Tomorrow, Wendy Williams turns fifty, and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate her birthday than to sit down and have her tell it to us straight. Since starting with an all-star career in radio, Williams’ is now an icon in daytime television, making waves with her renowned honesty, know-how and no-nonsense attitude.
We personally couldn’t get through the interview without requesting our own “Ask Wendy” (the segment on Williams’ show where fans ask life advice), and we’re happy to say we left much smarter (and more ballsy) than when we arrived. We sat down at Buddakan and chatted with Williams, one of the most powerful women in media today, on everything from the implosion of television and why she’s not best friends with celebrities, to the best Sloppy Joe’s in the tri-state area…
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
It would start with breakfast at a place we like to go to in New Jersey called The Pancake House. They make these delicious, very flat, flimsy pancakes, and they roll them for me, because I love a crepe—the cherry compote inside. I get three of them, no whipped cream on top. I don’t need any syrup. The cherries inside are good enough. I would have a side order of chicken sausage and a side order of bacon. The bacon is thick cut; it’s very, very good. And I would have two fried eggs with a piece of Swiss cheese over them. Now, I wouldn’t eat all of that. You order the whole thing, but everything in moderation. But I eat everything.
And then for lunch, I would go to another place that I enjoy in Jersey. We live in Jersey, so a perfect day for me is when I’m not working, and I’m home. Town Hall Deli in West Orange, New Jersey has the most phenomenal Sloppy Joes I’ve ever had. In Jersey, a Sloppy Joe is not with the red sauce and the crumbled meat. In Jersey, we do it differently. A Sloppy Joe is with delicious rye-like bread, coleslaw, some ham, and some turkey. The key is the coleslaw; it has to be made right. A little Russian dressing on one side of the sandwich, and a little pot of spicy mustard that I can delicately dip the bites as I like.
Then for dinner, I love a steak, baked potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. But I also love Mexican food. So it would be a toss up between the two.
So how does food, health and diet play into what you’re doing every day on your talk show?
Well, food and health don’t really play into the talk show, because I’m a foodie and I can’t lie and not practice what I preach. The first thing I think in the morning is “What am I going to eat today?” And as a real foodie, that’s what you do. You think about what you’re going to eat today and how you’re going to divide up your calories. But food and health play into my life because unfortunately, I’m badgered by my love of food. I grew up a fat child, being fat-shamed by my family. But now I’m about to be fifty and I’m in the best shape of my life. I weigh 165 pounds. I say that proudly because I weighed 175 when I got my drivers license and it’s been that way since I was seventeen years old; I put it on my license. But at one point, I shot up to 297 pounds. When we delivered our child, our son – he’s now thirteen – I gained 103 pounds. I was on bed rest and I had had miscarriages, so I was eating to comfort. I wasn’t moving and I gained all this weight. When I had the baby, I was always told that you lose the weight. I had him, and he was nine pounds, but I only lost four in the delivery! Being a big girl already, I got the ultimate mommy makeover. I went and I got liposuction and a tummy tuck – he was only six months old. So I do believe in cheating if you have the money to cheat, but I don’t believe in gaining the weight back. So I got the liposuction and got my stomach tight as a drum, and it put me on a track to the rest of my life. I got down to 180 pounds, and it was fabulous.
I heard that when you turn a half a century, you can either celebrate it and love it and fly the flag proudly, or you can be depressed as hell because your career is not going well and now you’re too old for the marketplace. Because as women, they push us out. It’s a crime. Our metabolism slows down and many of us are sliding into menopause. The quality of skin goes down, the amount of gray hairs goes up. I just didn’t want to be that girl.
I’m down to 165 pounds, my fighting weight. I feel better than ever. I still have not sacrificed food, but like I said, everything in moderation. I also changed the way I eat. Most of the time, I eat like a queen at breakfast, a princess at lunch, and a pauper at dinner.
I’m a morning and day person. By this time [3pm] normally, I’m home in my robe. I am the queen of all robes – the queen of all loungewear. So if I’m going to be lying around at home, that “pauper eating” around 5pm is very important. I cook for my husband and my son, but I only taste. And I don’t mean I only taste like it’s a whole plate full of food. I mean, literally. I am disciplined with only tasting. And then whatever dinner I make for them, I put in a tupperware for me and I have it in the morning at the studio. And then I run around the set, and I’m sweating, and it’s like a workout, because our show is live. So those calories are usually gone by 2pm in the afternoon.
So moving from food more towards the show, how have you found media has changed since you launched it?
I feel like eventually everybody is going to be on TV. Whether it’s having your own talk show – not that everybody can do it, you see how many talk shows come along – but everybody is going to be given a chance. I think it’s horrible, only because I’m selfish. I studied this in college. I wasn’t some bum who just landed something. I studied radio in college, and I did radio for twenty-five years. They plucked me to host my own show based on listening to me. They didn’t have the idea of the show; they just wanted the host and then built the show around that host. And I was a strong person in the radio game, and they knew about this and they listened, and they called my husband, who’s also my manager and one of the co-executive producers of the show. Next thing you know, I flew to New York and the paperwork was done in a month. I had wanted to be a newscaster or a radio personality since I was in sixth grade. I knew what I wanted to do. So, it pisses me off that everybody is going to be on TV.
Reality TV pisses me off. It pisses me off that there are not more scripted shows. You know, I was talking with Leah Remini today; it was my first time meeting her. I’m such a fan of that New York thing that she has going on in The King of Queens, and she was so vulnerable on Dancing With the Stars. TV has changed so much, that respected actresses like her are resorting to reality TV. She was there to promote her reality TV show. Reality TV is supposed to be for Spencer and Heidi and them – regular people who nobody knows that just want to become famous. But this is what it has come to and it’s very, very sad.
The economy has had a big hand in that. When my show was a six-week sneak peak, the economy was in the process of crashing. By the time we got to our first season and Obama was elected into office, the recession was a real thing, crippling all industries, including TV. Putting on a show costs a lot of money and reality TV is so cheap to make. But you want to know something? All businesses lose money in the first three years. You have to survive the first three years, whether you own a restaurant, or you have a TV show. The people who produced the show could have very well said, “Well Wendy, you know what, the show’s not making any money.” And we weren’t; that’s not what happens in the first three seasons. You spend, spend, spend, spend.
For myself, there is not one show since Desperate Housewives that I make appointment TV for. Like, I-can’t-miss-it-or-I’ll-stab-myself TV. I like Scandal but I don’t watch Scandal every week. There’s not a show that I’m committed to like that.
What about premium television like HBO and Showtime?
I have not watched HBO in ages. Sometimes staff will burn off an episode of Orange is the New Black or whatever, but I will tell you, I have not committed to HBO since Sex and The City and The Sopranos. That’s crazy. Do you know what I watch at night? When I finally do settle down at night, I turn on HLN, because I’m very comfortable listening to and watching Jane Velez-Mitchell at 8, Nancy Grace at 9, and Dr. Drew at 10. But again, that’s not scripted TV. I like Modern Family when I run into it, but it’s not appointment TV. And I think that a lot of people feel that way. People are watching Love and Hip Hop on a Monday night. They’re not watching the new sitcom on Fox.
Do you think that has to do with the fact that you can record everything and watch it a week later if you’d like?
I think it’s what’s being produced. I don’t even have a DVR. I don’t even know what that is. I feel like there’s always something good on TV. I’m an easy sell; you know what I mean? I can do with five channels and I could find something on at least one of those channels and be fine.
My favorite kind of TV has always been daytime TV. I love the talk shows and I love the court shows. I just love daytime TV, so the idea that I’m now a daytime TV talk show host is really something.