Oprah Winfrey

Drive, She Said

UPDATED 09/27/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/27/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

Happy? Sure, Oprah Winfrey's happy. She's dropped about 26 lbs. to a trim 160 (aerobics, Pilates and weight-training), she and Stedman Graham remain happily unmarried, and her new curly hair looks great. But however happy she is, it was nothing compared with the joy of her Sept. 9 audience. Winfrey, 50, stunned the crowd of 276 by giving each of them a new Pontiac G6 car. Other gifts included college tuition and paying off a mortgage, and more is on the way: "This year," she said, "no dream is too wild, no surprise too impossible to pull off." Right after the ground-breaking show, which aired Sept. 13, Winfrey spoke to PEOPLE correspondent Kelly Williams about her show's—and her own—new attitude.

How did you feel before the show today?

I was so excited, I really hadn't been sleeping. I woke up this morning at 2:13 and couldn't go back to sleep, so at about 3:30, I said, "I might as well get up and work out now." That's happened the past couple of nights. It's just really anxious anticipating. I had to sit myself in my closet before going down to do the show today. That's never happened to me before.

How did you come up with this season's "Wildest Dreams Come True" theme?

Last season we'd done "Pop Star Challenge" with older people who couldn't get on American Idol. I said to my producers, "They're really not pop stars. What it really is, is making people's dreams come true." We felt that here were people whose dreams had really died. And we loved the idea of doing that [show] so much that I thought, let's do it again. Let's find other ways to make people's dreams come true and have that as an ongoing theme for our show. And [let's] try to find people for whom the dream isn't just something that's exciting or out of greed, but that it's really going to be meaningful. We get lots of letters from people all the time about everything—"Can you help me with my house?" or "Would you buy me a new house?"—so we started looking at those in a different way.

Where did you get the idea to give away cars?

I don't even know where that plan came from. We were sitting in the room and then, you know, it built. "Why don't we give this person a car, these people a car...why don't we give everybody a car? Isn't that the craziest thing you ever heard?" Then I said, "Well, then you need to find as many people in that audience who need cars." [The show asked people to submit their worst car stories.]

Then you decided to give every audience member a car. Why?

Just because we can.

What was your favorite part of the show?

When I didn't pass out! We had the medics standing by. Sometimes people do pass out in the audience. My favorite part was when I announced the first 10 who really, really needed cars because they had such old clinkers, and they were so excited. I wasn't so sure that was gonna happen. Sometimes people just don't give you any kind of reaction. When I saw their reaction and how overwhelmed they were, I thought, "Oh, I got 'em!"

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