When Billy Bush sat down with Oprah for an unpredictable interview, there were no handlers and no interruptions – just 40 minutes of unguarded Q&A.
"This is tremendously exciting because on my list of most wanted interviews, you're second," Billy told Oprah when he visited her on her stage as part of our Access Oprah week.
"Oh really. Who is first?" Oprah inquired.
"Steadman," Billy grinned, only to draw a laugh from Oprah. "Any guy that's got Oprah as a girlfriend, I mean that's a good dude. I want to talk to him."
"That's good. That's really good," she smiled.
Over her 20 years as the talk show queen, Oprah has sat down with just about everyone from nearly every walk of life, including American royalty.
"You did JFK, Jr. and I watched that interview. I noticed you were nervous. He wanted to promote [the magazine] George. You wanted to find out what it's like to be an American prince," Billy suggested.
"Yeah, what was it like to be that little boy underneath the desk that we all fell in love with," she explained.
Oprah has made everyone feel at home on her set. Or should I say almost everyone.
"When did you ever cross the line in your career where you thought you shouldn't have done that?" Billy wondered.
"Sally Field used to date Burt Reynolds and I asked this awful question. It was a bad question. I wouldn't do it today," she revealed. Billy tried to get a reluctant Oprah to tell him the dreaded question.
"You didn't ask a sex question or anything like that?" Billy asked. "Did you ask what's the sex like with Burt Reynolds?"
"No, it was worse than that. It was worse than sex," she admitted.
"Worse than sex?" Billy said surprised.
"It was a hair question," she revealed.
"You asked about… you can't do that," Billy laughed, pointing to his head.
"Yeah, you can't do that," she smiled.
Oprah the open book
Ah yes. Toupees and sex – both bad interview ideas. While Oprah is clearly not afraid to go there, what happens when the tables are turned?
"Are you a totally open book or are there some parts of your personal life that are just not for TV?" Billy asked.
"Well, if there are I don't know what they are," she said. "I am such an open book that at one point in my career, Bill Cosby, being the good friend that he is, called me up and said, 'Do you have any children that are hidden away in an orphanage somewhere that you have hidden away in another life?' And I said, 'No.' He goes, 'Because if you do, just tell me. You don't have to tell anyone else…Is there anything else you have left to tell?'"
And while Oprah has long been an open book, it's her openness that often helps others to heal.
"With all of the things you deal with, it's almost like you're kind of a therapist to America," Billy told her.
"Do you realize I have never been to a therapist!" she exclaimed.
"You gotta go, it's so in," Billy laughed.
But for Lady O, there's no need. After 20 years and more than 3,700 shows, Oprah herself could be a counselor and her recent call for action in the capture of accused pedophiles is like an exercise in self-healing.
"Those men that did that to you years ago when you were a child, could you do a show with them here? Bring them in and confront them?" he said referring to Oprah's talked-about childhood abuse.
"I don't think it would serve the greater good for me. First of all, one of them is dead. That wouldn't serve the greater good because that would make it all about me. What would serve the greater good is to be able to empower somebody else to do it in their own life," she candidly replied.
Part of Oprah's inspiration comes from children. And though she has none of her own, she has given thought to adoption.
"I go to Africa at least twice a year and every time I go, I have kids over there that I sponsor, so I'm sort of their adoptive mother and I've been wrestling with whether I should bring them back," she said. "I have seriously thought about it."
‘Before crack was crack’
Always candid, in the past Oprah has divulged painfully private secrets for the first time on-air and she told Billy about the hardest one. "Years ago I had a woman on my show who was talking about drugs and how she was addicted to her boyfriend and I had used drugs in my 20s with this boyfriend and I was more addicted to the boyfriend than I was to the drugs," she revealed. "So the admission to using drugs on television was the biggest thing."
"It was crack, right?" Billy asked.
"Yeah, well it wasn't called crack at the time. It was called freebasing. It was before crack was crack," she admitted.
But drugs weren't the only issue Oprah was forced to publicly confront.
"In 1997, you put out a public statement saying that you were heterosexual because there was this blind gossip item," Billy said. "If then were now, would you do that again?"
"I would do that and more," she replied. "That was mean. That was wrong. That took on a life of it's own because of some reporter who decided that it would be a cute thing for her to do. But the truth is, if I were gay, I would've told you years ago! I would've had a coming out party on the air."