Read an Excerpt
The Wendy Williams Experience. That is the name of my nationally syndicated radio show. But the Experience is almost twenty years of growth and insight. It is a reflection of where we have come from as a society and a reflection, in many ways, of where we are going. I started in radio at a crucial time in our history. America was going through the Reagan years of the 1980s, heading into a very selfish, me-first period. The thing that was called rap was evolving into a hip- hop movement. The thing called cocaine had moved into the darker period of crack and was infecting our neighborhoods throughout the country.
What was once fun and games was becoming very serious—in music and in life. And my career has chronicled this period. And as I have grown up, my radio show has become one of the history makers of our times. Some will say that perhaps I reflect the worst of what we human beings have to offer. I say, I re- flect exactly what is out there in its natural state. If you don’t like it, look in the mirror.
The Experience has evolved itself over the last decade into a brand of entertainment that I must say is totally for the people. Many tune in to my show and think it’s all about the gossip and all of that. But the show is, more than anything else, about you people and what you want to know about and what you have to say about the things going on. And as I comment on the things you want to know and want to hear, and relate these events to my own life, this show has become the experience.
Take, for example, my interview with Whitney Houston. Diane Sawyer had made history just a couple of weeks prior to my interview with Whitney. It was the second-highest-rated broadcast in entertainment history—behind Barbara Walters’s Monica Lewinsky interview. A huge buzz followed Diane Sawyer’s sit-down with Whitney. There was so much fodder for conversation that by the time I interviewed Whitney—who will be covered in great detail in a chapter in this book—people were still talking about it.
Diane Sawyer asked all of the right questions. In fact, for me that interview solidified Diane Sawyer’s place as the number-one interviewer in the game. But ... Diane Sawyer couldn’t duplicate what I did with Whitney on the Experience. My interview with Whitney Houston was more than a one-on-one—it was a culmination of years of discussion on my show about her with the people. It was answers to the questions many of you had. And it was an insider’s look into what was really the deal with Whit- ney. See, Whitney, for those listening to the Experience, is fam- ily. Her appearance on my show was like a homecoming long overdue.
While she was trying to keep it together in front of Diane Sawyer, on the Experience Whitney Houston could—and did—let her hair down. She could be herself. She was raw and got down and dirty—as you will see in the transcript of that interview. And it was the best radio I had ever done. That interview was a prime example of what the Experience is all about. It’s real. It’s raw. It’s about and for the people. And more than anything, it’s not predictable. I love doing my show because it’s as much a surprise for me most days as it is for you all.
And while I may go down in history as delivering the most interesting interview with one of our icons—Whitney Houston—my entire career has been built on such moments. I have become known for my celebrity interviews. People enjoy the kinds of questions I ask, they enjoy the kinds of answers I often provoke celebrities to give.
I don’t do interviews based on a celebrity bio. People come into the studio with their publicist, a bio, and a list of questions I should ask. Pu-lease! That all goes in the garbage. I hate that. The last thing I get around to talking about when I do an interview is a celebrity’s actual product of the moment. Boring! It might be that a person is coming out with a movie or a new CD. But we won’t talk about that. I will mention it in the beginning and I will mention it in the end, but everything that goes on in the middle is about their personal lives.
I like to find out about people for the first time while the mics are open. If I have never met them before, I will learn about them when everyone else does. I don’t want anything to taint the purity of the interview. During commercial breaks I won’t even sit in the studio with my guest because I don’t want to be tempted to have any conversation with them that might be interesting and then have to try and re-create that moment on the air. So in order not to waste one drop of entertainment, I will send my guest into the other room with their publicist or whoever they came to the studio with. And I will bring them back when the break is over. That formula has worked well for me over the years.
There are many celebrities, including rappers, and other entertainers who avoid my show like the plague. And there are others who are forbidden—by their handlers—from coming on my show. Babs from Da Band, which was featured on MTV’s Making the Band, wanted to come up to the show to get some things off her chest. When her label, Bad Boy, found out, however, they put the clamps down and forbade her to come. That happens a lot. (She has since come on the show.)
But those with the courage to come on the show soon realize it’s probably the best thing they could have done for themselves and their career. It’s not coming on the Experience that can be detrimental to a career, because not only do we go on talking about those people anyway, but they never get to clear the air about such things as might be said about them.
Even those who I have had a sticky relationship with find that, in the end, the ordeal is not that bad. Once you get in the studio with me, it’s a different story from what you might have expected.
I feel like I’m a very nice person (no, really!) and I try to be fair. I try to bring up as many things from the past that I’ve free-for-all talked about and I ask them if they’re true. I dissect them as many ways as I can think of. The Wendy Williams Experience is the place where celebrities should want to come to clear up gossip, rumors, and innuendos. They have the opportunity to put their story out there. It’s their chance to tell the people what the real deal is.
My show is almost a necessity if a celebrity expects to take it to the next level. Celebrities must share themselves with the public if they expect to stay on top. That’s just the way it is today. There are so many people out there with great talent. But what separates great talent from stardom is that surrounding excitement, that buzz. On the Experience I always use Deborah Cox as an example of someone who hasn’t figured this out. Deborah Cox has a nice body; she’s got a cute face; and she can really sing. So why isn’t she as big as Ashanti or Beyoncé? I’m going to tell you why: She doesn’t have a certain je ne sais quoi. She’s boring. There are no rumors swirling about her. She isn’t linked to anybody exciting. She’s just another talented woman who will never be a superstar.
