Oprah Takes on New York City

Oprah Winfrey kicked off her 22nd season in New York City.

ByABC News via via logo
January 08, 2009, 1:18 AM

Sept. 10, 2007 — -- America's most popular talk show host kicks off her new season today, and she's chosen New York City as her launch pad.

After 22 seasons on the air, Oprah Winfrey said Monday on "Good Morning America" that she wasn't nervous, unlike the last time she was in New York. That was in 1997, and she was preparing to interview Paul McCartney.

"I'm a little more at ease today because I am in the control chair," Winfrey said. "I feel really comfortable behind the microphone."

Winfrey's first guest will be late-night talk show host David Letterman, a man with whom Winfrey said she has "an interesting history." In 1995, while hosting the Oscars, Letterman infamously compared Oprah's name with Uma Thurman's.

For years, fans believed the talk titans were feuding, but Winfrey put the rumors to rest last year when she appeared as a guest on Letterman's show.

"I was a little nervous because I wasn't sure," she said. "I thought, 'OK. I sit down. When is the trapdoor going to open?' I spent the whole hour waiting for the trapdoor and it never came."

Now, as Letterman prepares to appear on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," the tables are turned.

"My goal is to make him as comfortable as possible," Winfrey said. "I hear he's a little nervous. That's why he doesn't like to see these interviews. It's often true that people who are in control of the mic don't like being on the other side of it."

Another guest on the season opener will be Oprah's very distant cousin -- Lisa Marie Presley.

"I call her that because she really is any cousin, like 18th, 19th cousin," Winfrey said. The women are related on Winfrey's mother's side.

Looking ahead, Winfrey's second show will include interviews with some of the children who lost parents on Sept. 11 and have since rebuilt their lives. "I think about them," Winfrey said. "Hardly a day goes by that I don't think of those who sacrificed in 9/11."

Winfrey said she was looking for the strongest way to honors those victims who have gone on after the terrorist attacks.

"I always think about [them] doing the simplest things," Winfrey said. "Sometimes I'm pouring a glass of juice and I think of them. They did that, [on] an ordinary day and they never came back home."

Winfrey said she believes those who died in the attacks gave their lives in order to alert America to the greater dangers facing the country.

"I often think of [the victims] as sort of angels who sacrificed for us that day, part of the wake-up call for America," Winfrey said. "We woke up for a little bit and then we went back to sleep again."

The talk show queen has been in the press lately for more than her New York City show debut -- on Saturday she hosted a star-studded political fundraiser for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. Winfrey said 1,657 attended the fundraiser, though she only knew 105 of the guests.

"I committed to it and then it was all over, like everybody's coming to Oprah's house," she said. "I went, 'Whoa, What have I done?' So I was glad to do it and also glad that we got through it safely."

Winfrey regularly propels authors to the bestseller list by featuring them in her book club and makes celebrities out of people like Dr. Phil. But endorsing a candidate is a departure for Winfrey, who helped raise $3 million at the fundraiser, and the move has political pundits wondering just how much influence her decision will have.

Winfrey said the decision was personal. "I really did it for myself," she said. "I have never felt more compelled to become engaged in the political process in a way that I thought I could make a difference. I do believe that everybody makes a difference, certainly by your vote, and we're in a world where we know that elections are won by thousands of votes, a few hundred votes."

Winfrey said she believes everyone has the chance to take a stand in any way they can, and showing her support for Obama was her way of doing so. "I have a larger platform, a bigger voice," she said. "But everybody has a voice. "You can make a difference."

One of Winfrey's proudest accomplishments is the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, the school she founded in South Africa in January. But becoming the benefactor of the all-girls school came with a few surprises.

"Everything costs twice as much as I ever expected," she said. "I have 27 kids who need braces. And I forgot winter coats. So, all of a sudden it's the wintertime and nobody has coats."

This summer Winfrey taught a leadership class at the academy. And in March Winfrey opened a second, environmentally friendly school in South Africa. "So far we're building four other schools based upon that school," she said. "The South African government is using it as a model."

In a week, Winfrey will travel to South Africa to choose the second class she will teach and is currently in the middle of interviewing students.

But not everyone always has given her school positive remarks.

"When I first built the school, people had the nerve to criticize the fact that, you're only saving 450 girls at a time," she said. "But it's the way it multiplies out into the universe because it's those girls and their families and their families."

Winfrey hopes to build a center for South African teachers, and then throughout the world.

She has helped scores of people during her decades in the spotlight, and she has no plans of slowing down.

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