By Christopher A. Pape
When one mentions the name Wendy Williams many adjectives are conjured. To her credit, she embraces them all and uses it to her advantage. Through her long and illustrious career on radio and now with her mega-hit television show, she has become a true inspiration for women of all ages, creeds and colors (though she is humble about it).
Recently, I had the most wonderful opportunity to attend her live show (aired on Fox 5 at 10am every weekday and My 9 at 3pm) and then after, sit down with her to pick her brain on what it means to be a New Yorker, her New Jersey roots, the importance of family and everything in between. The whole time she was fun, vivacious and gracious. Read, enjoy and be inspired!
New York Resident (NYR): Before we “officially” begin – I have to say I love your dressing room.
Wendy Williams (WW): Girls are special. I don’t decorate like this at home because I wouldn’t want to insult my Kevins (her husband and her son). But I’ve turned this office into everything I wouldn’t do at home, times ten. I love it in here. Believe it or not, we have a wardrobe department (there are racks and racks of clothing in her dressing room) but I like having my inspirations around me.
NYR: You love the color purple, which was the color of royalty in Roman times. Why so?
WW: Purple is the more wearable version of pink. Pink is a color you paint your walls. It is a color you accessorize with; maybe you’d have a pink bag or pink pair of shoes. I’m not so partial to wearing the color pink and I’ve made that fashion mistake a few times in my life. Purple is more wearable and more sophisticated.
NYR: We want to thank you for this opportunity. Obviously, the name of the magazine is NY Resident. Tell us what about you, makes you a New Yorker?
WW: First of all, it comes with attitude. And the attitude is: I don’t care if you’re famous; I don’t care if you’re pushing a baby carriage and I don’t care if you’re on your cell phone – get out of my way, politely. I think that here in New York, because it’s so hard to make it here, New Yorkers tend to be a bit jaded. I’ve been working in this city since 1988. I was exiled for a few years, through a radio station and a non-compete clause. I refused to pack up and leave totally; I wanted to be close enough, so I went to Philadelphia. I couldn’t work within eighty miles of the city – so I was like 82, 83, 84 – Philly! I would come back on the weekends to shop. The point is – I love this city. I want to retire into the city; which is different than having a bachelorette pad here.
NYR: How does growing up in New Jersey give you a different perspective?
WW: We have drive-thrus; we have green grass; we have opened backdoors; we have fireflies and a barbecue in the backyard. Jersey is for families, the city is for fast-paced living.
NYR: Where in New Jersey do you live now?
WW: We live in Essex County and it’s perfect. My husband is from Brooklyn, I’m from Ocean Township. I’ve worked in the city all of my life; he’s been a fabric of the city all of his life. It was my idea to want to live in Jersey. It wasn’t a big deal because at the end of a really hectic day, it’s nice to go through the Lincoln Tunnel and exhale.
My living situation is an immediate separation from Wendy Williams into Wendy Hunter (her married name). But when we had little Kevin, it became all about trees, grass, yard, schools (and not pay $30,000 a year to send him) but when he graduates from high school, that’s the day we move back into the city.
NYR: How do you juggle your professional and personal commitments (mainly regarding your son)?
WW: Cooperation. He’s a good kid. He doesn’t know anything except that mommy is a showgirl. My husband is my manager and an executive producer – his office is right across the hall. He knows that what I do is the family business. I make the magic and daddy quarterbacks the ball. And you (her son) be good. Your job is school. I’m a basketball mom; and I go back-and-forth from his basketball games.
My priority is my family. It’s just as hard to get a talk show as it is to be a successful woman and find a husband and have a child. I have so many friends who have fabulous careers, but they have no life. In my opinion, having a life means having a home life. It’s easy to separate my professional and personal commitments and have a life because my priorities are in check and because I didn’t get married till I was older.
NYR: What’s the difference between being a radio host and having a TV talk show?
WW: I only have seven minutes to interview someone on TV; on the radio I had four hours to luxuriate. We would talk, eat, and then talk more. Radio is really very intimate. I’m a storyteller and one of the hardest things to learn about being on TV was learning to edit myself. This show is done in the same vein as my radio show. I did celebrity interviews from Suzanne Summers to Nas the rapper; I’ve also had both on my TV show. I’ve also had Ask Wendy and I used to give my opinion on the hot topics of the day – like I do now.
NYR: What do you like about doing TV?
WW: I don’t have to pretend that I’m so cool that I know every word to the new Katy Perry song. Even though this is hard work here on TV, because there are so many intricacies, but the hours are better in TV. I’m done for the day by about 1pm every day.
NYR: How did you break into the radio business?
WW: I fantasized. By 6th grade I knew that I wanted to be a radio personality or a news anchor. I was never an undeclared major. I majored in communications and I minored in journalism. I had wonderful influences, which makes me a New Yorker; we have the best media. And I just knew, so I got involved with the college radio station. After being in radio for twenty-three years and being really successful at it – I was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. One day my husband’s phone rang; it was Mort (Marcus) and Ira (Bernstein) they comprise the company of Debmar-Mercury (the jaguar you see at the end of the show is their company). They told him they heard about me and that they wanted to do a show with me. Eight months later I’m on TV.
