One recent Monday night, I watched in semi-horror as Jillian Michaels — all bared teeth and wrinkled brow — got within inches of a woman’s face on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and let loose.
“Keep! Moving!” Michaels bellowed, and my mind flashed to that scene in “Alien,” when Sigourney Weaver could feel the monster’s breath, hear its saliva dripping at her feet, but couldn’t bear to turn her head.
“Do I look like I care if you’re tired?” Michaels ranted. “FOCUS!”
So of course it was strange when Michaels got on the phone the other day to talk about her upcoming visit to Seattle, and sounded as delicate and feminine as a drawerful of lingerie.
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“I get very aggressive and intense because these are people who are literally killing themselves, digging their own graves with their teeth,” she said. “I need them to achieve certain benchmarks when they’re with me, so if they go home, I know they will be successful and take personal responsibility.”
The screaming and the yelling, she said, is exclusive to “The Biggest Loser.” Michaels, 39, started with the hit show in its 2004 debut season. She left in 2006 to expand her brand online, with six books (four of which made The New York Times best-seller list) and a dizzying array of DVDs, both on her own and under the “Biggest Loser” mantle. She also appeared on the daytime shows “The Doctors” and “Dr. Phil.”
She returned in 2007, but left again in 2010, before returning for the current season. (Sounds like the career equivalent of binge dieting.)
This spring, Michaels is taking her confrontational, but arguably life-changing, show to 34 cities with her “Maximize Your Life Tour.” It hits Seattle’s Paramount Theatre on April 10.
Michaels promises “an intimate and uniquely personal experience” in which the trainer will urge people to do things like “harness potential” and “kick-start goals” and “live an exceptional life.” It all sounds a little Oprah-esque.
Those willing to pay $142.50 for VIP tickets will get “the best seats in the house” and participate in a 30-minute Q&A with Michaels; a free, four-week trial to Michaels’ online training program; and a “surprise take-away item,” to be revealed later.
And why should people lay out big money to get an up-close look at the little woman with the big mouth?
Well, Michaels insists everyone who attends will get something out of it, whether it’s how to eat right, how to work out, or how to lose weight safely and keep it off.
But Michaels is also looking to expand her brand beyond the waistline, and become a full-fledged lifestyle guru.
“Once the weight is off, it becomes a question of ‘OK, your health is the entry point of living a better life,’ ” she said. “What other areas need a change?
“That’s behind the scenes of everything behind ‘The Biggest Loser.’ What makes them tick and how to turn anything around. Are you asking yourself ‘Is that all there is?’ because if you are, that’s unacceptable.”
Michaels asked herself that question many times before she found herself at her happiest — scowling in spandex while contestants winced and America watched.
Growing up in Los Angeles, she wanted to be a rock star.
“It’s a shame I can’t dance or sing or play an instrument,” she cracked.
So, Michaels worked as a bartender and an agent (“A desk job. I was miserable and wished I was dead”), before getting a job as a physical-therapy aide at a sports medicine clinic.
One morning, a client called in tears. Under Michaels’ tutelage, the woman said, she had lost 50 lbs. and had just felt her hip bone for the first time in her life.
“I felt then, ‘I am happy in this moment’ ” Michaels remembered. “And I loved doing my job.”
That eventually led to “The Biggest Loser.”
Michaels has two children: Lukesia, or “Lu,” who is 3; and Phoenix, 11 months, delivered by Michaels’ partner, Heidi Rhoades, the same week Michaels brought Lu home from Haiti.
I could hear them in the background while Michaels talked, and had to ask what she fed her own children.
Certainly not garbage food — right?
“ ‘Garbage’ food is a strong word,” Michaels said. “They get ice cream, a bagel on Sunday. I do give Lu a treat every day. An organic cookie from Paul Newman.
“I try to avoid giving the kids chemicals,” she said. “I don’t mind the sugar in moderation, the fat in moderation. But they’re little bodies. You have to be careful.”
As for Michaels, who is 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 116 pounds? For breakfast that morning, she had a sprouted-grain English muffin with almond butter and half of a container of Greek yogurt.
She appreciates recent efforts to get all Americans to eat healthfully, like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s push to ban sales of large sodas and first lady Michelle Obama’s push for fresh fruit and vegetables.
But if she were running things, she would have done it a little differently.
“I would have offered grants for every part of the city that brings in a farmers market,” she said. “Require that 10 percent of food be sourced by local farms. And move subsidies for corn and soy to healthy dairy and vegetables.”
Or maybe, she added, just make it so more people can afford health care.
Then maybe they wouldn’t turn to television shows to get fit — and get yelled at.
“The results speak for themselves,” Michaels told me of her style on the show. “Any contestant I have ever worked with — ever — will always say at the end of their time on the show, ‘I understand what she was teaching me.’
“I’ve never done any damage to anyone.”
Well. With the exception of their eardrums.
Nicole Brodeur: firstname.lastname@example.org