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A DJ blasts loud, thumping hip-hop hits as a spontaneous dance contest breaks out in the diverse crowd of revelers (hailing from Alabama to New York City and beyond), while bright lights flash and camera crews stand by to capture every high-energy moment. It’s not a scene from the dance floor at the hottest new club—it’s just the warm-up to a typical Monday morning taping of “The Wendy Williams Show.”
The party-worthy atmosphere reaches its apex after the audience has been sufficiently pumped up for the 10am live taping at the show’s Chelsea studio, and Wendy Williams herself—the show’s namesake host—takes the stage dressed to the nines and ready to talk celebrity gossip and take audience questions.
And this is just her first show of the week.
“The essence of ‘The Wendy Williams Show’ is fun,” Williams, 51, explains (though, for any regular viewer, the explanation is superfluous). “And if you squint, and listen closely, we have some takeaway qualities.”
The same principle could be applied to Williams herself—a Northeastern alum who originally rose to fame as a radio DJ. Yes, she brings her larger-than-life personality to her show as its host, but she’s also a driving force behind the scenes as an executive producer. Now in its seventh season, with Williams’ contract recently extended through 2022 (no small feat when you consider the revolving door of celeb-helmed talk shows that have called it quits over the last decade), “The Wendy Williams Show” has been nominated for multiple daytime Emmy awards, has memorabilia in the Smithsonian Museum, and is broadcast in 53 countries; not to mention that Williams herself has been inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
And while publicly, Williams also stays busy with her own production company (Wendy Williams Productions), eponymous HSN clothing line, and fledgling charitable foundation, when the cameras turn off she’s all about spending quality time with her husband, Kevin Hunter, and her 15-year-old son, Kevin Jr.
“My main priority, work-wise, is my talk show,” Williams, who makes her home in her native New Jersey, says. “And on the home front, I just want to maintain good health for my husband and my son.”
I recently attended a taping of one of your Monday all “Hot Topics” shows. Why do you enjoy the “Hot Topics” segments and how do you choose items to discuss?
I like all “Hot Topics” shows because I feel like that’s when our show really is the people’s show… I don’t just host the show, I’m also an executive producer, and I have a wonderful staff—they work up maybe 10 stories per day for me and I say: “Yes, no, yes, no…” If I wasn’t doing the talk show, I feel like this would be my favorite talk show, because I’m a busy woman and I need a little humor and permission to laugh and to be messy. When I feel like we’ve talked too much about the Kardashians, somehow, in my head, I feel like my “Wendy”-watchers are feeling the same way, so I’ll say: “No, we just talked about them yesterday—I’m done for now.”
Do you have any dream celebrity guests? Who have been some favorite guests you’ve had on the show?
I’ll put it this way: Since having the talk show and meeting more celebrities than I did when I was in my radio career, a lot of the people who you think are going to be fantabulous are absolute disappointments. So I would rather keep them on that side and think that they’re fantabulous. But, with that said, I did get to meet one of my heroes: Judge Judy! She was one guest where I was like: “What am I going to wear? How am I going to sit? How am I going to act? Don’t put too much makeup on me! Sit up straight! Don’t act dumb, because beauty fades but stupid is forever—that’s her phrase!” And Judge Judy brought her husband, Jerry, and he sat in the front row and it turns out that Jerry watches our show every day when he’s on the treadmill. Judge Judy and I got along fabulously!
Aside from meeting people whom you admire and doing the “Hot Topics” segments, what do you enjoy most about your job?
I love it when people tell me that I’ve gotten them through tough times… The purpose of the show is to take you away from your troubles, just for one hour. Come on, let’s laugh! I’m not going to charge you money, I’m not going to make you think too hard, and if you don’t laugh—maybe because you don’t want to laugh—I’ll laugh for you and so will my audience.
You’re so high-energy on-air. How do you to get pumped up before the show?
We have what I call “the glamour suite”—hair, makeup, wardrobe, and then my separate room—and the glamour suite is right behind the stage on the same floor, so as soon as [the DJ] starts that music, it’s like: “Okay! Here we go!” But, you know what really gets me pumped up to do the show? No lie…there are people who go to their jobs every day and don’t like them, or maybe they find their jobs fabulous but they don’t make enough money, or maybe they make a lot of money but they don’t enjoy what they do, or maybe they only do what they do because their parents pushed them into it… So what gets me pumped is being grateful.
What are some of the biggest challenges of your job?
The big challenges are mostly personal—I have a 15-year-old and I’ve been married for 17 years to my husband, who’s also one of the executive producers on the show and he’s my manager. While my husband and I work together, and I’m the “star” of the family, I don’t like to be that way at home. It’s not really a challenge, but it’s something that is definitely done purposefully… I don’t want to be “Wendy Williams” to my son. When I pick him up from school or drop him off or have to go in for guidance counselor meetings or whatever it is, I don’t want to be “Wendy Williams”—I just want to be “Wendy Hunter,” that’s my marital name, and “Kevin’s mom.” That’s not a challenge, only because I’m not as enamored with celebrity as perhaps a lot of celebrities are.
