Photo by Pop Culture Passionistas
We have been given the honor of being invited to be part of the seven-person VIP digital press corps for Oprah's Lifeclass: the Tour. This week we traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, where the pop culture icon taped an afternoon show with Bishop T.D. Jakes, which will air on April 9, and a live evening show with Iyanla Vanzant, which aired on Monday, March 26. As part of the press corps, we were given backstage access, which included a chance to sit and talk with Oprah herself. While every moment was thrilling, these 10 stand out as the highlights.
Our First Steps Inside the Peabody Opera House
We always love being backstage at a theater - being around the dressing rooms, makeup lights, and curtain rigging. But stepping onto the stage for the first time and seeing the Oprah's Lifeclass set, it finally hit us, "Wow! This is really happening."
Tour of the Peabody Opera House
We marveled at the beauty of the venue, which had just undergone a $78.7 million renovation. It was built in 1934 and has welcomed the biggest pop culture icons through the decades from Frank Sinatra to to Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones and now Oprah Winfrey.
Seeing Oprah's Team in Action
We'd become quite familiar with OWN president Sheri Salata and producer Jill van Lokeren watching Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, so it was exciting to meet them, as well as producer Jon Sinclair, in person. But it was also incredible to see how calm, cool, and collected the entire crew remained under the incredible pressure of mounting such an enormous production not once but twice in one day.
Breakfast with Iyanla Vanzant
Monday morning we arrived early at the hotel restaurant to secure the best spots at the table for breakfast with Iyanla Vanzant. We are longtime fans of Vanzant's daytime TV show Starting Over, which helped us through a difficult transitional period in our lives. We were grateful to have the opportunity to finally thank her for her guidance and wise words. Her inspiration will stay with us always.
Meeting Ms. Winfrey
After breakfast we were rushed off to the theater so we would not arrive late for our press corps meet and greet with Oprah herself. We waited patiently and quietly in the hall while she taped an interview with Extra's A.J. Calloway. Then it was our turn.
We were ushered into the room and seated in a semi circle of soft leather couches. Oprah approached and greeted us. While we are more used to conducting the interview these days, Ms. Winfrey wanted to get to know us. So each blogger told their story, of how they started their blog and how they gain followers and generate a buzz. But when her staff informed her she needed to get to her next appointment, she turned directly to us and said that she wasn't done yet because she needed to hear our story. She listened intently as we told her about PopCulturePassionistas.com and our journey as bloggers so far. After a quick photo op, Oprah was whisked away to prepare for the two shows taping later that day.
Talking With the Fans
The excited crowd of devotees gathered in the lobby and were making their way into the theater. On the way they could pose by a giant O Magazine so it appeared as if they were on the cover. The lobby was filled with other interactive experiences and lots of colorfully dressed Oprah fans. We spoke with some of them as they made their way inside. We asked them what it is that they learn from Oprah Winfrey, and we, many times over, heard the words inspiration, positivity, love, and forgiveness.
Discovering Bishop T.D. Jakes
While we admittedly did not know much about Bishop Jakes before arriving in St. Louis, we soon learned that the power of this pastor, author, and now filmmaker was instantly recognizable. We were especially inspired by his philosophy that following your dreams leads to your purpose in life. He proclaimed, "It is your passion that empowers you to do the things that you were created to do." But he reminded us that it's not always easy. He stated, "It is the passion that gives you the peace that you need, but it is the pain that gives you conviction."
Standing with Steve
During the live show Monday night, Oprah and Iyanla welcomed Steve to the stage. The photographer was a recovering addict in so much pain you could read it on his face. He felt alone, unloved, and unworthy. He thought constantly about returning to his addictions.
But in perhaps what was the most intense 10 minutes we've ever experienced, Iyanla encouraged him to "find a new story." She brought Tim from Welcome to Sweetie Pies onto the stage to represent Steve's father, who he'd never known, and asked another male audience member to stand back to back with Steve as his brother. Iyanla repeated over and over to him that his daddy was proud of him, his mother asked for his forgiveness for what she couldn't provide, and his brother had his back. Online thousands of Tweets and Facebook posts poured in declaring, "I'm standing with Steve," and the audience rose to their feet in solidarity with the fatherless son.
Prasanna Ranganathan Scoops Up Gratitude
During the broadcast Oprah skyped live with fans from around the globe - from California and Chicago to Australia and India. But the one who stood out to us was Prasanna Ranganathan from Ottawa, Canada. The Oprah uber-fan lit up the room with his excited reaction to being on camera and provided so much needed comic relief after we all got over Standing with Steve. The self-professed pop culture enthusiast even brought along an ice cream scoop to show Iyanla his "two scoops of gratitude."
Oprah's Golden Glow
We basked in the glow of the two shows for quite some time Monday night after the cameras had stopped rolling, and awoke the next day at 4:45 a.m. for an early morning flight back to Los Angeles. In the shuttle, 10 strangers who ordinarily would not even have made eye contact at that hour, were instantly connected when the driver uttered the word "Oprah." Everyone had been at one of the tapings, and the conversation started flowing. Oprah's golden glow had made friends out of strangers.
Visit the show's official website to learn more about Oprah's Lifeclass on OWN.