It’s a few hours before the start of her WBLS radio show and Wendy Williams, who calls herself the Queen of Radio, is in tears. I can’t quite figure out why. We’re sitting in the eighth-floor lounge of the Times Square Marriott Marquis, deserted at this time of the morning, the way Wendy likes it. Just a minute ago, she was describing her big hair, her big green Gucci bag, her big jewelry, her big new breasts—with Wendy, who’s nearly six foot, everything has to be big. She seemed ebullient, celebratory. “I have arrived,” she was saying, and showed me a diamond-encrusted ring as big as a radish. “I’m beyond the velvet rope.”
It’s true. Wendy has definitely arrived. She is lately a dominant force in New York afternoon radio. Recently, she even snagged the No. 1 rating in the key 25-to-54-year-old demo, a feat she thought impossible. LiteFM, perennial king, is everyone’s office background. And Wendy’s not background. You have to listen to Wendy. She hardly plays music. She tells stories. She repeats gossip. She describes her own plastic surgery and gleefully critiques others’. (“Two baseballs on a stick” is her description of Whitney Houston’s results.) What won’t Wendy say? “Threesomes need to be talked about,” she declares. Once, she had Rick James on the phone when she discovered he was in the midst of a three-way. (“Is one of the girls wearing a strap-on?” Wendy wanted to know.) Another time, Whitney Houston phoned, “slumming” on radio, as Wendy says, to promote a CD. Wendy leaped: How did Whitney tell her daughter about her husband’s jail date? Whitney flipped, firing off expletives. “That interview was No. 19 on the E! Network’s 101 Most Shocking Moments,” says Wendy excitedly. “I beat out Richard Pryor setting himself on fire.”
And yet, as she sits on a cushiony hotel chair, fat, anomalous tears sweep across Wendy’s adorable, Botoxed face. She chases one with a fake cotton-candy-colored nail. It’s not an isolated outburst. Over a couple of hours, she wells up four, five times.
“Why the emotion?” I ask at one point, confused.
Wendy pauses, which is rare. “There are . . . wars in my head,” she confides.
“Not so much,” she says. Wendy is 40 (though she doesn’t like to admit it) and has been in radio for two decades; radio she can handle.
“Then what?” I can’t imagine.
To her fans, she’s the black Howard Stern, uproarious, freewheeling, fearless; egging on Whitney, jumping in with Rick. Her show is syndicated in half a dozen markets. She’s coming out with a novel next June from Random House. If that’s not enough, there are Wendy’s two New York Times best sellers, including a tell-all memoir; a show on VH1; a CD produced for Virgin. All of it propelled by the outrageous and seemingly unflappable radio persona, the one she assumes every afternoon. “I stay true to the Wendy,” she assures me. “The craziness.”
And yet in Wendy’s head, it turns out, there’s another persona—and another voice, a less brassy, less assertive one, impertinently trying to get out. This one is Wendy from Jersey, daughter of Tom and Shirley, middle-class schoolteachers who were sometimes disappointed by their talkative daughter. In the hotel lobby, Wendy tries to explain, “More was expected of my big sister than of me. And while she’s fabulous and she delivered all the goods, I ended up being fabulous, too, and delivering all the goods.”
Is it possible? The self-confident Queen of Radio is, after all these years, still desperate for her parents’ approval.
Wendy is determined to stay true to her over-the-top brand, to “the Wendy,” as she’s taken to saying. And yet she also wants it known that she still lives in Jersey, drives her son to school, attends his class trips; that she’s an eager-to-please suburban daughter determined to measure up to her parents’ exacting standards. “I’m still managing to be traditional,” Wendy quietly assures me. “You know, the kid, the husband, the house, the morals.”
It’s quite a conflict.
“Every day is a struggle to hold it all together,” she says and wipes a tear from the corner of her eye.
Inside her green Gucci bag, Wendy’s cell phone rings. She’s got to get to the studio. Wendy slides behind the wheel of her Mercedes, a $100,000 SUV as shiny as patent leather. Kevin Hunter, Wendy’s husband and manager, occupies the passenger seat, quietly taking phone calls. There’s traffic, and Wendy impatiently works the horn. She’s running behind, which she hates. (Once, traffic snarled in the Lincoln Tunnel; Wendy abandoned her car and walked to the studio.) Casually, Kevin mentions that it’s her production director’s birthday today, and maybe a lunch is in order. Suddenly, the well-behaved suburban daughter is nowhere to be found.