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Michelle Obama’s book blitz is becoming something more

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

The House of Jordan turned into the House of Michelle Obama on Tuesday night, where she launched the tour for her memoir, “Becoming,” the central component of a powerful marketing machine fueled by the brand she has been cultivating for years.

The United Center was filled with a heavily female crowd, all jazzed up to hang out awhile — and be inspired by — two of most iconic women in the world, former first lady Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

They share in common Chicago as the place putting them on the path to where they are today.

Not that Obama, a South Sider — more specifically from 7436 S. Euclid Ave. in South Shore — has to prove her Chicago-ness to anyone, but she underscored it when she told Winfrey at the start of their “conversation,” that, “We still call it the Sears Tower.”

The Obama book is already a blockbuster. What team Obama came to know — they research everything — is that they could leverage the book to do more. The bet — already won — was that if she put together something of a “show,” she could sell out arenas and command a robust price for tickets.

United Center atrium visitors get a jazzy welcome from Michelle Obama Tuesday night, Nov. 13, 2018. | Lynn Sweet

United Center atrium visitors get a jazzy welcome from Michelle Obama Tuesday night, Nov. 13, 2018. | Lynn Sweet

Obama is filling big arenas like the United Center — home to Michael Jordan’s Bulls and concerts — 14 events in 12 cities, with the show essentially is a conversation with her a close friend. Since the original announcement, London and now Paris have been added to Obama’s book blitz.

At the Chicago kickoff, Winfrey re-created in a sense the show that made her famous — a simple set with two big upholstered chairs and two people telling their stories.

President Donald Trump came up, of course, at first when Winfrey asked Obama about their last day at the White House where Barack and Michelle Obama would be replaced by “other people.”


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The crowd roared at the non-mention of Trump’s name.

Obama told a story not in her 426-page book where she talks about the expectations of being the first black family in the White House.

After Trump was inaugurated, and they were in their government plane leaving Washington — the aircraft is only called Air Force One when the president is in it — she broke down and sobbed for some 30 minutes.

It was the end of “eight years trying to do everything perfectly … What we did was so hard.”

Winfrey and Obama did their girlfriend chat a little bit more than 10 years after Barack Obama won his first presidential election, and exactly a week since the midterm elections. Democrats — and by extension, the Obamas — were vindicated to some degree by the surge in Democratic votes and victories.

But Michelle Obama never stumped for midterm Democratic candidates. She did not want to get in the political fray so close to the global launch of her book and tour.

She did not want to jeopardize the brand she has nourished since her first days in the White House — and now she is using it to sell books, her “show” and merchandise.

At the United Center, an entire line of Obama branded merchandise was for sale, all at robust prices:

Souvenirs on sale at Michelle Obama book tour kickoff at the United Center. | Lynn Sweet

Souvenirs on sale at Michelle Obama book tour kickoff at the United Center. | Lynn Sweet

*$65 for the “Becoming” hoodie.

*$50 for a long-sleeve “Becoming” T-shirt that said “Me, Us, More.”

$35 for any of these: A “Becoming” cap; a “When they go low, we go high” T-shirt, quoting one of her most famous lines and

“Find your Flame and Keep it Lit” candles.

*$30 for a “Becoming” tote bag.

*$15 for a keychain.

*$20 for the “find your voice” mug; “Becoming” onesies and a pin set.

*$10 for “Becoming” pencils and bookmark.

Michelle Obama wants her book to be a sort of a self-help guide.

In the video before the “conversation” with Winfrey — which included the rarely heard from daughters Malia and Sasha talking about their mom — Obama talks about where her journey has taken her to date.  “I am Becoming me.”

Obama’s parting thought got the point made without getting controversial about divisive Trump.

Said the former first lady, “We are fighting over stuff and dividing … over stuff that doesn’t matter.” What needs to be done is to “Give each other the fricking benefit of the doubt.”

A most coveted shopping bag tonight at the United Center. | Lynn Sweet

A most coveted shopping bag Tuesday night at the United Center. | Lynn Sweet