Barbara Walters is known for her restrained interview technique, her unflappable professionalism in the face of blubbering celebrities and tough-as-nails politicians. But there’s one bold-faced name — and an unexpected one at that — who inspired a rise in Walters’ usually measured timbre when she spoke with EW about her upcoming special, Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2011. “I loved doing the interview,” spilled Walters of tart-tongued, deep-V-rocking X Factor host Simon Cowell.
Cowell was just one of the eight people Walters interviewed for tonight’s special, which runs 90 minutes for the first time in its 18-year history. Others included the Kardashians, Katy Perry, Donald Trump, and Derek Jeter. She will also profile Pippa Middleton and Amanda Knox. So what else did the interview queen have to say about Cowell and others on the short list?
“In every case it’s somebody for whom this past year was very special and very important,” says Walters of those she and producer Bill Geddie included on the list. “I’m sure there are people who think they should have been on it. I’m sure there are people who think they shouldn’t have been on it.” Such as? “The Kardashians were a very controversial choice,” she admitted, “but we thought they’ve had such a year that it fit.”
Are you wondering what a serious journalist like Walters could possibly find fascinating about the reality TV mavens? “People love the fact that nothing in their lives is private,” she explained. “The wedding had an impact. The fact that, through it all, they’re a family.” Watch for the sassy sisters and their momager Kris Jenner to award each other superlatives, including smartest, who understands men the most, and which Kardashian is the most full of herself. Now that will be a stiff competition.
As for Walters’ other Most Fascinating choices?
More Cowell: “He has the most beautiful house. People will, for the first time, see his house with its fountains and its ring of fire all around. He’s claustrophobic, he said. You’ll be surprised, and what he has to say about Paula Abdul will make you laugh. It may not make her laugh, but it’ll make you laugh.”
Pippa Middleton: “We chose Pippa because, here she was, nobody’s heard of her, her sister’s bridesmaid — you’re supposed to have a secondary place. Because of that dress and that body, suddenly everybody’s talking about Pippa.”
Donald Trump: “He still says that he might consider running [for president]. Donald is always Donald. I’ve known Donald for 30 years, so it’s great fun to do an interview with him. He has no self-doubt. He’s Donald, and he’s still piquing people’s interest.”
Says Walters of her picks, “Each one of them has something, we hope, that’s new and surprising.” Another something new: the pop culture figure whom Walters named the Number One Most Fascinating Person of 2011. He or she will be announced on the program tonight.