Wendy Williams reigns as the nation’s top-rated female radio personality. She gained notoriety for her combative interview with Whitney Houston last spring, following the star’s highly rated chat with journalist Diane Sawyer in which the singer confirmed her drug use.
And through her sensational stories about A-list stars, Williams keeps listeners tuned to WBLS-FM in New York and worldwide on the Internet. In her recently released memoir Wendy’s Got the Heat (Atria Books; $24), the woman who loves to dish celebrity dirt reveals the inside scoop on her own life. ESSENCE contributing writer Deborah Gregory talked with the “thirtysomething” d.j. about overcoming drug addiction, being a mother and what’s next for the microphone queen.
Your outrageous interviewing style makes your radio show popular with the public, but not with some celebrities. Do you think you go too far?
I tread lightly and test the waters to see how far a celebrity wants to go. I pull back when the subjects are related to children or death. When I interviewed the singer Monica, we discussed her boyfriend Jarvis Weems’s suicide in 2000. As we talked, she really opened up, and I was like, “I don’t want her to start crying,” so I backed off.
Any regrets about your interview with Whitney Houston?
I want to do a face-to-face interview with Whitney. I wish that she were in the studio as opposed to being on the telephone. She was in Miami when we talked. I love her. At the end of the day, she is my sister.
In Wendy’s Got the Heat, you’re candid about your own struggles with substance abuse. What led to your drug addiction?
Growing up, I was a loner and a misfit. I took drugs to fit in. I started smoking pot in high school and doing cocaine in college. By the time I got to New York in 1988, and began making money, my cocaine habit was full blown.
How did you recover from your addiction?
Meeting my husband Kevin in 1995 was a turning point. I wanted to get married and have children, and I knew he wasn’t going to put up with my mess. I have a lot of nerve for saying this, but I didn’t want to introduce him to my problem. My recovery was a gradual process until I completely stopped. Drugs are the devil, and I’ll never go back to that lifestyle.
How has having a family changed your life?
My husband and son complete me. I encourage young women who are caught up in their careers to get a family! At the end of the day, women need a warm hug.
Any advice for aspiring radio divettes?
Be prepared to work hard. Don’t think that being a d.j. is a glamour job. The average radio disc jockey makes about $22,000 a year. And you may have to travel. You may get a job in Kalamazoo, then one in Hot Springs—that’s if you’re lucky. After getting my communications degree from Northeastern University, I got my first radio job in St. Croix. Be yourself. There are a lot of Wendy wannabes right now but find another way to make your mark.
What’s next for you?
I have a show on VH1 (“Wendy Williams Is On Fire”), but I’m not leaving radio. I love speaking to people. The question for me is, what can I do while still being me? I want to build a Wendy Williams cottage industry.