Iyanla Vanzant (pictured above) is a self-help author, life coach, and star of the hit reality-show “Iyanla: Fix My Life”. Her show airs on Saturdays at 9/8c on the OWN Network (Photo Credit: TVguide.com)
I first heard of Iyanla Vanzant in the ‘90s when I was a college student. Although I hadn’t yet developed my relationship with God, the spiritual message she shared on Oprah, my patron saint at the time, attracted me. Also, Iyanla’s story of ascent from welfare mother to lawyer inspired me. Her books — “Acts of Faith: Daily Meditations for People of Color”; “Faith in the Valley: Lessons for Women on the Journey to Peace”; and “The Value in the Valley: A Black Woman’s Guide Through Life’s Dilemmas” – delivered the self-empowerment messages I craved as I entered adulthood.
However, as my relationship with God deepened in my ‘20s, I realized that Iyanla was a Yoruba priestess and maybe I didn’t need to seek that kind of wisdom from someone who didn’t share my Christian beliefs. Still, I occasionally thumbed through her books to extract the positive messages without being lured into her belief system. And then, suddenly, I stopped hearing about her altogether. Apparently, while Oprah was grooming the self-help guru to have her own talk show – similar to the way she groomed Dr. Phil – Iyanla reportedly gave her an ultimatum: give me a talk show or I’ll secure one with another media outlet. Oprah did not give her a show, but Barbara Walters did. The talk show, however, was short lived, only lasting for one season. The loss of Iyanla’s talk show marked the beginning of her descent: her husband divorced her, she lost her daughter to cancer, and declared bankruptcy.
Once Oprah started the OWN network, the media queen and her protégé eventually mended their relationship. In February 2011, the two held a raw and honest multi-episode conversation and reconciliation that revealed what really transpired just over a decade earlier. After their exchange, Iyanla received an invitation to be an expert on “Oprah’s Lifeclass” show and, ultimately, an offer to host her own show, “Iyanla: Fix My Life”, on Winfrey’s network. I watched a few of the first season episodes, but this season has set media outlets and social media buzzing. The April 13th season premiere featured DMX, a rap artist who has become as well known for his multiple arrests and erratic behavior as he is for his music, and his estranged teenage son Xavier. The episode made for gripping television: DMX nearly threatened Iyanla; shared tender moments with his son; and spoke in his trademark staccato speech patterns (which sound better in a rap song than an interview). The rapper, whose birth name is Earl Simmons, talked about being sent to a group home as a child, his drug abuse, meeting his now estranged wife Tarshera and cheating on her with multiple women. When the 90-minute show ends, the audience knows a lot about DMX and his family, but it doesn’t seem that DMX’s life has been “fixed.” In fact, he doesn’t want the show to be aired again and is reportedly planning to sue Iyanla.
In the second show, which aired April 20, Iyanla endeavors to fix the life of Sheree Whitfield, the former “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” star, and Bob Whitfield, her ex-husband and former Atlanta Falcons football player. From this episode, we learn that their marriage was troubled from the beginning: Mr. Whitfield wed his ex-wife because she was pregnant. Whitfield accused her of creating drama to be used as footage for the hit reality show and obsessing over the construction of her dream mansion Château Sheree. Sheree, on the other hand, accused her former husband of being a deadbeat dad because of his refusal to pay child support and take care of their two children. By the end of the episode, both parties readily admitted they don’t like each other and Iyanla admitted that she had not “fixed” their lives.
Today’s episode will feature popular Atlanta DJ “Sasha the Diva,” her 17-year-old son, and her new husband. Apparently, the son she raised as a single parent is acting out now that his mother has gotten married. I heard Sasha speaking about the episode a couple of weeks ago as she was the host of a seminar at a bridal show I attended. She said before she called Iyanla, she thought she was going to have to either choose her son or her husband, but Iyanla helped her to maintain both relationships. Well, I guess we will have to see for ourselves what transpires because if the past two episodes have been any indication of what is to come, there will be a whole lot of business sharing but not as much fixing.
Nevertheless, I must admit that I am a fan of the show. Iyanla has highlighted issues impacting the black community – such as drug abuse, single parenthood and blended family drama – in a way that addresses them without exploiting them. At the same time, I wonder if being on a single episode is helping families resolve issues that will likely take years of counseling to address. And while I haven’t heard Iyanla make any pointed references to her religious beliefs, I wonder if she is promoting them in any way as she counsels her show’s participants. Her new show is entertaining and educational, but Christians may need to be discerning about her advice.
HER OWNERSHIP: Oprah Winfrey's struggling cable network, OWN, has even her fans wondering if the Mighty O has lost her golden touch. (Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Newscom)
I loves Oprah, God knows I do. But I don’t know if “Oprah’s Next Chapter” is going to have the awe-inspiring success that the Grand O enjoyed for 25 years with “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
For those who didn’t know, the start to this article is my tribute to my favorite Sophia (portrayed by Oprah Winfrey) line in the movie The Color Purple. Here is the line in case you did not see the movie: “I loves Harpo, God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead ‘fo I let him beat me.” And if you did not know, Oprah’s name spelled backward is Harpo and was the name of her husband in the movie and the name she chose for her company (read: empire).
