LOS ANGELES – She's been an Oscar nominee, Grammy-winning rapper and a Cover Girl. She's also got a smartphone list packed with the numbers of famous friends. But is that enough for Queen Latifah to rule in daytime TV?
A lot of local affiliates are betting on it. "The Queen Latifah Show," which launches Monday, will air in juicy times across the country, including WCCO-TV's 9 a.m. slot, formerly occupied by Dr. Phil (his show moves to 3 p.m. on the same station).
But Latifah, 43, isn't a stand-up comic or a journalist, and very few hosts without either of those qualifications survive for long. In fact, Latifah's last talk-show effort, in 1999, lasted only two seasons.
However, bucking the odds is in Latifah's nature.
"The one thing I never did was look at anything as impossible," she said, holding court on her lavish new set designed by rock star Lenny Kravitz. "If anything, I need people's minds to wrap around the fact that I was going to come in this package. 'So let me get this right. This girl wants to rap in a male-dominated field and call herself Queen Latifah? OK, now she wants to act? Rappers don't act.' Well, yes we do. 'Now you want to make a musical and do a jazz album?' Hey, if it hits me in the gut and I know in my soul I'm capable of doing it, I'm going to do it. It's just a matter of figuring out how to do it."
Latifah believes that she can attract an audience based largely on her positive, can-do attitude. Wanna dish on Miley Cyrus' twerking or find out if your boyfriend is really the father of your baby? Go somewhere else.
"I want to do a show with some heart," she said. "You don't need me to do negative stuff, tear people down, rip people apart. That's not who I am. I'm here to build people up and, of course, make it fun at the same time. Celebrities can come here and relax, knowing they're not going to get blindsided by some of the crazy stuff they might get hit with on another show. If you want to set the record straight on something, here's a comfortable place to do that. But I'm not going to make you talk about it because — guess what? — I wouldn't want to talk about it, either."
Higher Q score than Ellen
We've heard this song before, but this time it's coming from the mouth of a personality with immense popularity. According to Q Scores, which measure the public's impressions of celebrities, Latifah has the highest ranking of current daytime hosts — ahead of Katie Couric, Whoopi Goldberg and even Ellen DeGeneres.
That goodwill comes from a career that dates back to 1989, when 19-year-old Dana Owens gave herself a royal name and released "All Hail the Queen," a groundbreaking rap album. Since then, she has released a collection of jazz standards, starred in TV's "Living Single" and appeared in numerous movies, including "Set It Off," "The Bone Collector" and "Chicago," for which she received an Academy Award.
"Across the board, from [age] 3 to 80, men and women, she's extremely likable," said Jada Pinkett Smith who, along with husband Will Smith is serving as an executive producer. "I just feel like every day you will have the opportunity to kick it with your girlfriend."
Corin Nelson, another of the show's executive producers, said that she's amazed by Latifah's energy level, recalling a recent whirlwind trip to Chicago that had them running from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
"We get to the airport and I'm so exhausted I can't see straight," said Nelson, who previously worked with Nate Berkus and Chelsea Handler. "She's still smiling and happy, and when we get in around 1 a.m., she was making me crack up."
Latifah will have some help in the laughs department, most notably from staff writer Jeff Cesario, a former Minneapolis stand-up turned Emmy-winning writer. The show will also consist of field reports, cooking segments, games and duets with guests.
Most notably there will be big names. John Travolta, Jamie Foxx, Sharon Stone and Jake Gyllenhaal are all expected to drop by the opening week.
One person not expected to pay an early visit is Oprah Winfrey, but her persona will loom in the background. Because of Latifah's color and gender, the comparisons to the other queen — rightly or wrongly — are inevitable.
"People have asked me, 'Do you want to be the next Oprah?' " Latifah said. "There is no such thing. Oprah is Oprah, and she's still being Oprah, in case anyone hadn't noticed. I'd love to accomplish some of the things she did, but what I bring to the television is me. I'm Queen Latifah. I've had a different life story and a different path I've traveled."