The National Basketball Association’s Nets suffer from the same malady. Here is a basketball team that has beaten everyone in their conference and played for the NBA championship two years in a row. But despite their success, they couldn’t seem to get sellout crowds in the Meadowlands. Why? Boring! You don’t hear about any of those Nets out in the clubs, getting into trouble. You don’t hear about them getting into fights or getting stopped by the cops for a DUI. None of them are linked to a sexy celebrity. They are just there—boring! Who cares?
Celebrities who put themselves out there—whether on purpose or by mistake—can really get some mileage out of their career. Look at Paris Hilton. She and her sister Nicky Hilton were mildly interesting. It was cool that these two rich girls would be on the red carpet and all of that, but it wasn’t until Paris Hilton got caught out there with that sex tape that her career really took off. Because of the controversy, her television show, The Simple Life, became a hit. Now she is even talking about a music career, and that may fly, because people want to know Paris Hilton.
And there are those like Britney Spears who manufacture buzz. Her kiss with Madonna (another pro in manufacturing buzz) was front-page news and a top story in entertainment for days. Britney was shown in the tabloids smoking, was reported to be a teen drinker, and even admitted to having used drugs. And I believe all of that has helped keep her at the top of pop. Her last album wasn’t selling as well as the previous one, and what does she do? She gets a quickie marriage in Las Vegas. That marriage cost her more than half a million dollars in payoffs to the groom for an annulment, but how many more albums did she sell? Britney figured out that controversy sells. And it does.
So celebrities should be thanking me for keeping their names out there, because shows like mine help their careers.
I can’t remember when I first started doing celebrity interviews the way I do them now. I cannot remember when I first started asking questions off the beaten path. But I can say that my style developed once I realized that I wanted to ask the questions and get the information for the people, not the industry. When I realized why I wanted to do radio, everything changed.
I do radio for the people, for John and Jane Q. Public. As a result I am not part of the “in crowd” of entertainment. I do not get invitations to some of the fabulous events and great parties that other disc jockeys, who are a little more kissy-kissy in their manner of interview, get to enjoy. But it’s a sacrifice I gladly make.
Once I chose to be on the side of the people instead of on the side of the celebrity, I no longer had any boundaries in terms of the kinds of questions I could ask, because I was no longer worried about offending anybody. I wasn’t worried about not being invited to their wedding or getting backstage passes to their concerts. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I cared more about the people, my people, than about the celebrities.
LL Cool J was the very first celebrity I ever interviewed who is still a celebrity today. I was in college at Northeastern in Boston, and was a jock on my college station. We were actually one of the largest stations in the Boston area that played rap and R & B music. LL Cool J was just coming on the scene with “I Need a Beat,” and was making his rounds promoting his new album.
He was about seventeen and I was ... well, whatever. And I remember giggling and blushing through the whole interview. I don’t even think I asked him one solid question; I was so caught up in his lip licking and his flirting. If he ever stopped flirting with me I would not have been ready to ask him any gripping questions, anyway. So the interview went much like this, “Ooh, LL, tell me about your new single,” I said. “Well, sweetheart ...” he began as he licked those lips of his about a dozen times. And I was finished.
The next time I interviewed LL Cool J was around 1995. He had become one of the biggest rappers in the game and had already broken into television with In the House. He had also done his first starring role in a movie in Out of Sync. I was the “it” girl at 98.7 KISS FM and was number one in my time slot, doing the popular Top 8 at 8 Countdown.
This interview was quite different. I wasn’t falling for the flirtations. Somewhere along the way I realized that I wasn’t somebody LL Cool J was checking for, or looking at in that way. I wasn’t the “Around the Way Girl” he was rapping about. I was older and wasn’t buying it. “Don’t try to slay me with your lip licking,” I was saying to myself. “I can see through it! You like small girls, not girls like me.”
Let’s just say, it was quite a different interview. He was seasoned. I was seasoned. He came in guarded and I was throwing questions that went way beyond “What’s your next single off the album?”
Throughout the years, LL Cool J has been a topic of conversation on my show. Our talk about him prompted him to devote almost an entire chapter in his 1997 best-selling book, I Make My Own Rules, to discuss how I was such a negative influence and a terrible role model. To this day, if he sees me on the red carpet at a music award show, he will run in the opposite direction. And that’s fine. We’re not friends. But to me, he is still the GOAT—the greatest of all time—in rap music. That title, however, doesn’t exempt him from being talked about on the Experience.
I have had the pleasure of interviewing so many icons and divas, so many stars and fading stars. And I have learned never to predict what is going to happen in an interview, because you never know. Even the most seasoned vets of the game can be thrown off course by an off-the- beaten-path question. I have had many interviews that I thought would be complete duds that turned out to be very exciting.
Judge Greg Mathis, of the Judge Mathis show, came on the Experience in 2003 for what I thought would be a perfectly boring interview about a man who pulled himself up from the streets and from a troubled past to become a judge and a role model. And it turned into a disgusting free- for-all where I was cussed out and yelled at. This judge completely lost his cool. I cannot give you any details about the question that I asked him that set him off. Unfortunately, after the interview Judge Mathis went back to Detroit and slapped a gag order on me, preventing me from ever talking about that interview or rebroadcasting it. But I can say this: It was one of my more memorable interviews that took a turn for the unexpected.
