Juicy and frantic memories of Harpo Studios

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


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Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios closed their doors after 26 years in the Windy City.

Oprah and her executive staff are taking permanent residence in her OWN network headquarters, located in West Hollywood’s The Lot.

            I’ve sat in the audience at Harpo Studios many times. Some tapings were more memorable then others.

            For example, you may or may not know, President Thomas Jefferson, allegedly, fathered children with his bi-racial slave, Sally Hemings. Well, during this taping, Oprah arranged for some of Jefferson’s decedents to meet a few of their alleged, black family members.

It got juicy! 

            On a different day, I had myself a little speaking-on-camera action during a taping about workplace stress. I’d just gotten braces. I remember totally over-enunciating my words to avoid speaking with a lisp.

            The most awkward taping I attended was when Dr. Phil appeared promoting his book, “Relationship Rescue.” He had the audacity to go on this rant about how men in their 20s shouldn’t marry until their 30s because they haven’t discovered themselves yet. Well, I happened to be with my soon-to-be husband Don, and my not-yet mother-in-law, whom loudly applauded Dr. Phil’s suggestion. For a single woman hoping to seal the deal with her, then in-his-20’s man – it was not good!

            My vote for most disturbing was definitely the taping where Oscar Winner Mo’Nique’s, older brother spoke about molesting her. Don and I were ready to hightail it home to our kids. “If you can’t trust family, who can you trust?” I thought. 

            The last time I entered Harpo studios was for Oprah’s LifeClass, April 30, 2014. I’d only learned of the opportunity for last-minute seats the day before. By some miracle, I was able to secure childcare on short notice. However, getting to Harpo that morning proved strenuous. Rain and rush-hour makes a slow commute. Couple that with not being able to find parking and you’ve got panic. I literally sprinted, in the rain, wearing high-heel boots, a half mile from where I parked, barely making it to the studio before they stopped allowing entry.        

            In previous cases, arrivals were numbered and correlated to entering the studio for seating. I figured I’d be in the top bleachers. Yet, somehow, I landed in the front row, inches from Oprah. Her special guest that day was Bishop T.D. Jakes.

He’s the pastor of a non-denominational church called The Potter’s House with over 30,000 members. Some say he’s one of the most influential black leaders in America. He’s certainly influential to me. I record his services and watch them regularly. He’s authored multiple bestselling books and was there promoting his new title, “Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive.”

            I was selected with a few others for an on-camera illustration he conducted during the taping. You should’ve seen me springboard from my seat when he asked for volunteers. Gleaning from his intuitive lecture on how to use instinct to seize opportunity, I decided to apply it. The taping had concluded and audience members were coming out of their seats to get pictures with him and Oprah. My window was closing but I caught it. “Oprah, I need to say something.” I said faintly.

            She took steps toward me and yelled to the audience. “Everybody. Quiet. She needs to say something,” Then she looked me square in the eye. “What is it?” Oprah said. The entire audience quieted and huddled around us.

            I was thinking of a more private discussion but okay, I went with it.

            I told Oprah and Bishop Jakes that I’d written a book, “Becoming a Mother While Losing My Own.”

I explained, “I’ve been working tirelessly to get it exposure but lack the platform to do so.”  I stretched with opposite hands, putting cards with my book’s information in each of their palms.  “This is me, reaching to touch the hem of your garment.” I said.

It’s a metaphor I took from a Biblical story to express my faith in their capability to do what my labor, time and resources hasn’t. I don’t remember if Oprah responded, but I recall the baritone voice of Bishop Jakes, after a chuckle, “We’ll look into it.” he said. 

According to my girlfriend, the audience applauded for me afterwards. I don’t remember that, I was in a fog. I retreated into my seat while everyone around me took selfies with him and Oprah. I went into the bathroom to collect myself and a lady approached me. “I was really moved by what you just did. You’re going to get your platform, believe me, it's coming.” she said. 

            Harpo Studios may be gone but my last day there will be etched in my memory forever, I had a powerful experience. I haven't heard from Oprah or Bishop Jakes but they proved something to me that day.

If we just muster up the courage to use our voice, the most influential people in the world will use their influence to make sure we get heard. Knowing that leaves me with an exhilarating hope that one day, my life’s story will reach millions.