Just how powerful is Oprah Winfrey? If you ask one of the 200 Harpo employees accompanying her on the big trip Down Under (specifically, the pre-show cheerleader tasked with keeping the audience peppy and shrieking for yesterday’s two 90-minute tapings at the Sydney Opera House) this is the answer you’ll get: “Our boss has a really good in with Mother Nature. We don’t do rain at The Oprah Winfrey Show!”
I think I actually believe her. After weeks of constant downpours in Sydney and devastating floods throughout the country (thanks, La Niña), the famously blazing Aussie sun came out for every one of Oprah’s eight days down under. Yesterday, her now world-famous walkabout reached its climax on the forecourt of the newly rechristened Oprah House. I was there in the morning, and I was there in the afternoon. It was, in a word, madness – an odd mix of talk show and tent revival that brought together 12,000 buoyant Australians, 302 lucky Americans, dozens of local journalists and one accident-prone actor. Hugh Jackman’s totally bodacious entrance on a zip-line for the afternoon show ended more like a total bummer when the actor – who’s made headlines for stunt troubles in the past – failed to brake quickly enough and bashed his right eye on a lighting rig. Despite trying to shake off the collision – he quickly downed a gulp of red wine that was waiting for him during his interview – Jackman was taken offstage for medical help before returning. “Ohhhh, we’re gonna hear about that,” said Oprah, clearly shaken. “Ohhhh, that’s gonna play on the news, over and over and over again.” The O knows – it was breaking news within minutes. (I told you he was drinking wine.)
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The morning show was smoother, and more energetic. It kicked off when Oprah took the stage and bellowed, “I LOOOOOVE AUSTRAAAAALIA!” before leading the crowd in the famous sporting chant “Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi Oi Oi!” First guest, Russell Crowe, who walked over from his nearby harborside apartment, arrived in good cheer (a.k.a., he didn’t throw anything and/or snarl at anybody). When asked the main difference between American and Australian men – strange question for Russell Crowe, by the way – he replied, “Probably dental care.” The scarily poised Bindi Irwin trotted out with her family to discuss her late father and, of course, show off the fact that she can hold snakes without being scared. Jay-Z discussed his new book Decoded, which one-time rap foe Oprah claims has changed how she views the art form. (Sadly, those of us hoping for a surprise Beyoncé drop-in were left wanting.) Then, because Oprah can only whip her crowds into a frenzy so many times before collapsing under the weight of her own awesome, Bon Jovi arrived to perform “It’s My Life” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
Free loot is a must when Oprah’s in the vicinity, so a Sydney man suffering from liver and bowel cancer was given $250,000 to “take a year off and get well” in the most touching segment of the day. A local boys’ high school was awarded $1 million for refurbishments, and every student given a free laptop. The boys, who were watching from inside the Opera House, leapt in glee, not unlike those caged animals who amuse the world with their conniptions at her annual Favorite Things tapings. And the 12,000 audience members outside nearly deafened me when told they’d be receiving commemorative final-season pearl-black diamond necklaces with an ‘O’ medallion. Because really, why should having the hottest ticket in all of Australia be enough?
As for the afternoon show, it never quite found its footing after first guest Bono’s surprise visit and the subsequent Hugh Jaccident (sorry). A lifeless Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban interview was plagued by sound glitches, though we did learn that Oprah is obsessed with the iTunes Scrabble app Words with Friends (me too!) and that her all-time highest score is 403 (uh, not me too!). Olivia Newton-John inexplicably trotted out her famous leather pants from Grease (“What size are these?” asked Oprah, mystified) and then DIDN’T EVEN SING “XANADU.” By the end of the hour, Oprah had resorted, strangely, to bragging about the gigantic red ‘O’ that has been lighting up the Sydney Harbour Bridge since her arrival. “Every evening, I go to my hotel room and wait for the O to come on,” she said, sounding less like the most influential woman on earth and more like Charlie Bucket standing outside the Wonka factory gates.
Things picked up with the announcement of a pink! Diamond! Necklace! For! All! and the rousing grand finale, in which all those big-name Aussies – Keith, Nicole, Russell, Olivia and a now-bandaged Hugh – joined to sing the Australian national anthem. She came, she saw, she most definitely conquered. “This country belongs on everybody’s bucket list!” “I know why you call it Oz – it truly is the end of the yellow brick road!” “This unforgettable adventure has stirred my soul!” Thus spake The Oprah, ringleader of the greatest tourism boost Australia has seen in years. It’s no wonder the country went berserk for the woman.
Oh, did I mention the Sydney weather forecast for Friday – our first full day sans Oprah – calls for cloudy skies and potentially even a few showers? Just saying.