Tyra Banks is BACK! After taking a season off as host of America’s Next Top Model, the series creator and executive producer will be making her return for Cycle 24 Tuesday at 8PM on VH1.
Here, the world-famous supermodel dishes on the new season, Cycle 23 host Rita Ora, diversity within modeling and why you won’t be seeing her precious baby York competing on Top Model anytime soon.
What made you decide to return to America’s Next Top Model for Cycle 24?
The world of Twitter was a flutter with a lot of ‘tough love’ mixed with a little hate. A lot of ‘how could you do this?’ and ‘I can’t believe you left us, you quitter! We want you back.’ So, I said OK, I will come back. I wanted the show to continue, which is actually the reason I left. It was not the best decision, but I didn’t know that until the world spoke.
How did you feel Rita Ora fared as host last cycle?
I was on set with the judging panel during last cycle’s finale, and I was really shocked with how good their chemistry was. I was honestly shocked with the flow of the show and how well they worked together. I thought she did a really good job. I wasn’t on set all the time, so I didn’t get to see everything, but the moments that I did see, I was pretty impressed.
Was their any hesitation to pick up the extra workload while being a new mom?
No, not really. I like to think of myself as an empowered mom, a mom who doesn’t really have to sacrifice my business. You just find more ways to be clever when it comes to your time, but you do feel a little guilty when you’re at work and when you’re with your child. It sucks that guys rarely get that question, but I never left ANTM because of my son.
We know baby York already has his SMIZE down. Is child modeling something you’d consider bringing to the ANTM brand?
One thing fans ask me about all the time is starting a child’s ANTM. I get a lot of baby pictures sent to me on social media, but it’s not something I necessarily want to personally endorse. I feel that the modeling industry creates insecurities that you didn’t even know you had. I didn’t know that I had a long waist, I didn’t know that my thighs were not in proportion to my calves, I didn’t know all these different things that the modeling industry showed me.
I’m happy with ANTM starting at 18 years old, especially with them being on TV and dealing with social media, which can be cruel. I’m not really into kids starting so young.
You’ve always championed body diversity within the modeling industry. Why was it important to include a curve model like Ashley Graham as a judge both last and this season?
Ashley isn’t on the show because she’s a curve model, she’s a judge because she’s a supermodel who happens to be curvy. She’s one of the most talked about models of today and the living embodiment of what I’ve been passionate about since ANTM first started.
We cast a curvy girl, Robin Manning, who I’ll never forget, on Cycle one of Top Model. That was before its time. Had she won, I’m not even sure as to what jobs would have been there for her, even though she got pretty far in the competition. Ashley’s the dream for so many women that are not super-duper skinny. She’s thick, she’s curvy and she’s a supermodel!
Why did you guys decide to get rid of the age cut-off this time around?
That was my decision. I came back and said, ‘you know what? I’m really tired of this!’ When I was younger, I had model peers that I thought were my age. Years later, I’m finding out they were five or even 10 years older than me! I’m like, ‘but we looked the same age back in the day! You had to lie?’ and they admit, ‘yes, because no agency would’ve signed me if I were honest.’ I just find that to be crazy!
I see it as twofold; One, it shouldn’t be about what your age is, it should be about what your look is. Also, why is it when men get grey temples and crow’s feet, we say, ‘oh, that’s sexy,’ but what women get that, it’s bad? I see beauty in that. My mom has shown me the beauty in that. She doesn’t dye her hair, she’s embracing that in a beautiful way. We’ve been able to tackle a lot on Top Model over the years, but never age. The age cut-off was 27, which is still considered ‘old’ in the modeling industry. I took that off, and the beauties who came through the door were phenomenal.
There’s also a contestant this season, Liberty, who’s a very right-wing, Trump supporting conservative. Will her views spark some heated dialogue amongst the girls? How important is it to show diversity of thought in the house?
Yeah, it’s safe to say you can look forward to some intense discussions surrounding Liberty and her views [laughs]. Since season 1 of Top Model, we’ve cast girls with different ideas and opinions on religion, on politics, all of that. It was never intentional, that’s just what naturally happens. I think it’s important to show countering sides. A show where everybody thinks the same can be a little flat, even if you agree with them. I don’t necessarily believe in a lot of the things my girls say, but I give them the chance to say what the hell they want and they figure it out for themselves.
Without spilling too much tea, how was it working with some of the RuPaul’s Drag Race gang this season? (Valentina, Katya and Manila).
Unfortunately, I wasn’t on set with them, I only edited their pictures. But they were turning out my models! I had to work extra hard to find pictures of my models that looked just as good as theirs!
How do you feel America’s Next Top Model has changed the perception of the modeling industry since its debut in 2003?
I think it’s definitely opened up a door. People tend to forget what the modeling industry was to the public 15, 16 years ago, before ANTM existed. It was kind of a secret world that people didn’t know too much about. People used to make fun of my Top Model fashion shows, where we have all these hijinks, and tell the girls to scream down the runway or act like ghosts, you know? Like Cirque Du Soleil, but modeling [laughs]. Now, I see fashion shows like that all the time.
There was a time when my models couldn’t get hired because they were on a reality show. Now, the top models in the world have gotten famous because they were on reality shows. I think Top Model has a lot to do with where the industry is now, including it being a bit more accepting when it comes to body type. We’ve been on the forefront of diversity all around. The fashion industry tends to treat skin color like a trend, like, ‘Black girls are cool’ and then they’re not. No, my skin is not a trend. My skin is American, my skin is mine, my skin represents millions of people.
I hope that one day we get to a point where we don’t have to ask ‘How many Black girls were in that fashion show? How many Asian? How many Latina? Why no plus-size?’ I don’t want that to be a topic, I want it to become the norm. I think ANTM has helped tremendously, but we still have a way to go!
Cycle 24 of America’s Next Top Model premieres tonight, Jan 9. at 8 pm.. on VH1.
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Born and raised in Compton, California, Jessica Bennett began her career as an intern at The Oakland Post, and later, The Source Magazine. She went on to write for respected hip hop publications such as DJ Booth and Hip Hop DX before becoming the Urban Editor of pop culture website, Wetpaint.com. She joined Ebony as the Entertainment Editor August 2017. Bennett has interviewed such names as Vanessa Williams, Spike Lee, Tyra Banks, Forest Whitaker, Magic & Cookie Johnson and several others.