Voletta Wallace, the mother of the Notorious B.I.G, Christopher Wallace, was a guest on my show in the spring of 2003. She was coming on to promote “Big’s Night Out,” a charity event to raise money for the Christopher Wallace Foundation, which provides books and computers to schools primarily in the Brooklyn area where Biggie—who was shot to death in 1997—grew up.
I thought to myself, “This is going to be the most boring situation.” In my mind I wasn’t billing it as a full-fledged interview. Miss Wallace came to the show with R & B songstress Faith, who would normally get the Experience line of questioning—but because she was there as the dutiful daughter-in-law instead of as the First Lady of Bad Boy Records, I couldn’t go there with her either. I mean, she was there with Miss Wallace—mature, motherly Miss Wallace. I couldn’t ask those kinds of questions in front of her. Miss Wallace was bringing this dark cloud of maturity over the whole damn studio!
But I have to tell you, that woman just came in with her honesty, her smile, and her wisdomatic ways and changed everything I was feeling. She just lit up the room and ended up being one of my best interviews.
She was, surprisingly, a lot smaller in person. Her hair was done proper in an upsweep. Miss Wallace was not shiny. She was understated elegance. You could tell by the fabric that she was wearing good clothing, expensive clothing, but she wasn’t wearing labels and jewelry. Miss Wallace was no Janice Combs, if you know what I mean.
And she was no wallflower either. Miss Wallace brought the heat. She not only talked about her age and how she hadn’t had sex in years, but she also talked candidly about her son, Biggie, and his relationships with different women. The conversation led to Lil’ Kim. And that’s when it got interesting. There had been allegations made that Biggie was abusive to Kim during their relationship and that he even pointed a gun at her. Miss Wallace said, “If my son held a gun to her head, he should have pulled the trigger and blown her brains out!”
Whoa. She dropped that like a bomb and when the smoke cleared the entire studio was quiet. Hell, I imagined everyone in listening distance froze wherever they were with their mouths wide open. I mean, it was so quiet that you could hear a strand of hair from a weave hit the ground. And what was so crazy was that Miss Wallace meant every word. She was angry and she was dead serious. She was the Notorious M.O.M. That turned into one of my most memorable moments and it wasn’t with a rapper or a singer or a movie star. It was with a sophisticated woman—a mother.
Another great radio moment was had with model Tyson Beckford. It was in 1999 while I was still in Philadelphia. I met Tyson for the first time in 1993 outside Club Bentley in New York. It was a hot summer night and he was with some of his boys. People knew Tyson Beckford back then but he wasn’t a supermodel yet. He was just a model. I was better known in New York. We exchanged greetings then and it was all very pleasant.
I had never talked about Tyson on the air at this point. Oftentimes I find that if I’ve never talked about a celebrity but they know about my reputation, it is pretty easy to meet them. If I haven’t talked about them, then there’s no dirt on them. Or you can look at it that perhaps if I haven’t talked about them that they need to heat it up a little. Because my radio show, for good or for bad, is reflective of what the people are talking about. And if you’re a celebrity and I’m not talking about you, then you aren’t at the top of your game.
Tyson certainly stepped up his game. Through the years, I got to learn more about him and he became fodder for the Experience. We would talk about Tyson and his bikes—he was into motorcycles. Tyson and his lady friends. Tyson and his guy buddies. We started teasing him on the radio. Tyson is a New Yorker and it’s a small island and a lot of your business gets out. And then we started talking about Tyson and New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter.
The first time I got to interview Tyson on the radio was when I was in Philadelphia doing the morning show. He was scheduled to come on to talk about a major promotional event he was doing in town for Polo Ralph Lauren in conjunction with my station.
He got into Philly and apparently upon turning on the radio realized, “Uh-oh, Wendy is a part of this show!” See, the morning show in Philly was called the Dream Team Morning Show. My name wasn’t in the title and Tyson had no idea I was there. When he got into the Philly area and heard it was going to be me who would be interviewing him, there must have been a panic in his camp. But it was too late to back out of the promotion because Polo and my radio station had sunk a lot of money into it. So his people called up my general manager at home and said, “Look, if she says anything out of order, he’s leaving and not doing the promotion! Polo will never work with you again!”
Oh, it was a big stink. My general manager called my program director, who called me in the studio with a very stern voice and a very firm delivery talking about “You better not blow this for us!” He told me that I couldn’t ask him questions centered on his relationships, his sexuality, his sexuality, and his sexuality. Well, I do have other lines of questioning, everybody!
So when he walked into the studio, he plopped down into the swivel chair and he swiveled around with his back to me, facing my two cohosts. My two partners knew what was going on and they found it to be the most comical thing, so they were ripping him. So he swivels away from them, too, and faces the wall during the entire interview. He conducts the interview facing the wall with sunglasses on. The whole interview became about Tyson and his anger toward me. It was very funny.
I ended up asking him about who he was dating and about his sexuality. I didn’t ask in a way that would get me in trouble, though. I said, “Tyson, I already got the memo and I can’t ask you about your sexuality and I can’t ask you about your relationships. Why is that, Tyson?” So I am asking him within not asking him. He was very curt, very cold. He gave me one-word answers and grunts. I still laugh about that interview.
The next time I got to talk to him was on the red carpet at the VH1 Fashion Awards in 2003. I was there filming a segment of my show, Wendy Williams Is on Fire, for VH1. I’m among the throng of media and paparazzi and I call out to Tyson as he walks by. He sees it’s me and instead of walking on—the way many celebrities who see me do—he stops and creates the following scene.
