Billed as “an intimate conversation,” the build-up sometimes felt more like a rock concert. Long lines formed outside even before doors opened, scalpers asking if those waiting had extra tickets for sale. There was plenty of merchandise to buy inside. Obama was introduced by a series of video montages, music blasting as a slightly late-arriving crowd — typical Atlanta — found its seats.
The soundtrack? From old-school Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder to reigning divas Beyonce and Lady Gaga.
When TV personality and journalist Gayle King, the event's moderator, finally introduced Obama, the former first lady got a standing ovation.
Shonda Smith, 48, and 19-year-old daughter Zaria were among the thousands cheering.
“Even though she was first lady, she never lost sight of who she was,” Shonda Smith said. “I think that’s why people connect to her.”
Added Zaria: “She represents a lot of things that we want to be or that we already are.”
Former first lady Michelle Obama was greeted by a standing ovation when she stepped onto the stage for her sold-out book tour appearance on Saturday, May 11, 2019, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. (Photo: RYON HORNE / AJC)
Obama’s memoir is wide-ranging. Her conversation with King was no different.
They talked about Obama’s admission that she and her husband had gone to marriage counseling. They talked about raising children in the White House. They talked about the rejections and slights that ultimately empowered the future first lady — a high school counselor doubting she could get into Princeton University, an adviser there questioning her chances to get into Harvard law.
They talked about the visit Obama had earlier Saturday with a small group of students from Atlanta's Spelman and Morehouse colleges. She had told them to have faith in themselves, and not to give in to impostor's syndrome along the way.
“I’ve been at probably every powerful table there is in the world …,” Obama started before being droned out by cheers, applause and a literal mic drop from King. “And I am coming down from the mountaintop to tell every young person that is poor, and working class, and that was told, regardless of the color of your skin, that you don’t belong: Don’t listen to them. They don’t even know how they got in those seats.”
Former first lady Michelle Obama snaps her fingers approvingly as she meets with students from Spelman College and Morehouse College on Saturday, May 11, 2019. The students spent this past semester studying her memoir “Becoming” as a foundational text of their political science class “Black Women: Developing Public Leadership Skills.” HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
The arena show stayed largely away from current events, including Georgia topics du jour like abortion and voting rights. But it wasn’t completely politics-free.
The former first lady declined to pick a side in the enormous field vying for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination, which includes Obama-era Vice President Joe Biden: “Barack and I are not endorsing in the primary because we want to support whoever wins.”
Asked about regular pushes for Michelle Obama herself to run for office, the former first lady said that, among other things, it wouldn’t be fair to her children. When King brought up the similar support for her pal Oprah Winfrey, Obama said candidates can’t just run because people like them. Politics has to be their passion.
“Oprah, she’s nice, she’s got a great TV show, she should be president,” Obama said. “Y’all, that’s not how it works.”
She paused before finishing the thought with her most direct jab of the night at the man occupying her husband’s former office. “We did that” — with Trump, she let the audience infer, along with her meaning — and the comment brought laughs and cheers.
Obama will finish her tour with a Sunday night visit to Nashville, Tennessee.
Former first lady Michelle Obama and “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King, who will serve as moderator, took the stage on Saturday night, May 11, 2019, at State Farm Arena in Atlanta to discuss Obama's memoir, “Becoming.” (Photo: TYLER ESTEP / AJC)