Oprah’s worst-dressed audience member

You’re probably aware that Oprah is broadcasting the final few shows of her program’s last season. The ABC affiliate in Chicago rebroadcasts her show at 11:05 p.m. each night, and because of my ongoing midlife sleep battles, I have seen some of the programs of this final season. She’s a fascinating personality, and though I can’t affirm some of what she preaches, I also can’t deny her sister-girlfriend relateability or her epic generosity. 
I am way late to the Oprah party. I had the opportunity to be an audience member at her show about eight or nine years ago, and had never seen the program before I found myself sitting about 4 rows from the stage. The whole experience was an unforgettable lesson in being woefully under-dressed. 

A friend from church had a daughter, M, who’d discovered her breast cancer after watching an Oprah show about the subject. M sent an email to the show’s producers to thank them, and told them that the information on the program probably saved her life. When the program’s producers decided to do a show following up on some of the stories they’d done, they contacted M and invited her to appear on the show. They flew to her southern home to get some footage of her life and experience with treatment.
When my WI friend found out her daughter was going to be a guest on the show, she contacted the producers and told them she hadn’t seen her daughter since the diagnosis. She knew of Oprah’s fondness for giving people happy surprises, and told my friend that they’d bring her on stage as a surprise for her chemo-ill daughter. 
My friend called me. “I’ve never driven in Chicago before! Would you be my chauffeur? I can get you a ticket to be in Oprah’s audience that day.” 
I didn’t watch daytime TV, and really didn’t know much Oprah’s show at the time. But I was always up for an adventure, so I told her I’d gladly be her limo driver. Because my friend was a guest on the show, we were ushered into a private entrance and whisked to a make-up room so they could do their magic on my friend. After they finished, a production assistant escorted us to one of the studio’s green rooms. 

“We have a seat for you in the audience,” the staffer said to me. It is important to note what I was wearing that day: grubby jeans, a sweatshire and, most likely, some tired Birkenstocks. I was my friend’s roadie, and hadn’t thought much about what would happen once I arrived at the studio. I figured I’d watch from backstage. The part about watching from the audience didn’t register with me at all. Since I’d never seen the show, I certainly didn’t know anything about what it meant to be an Oprah audience member. 

Big mistake. 

When she ushered me to my seat near the front of the studio, I was seated next to a woman wearing some very expensive leopard-print stillettos. I will always remember those shoes, maybe because I saw them as I settled into my seat. I looked up and saw a well-coiffed blonde wearing them; designer-dressed head to toe. A wave of insecurity swept over me similar to the feeling I got when I got paired with a perky, pretty cheerleader as my lab partner in high school. 

And then as I slowly scanned the room, I realized I was sitting in an audience comprised of a couple hundred cheerleaders. Every single woman was dressed to kill – or at least maim. 

I. Had. No. Idea. 

A producer emerged onto the stage and warmed up the audience. “When did you all start getting ready to be here today?” Everyone except me laughed. She began a backwards countdown: Yesterday? Two days ago? The winner of her informal poll had started her prep a week earlier. I slunk lower in my seat and stared at those leopard-print stilettos until they cued the music and Oprah took the stage. 

I’m glad to report that my cleaning-the-garage look didn’t negatively impact the show. My friend and her daughter had a happy reunion on camera, and the entire experience was indeed an adventure. 

And a lesson in doing my homework before I leave the house to have an adventure.

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