The new OWN series Iyanla: Fix My Life (premiering Saturday at 10/9c) was more than a dozen years in the making...and that's no exaggeration! Back in 2000, Oprah Winfrey was developing a show for bestselling author and self-empowerment coach Iyanla Vanzant — just as she was for Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz — but Vanzant was clandestinely wooed away by Barbara Walters, who produced her own series for the sought-after guru, 2001's ill-conceived, short-lived Iyanla. That led to a decade-long silence between Vanzant and Winfrey. But now all is forgiven — they are "at peace not in pieces" as Vanzant would say — and it all seems meant to be.
Vanzant's second chance in Oprah Land is an emotion-packed, often harrowing program that has her traipsing across America, entering people's homes, exposing family secrets and healing psychic wounds. Most are average folk, with the rare celeb thrown in like Basketball Wives' Evelyn Lozado, the estranged wife of NFL great Chad Johnson, who is counseled by Vanzant in the two-part series opener.(Part 2 airs Sunday at 10/9c) No societal ill is off the table when Vanzant's in the house — incest, infidelity, addiction, domestic violence, child abandonment — and things do get rough. Is anyone left on the planet who's not screwed up? TV Guide Magazine spoke with Vanzant to get the answer.
TV Guide Magazine: Before we look ahead, let's look back at that hot mess with Oprah. Is Fix My Life a better show because of all you've been through?
Vanzant: [Laughs] There was a time when I wanted to gouge my eyes out with a plastic spoon! But I now see that it all had to happen that way. It was no mistake. All that I learned from that experience I now bring to Fix My Life. I am ready for my own show in a very different way. I had a very clear intention for my first show but the team wasn't in alignment with that intention. They didn't support it. Here I have Oprah and an entire network that is in perfect alignment with my vision.
TV Guide Magazine: It didn't help that you premiered your first show a week before 9/11. You were cancelled by December.
Vanzant: They took us off the air for a few days after the attacks, and when we came back we couldn't even get people to sit in the studio audience! My thinking at the time was, "Let's get out of the studio and onto the street and talk to the everyday people about what's happening as a result of this terrorism. Let's cover this!" But their thing was, "Iyanla, you're not a reporter. You don't know what you're doing." And I think that was a mistake. But bless them all. [Laughs] Bless them all! It brought me here and that's what matters. This time things are going to be different. It's my time!
TV Guide Magazine: So you're here to fix people...
Vanzant: Nope. Nope, nope, nope! The show is Fix My Life! Get it? Life. I do not fix people.
TV Guide Magazine: Alrighty then, why do so many lives need fixing? Dysfunction is epidemic.
Vanzant: Because we need to stop trying to be mothers, brothers, doctors, lawyers. How do you just be people? Where are we taught that? Certainly not at Harvard or Princeton! We're taught that our value and worth in this world is tied to our gender, our race or our profession, the size of our house or the color of our Amex card. I give people the tools to fix the mess they've created by not knowing how to be people.
TV Guide Magazine: Everyone seems willing to share the most intimate details of their lives on TV these days, but what's the secret to getting real work accomplished?
Vanzant: I surround people in unconditional acceptance and love to such a degree that everything that is unloving about them rises to the surface. That's why, with this show, I don't have the people come to me. I go to the people because it makes me vulnerable. I don't know what I'm walking into and that opens the door for greater honesty and intimacy. Besides, you'll tell me much more in your kitchen than you will in a TV studio.
TV Guide Magazine: Is there anybody out there who truly, totally has their s--t together?
Vanzant: The Dalai Lama. [Long pause, followed by a raucous laugh] But who knows what would happen if you put him in a room alone with an entire chocolate cake! Everyone has something that blocks us from the full experience and expression of our nobility.
TV Guide Magazine: An entire generation has grown up in an Oprah world of self-improvement and self-empowerment. We have unlimited access to books, seminars, gurus. Why hasn't that helped more?
Vanzant: Yes, the entire world looks crazy but it's like when you're cleaning out your closet and the bedroom must become a mess before it gets better. There is a lot of healing going on. Really! More people are vegetarians, more are in the green movement, more of us are tearing down the old paradigms and embracing same-sex marriage, single motherhood, men raising babies. [Laughs] You've got Dr. Oz on TV having people look at their poop! That's healing!
TV Guide Magazine: Then why does everything seem so out of control?
Vanzant: Everything is out of control! But you know what will make it better? Even at the height of our insanity we're seeing what that insanity is doing to our children — whether it's Columbine or any of these other horrible shootings — and we're finally starting to get it. We're seeing our children acting out, becoming more violent, bullying one another. We're looking at the kids wondering, "Why would they do that?" Well, look at thyself! You're the example, fool! Don't ask the tree, "Why did you give me a rotten apple?" Fertilize and nurture that tree!
TV Guide Magazine: Your sessions are so emotionally grueling. Ever have trouble letting it go when the job is done?
Vanzant: No, because something greater, grander, higher than me is doing the work. I'm just the vessel and I'm very clear about that. I couldn't do this work! Hey, I married the same man twice. [Laughs] Would you really trust me with your life?
TV Guide Magazine: Are men more reluctant to change than women?
Vanzant: Amazingly, the greatest breakthroughs we've had on Fix My Life have been with young men in their twenties, those who come with the most bravado.
TV Guide Magazine: Meaning it's harder to help people who've held onto their crap for decades?
Vanzant: It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but not always. We have an episode with a grandmother, her daughter and her granddaughter and the grandmother saw the light long before the granddaughter did. It's all about the level of your resistance. By the time the people write in and say they're willing to air their problems on national television, the pain is so great they accept what I say at face value regardless of age. Sometimes people will think I'm going to be on their side but, soon in the process, they see that's not the case.
TV Guide Magazine: It's surprising how much resistance you do get, considering no one's holding a gun to anyone's head.
Vanzant: People may volunteer to be helped but they want it the way they want it. They think the way they're telling the story is the way it really is. Surprise! [Laughs] Five minutes into the session, they know something else is going on. They suddenly see this is serious, and that's where the resistance comes.
TV Guide Magazine: How prominent is God in this show? How often will religion or spirituality figure into the equation?
Vanzant: It's all about God for me. I will usually ask the guest, "What is your spiritual foundation?" and I respect whatever comes up. If people aren't comfortable with the God talk, that's OK because God doesn't need human recognition. God don't need nothing from us! Humans need Godly recognition. If you don't want to go there, I don't need to go there with you. [Laughs] But I'm bringing God into the room with me anyway!
TV Guide Magazine: Does any human behavior shock you at this point?
Vanzant: Oh, yes, honey! I watch Bad Girls Club! It's my guilty pleasure. I don't watch it and herald it, mind you. [Laughs] I watch it in total amazement that people can act that way!