It's been 10 years of "how you doin's?" and "dipping and doin's" for talk show host Wendy Williams. Now, at the dawn of her 10-year anniversary in TV, she's taken her celebration on the road with a 10-city tour — including a stop in Philadelphia last week — to promote the latest season of The Wendy Williams Show, which premieres Sept. 10 on Fox 29.
During her Philly stop on Thursday, Williams hosted an event at the Fillmore, treating guests to a segment of "Ask Wendy" and complimentary makeovers.
"[The tour] is actually fun in a weird way," Williams said, "I don't have to be responsible for much except for my delivery as Wendy. There is somebody to carry the wigs. There is somebody to carry the dresses. There is somebody to carry the shoes. The publicist is on the phone making calls. I'm coddled on the road. Otherwise, I could never do this."
Williams thrived in urban radio during much of the '90s and worked in major markets like Washington and New York, but Philadelphia was a pivotal place for her both personally and professionally.
Her "say it like you mean it" philosophy and spats with celebrities such as Judge Mathis and, most notably, Whitney Houston yielded as much admiration as they did infamy. Williams brought a tabloid sensibility to the urban radio market. But in 1997, the media maven was fired from NYC's Hot 97 FM, and she moved to Philadelphia and Power 99 FM.
"I got into a situation in New York radio and had to leave. I came to Philly broken. Successful, but broken," said Williams. Moving to Philly wasn't easy for her, leaving behind a boyfriend in Brooklyn and having to live in a city she knew only as a tourist. "I was the New York-Jersey girl. I wasn't the Philly-Jersey girl," Williams said.
Williams credits the Philly chapter of her life for her personal growth. She felt abandoned by her New York radio community but found that Philly's values of family and community were exactly what she needed. When she left Philly four years later, she went with a wealth of confidence, a husband (who is now her manager), and a son. She moved back to New York a "new woman."
Though Williams has branded herself the "Gossip Queen," she's always been transparent about her own scandals, particularly her struggles with cocaine.
During her current tour, she's raising awareness of the ills of untreated mental health problems and addiction through behere.org. The BeHere Campaign, in partnership with Williams' Hunter Foundation, aims to encourage open conversations about substance abuse.
"I was a substance abuser for 10 years of my life. I've talked about it for years. I talked about it as soon as I thought I was ready. Family and friends need to 'be here' for the substance abusers. When they come to you, be there. Don't –," Williams said, choking back tears, suggesting the issue is still a tender subject. But she resolved the tears with a giggle, saying, "It's what I do."
Eventually, Williams' "slick mouth" paid off with a slot in daytime television in summer 2008. During the six-week preview of her live show, she tempered her enthusiasm as she was unsure how she would be received on television. She cautiously kept one foot in radio early on.
"It takes a lot to be a Wendy. A Wendy is usually misunderstood," Williams said. "I was impressed, but not so impressed, because I was still waiting for people to not get who I am or try to put me in flat-front khakis and loafers. Or tell me to cut my hair. Or not talk so loud, [but] there is a give and take. For the most part, it was all Wendy."
Williams never expected her talk show to last 10 seasons. She said she would have been happy with three years.
"I think we've tinkered with the show enough to get it on a good run," she said, referencing her popular "Hot Topics" segment, which replicates the tabloid sensibility she pioneered during her radio heydey. "My staff and I pretty much agree on that. "Hot Topics" was eight minutes for two seasons. Then it went to 14 minutes for two seasons. Now "Hot Topics" is 24 minutes, half the show," Williams said, punctuating her excitement with a single hand clap.