Heir Time

Debra Duncan pays her dues, hits her cues and hopes to be the next Oprah

"I need to know what's in the book so I'm not doing 'So, you wrote a book,' '' Debra says. "I can do that, but I prefer not to."

Debra wants to know if the woman wrote the book based on her own experiences. Yes, the producer says. The woman has alopecia.

"If we're making a big deal about her being an author," Debra says, "we need to read the book."

Debra never stops smiling.
Debra never stops smiling.

Debra tells her to go buy the book -- she doesn't need to read the whole thing, but she at least wants the Cliffs Notes version. (That night Debra flips through it -- the author fictionalized her own story, and by writing it as "fiction" she could be more honest and still hide.)

A producer announces a McDonald's run. "Stop it!" Debra shouts at her. "You're, like, gonna turn 30 and be obese and you're gonna have to give us all your clothes because we're the lean healthy-meal people."

Another producer pokes her head in and asks Debra if she wants anything from Mickey D's.

Debra swivels her chair around, aghast. "No," she says. "Not you either. I thought you were part of the program. I thought you wanted to get lean and mean."

Yeah, but right now she wants a Big Mac.

Debra turns to the producer working on the script. "Who all out there is participating in the McDonald's situation? I want names."

Weight is an issue for Debra because she believes the camera adds ten pounds across her belly and makes her ass look huge. She lost 45 pounds, but she gained 15 back that she's working off. "I looked much more toned and better when I actually had those Angela Bassette arms," she says. She gave away her fat clothes, but she still can't fit into the size two's in her closet.

They turn back to the script. Debra wants to know if the guy with the hairy back is married. If not, she asks, is he cute?

A few minutes later the hairy-back man calls from his doctor's office to say he has the flu. The producer calls her boyfriend and has his hairy back fill in.


Thursday, January 11, 2001

It's 8:45 a.m., the show starts at nine, and Debra isn't here. Her assistant is pacing the hall. She looks at her watch and stares out the window, tapping her pointy-toed shoe. "C'mon, baby girl," Alicia says.

She looks like a stage mom whose nine-year-old daughter is about to twirl fire batons. She gets herself a cup of coffee, looks more nervous, but says she's not nervous -- or at least it's a good kind of nervous.

It's now two minutes until showtime and Miss Debra isn't here. Alicia presses her face against the glass. At exactly 9 a.m., Debra drives up and is rushed into makeup.

Today there's a slew of UH students in the audience. It's rare to see so many men without gray hair. The redhead who coordinates seating tells the guys they have to take off their hats. They boo; one leaves.

The set is decorated with Chinese ball lanterns. There's still silver clown confetti glittering on the rug.

Smoke blows from the audience entryway, and Debra rides in on the back of a Harley, brandishing a whip. She asks men in the audience what they think is sexy. One says a short skirt and boots; another says a skirt and high heels; she sits on the third guy's lap -- he thinks a ménage à trois is sexy.

An engine revs, and Leon Hall from E! Fashion Emergency rides in gripping the waist of another Harley guy. It's less exciting since Debra just did it. Audience members are starting to choke on the smoke; the place smells like burned eggs. Debra's wearing a floor-length tight-at-the-waist coat à la Kirstie Alley on Veronica's Closet. She cracks her whip and asks the audience if that's sexy.

Makeovers are a talk-show staple -- because everyone at home in their tattered bathrobe wants to change their life, or at least the way they look. Fashion Emergency is a show that does nothing but makeovers. Leon takes a woman shopping, gets her hair and makeup done and convinces her that she really is beautiful (making bitchy little comments along the way).

Debra shows a "heartfelt plea" from a farm wife who says she's "country with a 'k.' " Spread on her bed is the substitute-teacher-style wardrobe she says her husband hates. Leon takes her to the Galleria and dresses her in a shimmering, sequined snakeskin-patterned dress.

The next woman is tougher because she's already a wild woman dating a rock star. Leon swaps the Angel Face Barbie blond-streaked black hair for a subtler purple and red. Then he ties on a sparkly black top over her braless breasts. "She had some assets I couldn't ignore," Leon says, pointing to her chest (which stays remarkably round and firm).

Leon dresses the next handful of women in strappy silver sandals and glittery gowns. "I think life should sparkle," Leon says.

At the break, a guy screams, "Debra, I love you."

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