Do you and your husband have any parenting philosophies?
I think the main thing you have to understand as a parent is that it’s you against them. Don’t let [the kids] divide you. I’m over it when my son says to me: “Don’t tell daddy!” Every once in a while I don’t tell daddy, depending on what it is, just like I’m sure he has conversations with his dad where it’s guy stuff. But when it comes to detrimental stuff—“You got a D on a test and you don’t want me to tell daddy?”—it’s like: “Oh no, I’m telling! And I’m going to tell you right now that I’m telling, and you will not divide me and your father!”
Tell us about your son. How have the challenges of parenting changed now that your child is older?
There are a few things that have eased up now that Kevin is 15 and a sophomore in high school… I’m [feeling like]: “Oh, he’s about to leave home now. He doesn’t need me for as many things as he used to…” When he stays after school for extra help, it’s not even me swooping down on the situation and being involved, it’s Kevin being smart enough to know that he needs to ask for extra help. I think my job might be almost over, even though they say you never stop being a parent… His grades are really good and he’s got a good vocabulary and he really doesn’t ask me for a lot, which, on one hand is great because I find more time to lay on the couch and watch “Inside Edition,” but, on the other hand… You never stop being a parent, but where does the time go?
You’ve been open in the past about experiencing miscarriages. What advice would you give to women going through a similar experience?
I was five months pregnant when I had my first [miscarriage]. It turns out that what I had was a weak cervix…I had two five-month miscarriages, and [the babies] both had names and the nurseries were set up for both; those were babies. I was on the radio, at that time, in Philadelphia, and I was a popular disc jockey and I had already gone out and done appearances—people saw me with the belly and had heard me talking about it! Then I had the miscarriage and it was like: “Okay, let’s talk about it! Come on, girls!” Turns out, girls all over were like: “This happened to me! And that happened to me…” So I say talk about it, and talk about it often when it’s appropriate, because the only way that we get stronger and more knowledgeable as women is if we stop being such bald-faced liars and stop acting like everything’s perfect. I only breastfed my son for like two weeks and I felt like such a failure…I was collapsed in my closet, just sobbing, and my mother heard me—because she’s nosey—and said: “Wendy, what’s going on?” And I said: “Mommy, I just can’t breastfeed anymore—I’m crying and sobbing and Kevin’s only two weeks old and I just can’t! I gained 103 lbs, and I hate to be selfish, but I need to lose some weight! I’m on the radio, I have a showbiz career going on here! Can I have some wine? I’ve been on my back for nine months and I’ve been trying to have a baby for the past 2.5 years!” I explained this to my mother and she screeches down to my father: “Tom! Bring the car around and bring the coupons for the Good Starts!” Turns out my mom had coupons [for formula] saved up for me… I feel like I’m no less of a woman because I didn’t breastfeed, but women don’t share that stuff—so you can feel like you’re less of a woman. My advice to women and to mothers is: Share stuff if your kid goes through something—whether it’s substance abuse or you bought him condoms or you caught her with condoms! If moms talked more, when appropriate and with the right listening ear, we’d be a lot better.
Tell us about the Hunter Foundation, the philanthropic initiative you started with your husband and son.
It’s only about a year and two months old. So far, we’ve sent girls to sleepaway camp [the past two summers]. These are girls from impoverished situations where they would have never been able to horseback ride or sleep in a tent or be eaten by mosquitoes… I’m not going to be doing my talk show until forever, nor do I want to—it’s wonderful and it’s fabulous, but all good things come to an end—and when my time is up, what I want to retire into is philanthropic endeavors. The seed is now planted for the Hunter Foundation, so hopefully, by the time my time is up on talk, our foundation will be larger and we’ll be able to do more—to send kids not just to summer camp, but to college.
LGBTQ support and addiction rehabilitation are also key pillars of the mission, correct?
The gay and lesbian community has always been very supportive of me and I also realized that, as cheeky as it might seem on reality shows, and some of our gay and lesbian friends seem so comfortable in their own skin, it’s not that easy. There’s an incredible amount of judgement and injustice and I would like to lend support, as well as money, to those endeavors. And with substance abuse [which we support recovery for]? Listen, I make it no secret: My entire 20s, there are ebbs and flows that I forget! I was high as a kite on cocaine! Today—at a half a century old and sober and having quit on my own—I have a wildly popular talk show and a beautiful family and a presence about me. If I can do it, you can do it, but if you need support, that’s where the Hunter Foundation can come in.
To learn more about “The Wendy Williams Show,” visit wendyshow.com!
Mia Weber is the deputy editor of New York Family.