A famous TV star, a Hollywood beauty and a tennis champ—they're three well-known celebrities who share a secret. They all dream of doing something completely different with their lives.
For actor Tony Danza, the past 30 years have been all about showbiz. Known for his sitcom success on Taxi and Who's the Boss, Tony does it all—acting, singing and dancing. But now he's ready to trade in his television scripts for textbooks. For one year, Tony was "Mr. Danza, English teacher" to a classroom of 10th-graders at Northeast High School in Philadelphia.
His first year in the classroom was filmed for an A&E reality series called Teach, but Tony says this job was no stunt. Long before he made it big in Hollywood, Tony went to college to become a teacher. He left those dreams behind after he was discovered, but with his 60th birthday fast approaching, Tony decided to roll up his sleeves and see what his life could have been like if he'd followed his other passion.
Tony says he didn't set out to document his first teaching experience on television. "I thought: 'Let me try this. Let me see if I can do it.' I was really going to do it, just go and be a teacher," Tony says. "I talked to one of my friends who's a TV producer, and [said]: 'I'm going to do this. I'm gung ho.' And he said, 'That would make a great TV show.' The next thing I know, A&E went along with it, and they came along."
Things got off to a rocky start. On Tony's first day at Northeast High School, he was called into the assistant principal's office and reprimanded for not signing in when he arrived. Once he got into the classroom, the students weren't any easier on him. "Has anyone told you that it was funny for you to be teaching an English class?" one student asked.
His sitcom stardom didn't win him any favors with his 10th-graders, either. "It's a long time ago, Who's The Boss," Tony jokes. "One kid said, 'I think my mother was...no, my grandmother was a fan.'"
With no script or stand-ins, Tony was on his own to face his classroom of critics. "It was way harder than I ever thought," he says. "Was every day perfect? No, but I worked hard, and I hung in there."
After a particularly tough class, Tony became so distraught that he broke down into tears. With cameras rolling, Tony began to doubt himself. "I'm sorry; I'm so embarrassed," he said. "I just wonder if I can even do this."
Tony says those low moments came when he felt like he had failed his students. "You feel like if you don't engage them, if you look over and see a kid bored, a kid with his head down, you get crazy. It breaks your heart," Tony says. "I cried a lot. They made me cry, I don't know—because I loved them, I guess."
In the end, Tony says he was able to give the students what they needed. "I think one of the things that 10th grade offers you is a chance to teach a lot of life lessons in the midst of all the Mockingbird and Julius Caesar," he says.
Some of his former students say "Mr. Danza" taught them more than poetry and classic literature. "He's like a friend that you never had before, because he cares so much about people," one student says.
Another student says Tony helped her learn to speak up. "I would sit in the back and not ask for help and just get lost," she says. "But then he taught me that it's not bad to ask for help."
This sitcom star was even able to win over Linda Carroll, the principal of Northeast High School and one of Tony's toughest critics. "You may be able to tap dance. You may be able to sing, but you're not a teacher until our students are learning," Principal Carroll says.
When the school year came to a close, Linda says Tony had earned the title of "teacher.""For passion, he'd get an A plus," she says. "I have no doubt that he could go on and be an outstanding educator."
The school year may have ended, but the lessons remain. "It really was something very special," Tony says. "I got to be there and work as hard as I ever worked. I met students that I'll never forget, and teachers I'll look up to for the rest of my life."
Serena Williams is one of the most heralded female athletes in the world. She's currently the number one women's tennis player and has won more prize money than any other female athlete in history. Even with all the joy and success tennis brings her, Serena recently decided to start pursuing one of her other passions. It has nothing to do with sports or fame...Serena is currently enrolled in classes to become a certified nail technician.
"When I was younger, I was always obsessed with nails," Serena says. "It kind of relaxes me." When Serena first came up with the idea, she says people thought it was a joke. "No one believed me, and I'm like, 'Listen—I'm going to nail school.'" She's now enrolled in classes, but she's been keeping her identity a secret. "Everybody's always like, 'You look like Serena Williams,' and I'm like, 'If I hear that one more time...'" she jokes.
To show what she's learned in class, Serena invites Oprah to the spa for a pedicure appointment. "I can't believe Serena Williams is actually filing my big toe," Oprah says.
While Serena buffs, polishes and massages, she and Oprah talk about men, dating and what she's really like off the court. "So you're not dating anyone special?" Oprah asks.
"I don't know, I'm trying to figure it out. I'm so confused," Serena says. "What I really learned about love? That it hurts."
