by Wendy Shanker

M-DAY. MADONNA DAY. Sure, I’d believe it when I was in the room for our interview. I frantically waved down a cab on Tenth Avenue. I’d only been given four minutes to talk with the icon about her latest movie. Bet Diane Sawyer got six minutes. Whatever—all I got was four minutes to save the world. The flick she was promoting was The Next Best Thing. You remember (or maybe you don’t): the one where she played a yoga instructor who wanted to have a baby by herself with her gay best friend, played by Rupert Everett—yeah, yeah.

That workday, like every one preceding it, had been insanely busy. The network planned to launch that day, and I’d barely have time to attend the party to celebrate it. Once I finished the interview, I’d have to run back to the office, recut the package, finish the next day’s scripts, set up another edit … cool by me. It was worth the stress to have my first face-to-face interview with Madonna.

I tried to pick out an outfit that would flatter me, but my options were minimal. I was so big. It wasn’t just fat that threw me off—the steroids I’d been taking for a year had Jiffy Popped my body. They were supposed to stop inflammation, relieving swelling and pain, but my joints were still killing me. I was still doing that supervised medical fast to try to counteract the steroid weight gain. My personality vacillated between “starving psycho” and “raving lunatic.”

I made it to the lobby of the Regency Hotel, where I waited with all the other media hoity-toits. I recognized correspondents from Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood. Could I really make a career out of this? Fat or sick or not, I was about to interview my idol in a segment that would eventually air on a show I hosted on a new network that I’d help create. I scanned my list of questions for the umpteenth time. Should I have fun with her? Be a serious journalist? Would she and her team remember me from the MTV days?

A production assistant with a clipboard called out, “Wendy Shanker?”

I stood up, straightened my dress (a brown velvet Eileen Fisher A-line that I’d recently worn to my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Detroit) and my necklace (a vintage piece I grabbed out of Myrn’s jewelry box), and slipped past the tables of fruit and old cheese that had been set out hours ago for the press. Liz and Caresse remembered me and greeted me warmly; the foxy bodyguard, Robert, did, too (he’d been working for Janet Jackson and went on to guard Jennifer Lopez). I slipped past an exiting Matt Lauer and into the chair, still warm with Lauer tush.

The interview was the fastest three minutes of my life (four minutes had been downgraded to three before I arrived). Madonna wore a casual blue top, her hair long, blond, and curly. She seemed more relaxed to me this time—maybe she was so exhausted by all the interviews that she didn’t have the energy to keep her defensive celebrity shield up and running. She looked angelic, had a glow around her face. Sonya Dakar oxygen facial or happiness? You decide. I didn’t know it then, but she was pregnant with her second child, Rocco.

As she acknowledged me, I saw a gleam of recognition in Madonna’s bottomless blue eyes. A producer clicked a stopwatch to start the three-minute countdown, and Madonna conspiratorially leaned forward to whisper something in my ear. “Go ahead,” she told me. “Be brilliant.”

Whoa. She’d given me an order to be brilliant, to say something incredibly smart and unforgettable. About a yoga movie. In three minutes. I didn’t know if I could meet the challenge. The stopwatch clicked ominously. A cameraman rolled his eyes as I hesitated. Then I realized, Madonna wasn’t telling me to be brilliant. She was giving me permission.

Guru power activated!