Since our last interview in Philly, I had made it back to New York on the radio, and every so often Tyson Beckford would be a topic of conversation on the Experience. The rumors were heating up with Tyson and Derek Jeter, and one major rumor had it that Tyson had a tattoo somewhere on his personage of a Yankees symbol with Jeter’s number on it and the initials DJ under that.
The rumor apparently got back to Tyson, who, upon seeing me on the red carpet, started to disrobe right there. He took off his shirt while the paparazzi around us were looking like “Ooh, what is Tyson doing?!” No one knew what was going on, but they were loving it. We became the center of attention on the red carpet. Tyson made quite a spectacle as he pulled off his shirt and started gesticulating and carrying on. He turned around to show me his back. He turned and showed me his pecs and his arms. He turned his wrists inside out to show me that there was nothing there either. “See, nothing!” he said. “No ‘DJ,’ so stop it! Tyson Beckford is not gay, so stop it!”
It was moment of high drama. And it made for a great experience. I loved Tyson for that moment.
Most of the celebrities who I interview are amazingly candid and open. I believe they recognize the unique opportunity of coming on the Experience. A lot of people ask me why people don’t just walk out when things get too hectic. Walking out is the absolute worst thing a celebrity can do. And in my almost twenty years doing radio I have only had one person actually walk out on me—Flava Flav from Public Enemy.
I was in Philly—where I actually had some of my wildest interviews. Oftentimes when a celebrity such as a rapper leaves New York to do media, they expect kid-glove treatment. They feel that perhaps other jocks in smaller markets aren’t going to ask them the tough questions and that they can truly go on and promote whatever it is they want to promote.
But I brought my style with me to Philly. The easy interview time they thought they were going to have changed dramatically when they found out that I was part of that morning team on Power 99. “Oh, damn, I thought we got rid of her when she fell off the face of the earth after leaving New York,” they would think. Wrong!
The interview with Flava Flav was quite crazy. He was very defensive. I asked him about his substance abuse, something he had been very open about in the past but wasn’t in the mood to talk about on this day. Words were exchanged, and somewhere in there he called my mother a crackhead. I called him a bum and he ended up walking out of the studio. He went to the car in the parking lot, sulking. I didn’t realize at the time that he was so pissed that he had to leave. I thought he had simply gone to the bathroom or something. I thought he was coming back. They managed to get him back into the studio after the show was over. He was still mad. Even when we took our promotional picture he was arguing with someone off camera about the whole thing.
But most people, even when they are feeling the heat, even if they want to leave, sit there and take it. They suffer through it and are better off for having done so. What I have learned through my years of interviewing and having people sweat through interviews—and almost everyone I interview, when it’s over, has moist or sweaty palms, even seasoned vets—is that celebrities are basically cowards. And many of them do lots of the things that you hear me talk about on the radio.
Why not just stay and play it out? Even if they lie their way through it—and some have—it’s better than making a scene or walking out. Staying and playing it out has proven to be your best weapon against The Wendy Williams Experience.
I have often thought about why more people haven’t walked out or hung up on me, as I expected Whitney Houston to do long before she totally lost control of her senses. And I have concluded that they don’t because they are afraid that it will never end, that I will continue to dig up bones on them. And they are probably right.
At the end of the day I do have the mic. And that mic is power.
Scandals, gossip, innuendos, rumors—we love it all! We love it because it takes us out of our own reality. It gives us an opportunity to look at somebody else’s problems and know that we are not alone. Hell, if a celebrity is going through so much shit, our lives cannot be so bad after all.
There is another aspect to the world of scandal that we love too. Many of us love to hate. And we love to build people up to tear them down. We love to watch a celebrity take a fall. It reaffirms that even with all of their wealth and their fame and their success, they are just like us. They put their pants on the same way—one leg at a time.
I was introduced to the world of scandal at quite an early age. I remember being in the sixth grade and shopping in the Family Pharmacy at the Middlebrook Shopping Plaza, a little strip mall near my Ocean Township home. I was probably getting some candy or some other goodie to eat and while at the checkout counter, my eye caught a National Enquirer with its salacious headlines. I’m not sure what that particular one was about, but I remember buying it and reading it cover to cover. I was hooked.
I couldn’t wait for the weekends or the summers, because that’s when I could really get into the Enquirer and the Star. When I was growing up, most of the stories were about movie stars— stars of the big screen. There was always an item about Elizabeth Taylor and her relationships or her battles with drugs or something. There were stories about Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal, Diahann Carroll and Diana Ross, Natalie Wood, and even Jack La Lanne and Mike Douglas. And there was always something about one of the stars of Dallas. I loved reading every juicy morsel.
I also got hooked on Divorce Court, the original Divorce Court. And while I was young, and while what they were talking about was way over my head, I loved hearing the tawdry details of who was cheating on whom and why they were breaking up. I graduated to reading Dear Abby in the newspapers, which is probably where my desire to give advice was awakened.
So now, doing what I do in radio is about as natural as breathing. I didn’t inherit this lust for the lascivious. My mother didn’t buy the Enquirer or the Star, she wasn’t into gossip. Neither was my sister, Wanda. That was my very own thing that I developed. And today someone is paying me for it!
Not a night goes by that I don’t watch E!, Access Hollywood, and Extra. I must know what’s going on. And I love working the red carpet. I want to know what the celebrities are wearing and what they are doing and who they are doing it with.