The Serena we see on television, she says, is powerful and strong. "Then, I feel like the moment I step off the court, I'm a different animal," she says. "I'm really super feminine, and I'm really soft. I'm very sensitive, I realized."
After her pedicure, Oprah shows off her sparkling toes. "I usually go for a neutral nail, but Serena told me it's 2010, and I should take a walk on the wild side," Oprah says.
To become a certified nail tech, Serena says she has to complete 600 hours of manicures, pedicures and more. With 200 hours under her belt, Serena is well on her way, and she says she's been practicing on friends and family. "I do Venus' nails sometimes," she says. "She can't sit still!"
Serena says she's even considering opening a salon after she's certified. But, of course, the tennis courts come first. "Venus and I joke about how we're going to be out there forever," she says.
For now, Serena is easing into the nail business by launching her own collection of OPI nail polish colors called the Grand Slam Collection. Serena says the colors will represent different tennis tournaments, such as the Australian Open, French Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon.
Whether she's playing at Wimbledon or walking the red carpet, Serena expresses her creativity with daring nail designs and bold outfit choices. Serena says she wants to bring a little bit of glam to tennis and is inspired by women like Flo-Jo, the track and field superstar known for wearing long nails while she ran. "She's someone who has really influenced me to get into that and be glamorous and the best that I can be in my field" she says.
Now, Serena says she's working on owning her power and not dimming her inner light.
"I don't think I'm completely there yet, but I'm on my way," she says. "I've done that, where I have dimmed myself so it doesn't seem like I'm overwhelming to anyone. I think maybe a lot of women do that, especially [women who] are powerful or are in a position to be strong. I feel like I've done that in the past, but now that I've talked to [Oprah], I definitely don't want to do that anymore."
As Jane Rizzoli on TNT's Rizzoli & Isles, actress Angie Harmon plays a detective who investigates murder scenes and serial killers. In her real life, Angie admits her ideal job is actually the role she plays on television: a homicide detective.
To fulfill her dream, Oprah Show producers sent Angie to the National Forensic Academy in Knoxville, Tennessee. This secluded, wooded area—known as the Body Farm—is protected by layers of razor wire fences and surveillance cameras. Police and detectives from all over the country travel here to study every aspect of violent crime. Student investigators examine bodies in various stages of decomposition, attend autopsies and learn how to read footprints, tire tracks, blood spatters and ballistics.
The body farm is not for the faint of heart, but Angie says she isn't afraid of a little blood and guts. "This is really a chance of a lifetime, and I'm really, really excited about it," she says.
While at the National Forensic Academy, Angie learns how to dust for fingerprints and examine blood splatters on a wall. Then, on a field trip to the Tennessee woods, the detectives take Angie on a body hunt. Buried in the ground is a fake human body that Angie is assigned to dig up without destroying any evidence. "This mannequin has been buried for three years," she says. "That's fascinating."
While blood and bodies are anything but glamorous, Angie says what she enjoys most about being a homicide detective is solving a puzzle. "To be able to get in there and put all the pieces together and figure it out, you're speaking for the dead," she says. "You're the voice that going to help these people."
Angie's final stage of homicide detective training involves a visit to the morgue, a chilling place where bodies are prepared for autopsies. Angie is told that one of the bodies in the morgue is of a man who died of an overdose. "He was a young man, and it was interesting because I didn't feel like it was this dead, gross thing," she says. "I still wanted to comfort him."
Although homicide detectives often need to put their feelings aside, Angie finds that part of her dream job is very emotional. In the anthropology lab, one of the medical examiners shows Angie the bones of a child abuse victim. By examining the fractures on the ribs, the examiners were able to prove that the child suffered repeated trauma and maltreatment. "It's heartbreaking," Angie says.
Photo: George Burns/Harpo Studios
The medical examiners at the National Forensic Academy were so impressed with Angie's curiosity, they wanted to hire her! "And I would take the job," Angie says. For now though, Angie is satisfied with just playing the role of a homicide detective.
Just before she was offered the role on Rizzoli & Isles, Angie says she was thinking of walking away from show business to become a full-time mom to her three young daughters. "There's a part of me that just thought I need to get them out of L.A. and to be a full-time mommy," she says. "I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Los Angeles or California. It just moves so quickly, and I'm not a perfect parent. I need for their surroundings to make up for the things I lack, not contribute to it. "
Angie and her family moved to North Carolina to enjoy a slower-paced life. Now, for five months out of the year she works on Rizzoli & Isles, and she spends the rest of her time as a mom. Angie can now say moving across country was the right decision. "They deserve a childhood," she says.
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, December 6, 2013