Tyra Banks: Woman on Top
BY Brandon Voss
September 11 2009 10:00 AM ET
Whether sheâs coaching a transgender aspiring model on Americaâs Next Top Model or putting The Advocateâs cover line âGay Is the New Blackâ up for debate on her eponymous talk show, Tyra Banks always struts the right side of the runway between exploiting and celebrating gay people. The 35-year-old former supermodel was even honored with the prestigious Excellence in Media Award at the 20th annual GLAAD Media Awards in March. Now sizing up the competition for cycle 13 of Top Model, which premieres September 9 on the CW, Banks shares some drag-worthy beauty secrets and reveals whoâs still in the running towards becoming her next gay best friend.
The Advocate: Youâve done so much to educate people about gay issues. What did we do to deserve so much of your attention?
Tyra Banks: As a model immersed in the fashion industry, I was lucky to be embraced by the LGBT community, and many of them became my dear friends. Theyâve shared the stories of their struggle, pain, and excommunication from their families, as well as their triumphs. Those friends have really become a second family to me, and I would never be where I am today without their support.
What did it mean for you to receive the recognition from GLAAD?
2008 was a really big year for me â my talk show won an Emmy, True Beauty [which I executive-produced] became a hit, and Top Model continued to grow â but I have to say that I was incredibly honored to receive that award. I feel so fortunate to have the power to put a transgender woman like Isis on Top Model last year; that was a very proud moment for me, and it took a lot to get there. Of course, there have also been a number of lesbian contestants on Top Model since the very beginning, but I donât pay attention to anyoneâs sexual orientation; I focus on their modeling ability. And Iâm proud to have my talk show as another platform that allows me to address important LGBT issues, so to have that community recognize me for my efforts is very rewarding.
Any behind-the-scenes scoop on the New York awards ceremony?
Before the show kicked off, I hung out backstage with my good friend Clay Aiken, who presented me with the award. Heâs such a funny guy, and he loves making fun of me, so it was great to catch up. When it came time for the actual show, I realized I should have made a bathroom stop as soon as I sat down. I didnât want to miss a minute of the show, so I held in my pee for five hours. But my only regret is not powdering my face before accepting the award because my face was so oily it looked like I dipped it in bacon grease.
Speaking of which, how was the free dinner? I follow you on Twitter, so I know you like to eat.
[Laughs] The food was incredible! The sauce on the chicken was so delicious that I debated licking my plate.
In your acceptance speech you apologized for stealing the word âfierceâ from the gay community and then overexposing it. You also said you were currently taking suggestions for the ânew fierce.â Have you found a worthy replacement?
The new word Iâve started using is âdisgusting.â I did have a funeral for âfierce,â but I have to admit that she rose from the dead.
From the many hot gay topics youâve tackled on your talk show â including last yearâs GLAAD Media Awardânominated episodes âDonât Ruin My Gay Wedding,â âGays in the Ghetto,â and âTransgender Triumphsâ â whatâs the biggest lesson that youâve learned?
We did an episode on domestic violence where one of the abusive relationships we featured was a lesbian couple, and the studio audience did not take it seriously. I was surprised by their reaction, so I had to explain that this was a real issue that extends beyond sexual orientation, because abuse is abuse no matter the gender of the abuser. At that moment I realized that this is still a major issue, and thereâs still a lot more that needs to be done to increase awareness and support of the LGBT community.
The upcoming cycle 13 of Top Model is limited to contestants 5-foot-7 or shorter. Are there any gay or trans shorties in the mix?
Yes, there is a lesbian contestant in the final 14 of the petite cycle. She loves her girlfriend so much she has her name tattooed on her shoulder.
Letâs say that I wanted to be your new gay BFF. What would it take for me to break into your posse?
The most important quality you need is honesty. I donât need a friend telling me I look fierce, but I need one that tells me when I smell funky. People might think that Iâm really into fashion and glamour all the time, but Iâm not. So when Iâm just chillinâ, my BFF canât be afraid to tell me that I need some mascara or Iâve got a weave track showing.
Promise you wouldnât yell at me?
My gay BFF canât be intimidated or feel he canât tell me the truth, even if it may sting a little. I used to dress in old T-shirts and jeans when I was off work and didnât really care about how I looked. Finally, one of my friends staged an intervention and said, âTyra, I know this is your off-time, but itâs embarrassing how casual youâre dressed right now. Spend a couple minutes on minimal makeup, girl, because you donât want anyone to see you and say, âMiss Top Model looks busted!ââ [Laughs] Iâd also want my new gay BFF to not talk about work. I spend the week working on Top Model and the talk show, so even if Iâve done fun stuff like tape backstage with BeyoncĂ© or hang out with Miley Cyrus, I donât want to think about work on the weekends. I love to laugh, and sometimes being silly with a good BFF is just what I need.
What would we do for fun?
Maybe take an African dance class, go for a run outside, or kayak. My perfect Sunday would include walking around the city in sweats and a pair of Keds, buying jewelry from NYC street vendors. A potential BFF should also have a love â no, an obsession for good food like I do. I am obsessed with trying new restaurants and exploring cool cuisines, but you can just as easily find me dipping into a movie on a Saturday afternoon for buttery popcorn and a soda. The last movie I took in with a good gay best friend was BrĂŒno â pure craziness!
RuPaulâs Drag Race on Logo is clearly inspired by Top Model, and RuPaul has even instructed contestants to be âhotter than Tyra wearing a fat suit in July.â But if a drag queen really wanted to emulate you, what would be your best advice?
The key to a drag queen doing me is overdoing me. Youâve got to go all the way over the top, times 10. First of all, get a honey brown weave or wig, some green contact lenses, and some big-ass chicken cutlets to stuff the bra. You also need a killer runway walk, but that weave has to be fly. The bigger the better, but quality is key â no cheap weave hair! And always be ready to smile with your eyes â âsmizeâ â at the drop of a hat.
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