Wendy Williams on Making Radio Without Pulling Punches
TONY COX, host:
I'm Tony Cox and this is NEWS & NOTES.
Radio personality Wendy Williams doesn't mind being called the black Howard Stern. She's famous for her candid, sometimes controversial interviews with celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. "The Wendy Williams Experience" is mostly unscripted, but the show does have a few regular segments like the "Advice Hour."
(Soundbite of show, "The Wendy Williams Experience")
Ms. WENDY WILLIAMS (Host, The Wendy Williams Experience): Dear Wendy, why do black women flip out and criticize black men who date outside of their race? Well, we don't, as long it's the one that we don't want.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. WILLIAMS: You know, we sisters have got this little sign like, hmm, she can have him, the white girl can have him. But between homosexuality, the rate of dropping out of school, you know, so we get the dead beats, you know, the ones that are around are eww, who wants them? That's the flip out.
It's tough out here being a black woman if you've resigned to yourself to want nothing but a relationship with a black man.
COX: Wendy Williams may be over the top, but so are her ratings. During a recent commercial break at WBLS in New York City, she spoke with NPR's Farai Chideya about her fearless interviewing style, the importance of family, and her rise to radio fame.
Ms. WILLIAMS: You know, after doing this for 21 years - and don't get me wrong, I never get tired of it. I don't like to deliver stale radio shows. But after 21 years, I've learned how to multi-task just so I can make time for answering phone calls or doing an interview like this, Farai.
CHIDEYA: Well, you know what, Wendy? I used to live in New York and I have listened to you for years. But you can drive a person crazy, and not somebody like me who's a listener. But you bring people to the table and they come on because they respect the power of your audience and a view, and then you will diss them so hard. Why are you going to do that?
Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, well, it depends on the person and what is going on. It's not necessarily a diss, but - I'll give you an example. So 50 Cent had a big party at his house. He was entertaining clients. It wasn't, you know, one of them, Negro-fests. It was more like, you know, big business and mature people.
And one of the people there was a person that I like a lot who's been on my show a few times, Talib Kweli. Now, Talib Kweli was smacked up by a girl at the party. So as much as I like Talib Kweli, I've got to talk about that. So we talked about it, and the next time Talib Kweli comes to the studio, I'll make sure to ask him about it. In the meantime, we have the girl who did the smacking up coming in to talk about it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Oh no.
Ms. WILLIAMS: I don't really consider that a diss. I shoot from the hip. I believe that I'm fair. Up until that point, no, I didn't know anything like that about Talib Kweli. But now he's got a whole 'nother line of questions that I'm going to throw at him.
CHIDEYA: Now would you prefer that Talib Kweli had hit a woman back like, you know, the way Dr. Dre treated Dee Barnes or something? Or is it…
Ms. WILLIAMS: I would prefer that…
CHIDEYA: Go ahead.
Ms. WILLIAMS: I would prefer that nobody hit anybody. But smackdowns are good for my business.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Well, speaking of smackdowns. In 2003, you had a verbal smackdown with Whitney Houston. Let's listen to a little bit of that.
(Soundbite of radio show, "The Wendy Williams Experience")
Ms. WHITNEY HOUSTON (Singer): Ah, Wendy, I love you because you support me and you've been good to me on the radio. However, you know, watch what you say, baby girl.
Ms. WILLIAMS: But, Whitney, watch what you do and…
Ms. HOUSTON: I know it's not you. You don't even know what I do. Like you said, you never met me. You don't even know me. You're haven't been in my house. You don't live with me. You don't sleep with me. You don't know (bleep) about me but talk about me. So watch what you say. Let's talk baby girl. So I'm asking you, to watch what (bleep) you say.
Ms. WILLIAMS: But, Whitney…
Ms. HOUSTON: What, baby?
Ms. WILLIAMS: I would love to have you come in the studio.
Ms. HOUSTON: Okay, love. We'll make a date. You call my machine; I'll call yours.
Ms. WILLIAMS: I love you, Whitney.
Ms. HOUSTON: I love you too, Wendy.
Ms. WILLIAMS: You take care.
Ms. HOUSTON: You too, baby.
Ms. WILLIAMS: Bye.
Ms. HOUSTON: Good luck.
CHIDEYA: All right. Wendy…
Ms. WILLIAMS: Yeah.
CHIDEYA: I love you, curse, curse, bleep, bleep. I love you, curse, curse, bleep, bleep. That's crazy right there. I mean, how do you deal with these celebrity love-hate relationship that they have with you.