And oddly enough, I have become a leader in the gossip industry, someone whom the others call on when something goes down. They actually want my take on a particular scandal.
And for those who accuse me of creating this frenzy around gossip, I will tell them to look around—this thing has been going on long before Wendy Williams got ahold of it. That genie was let out of the bottle a while ago, and she’s not going back.
Don’t get me wrong, though. As much as I love the scandals, there is a part of me—the very human part of me—that is saddened by our lust for it. We have become desensitized to everything, and we seem not to care about people and their feelings or the impact that this stuff will have on our kids. We want to know and we want to know more. And it goes beyond celebrities. We even want to know what our neighbors and everyday average citizens are up to. That’s why these reality shows have become so popular. It’s sick, really.
The sickest things I have seen of late are images generated on these telephones that take pictures. I cannot tell you how many listeners want to show me a photo they took on the sneak from their telephone of someone doing something they shouldn’t be caught doing. Those camera phones are the most evil invention. I wish they would go the fuck away. It’s a great invasion of privacy.
So is the E! Celebrities Uncensored show, which spies on celebrities. Yeah, I watch it. But I do so with both hands over my eyes and my fingers separated so that I can barely see through them. I think shows like that go too far.
Am I a hypocrite for saying that? I guess you can call me a hypocrite. But I am still human and still a mother and understand the impact all of that has on society. Dammit! And damn us as a society for loving it so much. And damn me for sharing it and not being able to let it go.
There was a time when I was just a regular deejay, spinning the hits. But before I knew it, I had gone from spinning hits to telling people’s business, and you people wanted to know more and more. It’s to a point now where if I can get one song in during the course of an hour, I’m doing well. This gossip thing has had a snowball effect. The more I talk, the more people want. And believe it or not, I hate the g-word. I hate being identified as a gossip. It’s ugly. I try to disguise it by saying we’re talking about pop culture. But we all know what it really is.
I comfort myself by saying that gossip doesn’t ruin people anymore. So many of us have dark pasts and secrets that we cannot afford to point our finger at the next person and judge. Thank God, we live in a forgiving society. And black people are among the most forgiving. So in terms of ruining someone, there are so many ways to make a wrong right. We don’t have time to hold people’s feet to the fire for but so long. Before we know it, there is the next scandal to focus on.
But there are a few scandals that I think we will be talking about for a while. The O. J. Simpson trial is something people still talk about, and it’s been more than ten years since that verdict.
Did he murder his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman? What was that ride in the Bronco all about? And why didn’t the glove fit? They still refer to his trial as the “Trial of the Century.” Hell, it may be the trial of the millennium.
In 2003, I met O. J. Simpson—who, by the way, was acquitted of the double murder in the criminal trial but found responsible for the deaths in a civil trial—for the very first time on my radio show. My station, WBLS, which happens to be a black-owned radio station, set it up. They basically sprang the interview on me without asking if I even wanted to interview him (which I didn’t).
Sometimes people feel that because we’re all black, we all have to support one another. We all have to vote for the black man because he’s running for president. We all have to believe the black man is innocent of murder because America shows black men so much injustice. Well, I’ll tell you what, when they told me O. J. was at the station to be interviewed, I was upset. I was very upset. They never asked me if I wanted to sit face-to-face with someone who I believe is a murderer—someone who I believe got away with murder.
He was in town doing some sort of media something. Cameras were following O. J. around wherever he went, as he mentioned on my show, to document exactly how people treat him. He contended that people still love him and that only the media twisted his acceptance around:
Wendy Williams (WW): Interesting. So, um, when you travel and when you’re walking down the street and things like that, what type of reaction do you get from people?
O. J. Simpson (OJ): The exact reaction may be a little more emotion—
—than I got fifteen years ago. If you took a walk with me down the street, you’d be amazed. I don’t care where I go, white, black, wherever I go. Everybody’s terrific; it’s only the media that dogs me.
And that’s one of the reasons why we’re chronicling—
I don’t think so, O.J.
What do you mean, you don’t think so? Hey, how many people [who] are in this room have been in various cities with me? You ask every one of them ...
(someone says something, claps)
You know what really bothers me?
Uh-huh. They were saying one thing and whenever I was asked I’d say everywhere I go people are terrific, right.
Well, what happened was Esquire magazine—
—decided to find out the truth.
So, I didn’t know it, but for a month and a half they had a writer follow me.
And after a month they made themselves known to me.
And they did a cover story, and what did the story say? No matter what anybody say, everywhere this guy goes, everybody, old ladies, young ladies—
—white, black. Everybody’s terrific wherever I go. I have trouble buying a drink in a restaurant. Last night I couldn’t buy a drink when I got here at the hotel restaurant. People buy my dinner, they buy my lunch. And I mean, it’s nondenominational, white, black, blue, green, it’s whatever it is. It’s the media and only the media [that tells a different story].
He even talked about having a good relationship with the parents of Nicole Brown. He talked about himself and the Browns attending the school sports games of O. J.’s kids, Sydney and Justin. He said he is well received at those games too.
And I have to admit, he might be right. I found O. J. Simpson to be perfectly charming in person. He was actually very attractive to me. Yes, he charmed me. I still think O. J.’s a murderer, but he’s a damned charming murderer.
First of all, he’s sexy. O. J. Simpson is sexy. He has a full head of hair and he has the smoothest, most beautiful skin. And his body. You know, the man is older now and it’s not to die for.
