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EW can exclusively reveal that the All-Stars 5 champion and Savage X Fenty runway model will bring fashion-forward goodness into the world with the launch of America's Next Top Model-themed podcast Wanna Be On Top? The show is executive-produced by her fellow Drag Race alums Willam and Alaska through Moguls of Media and Forever Dog productions.
Listen to a preview below:
Twice per week, Couleé will break down Tyra Banks' massively popular world of America's Next Top Model and its impact on drag, pop culture, and fashion as she welcomes guests — including Drag Race and ANTM alums Raja and Peppermint — across multiple installments to discuss why they love Top Model as much as she does. Couleé is also courting past ANTM contestants for guest spots, including cycle 2 standout Shandi Sullivan.
"America's Next Top Model was the first time I was introduced to using feminine pronouns for a queer person, when they introduced Miss J Alexander as Miss J," Couleé tells EW of her appreciation for the show. "There was no question, they just did it, and all the girls followed suit. As an adult, I realized how radical it was to just drop that into the living rooms of millions of Americans and let them in on a bit of queer culture. That was influential to me on my journey of loving fashion, glamour, and being in front of a camera."
Courtesy of Forever Dog and Moguls of Media
Hear Couleé strut her America's Next Top Model knowledge into the cultural conversation when the first episode of Wanna Be On Top? debuts Monday at 12:01 a.m. ET on Spotify, Apple, and other podcast apps. Listen to EW's exclusive preview above, and read on for our full interview with Couleé.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get the idea to do a Top Model podcast?
SHEA COULEÉ: I wanted to do a podcast for a really long time. I tossed around a lot of different ideas until I found myself binge-watching old seasons of America's Next Top Model for probably the 20th time and then talked about it over and over with all of my friends who've probably heard me go on about it many times before. [I realized] this is what I should talk about forever! It's my herstory.
Tyra appears to be aware of Drag Race now more than ever. Did you just see her repost Kahmora Hall's photo on Instagram?
I love that. It's such a full-circle moment. I attribute many of my modeling skills and abilities to the things I learned from Tyra on ANTM. Now, I walk in Savage X Fenty shows and do Valentino campaigns!
I was going to ask: While walking the runway for Rihanna, did you have any ANTM-isms in your head?
All of the Miss J runway lessons! I was 14 years old, sitting there with a pen and paper as if I was ready to walk a show! That's the power of manifestation. I'll be doing photo shoots and constantly think about Tyra saying you have to model from H to T, head to toe, and have tension everywhere in your body. You need to activate every muscle in your body!
We have to get real: Did you have to like yell at any podcast producers and tell them that you were rooting for them during recording?
Not yet, but, you know what, it took her four cycles to get to that point, where we're only through one. So, there's still time.
ANTM is such a unique blend of great reality TV moments, fashion, and queer culture. Where do you see the, the show's influence the most?
It's hard to pinpoint one place. America's Next Top Model was the first time I was introduced to using feminine pronouns for a queer person, when they introduced Miss J Alexander as "Miss J".... there were always feminine pronouns used for J Alexander, and masculine pronouns used for Jay Manuel. There was no question, they just did it, and all the girls followed suit. As an adult, I realized how radical it was to just drop that into the living rooms of millions of Americans and let them in on a bit of queer culture. That was influential to me on my journey of loving fashion, glamour, and being in front of a camera…. it really has bled into giving way to shows like Drag Race, even, because when you think about the types of challenges that you see on both, they correlate so well. There are so many ways that, that show influenced popular culture to this day, and I wanted a place for all the fans to come listen…. and learn more about this world.
That's something a lot of queer people took for granted at the time, just how radical it was to have LGBT culture represented so prominently across all facets of this show.
The first season of Drag Race that I watched was season 3, and I remember seeing Raja, like, "Oh my God, that's Sutan! The makeup artist from America's Next Top Model!" I got goosebumps, it was an a-ha moment for me…. ANTM has a place in my heart just as Drag Race does.
You're going to have Raja and Peppermint on the show, right? I think a lot of people forget that Peppermint was also on ANTM too!
