The self help guru tells EW about producer Barbara Walters, mentor Oprah, and why we need a new chatfest

By Caroline Kepnes
Updated August 13, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Iyanla Vanzant: Buena Vista Television

Though the television landscape is already littered with the corpses of dozens of talk shows featuring sassy lasses armed with microphones and missions, who says America doesn’t need one more? Not Barbara Walters, an executive producer of ”Iyanla” (debuting Aug. 13), which stars self help guru and former ”Oprah” fixture Iyanla Vanzant. ”This is not a sad show,” says Walters. ”I saw Iyanla on ‘Oprah,’ and we had her on ‘The View’ — and it was her humor that brought me in.” EW asked Vanzant, 47, to make her case to chat weary viewers.

? You say you want to do everything on your show ”prayerfully.” Do you mean microphone in one hand, Bible in the other? Well, I’m not praying on the air — and we’ve already decided that I’m not going to carry one of those mics around. But each of us in life is really serving a divine service.

? Barbara Walters is producing your show, so will it be awkward going against ”The View” in some cities? I don’t think about that. How many things can you think about? I’m still trying to think about which camera I’m supposed to be looking at.

? MTV’s Ananda Lewis has a new talk show this fall. Can we look forward to an Oprah vs. Ananda vs. Iyanla rivalry? That’s cruel…. I think the media wants it to be that way. How can anybody compete with Oprah Winfrey? I’d be a fool. That doesn’t even make sense.

? You’ve said that attending college shattered your ”personal lie” that you were dumb. Explain. I had an older brother, and his favorite line to me was ”You are so stupid.” I took it personally and embraced that as the truth about myself. I am mathematically challenged. He was a mathematical genius, so the evidence of his statement was the fact that I was mathematically challenged. I could write, I could read, but I could never do math.

? Can you balance your checkbook? I pay somebody! It’s called PC banking. You don’t have to do that stuff anymore.

? Your press kit says your goal is to wear a size five dress without a bra. Isn’t that aiming a little low? I’ll tell you my prime motivating force: I have four grandchildren and when they get ready to go to college I want to write the check. Whether it’s Oxford or Morehouse or Harvard, I wanna write the check.

? So it’s about money? [Laughs] I wanna write that check.