Ever since she burst onto the late, late-night airwaves in May, 1994, a startling apparition in a flurry of blond ponytails and purple ruffles, the Quebec astrologer has become a celebrity of a distinctly 1990s variety. Her fame has sprung almost exclusively from her post-midnight televised pitches for a 1-900 network of telephonic fortune tellers called JoJo’s Psychic Alliance. More than two million Canadians a day have tuned into those after-hours infomercials – 30-minute ads masquerading as TV talk shows, complete with game show host Geoff Edwards, guest appearances by soap opera stars and melodramatic re-enactments of predictions-come-true. That response has brought a windfall not only to the self-styled “Goddess of the moon and Queen of the stars,” but also to the country’s telephone and broadcast companies (page 44). And, although previous American psychic lines have used such personalities as pop crooner Dionne Warwick to plug their wares, it has launched Savard as the chief Canadian example of a new show business species – the infomercial star. Already a fixture in Quebec tabloids like Allo Police, she has no qualms about her newfound fame. “It’s nice, after all the years of struggle,” she says, “to have a little applause.”
First aired on 19 private TV stations across the continent – and featuring a controversial testimonial letter from the Prime Minister’s wife, Aline Chrétien – Savard’s initial infomercial quickly accomplished its aim: to stop late-night channel surfers in their tracks with her outlandish image. As she notes, “People see me and they don’t seem to forget!” Currently, a second edition, which she refers to as her new show and has named The Power of Love, is running in Boston, Chicago, upper New York state and Florida. Over the past 16 months, both have generated thousands of calls a day – not to mention huge profits for Ormazd Inc., the Miami telemarketing firm that contracted her to front one of its three psychic phone services for a six-figure fee and a small royalty on each call.
In April, 1994, a month before Savard’s first infomercial aired, the 1-900-number technology vital to psychic phone lines had finally arrived in Canada. In anticipation, she sent out letters soliciting testimonials. Among them was one to 24 Sussex Drive. In 1988, she had dreamed of recently retired Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien astride a radiant white dog. For her, that meant one thing: he would be the next prime minister. That prospect seemed so improbable that Johanne Savard told her not to go public because “she’d look like a fool.” But the astrologer tracked Chrétien down to a Montreal hotel. “He said, ‘Oh, no, don’t wish me that,’ ” Savard recalls.
But she stayed in touch with him and his wife. Still, she admits that, on March 18, 1994, when she wrote Aline Chrétien requesting some confirmation of the prediction for her infomercial, she regarded it as a long shot. But she had forwarded her plea through André Gourd, then the Quebec Liberal government’s representative in Ottawa. And within a month, a courier arrived with a two-paragraph missive. “I hope that your predictions regarding American politics turn out as well as your prediction, many years ago, that my husband would become Prime Minister of Canada in this past election,” wrote Aline Chrétien. Says Savard: “When I got that letter, I thought, ‘Shucks, she’s giving me the break of a lifetime!’ ”
Her infomercial had been on the air two months before the Prime Minister’s incredulous aides discovered her coup. Fearing a replay of the 1987 uproar over Nancy Reagan’s astrological dabblings, they swiftly undertook damage control. Spokesman Patrick Parisot dismissed it as a “standard response” never meant for public consumption. But Savard’s detailed request belies that assertion. “Do you think I would have done such a thing without permission?” she says. “You think I want to become an enemy of the government?”
Throughout the controversy, Aline Chrétien herself maintained a sibylline silence. But Gourd received no indication of her displeasure. “The office of the Prime Minister reacts to its own agenda, but I’m not sure it’s the agenda of Madame Chrétien,” he says. “It just showed she was a very nice person to write back.”
Nevertheless, Savard’s new infomercial omits the offending letter. And, ever canny at marketing her image, she now presents herself as “a motivator” rather than a prophet. With her usual penchant for looking on the brighter side, she even promises that the current global upheavals – which have produced the very alienation and despair on which her service thrives – are but a passing planetary phase, the last violent shudders before a new spiritual age dawns. After all, as she says, nothing lasts forever – either astral transits or perhaps even the psychic phone-line phenomenon itself. Meanwhile, no matter what time of the day or night, her recorded voice greets troubled callers with the breathy reassurance that “We are here for you always” – or at least as long as they can pay their phone bills.