Oprah Gushes Over ‘Pop Culture Icon’ Michelle Obama: ‘Coolest First Lady in U.S. History’

In what amounted to a fawning farewell love letter to the Obamas Monday night, Oprah Winfrey’s hour-long sit-down interview with Michelle Obama aired on CBS hailed the outgoing First Lady as a “pop culture icon” who was “considered the coolest First Lady in U.S. history.”

Winfrey began the special by professing her adoration of the First Couple:

Eight years ago, I was standing with hundreds of thousands of people in Chicago, in awe of this electrifying moment we all were witnessing. Millions of people around the globe cheered, united in hope for Barack Obama, the first African-American elected President of the United States. His wife, Michelle, our nation's first African-American First Lady, stood by his side, of course. Like so many Americans, it was hard to believe this was happening in our lifetime.

She further proclaimed: “And now, as she prepares to leave the White House, it's Michelle Obama who's on the precipice of her own exciting next chapter....Mrs. Obama is not only a woman to watch in American politics, but also considered the coolest First Lady in U.S. history.”

Winfrey cheered how Mrs. Obama “flung the doors open to everybody from every walk of life” while in the White House and “made it her mission to redefine the White House as a more inclusive house of the people....an atmosphere of warmth by celebrating all cultures.” The former talk show host declared: “The First Lady's openness and acceptance led to a flood of firsts on the White House staff....The first man to ever serve as social secretary to the White House. The first openly transgender staff member was hired.”

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Later in the hour, Winfrey applauded the wall-to-wall media appearances by the presidential spouse: “With every song, every laugh, and every daring style choice, the power of Michelle Obama's personality and authenticity has made her a pop culture icon....Her fresh approach shined a light on the initiatives she felt most passionate about...”

She went on to cheer “the Obamas' openly affectionate and romantic marriage” as being “a dramatic and welcome change for the First Couple living in the White House,” implying a lack of such affection among previous occupants.  

Wrapping up the friendly softball chat, Winfrey looked forward to spending time with Obama after January: “We should go glamping [glamour camping].” Obama agreed: “Okay, I'm down for glamping. Hey, look, I'm open....That sounds great....Oprah and Michelle on the road in Yosemite.” Winfrey was delighted: “Yosemite. And that's exactly it, I want to see the national parks.”

Here are excerpts of the December 19 special:

8:01 PM ET

(...)

OPRAH WINFREY: Eight years ago, I was standing with hundreds of thousands of people in Chicago, in awe of this electrifying moment we all were witnessing. Millions of people around the globe cheered, united in hope for Barack Obama, the first African-American elected President of the United States. His wife, Michelle, our nation's first African-American First Lady, stood by his side, of course. Like so many Americans, it was hard to believe this was happening in our lifetime. As the famed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin reminded us, “People will be writing about this moment for hundreds of years.”

And now, as she prepares to leave the White House, it's Michelle Obama who's on the precipice of her own exciting next chapter. At first, reticent to step into the role of candidate's wife, the rise of the First Lady as a political force...

MICHELLE OBAMA: Because this right now is the greatest country on Earth.

WINFREY: ...has pundits wondering about her next move. Mrs. Obama is not only a woman to watch in American politics, but also considered the coolest First Lady in U.S. history.

(...)

8:18 PM ET

WINFREY: Because sitting here in this house – which represents many things, first and foremost, a seat of power. But it was very clear that the image of you and your family rocked the world. And then you literally flung the doors open to everybody from every walk of life.

OBAMA: Yeah.

WINFREY: Every ethnicity, every kind of celebration.

OBAMA: We wanted to change things up here in the White House a little bit.

WINFREY: From the moment she moved in, First Lady Michelle Obama made it her mission to redefine the White House as a more inclusive house of the people.

OBAMA: We wanted to open the doors really wide to a bunch of different folks who usually don't get access to this place.

WINFREY: She created an atmosphere of warmth by celebrating all cultures.

OBAMA: Hello, everyone! Nowruzetan mobarak! Did I get it right?

WINFREY: The First Lady's openness and acceptance led to a flood of firsts on the White House staff. The first man to ever serve as social secretary to the White House. The first openly transgender staff member was hired. And for the first time in history, Mrs. Obama opened a White House family dining room to the public. There, she placed an expressionist painting by Alma Thomas, the first work of art by an African-American woman inside the White House.

(...)

8:27 PM ET

OBAMA: It made me wonder, just how are people seeing me? Or you might remember the on-stage celebratory fist bump between me and my husband after a primary win that was referred to as a "Terrorist fist jab." And over the years, folks have used plenty of interesting words to describe me. One said I exhibited “a little bit of uppity-ism.” Another noted that I was one of my husband's “cronies of color.” Cable news charmingly referred to me as "Obama's baby mama."

WINFREY: This is what Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche wrote. Did you see that piece?

OBAMA: I did. I wrote her a thank-you letter.

WINFREY: I know you don't read pieces, but that's one you should have read.

OBAMA: I read that one.

WINFREY: That was a piece.

OBAMA: That was – that moved me.

WINFREY: This was in The New York Times recently. And she said, "Because she said what she thought, and because she smiled only when she felt like smiling, and not constantly and vacuously, America's cheapest caricature was cast on her: The angry black woman." That's what she said.

OBAMA: She said it well, too.

WINFREY: And she said it well. But that was one of the most beautiful things I'd read about you. I thought she summed it up for all of us. But when you were labeled that angry black woman, was that one of the things that knocked you back a bit?

OBAMA: That was one of those things that you just sort of think, “Dang, you don't even know me.” You know? I mean, you just sort of feel like, “Wow, where’d that come from?”  

(...)

8:37 PM ET

WINFREY: With every song, every laugh, and every daring style choice, the power of Michelle Obama's personality and authenticity has made her a pop culture icon....As with all of the First Lady's work, there is purpose behind all the fun....Her fresh approach shined a light on the initiatives she felt most passionate about, like healthy eating, military families, and one very near to my heart, educating girls.

(...)
    
8:55 PM ET

WINFREY: The Obamas' openly affectionate and romantic marriage was a dramatic and welcome change for the First Couple living in the White House. During the last eight years, cameras often captured the intimacy, the devotion, the joy, and mutual respect that has sustained their 24-year marriage.    

(...)

8:57 PM ET

WINFREY: So when you think about moving out into the world, we've talked about going to Target. I've got a better idea.

OBAMA: What's that?

WINFREY: Better than shopping. So much better than shopping.

OBAMA: Okay, alright, I'm listening.

WINFREY: We should go glamping.

OBAMA: Oh, god, I saw you and Gayle go glamping.

WINFREY: We should go glamping.

OBAMA: If you cook, because you like to cook.

WINFREY: I like to cook.

OBAMA: Okay, I'm down for glamping. Hey, look, I'm open. You will be the one that doesn't have any time. But, yes, that sounds great. That sounds great.

WINFREY: No, we should do that, that's going to be so much more fun than shopping. We can shop anytime.

OBAMA: Okay, I agree. I agree, I'm down. Sign me up.

WINFREY: Truffle hunting. We can do lots of things.
                                
OBAMA: Oprah and Michelle on the road in Yosemite.

WINFREY: Yosemite. And that's exactly it, I want to see the national parks.

OBAMA: We can promote the national parks. Yosemite is beautiful.

WINFREY: 100 years. 100 years.

OBAMA: We're on. We're on. Somebody's gonna start calling you for that one. But that sounds fun. I would love to do that.

WINFREY: Okay, don't think I'm not calling you.

OBAMA: I'm serious. Like I say, I don't make claims to do stuff that I'm not going to do. I'm down for glamping.

(...)

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