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Fans pack Madhouse on Madison to see Michelle Obama, Oprah chat it up

“She made the White House feel like the people’s house. She’s your hometown girl from the South Side of Chicago. Please welcome Michelle Obamaaa!”

With those words from media mogul Oprah Winfrey Tuesday night, former First Lady Michelle Obama, dressed in white pants, white sparkly off-the-shoulder cowl and pink stilettos, walked on stage to the rafter-rattling roar of an adoring audience at a jam-packed United Center.

“From the first page of this book, you did it. You brought it. You allowed us to see the fullness of you, in a way that no one that’s been in the White House, I think, has ever done,” Winfrey said, beginning their conversation about Obama’s memoir “Becoming.”

“That’s why I’ve chosen it as an Oprah Book Club pick,” Winfrey shouted, the crowd applauding their approval. “Not that you need it. People were going to buy it anyway.”

And the turnout seemed to validate that. Women turned out en masse, many arriving with the three generations in tow — grandparents, parents and Millennials. Black women, in particular, strutted in dressed to the nines, the way we do when it’s a hot-ticket concert.


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Once inside the arena home of the Chicago Bulls, in the room where Obama would launch her book tour with moderator Winfrey by her side, they settled into their seats as a massive video screen played slideshow images of Mrs. Obama’s years in the White House.

Other screens shared the barrage of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts from attendees threatening to break the Internet, until 8:15, when all screens filled with a video of Obama doing “Carpool Karaoke” with James Corden and rapper Missy Elliott, the audience erupting in cheers and applause.

Obama and Winfrey would embark on a wide-ranging conversation offering the real deal on life in the White House: “I describe it as living in the fanciest hotel, and you have your elevator that takes you up to your room, and the lobby where all the action is going on, which was the central floor, and we had to make this normal for children. No, I don’t miss that house,” Obama said.

Michelle Obama kicks off her "I Am Becoming" book tour Nov. 13, 2018, with a stop at the United Center in Chicago, where she has a conversation with Oprah Winfrey. Thousands stream into the arena up to two hours before the start of the show. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Fans stream into the United Center for Michelle Obama’s book tour event. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Of their final day in the White House, the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Winfrey asked: “I always wanted to know what that helicopter ride was like. Were you thinking, ‘Free at last’?”

“That whole day was a trip,” said Obama. “When I got on that plane, I sobbed for 30 minutes. It was just the release of eight years of trying to do everything perfectly. So yeah, there was a bit of freedom.”

On staying positive against character assassination of both she and her husband, particularly the “angry black woman” insults: “Going high doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. But I learned this from my husband, ‘What’s the goal?’ If you take your ego out of it, if I go low, that doesn’t move the needle.”

At times comedic, at times poignant, the nuggets were still flowing for an audience of 14,000 for nearly 90 minutes at press time — during a highly polished and well-orchestrated book tour launch for Obama’s already bestselling memoir.

Lauren Foster, 66, walks into the United Center on Nov. 13, 2018, to watch Michelle Obama's conversation with Oprah Winfrey on the former First Lady's "I Am Becoming" book tour. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Lauren Foster, 66, walks into the United Center on Nov. 13, 2018, to watch Michelle Obama’s conversation with Oprah Winfrey on the former First Lady’s “I Am Becoming” book tour. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

The evening began with a 20-minute montage of video from the Obama family’s eight-year tenure in the White House — a blur of images of Michelle and her husband, President Barack Obama, their children Malia and Sasha, and her mother, Marian Shields Robinson, interacting with the world’s heads of state and celebrities.

At 8:35 p.m, the video ended, and “Girl on Fire,” Alicia Keys’ song that has become a women’s anthem, blared from the speakers, Michelle Obama’s voice then asking the screaming audience: “Who. Are. You. Becoming?”

The lights went out, then came up again, one by one, to illuminate several women and men on stage who told the audience who they were becoming. Their testimonies were followed by a second video of more individuals sharing hopes, dreams and convictions. The video’s final individual? Michelle Obama herself, with the words: “I’m becoming me.”

And then it was time for Winfrey’s entrance, greeted by an audience screaming their approval from every corner of the arena.

“I am becoming the purest reflection of myself as a human being,” Winfrey said.

Oprah interviews former First Lady Michelle Obama during the kickoff event for her new book "Becoming" at the United Center, Tuesday night, Nov. 13, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Oprah Winfrey interviews Michelle Obama at the United Center, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Hellooo Chicago! It is so great to be back in my favorite city,” she continued. “This city gave me so many blessings. I’m thrilled to be here, thrilled to kick off Michelle Obama’s tour, which launched in Chicagoooo!” The audience again erupted.

“I haven’t been to the United Center since we had our final good-bye for the ‘Oprah’ show seven years ago, and the world has changed so much since then, and some of us are scared,” Winfrey said. “But know that each of you being here is a testament to the light.

“Each of you is here because you were inspired by one woman. You put on your best going-out, I’m-going-to-meet-Michelle clothes. People are here with their sisters, their friends, their cousins. I see a few woke men in here,” she said.

“My best friend Gayle [King] was here this morning interviewing Michelle. How many of you are here with your ‘Gayle’?” she asked. The audience roared. “We’re glad to have you all here, and I’m proud to say that one of the most remarkable stories I have ever witnessed is ‘Becoming’ Michelle Obama.'”

Throughout the conversation, Obama, who covered everything from her childhood through the White House years, stressed that she was deeply in love with her husband, but had to find her own voice to finally find contentment.

And the lesson from those White House years? “Our approach was to do the work. Put your head down. Do the work. Do it excellently, and let your work speak for itself. My husband always had the long view. I followed his lead.”