The streets of downtown Chicago ran wild with Oprah-mania this week, with a celebration only the queen of daytime talk could pull off.
On Tuesday, thousands of residents and fans crammed the Magnificent Mile to be part of a live taping for the premiere episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show’s 24th television season.
Along with an appearance from Winfrey in all her glory, the keyed up audience was treated to performances by James Taylor, Jennifer Hudson and hip-hop outfit the Black Eyed Peas, who wrote the song “I Gotta Feeling” to commemorate the kick off.
Coordinators for the concert engaged the crowd by teaching them a choreographed dance to be performed during the taping, a phenomenon dubbed by the event’s emcee as “the world’s biggest crowd ripple.”
In keeping with the style of the show, producers also displayed a “mystery box” next to the stage, the contents of which would not be revealed until the end of the night.
Audience member Carolyn Arthur practiced the dance moves for her section while she waited for Winfrey to take the stage. A retired Chatham resident who now sells baked goods, Arthur said she has been a fan of Winfrey from the very beginning.
“I remember seeing her on Channel 7 when she first started,” she said.
The talk show host has made the city proud through her goodwill, Arthur said.
“She’s setting a great example for what love really is,” she said. “Not just in Chicago, but all over the world.”
Arthur said she had never been to a taping of the show, despite efforts to get tickets over the phone and through the show’s Web site. She was thrilled to finally see Winfrey in the flesh, and in the town that the star calls home, no less.
“She has a global presence, but the kinship is because she’s from Chicago, just like Barack Obama,” she said.
The celebration is the second that the Mississippi-born media mogul has held in the city. Last year, Winfrey opened the season by throwing a “Welcome Home Celebration” for more than 150 Olympic medal athletes in Millennium Park.
This year, Winfrey outdid herself yet again.
In order to hold the event, which was predicted to attract thousands, Winfrey’s company, Harpo Productions, negotiated the closure of Michigan Avenue from Wacker Drive to Ohio Street from late Monday night to pre-rush hour Wednesday morning. Harpo assured the city that all expenses for the event would be covered by Winfrey.
John Chikow, President of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, said the celebration could not have come at a better time.
“This has been a very tough economic season,” he said. “To have this kind of promotion to effect retail and dining opportunities in the area is extremely positive.”
He noted that the days before and after Labor Day are usually slow for shopping, another reason why he welcomed the party.
The GNMAA, which represents merchants along N. Michigan Ave., provided more than 100 volunteers to pass out maps and help out-of-town visitors during the celebration.
Gail Spreen, president of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, echoed Chikow’s enthusiasm.
“It’s a positive for everyone,” she said, adding that the group’s only concern was that those who live and work in the area would not be inconvenienced by the street closures.
While the celebration seemed to have garnered approval all around, Ald. Brendan Riley (42nd) said he would have liked a heads up.
Riley sent out an e-mail statement to his constituents Friday, stating that his office had not received adequate notice of the street closures.
In the e-letter, he claimed that the site selection for the taping was coordinated between the city and Harpo without his knowledge or consent. The alderman could not be reached for further comment on the matter.
Megan McDonald, executive director for the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, said Riley had been notified as early as possible, given the timeframe in which the event was planned.
According to McDonald, the company had contacted the city about coordinating the event on Aug. 10, with plans being finalized by Aug. 20 and the first city service meeting held on the Aug. 24.
“It’s not as if this thing was out there for weeks and months,” she said.
And while McDonald admitted that the approval process for the event had been rushed to meet the deadline, she said that Harpo “had gotten no special treatment.”
But all planning quandaries aside, the celebration went off without a hitch.
The evening was peppered with surprise performances from country stars Rascal Flatts and new age magician Criss Angel, who revealed the contents of the mystery box to be a set of predictions for the night’s events, all which came true. The audience – many of whom were probably hoping for an iPod or a new car – mildly applauded the trick.
Arthur, who had been camped out on Michigan since 11 a.m., said she couldn’t be happier to celebrate Winfrey’s success.
“She’s really made it, and now she’s giving back,” she said.
The special event is scheduled to air on September 10, with the regular season of the Oprah Winfrey Show beginning on September 14.