How Oprah Winfrey Changed My Life

Superstar changed the lives of people through her ratings-busting talk show.

May 24, 2011— -- After 25 years on daytime television, Oprah Winfrey has touched the lives of millions.

The best-selling authors whose books she chose for her book club, and the small business owners whose products made her "favorite things" list, can tell you about the fame and fortune that followed after a mention on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Then there are the regular folks who were going about their daily lives when they were called to be on the show. In 25 years and 4,561 shows, Winfrey has interviewed some 30,000 guests and many of their lives were changed forever.

"Her legacy is going to live on through me and her other guests who have had such profound changes," Cheryl Hallett of Wellington, Fla., told "She's one woman and she's changed so many lives and those people have changed others lives."

During one of Winfrey's makeover shows in 2000, Hallett's knee-length hair was clipped to above her ears. For someone who was known to friends for her hair, that would be life-changing enough. But Hallett, now 51, was about to come face-to-face with her drinking problem.

"Riding in the limo and seeing the Chicago skyline, I felt special," she recalled. "It was the first time I had been in a limo just for me, and it was because Oprah chose my letter. I thought, 'Maybe I do have a gift for writing, maybe there's something valuable and worthwhile about me.' I had this sense that something was about to change."

No longer able to hide under the cover of her hair, Hallett realized just how far she had strayed and how much she used alcohol to cope with her daily pain. Two months after her appearance on the show, Hallett began a recovery program and took her last drink. A year later Hallett, a single mother of one, met her second husband, and together, they have two children.

Now Hallett is using her voice to help other women through their recovery from alcohol abuse. "I get to share my story and it's a real gift, one of the greatest gifts," Hallett said. "And Oprah was the catalyst for the whole thing."

Hallett says her appearance on the show gave her a sense of value and worth. "I couldn't let that be for nothing," she said. "I couldn't let it go to waste."

Last week, Hallett returned to the show, 11 years after her first appearance, to talk about how much her life had changed. "It was a way for me to tell her thank you."

Skipping School

Kiley Russell would also like to thank Winfrey. In September 2004, Russell, then a Chicago-area school administrator, skipped the first day of school to attend "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

It was a good thing too, because on that auspicious day Russell and every member of the audience received a brand-new car, a Pontiac G6.

Russell needed a new car, but she needed a new life more. After being diagnosed with lupus, a chronic immune disorder, a few years earlier, her doctor had told her that she needed to change her life and control stress if she ever hoped to be healthy again.

When Winfrey told the audience, "We're not just giving away cars, we're changing lives," Russell said, "It just rang true to me, it pierced my soul."

For years, Russell had made soaps and body scrubs as gifts for friends and family and tossed around the idea of turning it into a business. Now she had the seed money. A week after winning the car, Russell sold it and plowed the $20,000 into her fledgling business, Big Girl Cosmetics.

A year later, she quit her job at the school and, after several miscarriages, had her first son. Three years later, she had a second. Now, her business has expanded beyond online sales to its first boutique in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. A second location will open soon and Macy's will start selling her products in retail stores beginning in fall 2012.

"I can't believe the growth of the brand," said Russell, now 34. "I can't believe the kids are here. It's like I'm living a dream. I hope Oprah understands the reason why I sold the car. It gave me these two beautiful kids and a great business. I'm hoping she would be proud."

Just in case Winfrey has any doubt about Russell's gratitude, Russell created Angel's Halo lip gloss in her honor. The case is shaped in a circle, an "O" for Oprah. "I really feel like she's my angel in disguise."