Michelle Obama explains what sets her apart from past first ladies

Since entering the White House in 2009, first lady Michelle Obama has marched to the beat of her own drum. From her nontraditional television appearances and South Lawn karaoke sessions, President Barack Obama’s wife, who refers to herself as “a product of pop culture," has managed to set herself apart from previous first ladies.

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Photo: Art Streiber from the East Wing Reception Room

“I view myself as being the average woman,” she said in a new interview with Variety. “While I am first lady, I wasn’t first lady my whole life. I’m a product of pop culture. I’m a consumer of pop culture, and I know what resonates with people. I know what they’ll get a chuckle out of and what they think is kind of silly. And whenever my team approaches me with ideas and concepts, we’re usually like, ‘Is this really funny? Are people going to understand it?’”

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The mom-of-two's method of connecting with the American people through pop culture has certainly been unconventional compared to those of past presidents' wives. Michelle, who has raced in a potato-sack with Jimmy Fallon and danced on Nickelodeon’s iCarly, admitted that she has “never been afraid” to get silly, noting that you can engage others through humor.

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Photo: Chuck Kennedy-Pool/Getty Images

“My view is, first you get them to laugh, then you get them to listen. So I’m always game for a good joke, and I’m not so formal in this role. There’s very little that we can’t do that people wouldn’t appreciate,” she said. “A lot of our audiences are kids and teens, and they want to be in on the joke. And they’ll listen again. We’re just a little looser with this stuff than most traditional first ladies.”

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Despite criticism for some of her actions, Michelle sees no problem diverging from White House tradition. Though there is one TV segment she still can’t believe she did. She confessed, “I think it was probably Billy on the Street, when I was literally pushing [Billy Eichner] in a grocery cart in a grocery store.”

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Malia Obama’s mom added, “You know, that’s when I thought, ‘This is crazy.’ But again, it resonated. It was something that was successful. Maybe if I’d done that in my first year, it might have been too much. But I think by the time we did this in the second term, people knew me. They understood the approach. It allows me to take a few more risks than in the first term, when people were just getting to know who I was.”

Photo: Art Streiber from the East Wing Reception Room

With her time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue coming to an end soon, Michelle admitted that she has enjoyed her role as First Lady of the United States. She said, “It has been wonderful having the platform of the first lady’s office.”

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During her time in office, she revealed that it was important for her to deal with “cultural change” rather than with a “specific policy change.” She noted, “It’s not who’s in the White House. It’s not who is the first lady. You can give a lift, but once you give people that information, and help them understand that they have the power to make the change, then change actually happens.”

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