While nearly everyone else in TV land is in New York at the upfronts, I chose to follow the path less taken and head to Chicago to see tapings of Oprah’s third and second-to-last shows at the United Center with 20,000 other people. I’ll be live blogging here all night - the show starts at 7 pm CT (8 pm ET/5 pm PT) and should wrap up around 11 pm CT. So far, rumor has it that Beyonce, Tom Hanks and Patti LaBelle are here. I don’t know this through very serious sourcing, however (stage hand, third-hand rumor, sign on dressing room door) so stay tuned to see who shows up to bid The Oprah Winfrey Show farewell after 25 amazing years.
6:53: pm CT: Some more famous names here @Oprah: Tyler Perry, Dave Chappelle, Dr. Laura Berman, Wanda Sykes, Charles Barkley.
7:23 pm CT: Oprah walks out in a gorgeous purple dress, promptly joined by Tom Hanks. Cut to a video montage. I expect to see a lot of these tonight.
7:27 pm CT: Tom Cruise arrives, but there’s no couch to jump on.
7:30 pm CT: Taking a little Oz detour. Cruise reminds Oprah that she’s always loved Glinda the Good Witch. “You’ve always had the power.” Then Jackie Evancho, small girl with big voice, comes out. Followed by Josh Grobin, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and then Patti Labelle (guess my initial spotting of the dressing room sign proved correct), blowing the roof off the joint.
7:40 pm CT: Hanks introduces some of Oprah’s most loyal fans. Among them, “a hard-working mother of four from New York”: Madonna. Speaking about how Oprah has inspired her to build a girl’s school in Malawi, the home of Madonna’s adopted son. And yes, Madonna looks fabulous.
7:55 pm CT: Dakota Fanning comes out but is promptly totally upstaged by Beyonce, singing “Girls, We Run the World.” That’s true anyway. (Photo credit above: AP)
8ish pm CT: Beyonce turns in the first big production number of the night. It looked great from 3,000 feet up or however high I am up here, but they are going to run it again. All good by me - I could watch Beyonce dance for days!
The Insider is reporting that Usher is here and I really hope that’s true and that he performs an entire concert.
8:25 pm CT: Inspirational segment talking about how Oprah has encouraged America to read. John Legend appears via satellite from New Orleans but doesn’t sing. I wrongly feel ripped off. Meanwhile, Target will rebuild a total of 25 school libraries.
8:30 pm CT: Diane Sawyer shows up. Cynicism alert: No one has ever confirmed this but I’ve always thought that the Oprah show did some ABC co-promotion since the ABC owned stations have been such good customers. Anyway, she goes on about trees,and then says that 25,000 trees are being planted in honor of Oprah’s 25 years on the air.
Oprah: I’m giving everyone a tree! You get a tree! You get a tree! Everybody gets a tree!
Audience: (Damn. I really wanted a car.)
8:40 p.m. CT: Audience: But never mind! I get to see Halle Berry and that’s almost as good!
Halle is joined by Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes, who did join her husband here at Oprah’s Surprise Spectacular. Still no couch though.
8:55 pm CT: Tom and Katie simultaneously promote OWN and introduce Rascal Flats. I appreciate Oprah’s embracing of country music, because most of the country does, but where is Usher already?
9:03 pm CT: All the stars join Rascal Flats on stage, and the band closes out the show. Oprah: Your presence here honors me tonight and I feel the love.
9:06 pm CT: Crowd chants Oprah, Oprah as the first taping winds down.
9:24 pm CT: The second taping is about to start. The crowd spent the intermission alternately chanting references to Bible verses (3:16!) and “We don’t care.” Not sure what that was about.
9:27 pm CT: Second show gets underway. Will and Jada Smith take over hosting duties from Tom Hanks. Jada: “I know you don’t have children of your own, but you have mothered millions.” If you are going to have someone host your party, Will’s your guy.
9:29 pm CT: MICHAEL JORDAN AT THE UNITED CENTER! I’m unreasonably excited about this. Chicago crowd is going insane.
9:31 pm CT: Even Oprah seems awed at MJ.
9:32 pm CT: MJ: “This feels like playing a game, here. If you ever need me, just call. If you need a job, I’ve got one.” I’m pretty sure Oprah’s covered, but I could be available, Mike.
9:34 pm CT: Jamie Foxx follows MJ, talks sexy to Oprah, and now is singing “Isn’t She Lovely” to Oprah.
9:36 pm CT: Of course now Stevie Wonder is singing that song to Oprah. This is getting ridiculous. Crowd is losing their minds.
9:39 pm CT: Stevie tells Oprah that he wrote a song for her, and he’s singing it now.
9:46 p.m. CT: Will introduces a father of three from Long Island: Jerry Seinfeld. He’s the only guy so far to show up in a tux, and he’s doing a little stand-up. “To be here tonight at the United Center and NOT at a Bulls game, certainly proves that I have been trained very well.”
9:58 pm CT: Simon Cowell, introducing Rosie O’Donnell, who looks great. She’s doing a little production number. I think this one is more of a gift for Rosie than for Oprah. Included in this are Oprah’s men: Dr. Phil: “How is this working for you?” Nate Berkus, and Dr. Oz, looking very dapper but unfortunately talking about poop and dancing in the background.
10:08 pm CT: Here’s Maria Shriver. I’m pretty sure no one will be mentioning Arnold. But if looking good is the best revenge, Maria is bringing it. Oh yeah, and Gayle King is on stage too.
10:13 pm CT: Tyler Perry comes on stage to talk about the difference Oprah has made in education, including scholarships for 400+ men to Morehouse College in Atlanta. Oprah’s charitable contributions to education have helped put nearly 65,000 people through college.
10:17 pm CT: Now Oprah is definitely crying. Tyler Perry: “That’s what you’ve done.”
10:20 pm CT: Heartstrings moment: Kristin Chenoweth singing “For Good” from Wicked while the 400 men of Morehouse come on stage carrying lights. Oprah is a mess. “Break me down, people, you’re trying to break me down.”
10:36 pm CT: Maya Angelou made it to Chicago to read Oprah a poem she wrote for her, accompanied by Alicia Keys on piano.
10:52 pm CT: Steadman actually makes an appearance — and he’s funny!
10:55 pm CT: Wow, Aretha Franklin is here and she is singing “Amazing Grace,” something she knows a thing or two about. Truly, several people have overcome personal adversity to be here.
11:06 pm CT: USHER!!!!! I’ve been waiting all night!
11:11 pm CT: And the show ends with everyone on stage and glittery confetti everywhere. Quite the star-filled night! How will Oprah top it with her actual last show on May 25?
And now for a little plug: To watch the broadcasts of these shows, tune in to The Oprah Winfrey Show on Monday, May 23 and Tuesday, May 24. Daytime TV won’t be the same without you, Oprah.