At this point in her career, it’s obvious that Williams is not afraid to go there. Her outspoken style and to-the-point demeanor has garnered her success as a DJ on a number of high-profile radio stations, where Williams became a lightning rod for controversy and celebrity beefs for dishing all kinds of dirt on R&B and hip-hop celebrities.
She was later able to parlay her popularity on the airwaves into a successful television career, the crowning achievement of which is “The Wendy Williams Show,” her daily talk show that recently celebrated its 500th episode.
Williams talked to PGN about her achievements in entertainment, her appeal to gay fans and her upcoming foray into the fashion industry.
PGN: What do you plan on doing on stage at Philly Pride?
WW: For Philly Pride, I’m going to be receiving the key to the city, which is ... wow! That’s huge. I also plan on speaking. They’re assembling some kind of audience. I’ll be speaking about being happy, alive and of course supporting Pride and our gay community. I’m a heterosexual woman, but I have always supported the gay community. You sense when you’re in grade school that some kids are different from the rest. I was different for my own reasons. So I’ll be speaking about acceptance, equality and, of course, raising awareness. Every nine-and-a-half minutes someone is diagnosed with HIV and that’s very sad that we don’t yet have a cure for AIDS and everything about Pride is working toward a cure as well as acceptance as far as people and family members.
PGN: Are you excited about celebrating your 500th episode of your talk show?
WW: Five-hundred shows is huge, but in the bigger scheme of things, when I look around at other talk shows, I want to be like them and reach that 1,000 and 2,000 mark. I just want to keep it going.
PGN: Did Oprah and Rosie O’Donnell stepping down from their talk shows help the popularity of your show?
WW: When my show was first announced, many people were saying that I’d be filling that void and I thought, No, no, no. You have the wrong perception of what my show is going to be. It’s a different kind of show. The only thing we have in common is that we’re both black women who care very much about the human condition. But we just address it in different ways.
PGN: When Oprah sends you a letter because of something you said on your show, does it get you excited or do you panic?
WW: It makes me excited because it’s exciting if someone like the big “O” even has the time in her day to watch and care about the rest of us newbies.
PGN: What was the biggest difference you faced in taking what you do from radio to television?
WW: Editing my conversation. My conversations with my guests on the radio were endless depending on how well we were getting along. I had guests that stayed for hours like Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez or Kanye West. Now that I have a talk show, my conversations have got to be seven minutes on one side of the interview and then we take a break and come back and we have three minutes. No more, no less. We’re going to be cut off by a commercial. It’s a one-hour show so it’s really different from having four hours to luxuriate in conversation with someone and declare the commercial break where I need them to be. I was always able to move them around in radio.
PGN: Over the course of your career in radio you have run afoul of a few celebrities. Why do you think you drew such negative reactions from them?
WW: My name wasn’t Matt Lauer. It was Wendy. For better or for worse, celebrities want to give the big “get” to the person with the biggest forum. And while I had millions of people listening to me on the radio, radio doesn’t get the respect that it deserves. Celebrities would rather go on TV to make their big announcement or to give their big interview.
PGN: Do you think urban or hip-hop artists are touchier when the conversation turns toward sexuality and their personal lives? And if so, why is that?
WW: When we talk hip-hop and R&B, I think of hip-hop being steeped in the black community. When I think of black I think of my people. My people still want our drunks to sit around the kitchen table and be propped up as opposed to putting them into rehab. That is the reality of my community. We don’t address things that need to be addressed, whether it be sexuality or our churches, which are steeped in a lot of secrets. When you have a problem, whether it be addiction or sexuality, for us as black people, it tends to be another layer of problems that we don’t want to deal with publicly. Every community has its own secrets and its own problems, whether it’s a faith-based community or ethnic background. For my community, one of the things we struggle to deal with is acceptance of a lot.
PGN: Do you think, in regard to your career in radio, you deserved the shock-jock label?
WW: Some people don’t know what else to say. Maybe their vocabulary might be limited. You’re either a nice girl or a shock jock. I loved my career in radio. I think that there are many things about radio that TV will never be able to compare to, like the intimacy and how I was able to tell stories and be descriptive. I don’t think that it was fair. What I did wasn’t so shocking. It might have been more real and more shocking to my community because we’re so used to keeping things cloaked. Also, I think it was shocking to my gender. When I was growing up as a girl in New Jersey, my DJ idols were always men because the women were always taking a side seat to the men. We were always a sidekick or the slow-jams girl late at night. That is not who I wanted to be. I am no shrinking violet. For a woman to speak out and be bold and brash, I guess it was shocking. But it wasn’t shocking to me. The term “shock jock” usually connotes something negative but, in actuality, I don’t think there is anything negative about me. When you think about the American Dream, whatever that is, I have that. So what is so shocking?
PGN: How did you get into your own fashion line?
WW: I’ve been a QVC shopper for all the years that QVC has been around. When I was a younger girl — and perhaps I should have been out shopping at the mall — but because of my career and my own little secret weirdness, I enjoy pulling out my credit card at 2 in the morning and buying sheets as opposed to going to Macy’s and buying them. I love the company and the soothing conversation of those who sell. I love the idea of somebody describing it to me and becoming an acquaintance in my head. One day the phone rang and it was QVC saying, “We would love to do something with Wendy.” I thought, Oh my gosh, this is so perfect. I know exactly what I want to do. I want a line of accessories because I’ve always had weight issues. My weight has gone up and down but my accessories have never turned on me. I want a line of accessories and I want it called Adorn. It took me all of 30 seconds to decide what I want to do and what I want to call it. Because how you adorn is really what separates you from the next person, and your adornments never let you down no matter how old you are or how heavy you get. I have a shoe line coming out in the fall. It’s also called Adorn. It won’t be with QVC. Foremost, I want my stuff to be affordable and fashionable and accessible. My line of shoes will be available at department stores and boutiques. I’m always feeling fabrics and testing the strength of heels. I’m 100-percent invested in the creation of different things that I do.
Wendy Williams performs June 10 at Philly Pride, Penn’s Landing. For more information, visit www.phillypride.org or www.wendyshow.com.