Ms. WILLIAMS: The best way to explain it is it's very simple: I create a life and outside interests so that I'm not dependent an invitations for 4th of July to the Whitney Houston barbecue off the coast of Long Island. Instead, you know, I would be doing things with my own inner circle, which don't involve anybody that anybody knows.
CHIDEYA: Right. So you're saying that even though you live a celebrity-filled life in public, that in private you are private.
Ms. WILLIAMS: I mean, it's not so private. I mean, you know, I say what it is. But in private I think that the choices that I make in terms of the things that I do, the way I conduct myself and the people that I surround myself with, are probably supremely boring. And one of my favorite places to be in the entire world is in my own house with a robe on.
CHIDEYA: It's boring, and yet it's not. You talk about yourself on the show. You've talked about your husband's infidelity. You talked about your breast implants. Do you think your audience loves you in part because you expose yourself as well as exposing other people?
Ms. WILLIAMS: I don't know. I would think that they enjoy listening in part because I'm not just exposing but I'm also giving you the details and information on how you can do it too. For instance, to some women perhaps if it weren't for me, they wouldn't know that for $2,500 and a visit to Dr. fill-in-the-blank, you know, you can go and get a little liposuction. Janet Jackson is not going to share that with you.
CHIDEYA: You were fired. You're rehired. Now you're on TV and radio. What has been the worst part of your career and the very best part of your career?
Ms. WILLIAMS: The worst part was probably living in the Virgin Islands. It was my first job and it was extremely - you know, I was mature enough to go and take the job and stick it out. And mature enough to have a plan, which is I'm not leaving here until I have a job. I will not run home to my mother and father and, you know, my friends and stuff. The best part of my career is Karen.
Every year seems to have gotten better in my career. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices in terms of the money we make or where we go to make it. And as a 21-year-old college student getting out of school, it was a very easy choice for me to make to chase my first radio job in the Virgin Islands. But I look around at the college kids now and I'm dumbfounded by some of the choices they make, like I don't want to go and move to Tupelo, Mississippi. I don't know anybody there. That was like a no-brainer decision for me.
And I was made to feel a bit like a leper, including my own parents who couldn't understand my decision, my friends, who I would never call because I was only making $3.25 an hour. Any money that I had, I would spend on stamps, making tapes and, you know, career focus. And it paid off. I was there for a little under a year and kind of kept it moving the rest of the way. But that first initial decision to abandon everything that I know and to go some place where I knew nobody and hate it, cry everyday, work my job and feel like a real outsider and very broke. I hid all my feelings from everybody; I put on a brave face when I talk to people. I said it was glamorous and wonderful, and really it was torturous.
CHIDEYA: One of the things that really gets me about you is you talk about celebrities being a friend in my head. And you're really honest about being something of a fan, as well as being someone who has met all of these people and who has been in the mix with celebrities. Tell us what a friend in my head really means to you.
Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, a friend in my head is somebody that you don't know. I mean - and even if you know him, you only know them to say hello or how do you do. You know, you don't know them like you would know a friend, but you know enough about them through reading in magazines, through listening to their music or watching their TV show to say, you know what, in real life, me and Robin Givens, we'd be so cool. For instance, a friend in my head happens to be present-day Robin Givens. Not the Robin Givens who was, you know, with Mike Tyson, the immature, you know, young, temperamental girl. Another friend in my head is Vanessa Williams. Now I know both women in terms of I've interviewed them, but I don't know them like you'd know a friend. But even after interviewing them, we were friends in my head prior to me ever meeting them. After meeting them, it's even more of a reason for me to say, yes, they are friends in my head. But I don't have the time in the day to make anymore friends, as I'm sure the ladies don't, not that they'd be interested in being my friend anyway.
CHIDEYA: Do people ever trip that someone who can - you are so out there in some ways and yet you very much are a mother and a daughter. Is that a contradiction to you?
Ms. WILLIAMS: No. My parents, this summer, will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. And I have an older sister and a younger brother, and it's just the five of us, the original Williams. I grew up with family values knowing that, you know, family is important. But after being in this debaucherous career and seeing so many crazy, wild, senseless things, the behavior of this industry has chased me even further into being even more about family. Like, I don't want any part of it when I put the microphone down. I really want what I was thought, which is my own family and I like to be at home. But now I'm getting the wrap up sign, because I've got to go back. We've used my whole commercial break.
CHIDEYA: I know we have. Well, Wendy, thank you so much.
Ms. WILLIAMS: Oh, Farai.
CHIDEYA: You keep on making your power moves.
Ms. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Farai. Take care everybody.
COX: Wendy Williams hosts a nationally syndicated radio show, "The Wendy Williams Experience." She spoke with NPR's Farai Chideya. To read more about Wendy and hear some of her favorite interviews, go to npr.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.