My Oprah Experience

Last month, I requested tickets to one of Oprah’s last shows through email. The show was about Freedom Riders.  Since I teach about the Civil Rights Movement in my Critical Thinking classes at Cardinal Stritch University, I was excited to learn more from those who were actually part of the movement.  Tickets are hard to get, so I was thrilled when a staffer got back to me and said my mom and I could come to the taping.

Then I got a message saying that there was a problem and that audience was full, but I was offered another option.  I picked the May 6 taping.  Three days later I got an email saying this was Oprah’s Last Ever Makeover Extravaganza  and that each audience member was getting $100 gift card to buy a new outfit at Old Navy to wear to the show. That made it even more cool. Then a producer called and said that since we were only 90 miles from Chicago they would like to invite my mom and I to shop at Old Navy’s big store on camera. I was so excited. I told the producer yes, but I had to figure our who could pick up the kids from school. She said that they were thinking of doing a children’s segment, so bring them. This was so great and I could hardly wait. The only drawback was that I had to come without my hair or makeup done because the producer said, “We want your before and after pictures to be really good.”

The kids were amazing the whole three hour experience on Tuesday, May 3. It was crazy and chaotic. The producers, Oprah’s fashion people and tailors had the kids and I in one big dressing room while another stylist worked with my mom in a different room. The kids went off with a producer and the camera crew and they were filmed for at least an hour. The kids loved every minute of it and were perfectly behaved. Of course they all melted down in the car ride home, but I was fine with that. 🙂

We left Old Navy with $400 worth of stuff, plus the entire outfit the fashion team picked and was tailoring just for me. At first I felt bad since the rule was $100 for just my mom and I, but then I snapped back into reality. Oprah can afford it. I wasn’t really thrilled with the outfit they picked for me, but I was determined to embrace the experience and the tailors were going to alter it all for me.

Remember this is all prep for the show taping Friday, May 6 at 11 am. We were filmed for hours but I explained to the kids that the footage was just pre-show work and we would have no idea how much, if any appeared int he actual show.

Later that night at 7:30 pm, I got a call from the producer. She invited my mother and I to come back to Chicago tonight so that I could get my hair cut and colored. That freaked me out a bit, but it was Oprah and several friends assured me that they’ve never seen a bad makeover on the show. In addition to all that, Oprah was paying for us to stay at a hotel near the studio.

We entered the HARPO Studio and walked past the editing room where the producers were editing that day’s show with Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks.  We joined a group of 20 other people and entered a studio that had been completely transformed into a salon.  HARPO had flown in from a dream team from NYC.  Frédéric Fekkai who owns a salon and a product line cut my hair.  Orlando Pita did the color.  The two of them collaborated while speaking French.  Frédéric’s assistants handed him scissors like they were surgical scalpels.  Cameras filmed it all. There was so much going on at once that it was difficult to take it all in.  There was one staffer who spent hours steaming what seemed like hundreds of blue oxfords.  No one was telling anyone details about everything so there was this secretive buzz everywhere.  We spoke with some of the other lucky 20 and no one had any clues as to why we were selected, what would happen next and what role we’d play in the show. Every single member of the HARPO staff was fantastic.  They were all kind and professional.  We left HARPO at 9:30 pm and went right to the JW Marriott.   The person at the front desk congratulated us for being on the Oprah show and told us we could spend up to $75 on room service.  Our hotel room was amazing. We ordered an indulgent breakfast (with wine for me) at 10:30 pm when we finally settled into our hotel room. 

Friday, May 6 was the show taping and it was filled with another flurry of activities.  We arrived at 7:30 am along with the other lucky 20. We were taken through the garage into the HARPO studios.  An assistant escorted us back to the studio transformed into a salon and there were about 100 assistants all dressed in blue oxford shirts along with the dream team which now included Bobbi Brown and several of her makeup artists.   When they were finished with us, we were taken to a plush screening room with the 20 other Old Navy makeover people.  This room was just 500 feet away from Oprah’s office and Oprah’s dog Sadie kept rooming the halls.  It was a fun and exciting experience. We were all nervous and excited.  There was a great deal of down time, so we spent it nibbling on all the catered food that was brought in for us, speculating about what would come next and just sharing the surreal experience of being in HARPO’s inner sanctum. 

Makeup artists, stylists and the steamer lady joined us for a quick check before the show taping began.  We were led through the HARPO hallway maze, past the walls decorated with what seemed like thousands of photos of Oprah and celebrities from past shows.  We were taken into the studio where all other audience members were seated and led to the front two rows. 

During the show we got a gift bag including an expensive leather Michael Kors bag, a pair of Tory Burch sunglasses, a Diane von Furstenberg silk scarf and Andre Walker hair products. The show aired on May 12 and if you looked very closely, you would see a couple seconds of my mother and I getting our hair and make-up done. They also included a few seconds of footage shot of my kids at Old Navy.

The experience is one I’ll never forget.


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