her own way, was dumbstruck with disappointment. I decided to pray for a miracle. Websites can be wrong.
The 5 of us arrived at Harpo at something like a half-hour before requested, but the line was already wrapped around the building. I was so excited I thought my heart would blow up, chanting that somehow, surely, the topic would be changed. I worked in TV for a bit. I knew it could happen.
We inched inside, past photo after photo of Oprah with everyone you ever heard of. When a producer finally came in the room to lead us to the studio, I remember that my eyes were closed.
And then, the producer began to talk about the show’s subject: Working Moms vs. Stay-at-Home Moms.
Oprah was beautiful and Oprah-y and I was undone. All this magic had brought me there…for what? I tried to enjoy the moment, but feelings of being different and out-of-place -ness were strong. The 5 of us giggled and whispered, knowing none of us would be on-camera with a question or comment. We muttered that we were thankful to be in an Oprah Show audience, something most of her fans would never know. And still…
Post-taping, we ate burgers and pushed out frustrated laughs about the turn of events. We shared our individual By Chance/By Choice stories. We andbasically had a happy time before leaving for “home” at 5 different points on a map of the USA.
I’m the type of person who believes that there are no coincidences. But, more than 10 years later, I’m not much closer to understanding why 5 NotMoms were sent to watch NotMom Oprah talk about Moms.
That experience, and a glimpse at the unfazed white-haired women in Ellen’s audience, tell me that statistically, almost any blindly gathered group will include several people who could care less about the subject of the day. Perhaps it’s just the roll of the dice, or maybe there really are no coincidences.