Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” tour is the rockstar book event of the year, packing stadiums around the country. On Thursday, thousands filled the Erwin Center for the Austin edition. The crowd in the sold-out arena was enthusiastic. Fans lined up to pose with the life-sized backdrops of Obama scattered through the arena and cheered at the 20-minute sizzle reel of celebrity highlights from her time as first lady — from her push-up contest with Ellen DeGeneres to her appearance on "Sesame Street" — that opened the show.
Obama took the stage at 8:42 p.m. to thunderous applause. She was joined in conversation by Food Network host Rachael Ray, who guided Obama through the highlights from her book. For the most part, Ray was a capable moderator, but her introduction was somewhat tone-deaf. She was effusive about her love for Austin, shouting out our thriving food and music scenes. Ray then went on to declare our city "a place with no isms," a place where racism and sexism does not exist, painting a rosy reality that would certainly be challenged by many in the diverse crowd that filled the arena.
• PHOTOS: See more scenes from Michelle Obama's stop in Austin
Throughout the conversation, the former FLOTUS was warm, thoughtful and often hilarious. Here are ten things we learned from her appearance.
Questlove created a 1,200-song soundtrack for the tour. There’s a reason the biggest book tour in America feels like a spirited turn-up. Obama tasked the Roots drummer and “Tonight Show” bandleader with coming up with music for the event, thinking he’d create a few hours worth of playlists. Instead he returned with thousands of songs.
“He pulled a song from every year since I was born,” she said.
But it turns out her husband, Barack, has never made her a mixtape. Rachael Ray was surprised at the revelation, gushing that every year on Valentine's Day and her birthday, her husband has taken the time to create her a new playlist.
“He wasn't president,” Obama said, inspiring hoots from the crowd that caused her to clarify: “That was not heavy shade.”
There were years when she hated her husband. In “Becoming,” Obama is very honest about exactly how much she struggled when her husband began his career in politics. She was a working mother with two young children and a husband whose job kept him away from home half the time. She learned to set boundaries. The Obamas went to couples therapy. They worked through it. It was important to her to be clear about the struggle, because she understands how their relationship is idealized.
“People look at me and Barack as ‘hashtag relationship goals,’” she said. “It's hard. It's hard for everyone. The whole process of marriage and having kids is hard for everyone. Don’t quit because it’s hard.”
She said everyone has years where you hate your husband. “Barack thinks there was a whole decade,” she quipped.
But she believes strong men help shape strong girls. “People always look to the mother and think the daughter emulates the mother,” she said. But Obama believes that much of her own strength came from having men in her life (her father, her grandfathers and her brother) who adored and respected her while she was growing up. She implored the men in the audience to cherish their daughters, to make sure the girls in their lives feel loved.
“I was privileged to live life free of abuse,” she said. “When I met Barack Obama, my bar was high.”
She wept on an Air Force jet after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. “I sat down and sobbed for 30 minutes,” Obama said. The day had been so hard for many reasons, she explained. For eight years, her family had lived under intense pressure, enduring endless scrutiny without a hint of scandal. The weight she was carrying had finally lifted, which was an emotional release. But it was also the stark contrast between the Trump inauguration and her husband's that struck her. The Obama inauguration celebrations were for “all America,” she said, “to see that other version, their version of America” broke her down.
While she was ready to go, the Obama dogs, Sunny and Bo, freaked out when they left the White House. They heard other dogs barking for the first time and lost their minds. They were thinking, “What is that?” she said. “That's life.”
And no, she’s not planning to run for president. “Nope. Nope. Not gonna happen. Not gonna happen,” Obama said in response to an audience member’s enthusiastic suggestion. Ray had just asked the former FLOTUS a social media question about where she imagines herself in ten years. “Being on a beach somewhere with my husband with something cold to drink,” Obama said. She has no desire to parlay her celebrity into political office, instead opting to focus on building the next generation of leaders. “We can do more as multipliers,” she said. “We need thousands of young people with good values and good leadership, not us continuing to occupy the same seats.”
She doesn’t have a garden in her new house. In “Becoming,” Obama talks at length about how much joy the White House garden she built brought her. The plot she tended grew thousands of pounds of produce, much of which was donated to local soup kitchens. But she’s not 100 percent sure she’s a good gardener.
“I had help (building the garden),” she said. “I had the National Park Service. ... I feel in my soul that I'm a good gardener, but I haven’t been tested on my own.”
She thinks we all should take responsibility for the health of children. The garden and her nutrition efforts were linked to her “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity. Obama took pride in the program and the partnerships she formed to support the initiative throughout her tenure as first lady. With a new administration in power, she sees some of her efforts being undermined.
“Fast food will be infiltrating our kids’ schools,” she said.
Obama believes we as consumers need to drive the market, so the food industry sees the business sense in producing healthier goods.
“We have to shift what we're buying so they make things that won't kill our kids,” she said.
She wants us to remain hopeful. “Don’t let these moments of insecurity make you question each other,” Obama said as part of her closing remarks.
By writing her own truth in “Becoming,” she hoped to inspire other people to own their stories.
“We're all American,” she said, adding that we should search for the “bravery to face our foibles and share that with each other ... not to let other people make us strangers to each other."
“We are still a country becoming,” Obama said. But in order to evolve, she believes we have to remain hopeful, and being hopeful, she said, means remaining active.
“We owe that to our children,” Obama said. “We cannot afford to give up and be resigned to fear if we want a country that's not full of ‘isms,’ but full of opportunities. We have no choice but to be hopeful.”