Yes! Peppermint was also on an episode! There's so much crossover between my sisters from Drag Race and ANTM. Raja has some amazing experiences and stories of doing Tyra's makeup, and she'll tell you all about that on the episode she's on. There's so much that I learned from talking with her and our other guests that's just great to know as a fan.
But there's long been this notion that ANTM and the fashion industry existed together in some ways, but separately in others, like the fashion world didn't really take the show or the models seriously when they tried to work after the show. Do you think the show gave the models real, tangible tools to become real models?
The show went out there with the intent to launch the careers of top models, but at the time, reality television influencers weren't a thing, so the fashion industry didn't take these girls seriously. It was the fashion Olympics. It's sad to think that those girls didn't get the opportunities. [Couleé's voice cracks] I'm getting emotional. I feel for them because they went through such a challenging experience, and the industry that they hoped would accept them rejected them.... That's why I want to celebrate them and give them a voice, and also allow people to see what amazing, beautiful people they are…. I looked at those girls the way Drag Race fans look at us now.
Before I was at EW, I worked at a local newspaper where I did a piece on the models' post-show careers, and a lot of them said agencies wouldn't even look at their books because they were on a reality show. It's almost the exact opposite today, right?
Exactly. They were rejected. It's crazy because you think about some of the supermodels today who came up through reality television — you have Kendall Jenner out here walking for major designers, and I just want the ANTM girls to get their roses, too, because it's crazy how the industry has changed to now embrace that. The show was ahead of its time, and I know that they went out there in the hopes to launch the careers of supermodels, but the industry didn't accept them.
Do you have any of the models from the show on the podcast?
Yes, I do. We just finished episode 2 for cycle 2 of Top Model, and we got Shandi Sullivan! I'm a huge fan of Shandi, and we had a beautiful conversation. I think that's why I got emotional, because she talks about her rejection and it hurt my heart to hear that because she, in my mind, had the potential to be a successful model, but had to reformat for her dream at the time and pivot. She's the first one, but I'm hoping to get many more.
All I know is that all I need in life is to hear a conversation between you and Jade Cole.
Yes! I found out that a friend of mine used to manage her. He was like, "Whenever you meet her, [you'll know] she's your type of girl." I absolutely love her. She's iconic. She's on par with some of our favorite Drag Race characters, as far as the level of camp she delivered. I think they did call her a drag queen on the show, too!
I've always felt that Jade would fit right in on a season of All-Stars.
Absolutely. Jade could be a RuGirl in a second. If we start casting honorary RuGirls, Jade is the first one!
The last thing I want to ask you is, as celebrated as ANTM is, it has come up in conversations recently for its problematic moments — particularly a shoot where Tyra changed the models' skin tone in cycle 4, or her asking Danielle to close her tooth gap or speak more clearly to find success. How did you feel about those moments back then, and how do you feel about them now?
The switching races photoshoot, at the time, I was a teenager, and I didn't see the problem then as much as I do now. Now, I'm not going to lie, when they turned Noelle fully dark in blackface, I was uncomfortable. Truth is everything, and I want to always come from a place of love, but it's important to hold people accountable. I know that times were different, but it's important to be able to these things and bring them up on the show while still being able to celebrate all the beautiful, wonderful memories and inspiration that it gave us.
True fans will hold the thing they love accountable instead of blindly supporting it. Tyra has apologized recently. And it's important to consider intent, because the reason she did the shoot isn't hard to understand, but the way it was executed…
They were trying to create a lesson of empathy, like, if you step into somebody else's shoes, you can understand them more, but times are different. We've learned, but there's still something there to discuss. I can't wait to get further along in that, because there are 24 cycles in just the American version alone! Don't even get me started on Australia's Next Top Model. Are you fan?
Yes! I love Gemma from season 1 and Alice from season 3!
I'm so glad that we're having this conversation. We know that Australia is on a whole other level than, so don't even get me started on that franchise. The sky is the limit. Hopefully we can get a whole bunch of other people on the bandwagon and chat about it!
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