Saying Farewell to Michelle Obama, the First Lady of Late Night TV

FLOTUS makes a final, pre-inauguration visit to Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show" Wednesday, capping eight years as a major television presence – and as an expert at "mom dancing."

Jackie Kennedy invited the nation, via TV, to see its redecorated White House. Nancy Reagan, a former actress who brought her own sense of elegance to the White House, seized a TV moment when she sat on a Santa-clad Mr. T's lap. Hillary Clinton, never fully comfortable in front of TV cameras, spent countless hours in front of them while living in the White House – and while trying to get back there.

But no first lady captured TV audiences like Michelle Obama.

The outgoing FLOTUS is set to visit "The Tonight Show" Wednesday for the third time, presumably to offer another chapter in the "Evolution of Mom Dancing" with host Jimmy Fallon. But what’s billed as her last talk show appearance as first lady represents a victory dance for a woman who sought to get us moving and succeeded in getting us to watch her every move.

Barack Obama visited far more entertainment TV shows, late night fare and otherwise, than any president before him. He even took to Zach Galifianakis' irreverent "Between Two Ferns" online mock talk show to encourage eligible Americans to sign up for Affordable Care Act insurance.

But Michelle Obama became a more ubiquitous – and more fun – entertainment TV presence. She discussed the benefits of breakfast with Grover on "Sesame Street." She belted Stevie Wonder tunes with James Corden during a "Carpool Karaoke" segment. She huddled with Stephen Colbert under a blanket fort, trading hopes and dreams in childlike voices (Obama confided that when she grows up, she wants to be "Joe Biden – or a pirate").

The first lady primarily used TV appearances to promote her "Let's Move!" campaign against childhood obesity. But in the process she projected an image to much of the country – she enjoyed a 64 percent approval rating as of last summer – as a smart, humorous and relatable presence.

The incoming president, a former reality TV star, rose largely by using a media and Hollywood system he now disparages regularly. The course of the next first family's relationship with the entertainment world sits among many unknowns.

Melania Trump, a former model who keeps a relatively low profile, faced harsh criticism after it became apparent her Republican National Convention speech closely echoed a past address by Michelle Obama.

The outgoing first lady could tell the incoming first lady a few things about commanding the spotlight without withering.

Michelle Obama withstood detractors who somehow found fault with her encouraging exercise and healthful eating habits – and she endured far, far worse from haters who used the Internet to reveal their own ugliness.

It's unclear whether she loves the cameras as much as they love her. But in her eight years as first lady, Michelle Obama came across as the real deal – from her first inauguration slow dance with her husband to Beyoncé singing "At Last" to her final mom dance with Jimmy Fallon.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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