But you can see what it used to look like and you can see it hasn’t changed much. He has a nice physique. He’s big and charming, with beautiful teeth and a nice smile. He came in, we talked about his relationships with white women. We talked about his image. We even talked about his relationships with black women:
When’s the last time you had sex with a black woman, O.J.?
Well, a dark woman, she wasn’t quite black ’cause she was Cuban, uh, it’s none of your business, but that’s the last one I’ve been with.
But that’s not a black woman, that was a Cuban woman.
Well, I like Cuban women.
I’m talking about black like me.
Two years ago.
Look at that. And in the meantime you’ve done a lot of boning between, uh, two years ago and now. And you skipped over the sisters.
Well, naw, naw, naw. I’ve done a lot of boning with two women. No more than two women. In that specific length of time.
And I’m single.
I know, but you have—
I can date who I wanna date.
But I don’t, it’s ... You’re buying into this.
No, well, O.J.—
You’re buying into media. Everybody that knows me don’t buy into it. The people that see me out don’t buy into it. But you’re somewhat, for some reason you’re buying into the white media.
O. J., have you ever dated women as dark as your charcoal pants?
In high school.
In high school?
Now, I’ve dated numerous women that’s about your color.
And, look, I’m a nice little, as a matter of fact, we’re the same complexion. I may be a little lighter than you and I am a real—
Is something wrong with us?
I’m black as tar to you.
Nah, no, you’re not. I told, I just told you I’ve dated ... the girl that I dated, the last girl that we talked about I was with—
—was darker than you.
But I bet you she had hair like [TLC’s] Chili or [former MTV host] Ananda Lewis. Didn’t she?
Thank God, she did!
See, look at that. “Thank God, she did!”?
I like that hair. What’s wrong with that? I gotta make excuses for what I like?
(Chuckles.) I like rocky road ice cream.
You don’t have to make any ... That’s one thing about this show—
But I still have vanilla ice cream from time to time.
So, if a woman, um, so we’ll go past that. You’ve already—
Yeah, just leave the women.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cause the women right now are very, very mad. The women with—
I disagree with you—
—our perms and our weaves and our—
—everywhere I go women are terrific. Wherever I go the women are terrific.
The white women.
No, the black women. Wherever I go, women are terrific. Sisters have been the most supportive group of people to me than anybody in this country. I get more letters from them than anybody.
Even kids who are sports fans.
I don’t believe that, but we’ll move on.
O. J. was very candid in his responses and he obviously wasn’t trying to be politically correct. We got along very well. We drank champagne. He left.
And when he did leave, I thought, “Damn him! He’s handsome. He’s charming! He’s a murderer.”
I thought he was a murderer before I interviewed him. I thought he was a murderer during our interview. And I still think he’s a murderer. And he is still one of the most controversial figures of our time.
Michael Jackson is another. Actually, his scandals, both the 1993 child molestation allegations and the more recent one from 2003 (and the others that seem to be coming out the woodwork), might just define the legacy of Michael Jackson. And what a shame that would be. He has done so much for the world of music and is perhaps one of the most talented people ever to live, but he will be forever known as a man who is inappropriate with young boys—whether he is acquitted of the latest charges or not.
Michael Jackson, in my opinion, is guilty of something. I don’t know what exactly, but he did something—even if it was only displaying very, very bad judgment. And it’s just as much the fault of his father, Joe Jackson, for taking away his childhood as it is Michael’s fault for being a grown man who can’t seem to tear himself away from young boys.
And while it is easy to point a finger at Joe Jackson and the abuse he allegedly gave to Michael and whatever psychological problems he may have caused, I believe that at forty-five years old you are supposed to have gotten past whatever burdens your parents may have put on your shoulders. And if you haven’t completely gotten over the things your parents did, at forty- five you should at least be able to manage those issues in an adult realm.
Don’t get me wrong, parents can do stuff that will mess you up, that you will carry with you into adulthood. But at some point you still have to accept responsibility for the things you do, regardless of the root problem.
When I look at Michael Jackson, I’m not judging him based on some of the craziness he displays. And I believe people are looking at the wrong things when they look at his relationship with a young Emmanuel Lewis or a young Macaulay Culkin. Those weren’t the smoking guns, so to speak. I don’t think Michael would be guilty of anything with those kids—they’re too high profile. But with the twelve-year-old boy dying from cancer? This is the boy who was featured in that Martin Bashir special with Michael Jackson—the same boy who claimed that Michael saved his life and helped him to overcome his cancer. Wasn’t he supposed to die from that cancer? No victim, no witness. Hmm.
Again, this is about what I believe to be the biggest problem in our society—child molestation. Even if Michael Jackson did nothing sexual with that twelve-year-old boy, was it appropriate to have that child sleep over so many times? Perhaps he created an environment where that child crossed the line in his mind, not thinking that there was a line. And that to me is a crime. Adults need to make boundaries with children and make those boundaries very clear. Children must know their place and adults must make that place very secure and clear for them. I don’t know what happened in Michael’s childhood, but I do know one thing about abuse—if it isn’t dealt with or corrected, the cycle is never broken.
When the latest Michael Jackson scandal broke in 2003, I had the opportunity to actually talk with Michael’s mother and father, Katherine and Joseph, on the radio. I have Steve Manning, celebrity publicist, to thank for that interview. Steve is very close to the Jackson family. He is so close that he spends Thanksgiving at the Jackson compound.
