Tyra Banks is a machine. Not only is she the Executive Producer of Bankable Productions, but she's a celebrated supermodel, an Emmy-winning talk show host, one of Time Magazine's Most Influential People, a Harvard graduate, a New York Times best-selling author and a self-made businesswoman any girl (or man, for that matter) could aspire to.
But over the last few America's Next Top Model cycles, Tyra Banks, the machine, had also become Tyra Banks, the robot as she performed signature lines ("I have two girls standing before me" / "Smize!" / "You all know our fabulous prizes" / "TK") with a delivery so identical, it bordered on self-imitation. Gone were the impromptu moments of year's past that made the modeling competition one of TV's most enjoyable, unpredictable and eventful reality shows.
So when it came time to plot the course for Cycle 19, and the future, Tyra took a cold, hard look at her show and performed an overhaul so severe, it made the show's signature cry-inducing model makeovers look tame by comparison. The result is a renewed, refocused and re-energized America's Next Top Model -- although, as Tyra tells TheInsider.com, she could not have anticipated how tough this drastically different Cycle would be on her!
TheInsider.com: ANTM: College Edition boasts new judges, new stylists, new photo directors and a new format (America becomes the fourth judge through social media) -- why?
Tyra Banks: Well, my boss told me to overhaul it [laughs], but I'm so happy with the changes. The show's got its heart back. I think in being so focused on The Challenge, The Teach, The Photoshoot and Repeat, we lost the heart. We didn't have the girl's backstories or the conflict. I think you'll really see the difference, especially when we get towards the middle of the season. It's so new, you're not even going to recognize it.
Insider.com: Was it tough to perform such a top to bottom overhaul?
Tyra: It was a very good lesson for me. I'm kind of a combination of liking tradition but also liking to be new and fresh. In general, I erred on the side of tradition when it came to ANTM – we've had changes over the years, but there's been a consistency. Going into Cycle 19, I got a call from my boss saying, "The show's been great but it is time to make a change. There are no sacred cows. There's something called a rejuvenation and that's what the show needs. Here are the things we need to happen, and the rest is up to you to figure out."
Insider.com: That had to be a scary call to get.
Tyra: I hung up and was shaking. I called Ken Mok, my partner on Top Model, and everybody on our team. I look up to the Disney company and heard that a janitor, or somebody, came up with the idea for their Hercules cartoon, so after I read that, I'm like, "Everybody get your butts in here, let's decide what we need to do." The kind of leadership I like is where everybody has a place at the table. The social media component was born out of that meeting and then we started to talk about the cast. There were some serious changes and I was very nervous and very scared about it.
Insider.com: Nigel and Mr. Jay had been with the show for years -- how tough was it, on those first days of shooting, to not have them around?
Tyra: It was already very difficult [because] I have some lines that I say every show. There are 4 lines that never change. But because of the social media component, I couldn't say the same things anymore. I was lost. My tongue has been made to say something all these years so it was very difficult to say something else. But at the same time, as nerve-wracking as it was, it put everybody on their game. Yes, we were nervous and making mistakes. Sometimes there would be two girls crying in front of me and I had to walk off set and remember my lines because it's all so technical now. To have two girls boo-hooing in front of me, not knowing if they're going home, and I don't know my lines? That was so hard for me.
Insider.com: You've also sacrificed a lot of your control, giving America a say in the voting. Were there times when your thinking and their choices didn't sync up?
Tyra: Oh yeah. There are three heartbreaking crushes for me this cycle. One girl, I teared up and have to decide how much of that I'm going to show in the edit because I don't want to play favorites. Before, the girls were in front of me and I knew who was going home. This is different because you're adding in scores that are coming in [from fans], so that was a big shock to me. Another time, I just had a "Aw, hell no! Are you serious?!?" moment. Bryanboy [ANTM's new social media correspondent] started openly tearing up over that girl and yelled out to the girl who was staying, "You better prove yourself because you're not supposed to be here." It just shows how powerful the fan vote is because we could be feeling someone and they can still go home.
Insider.com: In those moments, did you think, "Was this a mistake?
Tyra: Honestly, yes. [laughs] But I still wouldn't go back to how it was because the way we were is so dated. Now, it feels like season one all over again. Top Model is back, it's strong, it's fresh and I'm so excited for the fans to see it.
Insider.com: Through all the changes, one of the things you kept was the show's signature model makeovers. Does it surprise you, 19 Cycles in, that girls still are not as prepared for an aspect of the show that's as associated with it as you are?
Tyra: You took the words out of my mouth. I don't understand why they're acting all surprised – you say you've watched this show since you were 10 years old, you know there are makeovers! It's interesting to see the emotional connection as opposed to having that fighter's vision of keeping your eye on the prize at all costs. What it's made me realize is that there's something emotional connected to hair. It's some kind of psychological thing scientists haven't been able to break down. There's got to be something in a woman's psyche with her hair for a contestant to have watched Top Model since she was a little girl and still have a fit.
Insider.com: Given this newly rejiggered format, how long can you see ANTM lasting for?
Tyra: I would love to say it can last forever, but M*A*S*H is no longer here, Seinfeld is no longer here. Hopefully Top Model goes down as one of those shows that was here for a long time and made an impact. But it's really about what people want to see and how long I want to produce it. If those things stay in alignment, it could be awhile. If one breaks, then we'll have to move on.
Insider.com: On that tip, what do the next 5 years look like, professionally, for Tyra Banks?
Tyra: The reason why I went to school is because I have a dream project that's launching, probably, 2 years from now and there's no way I could have done that without my education. I can't talk about it in specifics, but it's something that hasn't been done for teen girls ever before. I'm deep in working on that, but I'm also doing a scripted television comedy that I will be announcing pretty soon as well as acting in. I am also doing a crazy, juggernaut, new reality show that also has never been done before. I'm interested in innovation. Top Model was the very first competition reality show that was all women. It was also the first reality show based in the fashion industry, so I'm always looking to do things that haven't been done before, versus a "Me too!" I prefer to have copycats than be a copycat.
America's Next Top Model: College Edition premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on The CW.