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You wanna be on top? Well, unfortunately, you’ve missed your chance.
After 13 years and 22 cycles, America’s Next Top Model is coming to an end. EW caught up with creator and host Tyra Banks to reminisce about the modeling reality competition series that taught us all to smize and be fierce. See below, where Banks talks about living with the contestants back in the day, the famous supermodel that was almost a judge, and the girl she voted to keep but got sent home anyway.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you have a favorite season that you look back on fondly?
TYRA BANKS: Season 1 really touched my heart just because it was new and fresh. I never thought that we would get such a strong story in the first season — it turned into religious girls versus the kind of anti-religion girls, and it was interesting to watch. I was like, “I cannot believe this is real.” And this was before people would start thinking that they’re going to be the crazy one because they’re going to be on reality television. These girls were just truly being themselves and forgetting the cameras were there.
If you look back on the first season now, it looks like a different show. You can really see how far Top Model has come from the first season to now.
So far — it’s insane how far. I remember those crazy blue velvet drapes! And the girls’ apartment where they lived, I was staying two floors up. Yeah, I was living there too. I don’t think I’ve ever said that!
Do you have favorite contestants?
One that comes to mind is Whitney Thompson from Cycle 10. She was our first plus-size — or what I call “fiercely real” — winner, so that was really special to me because we were, in hindsight, way ahead of the curve. What I’m really proud of is the show extending the definition of beauty physically and even emotionally. We had a girl with retinitis pigmentosa in Cycle 3 [Amanda Swafford] — she was legally blind and took the most gorgeous photos. We had a girl named Heather [Kuzmich] who had autism, we had a girl Tahlia [Brookins] that was burned as an infant, and also Mercedes [Scelba-Shorte] from Cycle 2 who had lupus. There was CariDee [English], who won, who had psoriasis. The list goes on and on, and I’m really proud of that because I really wanted to show girls that beauty is not cookie-cutter. So when I’m talking to that girl that’s standing in front of me, and she’s got big freaking red hair and alabaster skin and freckles all over her face, and I’m saying she’s still in the running, yes, I’m talking to her but I’m really talking to the millions of girls that look like her that are at home watching.
Are there any challenges or photo shoots from the show that you are most proud of?
I photographed the girls maybe about 80 percent of the season. My mom was a photographer, and I grew up with a dark room in the back porch of our house on the washer and dryer — she would turn it into a dark room with the red light. So a lot of me conceptualizing these shoots and coming up with these ideas really started when I was a little girl. I tended to strip it down and maybe do a photo shoot that was all about shadows where we hold the lace to the sun and then the lace would be all over the girl’s face in a pattern. I really feel like when I would photograph them, they would relax and give me their best.
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Was there a contestant that you regretted sending home?
So many. Back in the day, before we used a numeric voting system, judges would choose a photo of who they wanted to go home, and I would always vote last, because I did not want them to think, “Oh my gosh, my boss chose that person so I need to follow her.” So maybe about 30 percent of the time someone would go home and I would just wince. I remember that happened with Toccara [Jones] in Cycle 3. I got outvoted and I was really heartbroken about that.
Which contestant was the best smizer of them all?
Oh, Raina [Hein, from Cycle 14]. She did a photo where we had water coming at the girls from the air like a storm, and they had fabric sticking to them, and I remember seeing her picture and it gave me chills up and down my spine. I nicknamed her “wolf.” You know how wolves’ eyes are so intense? That girl was probably one of Top Model’s best smizers.
Is there anyone you really wished you could have gotten as a judge on the show?
Linda Evangelista. We came very close to that happening.
The makeover episodes are always intense for some of the contestants. Were there any makeovers that you chose that you later regretted?
The one thing that is really bad is that I will say what I want to happen, but then it depends on the interpretation of that hairdresser. So, I can be like “I want this to happen,” and then see it be like “Ooooh.” But in the end I have to accept the fact that my name is on the door; that’s what comes with leadership, and I understand that. The interesting thing is a lot of girls freak out when they get their hair cut, but if you do an analysis of the winners of America’s Next Top Model, a high percentage of them got their hair cut. Cycle 2, Yoanna [House] had long hair and got it cut, Cycle 3 Eva [Marcille]’s hair was medium-ish long and we cut it very short, Cycle 4 Naima [Mora]’s hair was long and we cut it short; it goes on and on. So do if you do your research, the odds of you winning go up if your hair is cut.
How do you think America’s Next Top Model has influenced the modern world of fashion?
I think it has opened up the world to accepting reality television stars as models. If you think about Kendall and Kylie [Jenner] — people think Kylie’s not a model, but I think she’s a model — and Gigi [Hadid] and all of these girls from reality television, I think Top Model knocked the doors down for that to be okay in the high fashion world.
Would you ever host another reality competition series?
I would never host somebody else’s show. But I ask myself, “What is the future of reality television? What is the future of competition television?” And I already have an idea of what I think the future of that is. I think I would probably make some appearances in it, but would not be the day-to-day person — I’d be the creator. But I think I’ve cracked what the future of that is, so stay tuned!
The series finale of America’s Next Top Model airs Friday at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.