Through Steve, I was even invited to the Jacksons’ to celebrate Joe’s birthday in August of 2003. I didn’t go because I didn’t want to taint what I do—which, I have said, is not for the celebrities or to be in with them, but for the people. But we did talk on the air about the party I missed, and Katherine even asked me where I’d been. When my previous book, Wendy’s Got the Heat, came out, Katherine and Jermaine Jackson requested a copy, which I signed and sent to them. I like the Jackson clan. But I have to call it like I see it. My liking for them cannot hold me back from saying what I feel about Michael and this situation. And I am disgusted by it.
I have no idea how this particular case is going to turn out, but I pray that if Michael once again walks, he walks himself somewhere to get some help, because he has some serious problems.
Unfortunately, Michael Jackson is not alone. The sex scandals of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, coming from the one place we should never expect such scandals, helped shake many people’s very faith. I’m talking about the scandal with Jim Bakker and the PTL Club, the sex scandal with Jimmy Swaggart, and the sex scandals that are still rocking the Catholic Church. Perhaps these scandals have done more damage than the allegations about Michael Jackson ever could, because as a result of these scandals people have turned away from their religion. I see a lot of people seeking answers and searching in different places, from studying the kabbalah to joining the Church of Scientology. The public can no longer depend on the people and the institutions that should be above such behavior. With celebrities we can sometimes expect the worst, but from the church? Wow!
Whitney Houston’s admission of drug use in 2003 could potentially be a scandal for the time capsule. But I am hoping it doesn’t happen. I am hoping she is in a passing phase—that she will clean herself up and become once again one of the reigning queens of our time. But if she does do a Billie Holiday, which she seems unfortunately headed toward, then hers will truly be a scandal for the ages. But we have to wait and see.
In 2003, squeaky-clean NBA star Kobe Bryant shocked the sports world with his arrest for rape. Kobe Bryant—the fresh-faced, near-perfect, endorser’s dream—arrested for rape. Surprised? Not me.
When I first heard about the Kobe Bryant scandal, I said immediately that he’s probably guilty. Guilty of “taking it.” Rape is such a harsh word, and I’m not sure that I would use the word for what I believe Kobe Bryant did. I think it’s unfair to use the word rape about a woman who willingly went to a hotel room and who pretty much knew the score and through her own damn naïveté got tripped up into something she didn’t want. I know because this happened to me.
When I think of rape I think of the woman in the alley whose clothes are ripped, whose face has been scarred, who has been brutalized. I don’t like to use the word rape for what happened to the girl in the Kobe Bryant situation. I will call it nonconsensual sex. According to published reports, she agreed to some form of sex with him but didn’t consent when he wanted to do something else with her. I believe she said no. And I also believe that when she said no, he took it. He should not have taken it. But she should not have put herself in that situation. And then there is the question about whether it was all a setup in the first place.
Men like Kobe Bryant are very susceptible to having things like this happen to them. Men who are wealthy, famous, star athletes, actors, wealthy businessmen, can all get got like this. It can happen to any man with money and a willing participant—a girl who is after a few dollars or some attention.
But what happened to Kobe Bryant is one hundred percent his fault. Ultimately, he’s a married man and he got his just deserts because he was cheating on his wife. Cheating on his wife, without a condom, no less! Damn him! And now he not only has to deal with a trial and potential jail time, but also his wife, Vanessa, and her attitude toward him for cheating in such a disgustingly up-high way. I mean, there was nothing down-low or discreet about what Kobe did. And his wife, like so many other women in that position, also has got to learn about being an NBA player’s wife and that this was the only time he got caught.
But even though the media—myself included—are guilty of making this a huge, huge story, Kobe Bryant’s case is all too common. And I wonder how history will treat the Kobe Bryant scandal or the scandal involving former NBA player Jayson Williams, who killed a limo driver in his home, or the scandal of rocker Phil Spector, also accused of murder in 2003, or Robert Blake, who was accused of an O. J.-style killing of his wife. Will we even care? Will we be so bombarded with other scandals that we won’t even remember these?
There is one scandal that I know I will never forget—the R. Kelly sex scandal. Unlike the rest, this one feels personal, because before the scandal R. Kelly was one of my favorite entertainers.
In the middle of the week I received an afternoon call. I had been back in New York perhaps a month at WBLS-FM and the Experience was reestablishing itself as the place to go if you wanted to know what was happening in the world—as far as celebrities are concerned. We were bringing the heat from the start.
The caller said that he had something that I had to see. He would meet me downstairs after the show. I got downstairs to see a black limousine and the person inside was a record-label executive—a high appointed record-label executive. If I mentioned his name, you would know who he is.
In the limo was another man, who had traveled all the way from Chicago to deliver the goods. My husband and manager, Kevin, was there as well. The four of us huddled around a monitor in back of the limo as the executive popped in a VHS tape. What I saw to this day makes my stomach turn. I watched in utter disgust. But I also watched very carefully, taking in every detail, because I knew in my gut that I would never see this tape again—not because I wouldn’t have access, but because what I saw was so repulsive that I knew I could not watch it a second time.
Everything had to register, because I knew I was going to get on the air the next day and tell exactly what I saw. And what I saw was a man who looked just like R. Kelly performing sex acts with females who looked just like little girls.
It appeared to be somewhere in R. Kelly’s house. There were R. Kelly platinum plaques on the wall. I even saw an Aaliyah plaque on a wall in the background. The man who looked like R. Kelly was very aware of the camera. There were three sex sessions on this video with three different young ladies.
