As we get nearer to our 25th anniversary this July, we're bringing some of our favorite BUST stories out of the archives and onto the internet. Back in 2011, we talked to Wendy Williams about family, food and feminism.
At 46, Wendy Williams has achieved the American dream. She’s got a killer career in TV, radio, and publishing. And her husband of 16 years, Kevin Hunter (who’s also her manager and producer), and their 10-year-old son keep things from getting lonely at the top. The consummate talk-show host, she’s fun, fierce, and has been known to unapologetically joke on air about her fake boobs, her fake hair, and her deep voice, while always taking the jabs she gets from E!’s The Soup in stride. It’s this unique combo of unabashed confidence and humility that draws her regular viewers so close. And with her signature Jersey-girl style, she attracts fans by the millions every weekday by sharing the latest gossip, making us laugh, and calling people out on their shit.
Williams became big news in July 2009 when The Wendy Williams Show—her syndicated daytime talk show that features celebrity interviews, cooking segments, and the latest beauty and fashion trends, all delivered with a healthy dose of attitude—was heralded as a “breakthrough in daytime” by The New York Times. The show’s positive, gracious vibe quickly gained Williams an enthusiastic cult following that has grown over the past two years into a massive fan base. But it took Williams a long time to become an overnight sensation.
A 23-year radio veteran, the New Jersey native first made a name for herself as the host of the top-rated Wendy Williams Experience on WBLS in New York. Her midday drive show was the place to go for hot pop-culture news and sage advice. It was also the place where listeners eagerly tuned in to hear Williams fearlessly push the buttons of stars most reporters were too timid to confront, including Tupac Shakur, Method Man, Whitney Houston, and Bow Wow. She was never shy about asking her radio guests anything, and while that sometimes ignited controversy and even a few rivalries (and caused her to be the topic of some unkind rap lyrics), it also built up enough demand for her ballsy brand of journalism that The Wendy Williams Experience was syndicated coast to coast. Her success at WBLS also earned her the honor of being the second African American woman to be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame, and it opened the door to her second career, as a writer. To date she’s penned two New York Times best sellers, Wendy’s Got the Heat (Simon & Schuster) and The Wendy Williams Experience (Dutton Books), as well as several novels.
In April, she’ll be venturing into yet another format when her new dating show, Love Triangle, debuts on the Game Show Network. So is there anything this self-proclaimed “queen of all media” can’t do? Here, she sits down with us in her luxuriously appointed N.Y.C. dressing room to chat about family, food, and making it in the biz.
Before we begin, I love the hot-pink and leopard-print décor here in your dressing room! This looks like my dream office.
Thank you. This used to be Montel Williams’ office, and back then, nothing was here. It was a blank slate, and this is how I wanted it done.
You’re going to be hosting a new show on the Game Show Network. Can you tell me more about that?
It’s called Love Triangle, and it starts on April 18th. It’s not as much a game show as it is perhaps a relationship show. The gist of the show is there’s one person caught between two people, and they can’t figure out which one to choose. They’re at the point in their life where they want to choose one and are tired of dating both. Sometimes the people they’re dating know about each other, and sometimes they don’t. But they come on Love Triangle, and I help them figure it out through a series of things like “the Love Triangle soul-mate survey,” where they answer questions and take a lie-detector test. Then there is a payoff at the end, where we send the couple to Napa Valley or something like that.
As a wife and mother, how do you balance such a busy career and family?
Right now I’m in the process of taping the first season of Love Triangle, which is 32 episodes. I leave The Wendy Williams Show Thursday evenings and get on a plane with Kevin and go to L.A. to tape Love Triangle. We tape eight episodes of Love Triangle on Friday and another eight on Saturday. Then I come back to New York and tape The Wendy Williams Show Monday through Thursday. It’s exciting because it’s what I always dreamt of. And I don’t feel overworked, because I can say no to anything. But what fool is going to say no? And it’s temporary. My parents are still alive, so they are in New Jersey for the entire month even though we are here during the week, they are there to hold down the household for my son while I’m traveling to L.A. And Kevin and I, you know, it’s great being married to someone who supports you undyingly, because we jump on the plane and hustle together, and that’s how it’s been since we first met. It makes it easier. People always ask women, “How do you do it?” And it definitely starts with support at home and natural energy.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes…no…well, I can’t say fully. I consider myself a feminist in some ways, but I do believe in assuming the role of the woman, you know? A lot of women want to know why they’re by themselves, because they don’t know how to shut up and play their position. That doesn’t mean you have to be stupid. Look, I know I’m bossy. I know I can take care of myself. I know “I don’t need no man.” But you know, it’s nice to have a boyfriend or a husband and the affection of a man. It is. I enjoy being a mother. I understand women who don’t want to be, but I like it. I enjoy cooking for my family, I like it when they come home and it’s warm and it’s clean and tastefully decorated. And I do that stuff. I don’t clean it [laughs]. I decorate it and I supervise what goes on. So yeah, I am a feminist, but I am also traditional.
I am a feminist, but I am also traditional.
Well, since this interview will be appearing in our Food Issue, what do you like to cook for your family?
Well, I’m not a great cook [laughs]. But I like to cook well-rounded meals that include vegetables, like they do in the movies. Like Donna Reed. Chicken, steak, fish, but I also cook the fun stuff. Every Sunday morning we eat breakfast together, and I make pancakes.
