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Thousands gather for Oprah's kickoff party

Tuesday, September 08, 2009
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More than 20,000 people jammed Michigan Avenue for Oprah Winfrey's season kickoff party.

The crowd was treated to performances by Jennifer Hudson and other big stars.

Oprah told ABC7's Cheryl Burton in a one-on-one interview why she chose Chicago for this star-studded celebration.

"This is my favorite city in the world," Oprah said.

The show will be seen worldwide when it is broadcast on Thursday at 9 am on ABC7.

The bash lasted nearly three hours, with taping starting around 5:15 p.m. and ending just before 8 p.m.

The energy level remained high into the night on Michigan Avenue with thousands of Oprah fans thrilled to be a part of her 24th season kickoff party.

"I tape every show, wouldn't miss it for the world. And it's just fun to be a part of an activity like this," said Dana Price, Oprah fan.

"This exceeded my highest expectations, but everything that she does does. It's Oprah style," said Michael Lapine.

Gates opened ahead of schedule on Tuesday morning letting in fans who had been waiting since the early morning hours to get a spot near the stage. And they were treated to quite a show with performances by hometown favorite Jennifer Hudson, James Taylor, and also the Black Eyed Peas who themselves were treated to a performance by the audience who had practiced dance steps on Monday and Tuesday to surprise Oprah.

Nick Bender was eager to strut his stuff.

"I got the chills when I was rehearsing yesterday, and I'll get them soon when we do it," said Bender.

To keep the audience from getting parched there was plenty of water passed around provided by Oprah, who earlier apologized for any inconvenience that shutting down of part of the Mag Mile might have caused.

"I apologize for the inconvenience anybody might have had," said Oprah.

For the fans, the experience will leave them with fond memories and, in some cases, new friends.

"We always make great friends and hold on to them after these events and we'll be back next year for her 25th right girls?" said Martina Lane, Oprah fan.

Harpo Productions covered all the costs of the event, including the clean-up.

Uneventful traffic day around street closures

It was an uneventful traffic day around the Oprah street closures. After the show which wrapped up around 7:45 p.m., no traffic was allowed in the area from Wabash to Columbus and from South Water Street to Ohio.

"We won't allow traffic to go through that box. People can dissipate any way they want, north, south, east or west," said Jack Killackey, deputy director, traffic management, OEMC. "It'll be after our regular rush hour so we won't have as much vehicular traffic and that's going to help us out a lot."

Even with congestion, many Chicagoans and visitors thought the Oprah taping was a huge plus for the city.

"I definitely want to come back, I only came for a day trip this time but i will be back," said Wanda Hudkins who was visiting from Virginia.

"This is a one time event, it's an attraction, it's bringing people from all over the country, it's a hell of an event, you can't go wrong," said Rufus Burnell of Indianapolis.

If need be, police were prepared to expand the street closures as far north as Chicago Avenue and as far south as Roosevelt Road to quickly get things back to normal.

For more information, a press release about the event is available here.

Fans race to front for Oprah taping

The gates opened early Tuesday for the taping of the kickoff party, which closed a stretch of Michigan Avenue.

As early as 2 a.m., people were milling around East Ohio Street and North Michigan Avenue, waiting for gates to open at noon. But they got a pleasant surprise when authorities decided to open the gates around 8:30 a.m. for crowd control. Hundreds had gathered by 7 a.m.

When they opened the gates, crowds made a mad dash to get as close as they could to get around the stage.

Margo and Denise drove from Calumet City and parked in the South Loop, arriving in River North around 6:30 a.m. They came prepared with a portable chair, water, sandwiches, fruit and chips. They had a long day ahead of them, with the taping beginning at 5 p.m.

Oprah fans from all over the country and around the world were there for the festivities. Some people were checking out the setup overnight. While camping out was not allowed, people were milling around the area anyway.

"We are just walking around, trying to stay around, stay in the area so that I can be one of the first or second people, you know, to get closer," said Frankie Harvey, Oprah fan.

"I look at it like it is going to be an historic event. Oprah has done really big things for Chicago. I would love to be a part of it," said Maurite Bortes, Oprah fan.

"It is great that she's celebrating her 24th season and being from Chicago, everyone is here to support her and thrilled to have something to look forward to during the week," said Sherryl Luvis, Oprah fan.

Tara Leonard said she got up at 2:30 a.m. and left her house in Iowa City, Iowa, to be one of the first in line. And like many in the crowd, she's tried for years to get tickets to a taping, never had any luck and thought this might be her only opportunity to see Oprah in person.

Another woman came from Lima, Peru and said she made a special trip just to be there.

Oprah's producers say they came up with the idea during a brainstorming session.

"The Oprah show has had a 23-year love affair with Chicago," said Sheri Salata, executive producer, "The Oprah Winfrey Show." "It is clearly our home town. It is our favorite city in the country, and we're going to be doing some things on the road this season to go out and see the viewers. We thought let's start in our home town."

The show airs on ABC7 this Thursday at 9 a.m.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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