TV Article

Model Citizens

Tyra Banks is looking for a few good supermodels. The Victoria's Secret beauty dishes about her new reality show, the difference between regular models and supermodels, and the mistaken belief that most mannequins are dumb

Tyra Banks | YOU BETTA WORK In addition to being a knockout, Banks says, a supermodel has to be emotionally tough
Image credit: Tyra Banks: Kevin Winter/ImageDirect
YOU BETTA WORK In addition to being a knockout, Banks says, a supermodel has to be emotionally tough

''American Idol'''s Justin and Kelly didn't have to walk and sell bubblegum at the same time. It won't be so easy for aspiring models who hope to compete on ''UPN's Supermodel Show,'' a reality series exec-produced by Tyra Banks (airing in 2003).

Contestants (who can apply online at upn.com/shows/supermodel until Nov. 22) must be at least 5'7'', between 18 and 27, and, of course, smokin' hot. The winner will receive a contract with a high profile modeling agency. EW.com talked to Banks, 28, about what makes a model super, why she's looking for competition, and how her profession is harder than it looks. Really.

Tell us about the show. Can fans speed-dial in their votes, à la ''American Idol''?
No, we're leaving the verdict strictly up to the judges. People can fill out an application and make a three-minute video of themselves explaining why they could be America's next supermodel, and then we look at the videos and choose eight contestants. Four panelists do the judging from there: a magazine editor, a photographer, an agent, and a designer. They're all going to be people who are respected in the fashion industry. Every week they'll send one girl home until we have the winner.

Other than proving they can walk without tripping, what will the contestants have to do?
People are going to understand what goes into modeling, because there's a lot involved. There are going to be rigorous walking sessions, photo shoots, lessons in movement for commercials and videos, public speaking, and media training. All of that's very important. There're going to be physical challenges as well as emotional ones.

What are the emotional challenges of being a model?
This is a very insecure business, as you'll see on the show. While the show operates in a protective bubble of sorts, the girls know they could be rejected every week, which will allow them to feel what it's really like in the modeling industry. Models are freelance artists who never know where their next job is going to come from. The nature of the job just creates a lot of insecurities.

You're not only the host of the show, but a producer. Why look for young, eager competition?
I'm a very hands-on producer, not a vanity producer at all, and I wanted to do this because I thought it would be fun. I get insulted a lot of times when people say models aren't smart, and I wanted to show everything that goes into being a supermodel. It's a lot different than being a normal model, and I wanted to draw the line between them.

What is the difference between a regular model and a supermodel?
A supermodel is a chameleon. She can change with the times and with the fashions, but at the same time has branded herself to be a household name, which is very rare. I think the term ''supermodel'' is overused, because now it's anybody who gets on the cover of a magazine, even if you don't know her name. But if you can do a survey across America asking if they know this woman's name and they do, that's a supermodel. Someone like Cindy Crawford or Claudia Schiffer.

These days actresses are increasingly stealing the front covers of women's magazines from models. Is this trend killing the supermodel?
It's not killing the supermodel, but you know what it is? There are no supermodels to put on the covers of magazines, in my opinion. I don't mean to insult models working now, but when I first started there was Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington -- girls whose names people knew. But right now actresses are winning because their names are more famous. So I'm trying to bring back the fame involved with being a supermodel and the importance of that title. I want to show that it can sell a magazine, and in some cases sell more copies than an actress could.

Okay, tell the truth. Aren't some models dumb?
I think there are dumb people in everything. There're dumb actresses, dumb models, and dumb businessmen. So I'm not saying every model is smart. And there are some really good models who aren't smart. But there is a learning curve. And if you look at the top, top models, those are the ones who are very intelligent, like Heidi Klum.

Has being a model actually made it harder for you to pursue acting and producing gigs?
I can't really say it hurt, because maybe if I was never a model and I wanted to be an actress, I might never have gotten even one acting job. Who's to say? I think it does help to an extent, but once you become successful, there are hindrances. There's a lot of prejudice. But I wouldn't trade my modeling experience for anonymity.

Can you tell us one good model joke?
I don't know any! I never even saw ''Zoolander,'' and I should have. It's just shameful.

Originally posted Nov 13, 2002