What was the last thing you ate before this interview?
I had eggs. I have them every morning—egg whites with onion and green peppers. No cheese. I love cheese, but it’s my weakness. It binds me, and it’s bad for cholesterol. Although, to the best of my knowledge, I’m very healthy. I feel optimum in energy, and my cholesterol is good. Oh, and I have to have lots of hot sauce. I eat this 20 minutes before every show.
Do you have a favorite restaurant?
I like chains. Maybe that’s stupid Americana or it makes me a stupid girl from Jersey. I like fancy-shmancy restaurants, but I love Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and every once in a while, like every six months, I love a full-fat Whopper with cheese from Burger King. And I like to eat in the parking lot in my car. I don’t want to take it with me, and I don’t want anyone with me. I don’t like to talk when I’m eating my food. To me, as soon as you talk, you’re releasing the flavors, you know? I don’t want to talk. I just want to enjoy the food.
Did you always know you wanted this career?
Well, I knew I wanted to be a newscaster. And I wanted to be a radio personality. But I didn’t grow up with a bunch of talk shows. There were a few talk shows, which I loved, like Dinah Shore and things like that. But people like me have made [being a female talk-show host] more possible. People like Ricki Lake have made it more possible. She made it more possible for me. People like Chelsea Handler make it more possible for you to dream that and make it happen. I mean, I broke barriers that women hadn’t broken regarding radio. I didn’t think I’d be a radio star in New York, syndicated like that. I thought I’d be doing middays in Chicago, married to a cardiologist or a politician [she puts on a light, sexy radio voice] speaking in soft tones on FM 103. Because that’s what women sounded like when I was growing up. They were sidekicks on the morning shows; they were never the main dish. Or they did overnights and did quiet stories. And I was ready for that, too. But ya know, have a plan B, because while you might want to pursue this career on the side, you’ll need to make some money. And there’s no money until you’re a star.
Don’t ruin your career for love. This is where I’m not old-fashioned. I’ve had my boyfriends, my fair share of dating, but I always knew exactly what these guys were good for.
What advice would you give to aspiring future media mavens?
College is important, but don’t spend your time in graduate school. ’Cause while you’re in graduate school, everyone else is out there taking the jobs. Unless there’s a branch of media you’re interested in that’s so specific, you have to be in graduate school to do it—but I don’t even know what that would be. I feel like there are a lot of people who use graduate school as a crutch when they can’t get a job.
Make a personal life for yourself, but not too early. Like, no babies in your 20s. As a woman, I will say—and other married women might agree—when we get married or partnered, we give up way more than men do. If you want that family, marriage, and want to be a media person, hold off on the family stuff until between 32 and 37. And you’re not going to be able to have a gaggle of kids. Keep yourself free, and always be ready to go where the job is.
Find someone’s career that you can really model yourself after, not in terms of being like them but in terms of their lifestyle. You don’t need to meet that person, but there’s so much on the Internet and biographies where you can learn about them.
Don’t ruin your career for love. This is where I’m not old-fashioned. I’ve had my boyfriends, my fair share of dating, but I always knew exactly what these guys were good for. I never treated them like crap, but the second the phone rang and I got a job in D.C., I said, “I’m going, and I’m not doing this long-distance thing.” Because you don’t make a lot of money, and you don’t have a lot of money or time to waste with friends and boyfriends who don’t understand your mission. It is a very lonely road to get where you want to go, so learn to be your own best friend. And if you’re not that girl yet, fake it till you make it—until you have a better understanding of yourself. I can say, at 46, there was a lot of faking till I got here. And I can’t wait to see what’s on the other side of 50, because there are some phenomenal women over on that 50-plus side. It gets better. Your womanhood gets better, but you’ve got to leave yourself open and free for all your career possibilities.
But most important, make a life for yourself. Don’t make your career your life, or you will be a very sad—wealthy, if you’re successful—but a sad person. At the end of the day, you have to have a life. See what it’s like here? After the show, when I come in here and my glam squad is gone, who’s calling me? My mother, my father, my husband. My phone is not blowing up with a bunch of friends. Because it does get lonely at the top. But I am not alone. I have a stack of stuff to get through, and then I’ll trek outta here. Any truly honest successful woman will agree, you have to have a life outside of this: kids, love, whatever it is. Friends are nice, but friends are fleeting. “Oh, she’s my best friend since I was five!” Oh yeah? Grab your first Daytime Emmy and see where that best friend is: she’s selling stories to the National Enquirer! So be careful, but make a life.
I feel like everyone looks at this and thinks it’s so easy, and it’s not. I didn’t have anyone to look at and say, “Ohhh, it’s so easy.” ’Cause I really liked Dinah Shore, but she was an older white woman and seemed to know all those famous people. And then Oprah came along, and I was, like, Go, girl! Ya know, she was fat and not a light-skinned black woman like Jayne Kennedy, who I grew up seeing on TV; she was gorgeous! But Oprah showed me an image I had never seen, and that let me know the possibilities are endless. I still wasn’t talking about being a TV talk-show host. I wanted to be on the radio, but this all happened through being successful on the radio. Now it’s a dream come true, and it’s great!
Story by Giulia Rozzi
Photo by Kareem Black
This interview originally appeared in BUST's April/May 2011 issue. Subscribe now.
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