Tyra Banks covers Michigan Avenue Magazine view interview below
Tyra Banks may well be the poster child for how to make it in America. Her career moves have taken her from success to success: from teen modeling sensation to barrier-breaking black model (her firsts include the Victoria’s Secret catalog cover and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model); from sitcom actress on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to creator of the wildly popular America’s Next Top Model; from her first daytime gig as a youth correspondent on The Oprah Winfrey Show to host of the Emmy-winning The Tyra Banks Show.
In every instance, even the smallest entry has led to an opportunity that Banks, 36, has blown wide open. But in announcing the end of her daytime talk show, Banks has raised a lot of questions about what’s next for her and her production company, Bankable Enterprises.
We won’t have to wait long to find out. Tune into Banks’ finale on May 28, she says, to see her unveil her big-picture plans. Today, she’s just hinting at what’s ahead: “We’ll be changing up what we all consider fairy tales,” she says. “It’s changed quite a bit since I was a little girl, but still the traditional Prince Charming/princess scenario has a long way to go. Maybe the princess will save the prince, and the princess may have a big nose or a big ol’ booty. Her beauty will still make the prince and the audience swoon.”
Making young women feel beautiful is what Banks calls the official mission of Bankable Enterprises. “Perceptions and stereotypes don’t change overnight, but I feel I was put here to do whatever I can in my power to challenge those stereotypes,” she says. Two recent examples: The Fiercely Real Teen Model Search, a search for plus-size teen models, which she launched this year with plans for it to become an annual contest; and True Beauty, a reality show she helped produce that is set to return this year.
Her still-on-top reality show, America’s Next Top Model (Wednesday nights on WGN, Chicago’s CW), entered its 14th cycle last month with a change in focus and a new face on the judging panel, Vogue’s André Leon Talley. Banks says she talked to Talley eight years ago about joining the first cycle’s cast, but the timing was off. “When I first started America’s Next Top Model, we were very careful not to make the show too high-fashion as we wanted to bring this elite, insider industry to the masses,” she says. “We wanted it to be relatable and inviting. This time we felt our viewers were ready for it.”
While there are no Chicago contestants to root for in the current cycle, our city is usually represented—often disproportionately—in the winners circle: Three ANTM winners have been from the Chicago area (McKey, Jaslene and Adrianne). “I think city girls in general have a certain attitude, a confident way of carrying themselves that’s really essential in the fashion industry,” Banks explains. “Chicago girls have that edge.”
Chicago is also the place Banks got her start in daytime TV, during a stint as a youth correspondent for Oprah in the late ’90s. Banks cites Oprah as an inspiration and is flattered by any comparisons, but humbly bows down to the media queen. “Oprah is the God Momma, and there will never be another Oprah,” she says.
Like Oprah, Banks has used her talk show as a vehicle to speak openly about her own struggles and relate to fans on a big-sister level; from being bullied by Naomi Campbell as a young runway model to her ongoing issues with weight and body image. (In case you’re wondering, the secret to maintaining her recent weight loss, she says, is a five-days-a-week cardio regimen of alternating 30 minutes on either the stationary bike or elliptical machine.)
And while her success seems to have come quite easily, she says it was incredibly difficult to transition from supermodel to supermogul. “No one took me seriously,” she says. After winning a Daytime Entertainment Emmy for The Tyra Banks Show in 2008, she shares, “I couldn’t control myself. I was bawling. I thought of every person who said, ‘You can’t.’ And at that moment I felt so proud. I took a big sigh of relief and said to myself, ‘See, yes. Yes you can.’”
If we’ve learned anything by watching Banks, it’s that we can’t under estimate her ability to outthink and outmaneuver her detractors—especially now, as plans for her production company unfold. “I don’t want to give too much away, but there will be books, there will be films—and, who knows?—I could be coming back into your homes on the TV screen sooner than you thought."
BY SUSANNA NEGOVAN
PHOTOGRAPH BY SARAH SILVER AT KATE RYAN INC.
Styling by Basia Zamorska at Kate Ryan Inc
Makeup by Valenté Frazier/ kenbarboza.com
Hair by Oscar James/ kenbarboza.com