Lots of love for Ellen in Melbourne
Television executives used to think Australian audiences were too reserved to make a local talk show work.
That notion was turned on its head today when American comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres appeared in Melbourne, receiving a rock star welcome from thousands of screaming fans.
"Unbelievable!" DeGeneres shouted to the crowd at Birrarung Marr. "I love you all so much! You have no idea."
Not only had the Melbourne turnout exceeded that in Sydney on the weekend, she said - it was bigger than the crowd at her recent appearance in New York's Central Park.
"I'd like to introduce you to my favourite Australian: my wife, Portia de Rossi," DeGeneres said, bringing her Australian-born spouse on stage.
Born Amanda Rogers in Horsham in 1973, de Rossi spent her childhood in the Geelong suburb of Grovedale and her late teens in Mont Albert. In 2008, she wed DeGeneres in the United States.
DeGeneres was also accompanied by her mother, Betty, who drew a huge cheer from the crowd.
After judging a male underwear model competition, DeGeneres brought a young Melbourne schoolgirl, Georgia, on stage. The star-struck girl sang for the audience, prompting her idol to invite her to America to perform for viewers back home.
DeGeneres was then joined by local singer Jessica Mauboy, a former contestant on Australian Idol.
Next up was a viewer named Daniel, who'd been diagnosed with leukaemia. He was told he'd die two years ago but is still going strong. DeGeneres surprised him - and his family - with a $10,000 cheque.
The highlight for most, however, was the question and answer session with the audience. What would she do if she weren't a talk show host, one woman wanted to know.
"I'd do something with animals," said the vegan an animal rights activist. "Something to help the environment."
Who is her inspiration?
"Portia de Rossi," she replied, prompting another huge cheer. "She is the kindest, most compassionate, most beautiful and brilliant human being in my life. She makes me happier than I've ever been."
Her favourite comedians? "Steve Martin and Rebel Wilson."
Her favourite thing about Melbourne? "The people."
And what does she say to the guests on her show during the commercial breaks?
"I don't let them talk to me," she deadpanned. "I just make them sit quietly."
Unfortunately, thousands were denied entry to Birrarung Marr after the hilltop park filled up. Not wanting to disappoint them, DeGeneres told the crowd she would head down and greet those who'd been queuing for hours - many of whom she'd seen from her hotel room early this morning.
Among those who scored a coveted front row position were two women who describe themselves as DeGeneres' biggest fans. They camped out all night to ensure a front row spot - yet refused to give their real names.
"My boss thinks I have the flu," said one woman. Her clothes and body were covered in graffiti, having heeded DeGeneres' callout on Twitter to "spray paint an outfit". "I'll get fired if she sees me on TV. I hope my disguise is good enough."
She was not the only one to be struck down with "Ellen fever". By 9am, thousands were lining up from Federation Square to Birrarung Marr, along the Yarra.
Police and security were kept busy shooing away those who tried to circumvent the queue by climbing up an embankment from Batman Avenue.
One desperate fan dived into a bush when police spotted him, prompting one constable to shout: "There's no point hiding; I can see your pink t-shirt."
Dean Norbiato, a spokesman for Swisse, which is sponsoring DeGeneres' visit to Australia, said: "Melbourne has already smashed Sydney out of the water.
"We've already beaten their crowd attendance numbers. There were around 200 people camped up here last night."
Sarah Rashou, 15, was one of the first to arrive today, skipping school to see her idol.
"I just said, 'Mum, I'm going to see Ellen today'," Rashou said. "She knows how much I love her so she let me come."
Rashou's friend, 14-year-old Shamiran Philip: "I love how she interviews her celebrity guests [on The Ellen DeGeneres Show]'. I reckon she's actually friends with all of them. You can just tell."
Felicity Jones, 27, admires DeGeneres' support of gay marriage. "It's a shame her marriage isn't recognised in Australia but I hope that will change," she said.
Norbiato suspects the Victorian connection has contributed to the huge turnout today. DeGeneres had been promoting the event heavily on Twitter.
Yesterday, she wrote: "Are ya ready Melbourne? I can't hear you! I can't hear you! Probably because this is the internet."