NYR: Talking about New York’s media personalities – is there anyone that’s influenced you the most?
WW: I like a lot of them and I know you want me to say Oprah.
NYR: (Laughs). Why would you think that I would want you to say Oprah? I want you to say the truth!
WW: Well…the truth is there is no modern talk show host that I draw from. But Mike Douglas was an influence. When I was a kid and I came home from school and everyone else was watching cartoons, I used to like to watch Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore. I used to love the formats of these shows when the hosts would come out with the celebrities and the guests would talk to the hosts; they then would introduce the next celebrity who would come out and it became a gabfest. There was something about that easy, breezy chat and the idea that this woman, Dinah Shore, has this show but she’s friends with everyone. Those two were really my earliest influences, in terms of talk shows.
NYR: What’s your favorite celebrity interview?
WW: I love talking to Simon Cowell. I love talking to Vanessa Williams. She and I are the same age, but whenever she comes around, with her beauty and her poise, she makes me wilt like a twelve-year old. And I think it’s comical, in my own head. But the truth is I don’t have a favorite.
NYR: Is there a celebrity that you’ve always wanted to interview, but haven’t done yet?
WW: Heather Locklear. Here’s the thing: Heather Locklear was an original friend in my head. I felt so close to her that I had to come up with a term and now I use that term here on the show. “A friend in your head” is a celebrity you’ve never met but if you met them you know you would be very close.
NYR: How do you give back? What do you do for charity?
WW: We support the Girl Scouts. I was a Girl Scout. It was one of the things that set me apart from my friends, when it was time to apply to colleges. My mother was a Girl Scout and when I was a child, she was a Girl Scout leader. I just love them.
NYR: I’m sure you get this question a million times, but tell us: how did you come up with “How you doin’?”
WW: When I was exiled to Philly I was with a stupid morning show full of stupid guys. They just kind of threw me into the morning show and expected it to work. Every good show has got to have gay. Gay is entertaining no matter what. Our obligatory gay person happened to be straight. His name was Shantay and he would do theater of the mind where you hear the door open up and he would say: “Hey everybody” (she imitates a very effeminate voice to capture Shantay acting gay). When a heterosexual guy is so straight he doesn’t even know what he’s doing. So I decided to play along. That’s how, “how you doin’?” was born. It’s my best drag queen voice and I can’t talk like that the whole time but it started off as a drag queen just saying hello to Shantay; and we would have a conversation – me as a regular Jersey girl and him as gay Shantay. It was born in 1998 and I brought it back to New York with me because “how you doin’?” has morphed into a really great way to break up a room and make people understand that I use my powers for good, not evil. When you are a large person and self-assured, people tend to be frightened of you. My famous line breaks up a crowd; lightens people up and then we can get down to business.
NYR: What’s your favorite restaurant, place or thing to do in the city?
WW: For different reasons I like Serendipity 3 because it is a nostalgic place. When I first gave birth to my son, my outings were to Serendipity. I also like Victor’s Café for nostalgia. We were just there recently. My husband and I have been married for fourteen years, but together for seventeen and the first eighteen months of our relationship we were at Victor’s every Friday night. They had no idea who we were; we never made a reservation, but we would go and wait and be patient for a table. After going there for about a month straight – never with friends, always just the two of us – they would give us a booth right away. For the whole time, they thought I was a Broadway girl and I was meeting up with my boyfriend after a show. It’s only been since I’ve been on TV that they’ve realized who I am. Now we go back for sentimental reasons and for consistently good food. I also love Porterhouse in the Time Warner Center.
NYR: Do you cook at home?
WW: I do. I cook three times a week. Look, I know I sound amazing. I am. Here’s the thing, I’d be kicked out of the girls club if I didn’t. It’s a lot of work and I’ll be perfectly honest with you I cook a homemade meal including a side, a piece of meat and a vegetable at least three times a week. I do it because I like to nurture that family life that I’ve made for myself. I am a housewife who happens to have a career. I love tending to my home.
P.S. On a scale of 1 to 10 I’m a 4 or 5 cook.
NYR: Working on anything new – any scoops you can give us?
WW: I’m working on my Adorn line by Wendy Williams – that’s for QVC. On the show my stylist puts me in colors; off the show I’m a New Yorker and I love wearing black and then you just change your adornments. It’s an accessories line. How you adorn is what separates one black outfit from another. I have watches, sunglasses, readers, necklaces. I have my bracelets that I’m introducing; I go back on QVC in May. I’m working on my shoe line, which will be available online, in department stores and boutiques this fall.
My husband and I also have a production company and we are looking to take my autobiography and put that on either the big or small screen. We are in the process now of shopping and seeing what kind of production deal we can get.