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Michelle Obama offers encouraging words at Little Caesars Arena

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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DETROIT -- Michelle Obama did what the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons and more than a few music acts haven't been able to do at Little Caesars Arena.

She filled the joint.

The former First Lady was every bit the rock star as she brought her 12-stolp Becoming book tour, promoting her new memoir of the same name, to Detroit on Tuesday night, Dec. 11, dressing her 85-minute talk, billed as up with the trappings usually associated with a concert. Fans -- who came from neighboring states as well as from Canada -- took selfies with the large stage backdrop behind them, and their social media messages were show on the scoreboard and screens flanking the stage. They stood in line for tour merchandise and swayed in their seats to a playlist of classic and contemporary R&B, disco and hip-hop -- including a few Motown classics.

"It's Michelle Obama -- how could you not be here," said Telka Arend of Lansing, who came to the event as a holiday present for her 27-year-old daughter Saige. Anthony Targan of West Bloomfield, whose older daughter was an intern in the Barack Obama White House, added that, "I'm hoping to get a little inspiration from Michelle.

It was also a special night for Kerrie Trahan, who graduated from Wayne State University's College of Education on Tuesday and was one of five people chosen to provide "testimonies" about what they are "becoming" before Obama spoke. Trahan is one of the organizers of Yoganic Flow, which is helping to make yoga available to city residents and met Michelle Obama at conference in San Diego.

"She's very inspiring, one of the first people to promote healthy eating. She encouraged me to grow my own garden," Trahan said before the show. "I can't think of a better way to celebrate graduating and taking the next step than being here tonight."

The night did have an extra Motown flavor as the label -- a Becoming tour sponsor whose current president, Ethiopia Habtemariam, was also among the pre-talk speakers -- launched a special playlist inspired by the "Becoming" memoir. Obama also made a surprise visit to the Motown Historical Museum on Tuesday afternoon, where she joined her brother, college basketball coach Craig Robinson, and actor-comedian Keegan Michael Key in speaking with a small group of male Wayne State students.

The "show" itself focused primarily on Obama's achievements as First Lady, with a variety of highly produced videos chronicling her use of pop culture -- including TV appearances -- to launch fitness and nutrition initiatives that she lamented "are being rolled back as we speak" during her talk. Guided by moderator Phoebe Robinson, Obama touched on several of the themes in the book while not revealing anything that we haven't heard before.

Explaining that she eschewed the idea of a memoir that focused on the more gala aspects of being First Lady, Obama said that "for folks to really understand me they needed to know my whole story and understand the context of my life...The most powerful part of my story is not the eight years as First Lady...it's the 50-odd years of that growth." She shared stories about her childhood, playing tribute to her father and brother as strong men who helped form her. Humor -- particularly about her relationship with her husband -- lightened the poignant undertone of Obama's comments, and she focused on the personal rather than the political, even addressing her experiences with counseling and therapy and the challenges of raising the couple's two daughters in the White House as a "normal" experience.

Obama, in fact, made only a couple of cursory references to the current presidential administration and sounded an optimistic tone throughout the talk. "America's like a teenager in the scheme of the age of countries -- we're young and we're still learning," she said. "I'm hoping we do get better, and I'm positive we will. With every generation we've gotten better." She added that the country is more good than not, and that "we're just a little lost now. I think the only way we get back is being a little more open to each other...We have to share ourselves with each other if we want to break this cycle of discontent and fear."

On Tuesday Obama also announced another 21 tour stops for 2019 in the U.S., Canada and Europe. During her talk she declared it will be "one last round and that's it. That's enough about me. I'm tired of talking about me" -- even if, as the large turnout at Little Caesars demonstrated, people aren't tired of hearing her.

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