Everything about Wendy Williams is big: from her stature—five-eleven without her signature heels—to her voice, which needs no microphone to be heard, to her daily talk-show viewership numbers.
About 1.7 million people tune in to her syndicated program, The Wendy Williams Show, every afternoon, according to Nielsen ratings for the last week in December. These numbers put her solidly in the realm of talk-show royalty. And she has been doing it for a while: Since her debut in 2008, plenty of other daytime hosts have come and gone. Katie Couric, Martha Stewart, and Queen Latifah all had shows that have debuted and gone of the air in recent years. Williams’ program has lasted eight seasons, and has been renewed through 2020.
She’s built a loyal fanbase with a take-no-prisoners approach to celebrity gossip and pop culture news. She got her start with provocative commentary as a shock jock on New York City local radio in the 1990s. There, her first major moment in the spotlight came in 2003 after an on-air interview with Whitney Houston. The singer said she wanted to meet Williams “outside” after the host asked her about her drug problems. Since then, Williams has feuded with plenty of other A-listers, including Mariah Carey, Will Smith, and Beyonce.
In an interview with Fortune, Williams reflected on her winning formula. “I think authenticity is the name of the game,” she says. Unlike many women on the national stage, Williams doesn’t dwell on being likable: “I don’t have time for that.”
In addition to her TV career, Williams dabbles in fashion and has managed to become a prolific author. Her Home Shopping Network clothing line, which debuted in 2015, has expanded from wrap dresses, blouses, and pencil skirts to a full-fledged apparel collection. The business has grown 75% year over year in gross sales, she says. Or, as she puts it, "Oh my God. It's exploded!"
She has also penned a best-selling autobiography, along with six other books. These include several thrillers and a romance novel.
Yet what Williams wants to be remembered for isn’t her celebrity feuds or her literary flare. She hopes that her charity, the Hunter Foundation, will be her most enduring work. Williams battled with cocaine addiction for a decade, and started the foundation with her family in 2014 to help those affected by drug abuse and poverty. “I would like the Hunter Foundation to outlive everything,” Williams says.
For now, though, she’ll keep bringing the heat on daytime TV. “The stakes are high now, we’re in our eighth season,” she says. “We’re renewed till 2020, but I’m looking at the front door."