In the first session, the girl looked about sixteen years old. She could have been as old as twenty, because I admit that sometimes young girls look older and some older women look very young. The man was having sex with her in a chair. The second session was blurry. It was difficult to make out the girl’s features, but it was clear that it was the same man and it was clear that the young lady was very young. But it was the last session that blew me away.
That is the one that anyone who has seen this tape will remember in vivid detail. There was a young lady—a very young lady—who looked to be between thirteen and fifteen years old. She had a little girl’s body, not fully developed, barely any hair growing in certain areas.
The man was apparently sitting on a couch, holding the camera as the young lady danced—it was a hootchie, nasty, strip-club dance. Midway through the dance she spread her legs like an Alvin Ailey dancer and urinated. The man holding the camera directed her to do it. He was directing her the whole time, saying things like “Turn around now and touch yourself.” It was very, very disgusting and disturbing.
The man with the camera, who looked like R. Kelly, then stepped into the frame and had the young lady spread out on the couch. He stood over her and urinated on her chest and watched as it ran down her body. I had seen enough. There was more on this tape, much more.
The record executive had gotten it from a man from Chicago, who happened to be someone in R. Kelly’s camp. He was disgusted by what was happening and felt that the record executive could somehow put a stop to it. The record executive did one of the first things he thought of— brought the tape to me. He knew that I could put light on this tape the way no one else could. And I did. I broke the R. Kelly story on the air the next day.
It was emotional for me to tell this story on the air. Comedian/actor Bill Bellamy was my guest in the studio. He was there to promote his new series, Fast Lane, which was debuting on Fox (it has since been canceled). Bill is from New Jersey and we go way back—we are from the same generation and kind of started in the business together. Bill was there as I was telling this story, and at one point I became very emotional as I was describing what I had seen.
Yes, it was disgusting. But I was thinking about these young girls in the video. Our problem isn’t the war on drugs and all of that—which is important—but the sexualization of our children is what is killing us as a society. Older men preying on the young boys and girls is a huge problem that no one talks about. This R. Kelly scandal just really hit home with how prevalent this is, and our community is just so forgiving.
I started to cry on the air. The tears that I was shedding were for the girls this is happening to—these girls whom I will defend to the end because they simply know no better. I was also crying because I knew that in spite of what I was saying on the air and in spite of what I had seen in that video, R. Kelly’s fans would still buy his records, radio stations would still play his music, and he would still win awards.
At the 2003 BET Awards, R. Kelly not only performed but he won the Best Male R & B award. He was also nominated for a Soul Train Music Award and a Grammy in 2004! His album Chocolate Factory, released in March of 2003, sold more than 532,000 copies its first week, and by May of that year it had sold more than two million copies. In June of 2003, R. Kelly made the top of the R & B/Hip-Hop Single Sales Chart with his single “Snake.” The next month the single crossed over onto the Top 40 list. In August of 2003, his next album, R, went eight times platinum—that’s eight million copies sold. And the video for the song “Ignition” was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. In September, R. Kelly was nominated for two American Music Awards. He was even nominated for a 2004 NAACP Image Award. An image award! Who says that crime doesn’t pay?
I get a lot of criticism for telling people’s business. I get a lot of flak for “gossiping” about celebrities on my show. Well, I will say this: If I don’t tell it, who will? And I do what I do because I am tired of seeing these people—these celebrities who have the attention and the ear and eye of so many young people in our society—get away with the things they get away with.
Perhaps people will still buy their records, but maybe talking about them gives people a chance to examine a little more closely these people they have put on a pedestal.
By the way, at the time of this book’s publication, R. Kelly was standing trial on charges of child pornography. He had been indicted on twenty-one counts of child pornography stemming from the sex on video, including the one that I saw with the girl who turned out to be thirteen years old.
This R. Kelly scandal hurts me particularly, not only because of the hurt unleashed on the young girls, but also because R. Kelly happened to be one of my favorite singers of all time. I’m not a concertgoer, and I never get excited when I hear people are going to be in concert, because I’m usually attending as part of my job. The only concert I have been to in recent years for fun was an R. Kelly concert in New York in 1997 or 1998. My husband and I sat near the stage and we danced in the aisle and the whole bit and had a great time.
The first time I met R. Kelly I was at 98.7 KISS in the early 1990s. He was part of a group, Public Announcement. He talked about how he was singing in the subways of Chicago for money. He talked about how close he was to his mother (who has since died). I remember thinking how country and corny he was back then and also how talented. And there is still something country and corny about him to me even to this day.
I have to tell you that the sexual scandal that happened with him has turned me off from listening to any R. Kelly music with the same fever—except for happy songs like “Step in the Name of Love,” where I can insert my own person that I want to step to. I no longer think of music when I think of R. Kelly.
When I went to his concert and he was talking about bumping and grinding, before the scandal he was bumping and grinding for me. Now when I hear that song, I think, “Ilk!” because all I can see is him bumping and grinding with little girls and I’m thinking, when he pulls women up on the stage to perform in his show, “You don’t—allegedly—even like women of that age.” Yes, until he is convicted (or if he is convicted, because you all know that money talks), it is still only alleged. But I know what I saw in the video. I saw him doing unthinkable things to a little girl.
I still think about this case, and no matter how it turns out, in many ways it is an example of what I was saying earlier—we are a forgiving people. No matter what scandal celebrities find themselves in, ultimately, after we’ve finished raking them over the coals and talking about them, we will still love them. They are our celebrities.