So on to my topic of the day. Oprah is a skilled interviewer and a master of ingratiating herself with those she chooses to interview, two of many qualities enabling her to be queen of talk with very little competition for a quarter of a century. And undoubtedly, Oprah has earned her place in history as a girl who was born in the backwoods of Mississippi but ultimately has become the first black woman billionaire, a world-class philanthropist, and a beloved global icon. And most recently, the owner of her own cable television network — OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network).
And yet as I watched Oprah interview author and megachurch pastor Joel Osteen on her new OWN show Oprah’s Next Chapter on Sunday, I did not feel the same energy that I felt when I would watch The Oprah Winfrey Show. And I’m a member of the target audience of her new show, which debuted on Jan. 1, because I’m a woman who love all things religious and spiritual!
According to the Chicago Tribune, her new show, which will feature weekly one-hour interviews, will essentially be Oprah on a “spiritual quest” with various celebrities, politicians, religious and or spiritual gurus and more. Unlike her talk show, there is no audience, and she is interviewing her guests in their natural habitats wherever that may be.
The premiere episode featured a two-hour interview with eccentric Aerosmith rocker Steven Tyler who is now an American Idol judge. This interview took Oprah to Tyler’s home in Sunapee, New Hampshire. For part of the interview, Oprah and Tyler explored a forest which kind of felt like an answer to a Jeopardy question. Who are the two unlikeliest people you will see in the forest together? Media mogul Oprah Winfrey and aged rock star Steven Tyler. About 1.1 million viewers tuned in, which is the second highest rating of an OWN show, according to the Chicago Tribune. The highest rating goes to Oprah Behind the Scenes, which chronicled the last season of her talk show.
In her interview with Osteen, Oprah was accompanied by another Tyler — her good friend (O, to be so lucky) Tyler Perry. The pair visited the Lakewood Church, reportedly the largest church in America, before sitting down with Osteen in his home to interview him. Although everyone knows that Oprah is a spiritual person, I have not associated her with any one religion although she has spoken about Jesus Christ and often fondly recalls giving Easter speeches in church as a child. So it was kind of cool to see Oprah raising her hands giving praises and singing along during the church service/gospel concert.
Oprah began by listing Osteen’s impressive stats: His show reaches 10 million people in nearly 100 countries, he has written 20 books and six of them are New York Times bestsellers, his church has 16,000 seats (it used to be the stadium for the Houston Rockets), two 25-foot tall waterfalls, and a 450-member choir backed by a full band. She rightfully concluded that Osteen’s church is “big business.”
In spite of all of that, Oprah did not shy away from the tough questions, asking him about how he keeps his ego in check, his reputation as a prosperity gospel proponent, the shady reputation of some televangelists down through the years, and his stance on homosexuality. The only question that threw him a little was about homosexuality: “Is it a sin?” After offering a more cryptic response, he finally declared that he believes it is a sin.
“It’s a hard thing in a sense, because I’m for everybody,” Osteen said. “I’m not against anybody. I don’t think that anybody is second-class. But when I read the Scripture in good faith, I can’t see that it doesn’t show that as being a sin.”
Watch the clip below to see Oprah ask Osteen about homosexuality, sin, and whether there’s more than one path to God.
The fact that Osteen affirmed his commitment to the Bible on such a thorny issue as homosexuality was somewhat surprising since he also readily admitted that he does not use a lot of scripture in his sermons, which he has been criticized for. But you have to appreciate the guy’s honesty.
It was a good interview and demonstrates that Oprah will always be Oprah: a seeker on a journey toward truth. But as I said earlier, I didn’t feel drawn into the show. And I’m not sure why.
I watched Oprah’s Lifeclass show some months ago and wrote about how much I enjoyed it on my personal blog. One person commented that while she loved Oprah, she was “Oprahed-out” and was experiencing déjà vu as she watched the show. Maybe her comment expresses some of what I’m feeling now. I’ve been on a journey with Oprah before, from the time she was Sophia in The Color Purple until her talk show ended last May. And I’m just not sure how much further I can go. I’m not saying that she is no longer relevant, but we have seen Oprah every weekday for 25 years and it’s not clear whether her spiritual quest has landed her any closer to genuine truth. I certainly hope her circuitous path will ultimately take her there.
And as far as Oprah’s cable network is concerned, I’m just not that into it. I’ve not been a fan of Rosie O’Donnell since her mean-spirited (and mercifully short-lived) stint on The View some years ago, and the rest of the network lineup doesn’t look too exciting either. I do like Suze Orman though, and I will probably tune in to watch her show, America’s Money Class with Suze Orman, which debuted on Monday. And others seem to share my sentiments. According to an article in the International Business Times, OWN is struggling, averaging “just 136,000 viewers per day, a decline of 8 percent compared to Discovery Health, the channel it replaced.” And “Oprah’s OWN Network is apparently losing money monthly at a healthy clip. Media reports suggest Discovery has pumped in $254 million above a $189 commitment.”
Like I said, I loves Oprah, God knows I do, but Oprah has a challenge on her hands. Still, it’s not as though she hasn’t beat the odds before. If a poor black girl from the country can become a billionaire media mogul, then only God knows what the future of OWN — and Oprah — may be.