Oprah Winfrey got Chicago to do quite a dance.
As the Black Eyed Peas launched into their summer smash single "I Gotta Feeling" from the stage looking north on Michigan Avenue from just north of the bridge, the thousands of audience members crowding those blocks stood dead still, arms at their sides. But soon the folks upfront were waving their hands in sync, and, heading back from the stage, each section sprung to life until everyone was waving, shimmying, outstretching their arms, crouching and clapping as one in an intricate, lengthy routine.
The Oprah Winfrey Show," airing Thursday.
As symbolism it may have been even more undeniable: Look what complicated choreography the City of Chicago can pull off when everybody works together.
Hear that, International Olympic Committee?
Really, the "I Gotta Feeling" dance wasn't just a musical number; it was Oprah's own Opening Ceremony.
"Chicago, I love you! That was the coolest thing ever!" the talk show queen, clad in a yellow top with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, called out to the crowd right afterward. Audience members had been told the dance would be a surprise to Oprah, and she called it "a real shockarooney," though it's hard to believe that she would allow something so massive to take place on her show without her knowledge.
Oprah, after all, had gotten the city to shut down a key stretch of North Michigan Avenue for 2 1/2 days so she could tape her show, sparking an intense debate over whether the arrangement with an enthusiastic Mayor Richard M. Daley was a boon to Chicago and its image or a sop to a powerful TV figure that would inconvenience local businesses and commuters.
"For us to have this kind of marketing to get people to think twice about Chicago in their travel plans is huge," said John Chikow, president and CEO for the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, noting that officials from Winfrey's Harpo Productions reached out to the city in mid-August.
"For the inconvenience, it's well worth it," said Jill Lipkin, taking in the scene from the Wrigley Building's courtyard with her husband and 4-month-old son. "Not many cities can shut down and have Oprah and all those great performers."
But for those judging the event on its handling of large crowds in an open public space, the verdict was mixed.
Chicago police estimated that 20,000 people attended the taping, while a representative of Harpo Productions said 21,000 were there. Chicago Police Cmdr. Frank Gross said there were no arrests or forced removals, though some people were removed for heat exhaustion.
Despite the show's pledge to keep the sidewalks open, by early afternoon pedestrians were being allowed to walk only southbound over the top level of the Michigan Avenue bridge, and later the walkway was completely cut off. Police and security officers told passersby to keep moving if they idled anywhere near the stage.
Crowd control inside the barricades had grown even dicier. Audience members who arrived anywhere from 3:30 to 6 a.m. complained that the lines got scrambled, and a mini-scrum for positioning resulted in a woman crying as her foot got stuck in the barricade.
"I've been pushed. I've been shoved. I've been called names. People have been fighting," said Josie Soto of Naperville. "It was supposed to be first-come, first-served. It's really disappointing that it was so disorganized."
At close to 4 p.m., three women from Naperville climbed over the barricade and took off.
"It's hot, we're dehydrated, people are being rude, there are no bathrooms, and there's no water," said Dina Scharosch, who found it impossible to fight the crowd to reach such amenities.
As showtime approached, onstage announcers repeatedly asked audience members to make some room. "It doesn't look good when people are getting squashed," one announcer said.
But once the taping started around 5:15 p.m., the good vibes took over. Oprah gave as much love to her city as she got back, calling Chicago "best city in the U.S.A." before quickly making her praise international and calling it "the most fabulous city in the world."
After the Black Eyed Peas' appearance, she gave the first of repeated shout-outs to Richard and Maggie Daley in the audience and repeated the phrase "Thank you, Chicago!" so many times it could have been the basis of a lethal drinking game.
Jennifer Hudson, making her first public appearance since giving birth last month, got some hometown love as well. After singing "I'm Every Woman," she paused to take in the view from the stage. "All the way down to Ohio Street," Oprah told her.
Later, the setting turned magical as the crowd sang sweetly along to James Taylor's acoustic version of "You've Got a Friend," while the darkening sky turned a soft blue.
And although Winfrey felt compelled to mention "all the haters" who complained about the Michigan Avenue closure, she ended with a good old-fashioned plug: "I always say the best place to shop is here on the Magnificent Mile. And from the bottom of our hearts, thank you, Chicago!"
Tribune reporters James Janega, Daniel T. Simmons and William Lee contributed to this story.
Year in review 2009