TORONTO – Embattled media queen Oprah Winfrey brought her travelling roadshow north of the border Monday, reaching out to an audience of hardcore Canuck fans who pledged their support to the veteran talk show host.
“Oprah’s Lifeclass: The Tour” â€” a five-hour parade of life lessons and motivational cheer from a who’s who of spiritual gurus â€” brought thousands of devotees out of their seats to cheer Winfrey in a cavernous convention hall that was turned into a TV studio for the day.
In turn, Winfrey declared her affection for Canadian fans and thanked them for sticking by her.
Dressed in a bright coral dress, she bounded onto a white stage flanked by two massive banners emblazoned with the logo for her ailing specialty network, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Channel.
“Canadaaaaa!” Winfrey bellowed to an enthusiastic crowd who shouted their love for her.
“I love you back immensely, deeply, profoundly. Seriously.”
Winfrey was in town to tape back-to-back episodes of her self-help series “Oprah’s Lifeclass: The Tour” and she poked fun at the fact it was the first time she’d ever shot a show north of the border.
“What took me so long to get to Toronto? I had a little show. I had a little day job,” she said to chuckles, referring to her long-running daytime series “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which wrapped last year.
“But I will say that every single day in 25 years of the show I would ask people where they came from and every single day there’d be someone from Canada.”
Winfrey elicited frequent hoots and cheers from a crowd organizers estimated at 8,500.
“I am feeling the love in Canada,” she said. “This is so great you all came and you knew Beyonce isn’t here.”
Audience members listened to various self-help gurus for almost three hours before Winfrey finally took the stage.
Spiritualist Deepak Chopra kicked things off with a lesson on connecting with the universe, drawn from his book “Spiritual Solutions: Answers to Life’s Greatest Challenges.”
Iyanla Vanzant then got spirits soaring with an exuberant walk through the audience, urging people to stand and clap along to upbeat music that filled the cavernous hall.
Bishop T.D. Jakes and motivational speaker Tony Robbins wrapped the pre-show with their own take on facing adversity and being your best self.
But the real star of the day was clearly Winfrey. Hundreds of fans showed up hours in advance of the first two-hour taping, forming a queue that snaked several blocks around the convention centre.
Several of them described a chaotic seating scene when they got inside, complaining that ticket-holders from multiple lower tiers raced into the venue with little guidance.
Barb Barone, at the show with her daughter Stephanie, says they were initially forced to sit in a $60 section even though they bought $250 tickets.
“It was ridiculous,” says Barone, who eventually moved into the proper section after complaining. “They weren’t placing you in sections. They just said, ‘Find a seat.'”
Even when they had settled into their allotted spots, Stephanie noted they were so far back from the stage they had to watch the show on the massive movie screens.
“I may as well sit at home, I’m watching it on TV,” she said. “I expected more for that money.”
The theme of the morning show was “gratitude.” It’s set to air April 30.
An evening show about forgiveness was set to air live on OWN Canada on Monday night.
The two shows come as Winfrey embarks on a tough battle to ignite sagging ratings for OWN, which is run by Corus Entertainment as OWN Canada north of the border.
Admitting she’s made mistakes in the launch of the channel, Winfrey has boosted her presence and influence both in front of and behind the cameras. A large part of that has been through her popular series, “Lifeclass,” which includes a strong social media component.
Many in the audience took to heart Winfrey’s encouragement to tweet throughout the show, tapping on mobile devices and trying to capture photos and video on smart phones and tablets.
Tickets for both shows sold out in minutes, with the afternoon session also drawing fans several hours in advance. Julie Hryniewicz of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., turned up seven hours early, before the morning session had even begun.
“This has been on my bucket list for years and years to see Oprah and be in the audience,” said Hryniewicz, a motivational speaker, corporate trainer and author.
“She really is a mentor in a lot of ways. I’ve followed her career for a number of years because she’s very empowering and inspiring to me that she continues to achieve new goals and reach more people. And her platform is so large that it’s absolutely a goal of mine to follow in her footsteps.”
Hryniewicz said her $200 ticket was well worth it, describing the all-star self-help lineup “a really big deal in the speaking world.”