A 2020 goal for Hoda Kotb was to meet her idol, Oprah Winfrey. That intent was realized Friday when Winfrey joined Hoda and Jenna Bush Hager in front of a live studio audience for a special appearance on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna.
Like Hoda, many of Winfrey's superfans in the audience were excited and overwhelmed with the idea of being in the same room as the media mogul.
"I love her energy because you can tell she really legitimately cares about everybody that she somehow has an opportunity to touch," Shelly from Philadelphia told TODAY.
Julia, Shelly's friend from West Chester, Pennsylvania, added: "Everyone says that when you meet her that she makes you feel like she is one of her friends and not that she is above you. She makes you feel like you're just as special as she is."
"She has a story of achievement," added Trina, their third pal who also hails from Philadelphia. "She has a story of triumph. She has come from a difficult past, but embodies that you can achieve anything you want despite of that."
The women said they didn't travel to New York just to see Winfrey — they were also excited to see Hoda and Jenna, as well.
"Hoda has a very similar spirit to Oprah, but she is blazing her own trail," Trina said. "Everyone loves her, and she legitimately loves everyone in return. She is so kind."
The group was also celebrating a special occasion on this girls trip: their friend Renee's 64th birthday.
"Oprah is the epitome of strength, positivity and encouragement ... empowerment," Renee said. "And Hoda always seems like she wants to be where she is. She is so welcoming to other people (in) her life and (on) the show."
Nick and Ryan didn't have to travel far to be in the show's studio audience. The local New Yorkers did outdo many of the audience members in terms of wardrobe, wearing T-shirts plastered with images of Winfrey's face.
"She is my life force, the way she interviews people," Nick said. "She is just so empathetic, and she gives so much of herself to us. Growing up, my favorite song was the theme song to her show."
"When most kids would go home and watch cartoons, I would get home from school and turn on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show,' even without my parents," Ryan added. "She was my ritual. She was my everything."
The two now turn to Hoda and Jenna for their daily dose of talk-show heaven, describing the pair of co-hosts as their "gal pals I can have wine with in the morning."
"I just love the fourth hour because, especially with Hoda, you just see such a different side of them," Nick said. "I will never forget when Hoda accidentally gave her phone number and people started calling her during the show. I love seeing her a little more free than the first hour."
Another fan, Cynthia, came all the way from Washington, D.C., getting on a bus at 3:00 a.m. to make the show. After a friend canceled on her last minute, she decided to make the trip solo.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," she explained. "I had Oprah and Hoda on my vision board, and here I am. This is a dream come true."
"I always wanted to see Oprah, but she was always out of my budget," explained Patricia, a native of Yonkers, New York, who also attended the show alone. "So I tried getting a ticket and was wait-listed. But then Tuesday I found out I got a ticket. I couldn't believe my luck. This is like winning the lottery. To be lucky enough to be in Oprah's presence, even if I was in the last row, she is such a pioneer. She broke so many barriers for women, women of color, people in general."
Asked about the impact of talk shows like Winfrey's and Hoda and Jenna's, Cynthia said, "They educate as well as entertain."
"I think as women, these shows represent to us that if you stick with your dreams, your passion ... you can do anything," Trina said. "And we need more of that represented, especially now."
"Hoda energizes you to make you want to go out and do things," Julia added.
"As a woman who lives with a man, women are very different," explained Shelly. "We have a very different tolerance level. We have a different desire to be heard, and these shows make us feel heard."