A day at the Oprah: the music, the magic, the vibe

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Don’t know if you heard anything about it, but Oprah Winfrey threw a block party recently.

Actually, “blocks” party is more like it. To kick off her 24th season, “Oprah” took over several blocks of Michigan Avenue on Tuesday, from Wacker Drive to Ohio Street. And because it was an Oprah party, several of her famous pals dropped by the shindig, which lasted from about 5:15 to 7:40 p.m. (The season-kickoff show will air Thursday.)

Midway through the taping, Winfrey could be spotted at the side of the stage as Jennifer Hudson sang “Spotlight,” a song from Hudson’s recent CD. Winfrey, who was clad in a yellow sweater and holding a gold microphone, was dancing up a storm and singing the words.

Hey, it’s her party, and she’ll dance if she wants to.

Winfrey even got everyone in the audience to dance in unison. That was the brainchild of Winfrey’s producers. The result was that during the Black Eyed Peas’ performance of “I Gotta Feeling,” hundreds of fans performed an amazingly synchronized dance routine.

Winfrey, who said she didn’t know the dance was coming, exclaimed, “That was the coolest thing ever!” after the song ended. It certainly was the high point of her party.

The low point? The frequent shilling for the show’s commercial sponsors. “Oprah” regulars Nate Berkus and Alexandra “Ali” Wentworth filed “reports” throughout the taping that were thinly veiled plugs for various companies. Even magician Criss Angel got in a mention of his Vegas show.

Still, there’s no denying that Winfrey’s gathering had, for the most part, a lighthearted vibe (though by about 4 p.m., it wasn’t easy to walk anywhere in the 400 block of North Michigan Avenue). It was essentially an open-air variety show, with mellow James Taylor leading singalongs of “You’ve Got a Friend” and “How Sweet It Is,” Angel performing a trick and Rascal Flatts wrapping up just after dark with country-tinged pop. Angel’s successful trick was to predict and place in a box several days ago a series of apparently random words that Winfrey and two audience members picked out Tuesday evening.

Hudson took easy command of the stage, and the Black Eyed Peas got the most energetic reception from the crowd, but each act was limited to a couple of songs and maybe a bit of chatter with Winfrey. During breaks in taping, the talk-show host pointed out Mayor Richard M. Daley and his wife, Maggie Daley, to the crowd and mingled with the masses a couple of times, once to meet a fan with Winfrey’s face tattooed on her leg.

What other proof could we possibly have that it’s Winfrey’s world and we’re just living in it? The weather was perfect. The temperature on the nearby news ticker on the NBC Tower read 74 degrees as Hudson and Winfrey talked about the singer’s new baby boy.

But even on a perfect night, Winfrey was still capable of showing a shred of queenly ire: We would all have to go to work tomorrow, she noted, and “Michigan Avenue will be open for all the haters” who had complained about its closure.

(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.