Banks talks 'Top Model,' career


Supermodels come and supermodels go, but few have demonstrated the staying power and business savvy of Tyra Banks. Her stature as an executive producer and chief personality on 100 episodes of the CW's "America's Next Top Model" is merely a small slice of the burgeoning entertainment empire that the 34-year-old Banks is building via her Bankable Prods., which also produces the successful syndicated talk show that she's hosted since 2005.

Recently emblazoned on the cover of Entertainment Weekly beside the headline "Tyra Inc." -- the accompanying story labeled her as "America's Next Top Mogul," with an estimated annual salary of $18 million -- Banks spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Richmond about what it's like these days to be Tyra Banks.

The Hollywood Reporter:
What happened to turn "Top Model" into not only a genuine hit but a reality genre unto itself?
Tyra Banks: Ken (Mok) and I realized from the start that the characters had to come first. The audience has to be invested. Modeling was only going to be a way into the soap opera. We knew it had to be about the story of the girls from beginning to end.

THR: Were you underestimated as a producer at the start?
Banks: For sure. I was very hands-on from the beginning. I was in that edit bay every single day during the first season. There were people openly doubting my instincts who wound up apologizing.

THR: What made you think that a world as foreign to the masses as modeling could connect to the television mainstream?
Banks: I understood that people really had no idea of what went into modeling, how it was without skill and all dependent on beauty. And nothing could be further from the truth. It's so much more than winning the genetic lottery. You have to be smart, carry yourself with confidence, work at it. When we pitched the show to UPN, the message was to make the concept surround debatable beauty. We wanted to make the girls at home say, "Hey, I'm not so bad. Her teeth are a little off, and she's considered gorgeous?"

THR: Are you looking to expand out of the modeling world entirely as you move into moguldom?
Banks: It's hard to say right now. But I take what I do on "Top Model" and my connection to modeling very seriously. I look at what Cindy Crawford did in bringing business to modeling and giving it a smart image. She's been a mentor and a role model for me, and it empowers me in how I'm moving forward with my career. It means a lot to me that I've been able to show modeling as more than just a fantasy world. But there's always a lot of pressure to deliver the next thing. That's what I'm finding right now.