Williams' daytime talk show, "The Wendy Williams Show," is nationally syndicated.
Credit: Karl Giant for "The Wendy Williams Show"
Wendy Williams opens the door to her dressing room wearing fuzzy green frog slippers. On the wall are caricatures of the talk show host, plus a print of her PETA ad, for which she went nude. She takes a seat on her couch, which is adorned with a plush pink throw pillow and is underneath a giant sequined pink marlin. Despite the girliness of the room, Williams — hanging loose post-show in a wavy blonde wig (think Beyonce at the Super Bowl) — has a serious business side to her. It’s to be expected from the mogul, whose show has been renewed through 2014 on FOX and is airing new episodes in June and July (most daytime talk shows go on a summer hiatus).
But all of this television success was never the original plan for Williams, who built her career in radio.
“I always thought I’d stay on radio because I was good at radio,” Williams says. “And at the time that this talk show came along I had 23 years in radio, was making a terrific salary, I was able to live the life that I never thought I’d live, and I was comfortable with that. It was my dream. Growing up in Jersey, I wanted to be a news broadcaster or I wanted to be a radio personality, and when I got to college my freshman year I was reading the news for the college radio station and the DJ was sick one night and they asked me to fill in. I was like ‘Well I’m not this cool,’ and I’m gonna stick with the news items — it was more who I was raised to be, with a sensible haircut and short non-painted nails.”
But the life of a newscaster, Williams soon discovered, wasn’t what she wanted. “You’ve got to live a newscaster’s lifestyle,” she says. “You’ve got to be married to the right guy — not the right guy for you but also the right guy for public perception — you’ve got to have the right hairstyle, your nails have got to be a particular length, you cannot be seen having fun. That’s not fair, but it’s the way newscasting is, so I said I’m gonna go with this radio thing. Once I got on the radio I was sideswiped by it and I never looked back.”
Williams attributes the success of her show to her producing staff and also her TMI personality. “One of the fatal flaws of my personality that my parents would attest to is, ‘You’ve given too much information. Everybody didn’t need to know that Aunt Florence is wearing a wig and she’s in the bathroom readjusting,’" she says. "I think people feel comfortable with people that they get to know long enough.”
When she’s not working on her show, Williams has other projects on her brain, like her forthcoming “Ask Wendy” book (her sixth) based on a popular advice segment from the show, and also her upcoming wig line, Wendy Williams Hair World, which debuts in June. Williams has been wearing wigs for the past 12 years, after being was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. She says her new line will have “everything respectful that wiggies want and that newbies can get used to” and that she’s out to disprove the idea that wigs are “old and tired and ridiculous.” “You don’t necessarily expect a fly girl looking at 50 — that’d be me — wearing a wig,” she says.
Williams will debut her wigs on air when they become available this spring. At that point, her goal for the show will be the same as it is now, as it always has been: to make her guests comfortable.
"When people walk through the double doors and you see my whole colorful crowd …it can take you back, even as a trained actor. And then you’re being hugged by a 6-foot-5 black woman with a lot of hair and a lot of boob — it’s a lot! So my producers [do pre-interviews and] give me all I need to know, and then I go out there and make people feel as warm as I possibly can, because the goal of me as a host is to keep you coming back for more."