Oprah's the star attraction at fair


by By ERIC AASEN and AVI SELK / The Dallas Morning News


Posted on October 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Updated Monday, Oct 19 at 6:13 PM

For a few fleeting moments at the State Fair of Texas, Oprah Winfrey transformed from billionaire talk-show host to true down-home Texan.

Gayle King, Nate Berkus and Oprah Winfrey thanked the crowd after the taping at the State Fair on Monday morning. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and country singer Martina McBride also made appearances.

Or as she put it: "I'm all Tex-ified."

As "Deep in the Heart of Texas" blasted from the speakers, Winfrey swaggered onto the Chevrolet Main Stage on Monday morning to tape segments for her program.

Oprah Winfrey greeted fans at WFAA's studio at Victory Park on Monday. She anchored the 5 p.m. newscast there.

Wearing a dark brown cowboy hat, boots, blue jeans and a mustard-yellow cardigan, the queen of daytime TV laid on a thick Texas drawl:

"Y'all sure know how to make a girl feel welcome," she told the crowd of several thousand. "Y'all sure know how to throw a great State Fair."

Over the weekend, while filming on the fairgrounds, she sampled fried goodies - including a corny dog, Deep Fried Peaches & Cream and Deep Fried Butter - played games and got up close and personal with Big Tex.

Monday's taping was part rock concert, part revival.

Fans cheered and screamed and clapped. Then they chanted.

"O-prah! O-prah!"

"Give me an O. Give me a P. Give me an R ...."

"We love Oprah, yes we do. We love Oprah, how about you?"

Fans came to worship Winfrey, too, sharing their favorite memories of her show and thanking her for inspiring them.

The crowd yearned to see their idol, their sister, their pal, their television shrink - the woman whose book club selections become instant best-sellers and who hands out car keys and holiday gifts to her audiences.

Winfrey didn't spend much time chatting with the audience. But that didn't seem to matter to most in the crowd.

Fans like Chandra Quaite of Cedar Hill knew this would be their best shot of seeing their TV friend in person.

"This would be my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity before she retires," said Quaite, who records the program every day.

"She relates to each of us. She crosses all boundaries. She can see the hearts of people and the needs of people."

Maria Ceja of Grand Prairie doesn't know life without the talk-show powerhouse.

"The sky is blue and Oprah is Oprah," she said. "Oprah's been around since I was a child."

Many in the crowd arrived in the middle of the night, hoping to get a good spot. The first hundred fans ran to the stage when the State Fair gates opened at 7 a.m.

They came from across the state: Rebecca Gonzales flew in from Lubbock, and Sandra Crenshaw arrived from Corpus Christi.

They came with children: Tabitha Grimaldo of Dallas wanted to create a memory with her 2-year-old daughter, Yanis, and share the experience with her when she gets older.

They came wearing sun hats and cowboy hats, jogging suits and pantsuits, carrying umbrellas and handmade signs, including "Oprah, Have a fried cheesecake."

They came despite threatening weather. Although Monday's skies were gray, it did not rain.

"We have this weird hook-up with Mother Nature," Sally Lou Loveman, an audience coordinator, told the crowd before the taping. "It's called Oprah."

This was a much happier visit to Texas for Winfrey compared to about a decade ago when she taped shows from Amarillo, where she was in a courtroom for making comments about mad cow disease and beef safety that angered cattlemen.

Cows were mentioned Monday, but for a different reason. The audience was told that Nate Berkus, an Oprah contributor, visited a girl who showed her cows at the fair.

Best friend Gayle King was on stage, helping Winfrey give kitchen appliances to some of the fair's top cooks.

Ali Wentworth, another regular contributor, appeared with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, kicking her legs in the air and shaking her behind.

Afterward, Oprah hugged Wentworth and told her: "God bless you."

As country crooner Martina McBride performed, Oprah sang along to her "This One's for the Girls."

From her chair, Winfrey swayed, as Berkus put his arms around her and King. Oprah smiled and waved to the crowd.

They taped underneath images of Big Tex and the Texas Star Ferris wheel, with a banner declaring: "Oprah at the Biggest State Fair in America."

Later in the day, Winfrey anchored WFAA-TV's 5 p.m. newscast at Channel 8's Victory Park studios.

Outside, hundreds of fans stood on planters and pressed against railings to catch a glimpse of her.

"This is like God," said Connie Green, 44, of White Settlement.

Dressed in her Wal-Mart uniform, Green had taken two buses, two trains and walked two miles to see Winfrey, whose advice "got me where I am."

After the State Fair taping, several dozen women lingered beneath the stage. These were literally the core fans - those at the center of the crowd who had cheered the loudest and longed the most for Winfrey's attention.

Rockwall High School teacher Tosha Ridgeway hoped her life-size cutout of Oprah - which she uses as a hall pass for her students - would score her an invitation to a future show.

Instead, a dozen women lined up to get their picture taken beside the cardboard O.

"I get excited just looking at my hall pass, let alone the real thing," Ridgeway said.

; aselk@dallasnews.com