Faced with slipping ratings, Tyra Banks, the creator and executive producer of the long-running America’s Next Top Model, has declined to renew the contracts of three people who’ve been most integral to the show since it began nearly a decade ago—including two LGBT judges. According to the New York Post, photoshoot director Jay Manuel, runway expert slash judge J. Alexander, and judge and photographer Nigel Barker were all informed on Thursday that their contracts would not be renewed after the current season of the show (now in Cycle 18).
The CW declined to comment on the subject while Banks and Ken Monk, also an executive producer, released a statement that read, “Nigel Barker, Jay Manuel, and J. Alexander have been an integral part of the America’s Next Top Model brand and they helped turn this show into the household name it is today. They have been amazing assets to the show and will always be a part of the Top Model family. We will continue to actively work with each of them on future projects.”
Banks also posted a note on her Facebook page that read: “To my Nigel Barker, Miss J, and Mr Jay: Thank you for all of our years together on America's Next Top Model. Working with you is always an absolute pleasure. Excited for what the future holds for us.” She also tweeted that the four of them had become a “family” doing the show.
The Jays, as they were often called on the show, have yet to comment but Barker posted on his blog today: “I will miss the cast, the crew and ANTM will always have a special place in my heart, having made life-long friendships with countless fond memories.”
What’s disconcerting to LGBT viewers is that Top Model has always been at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of inclusive casting, not just in the contestants (several lesbian and bisexual women, including Azmarie who got booted last week, and one transgender woman have competed on the show) but in the regular cast of judges like Manuel and Alexander. Manuel, who debut his own women’s fashion line last year called ATTITUDE Jay Manuel, has already parlayed his work with Top Model to become a fixture in the fashion circuit on Style and E! networks, but having his gay presence on the show weekly offered one of the most consistent gay images on reality TV for nearly a decade.
Alexander has pushed the boundaries even further, giving transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming individuals their rare role model on TV. That’s because the label-free Alexander technically is queer, is technically male but presents himself with a decidedly female gender expression and is known worldwide as Miss Jay. Many refer to Alexander with female pronouns, and even his Wikipedia page calls him a she. All of which has always delighted Alexander, as well as audiences and contestants, and what was awkward in those early Cycles (with contestants whispering, “Is that a man or a woman?”) has actually pushed TV viewers further in understanding the complexity of gender and a world in which some people can be both or neither.
Alexander, who lives in Paris, wrote Follow the Model: Miss J's Guide to Unleashing Presence, Poise, and Power in 2010, and is an in-demand runway consultant. As for Barker, the het-but-hot judge with the magnetic eyes, he wrote on his blog that “This change will allow me to take on new projects and turn my attention to other business prospects in the worlds of fashion, beauty and entertainment.”
Barker says he has a “number of new ventures that have been in the works, and I look forward to sharing them with you very soon. Of course, as you might have expected, my efforts on behalf of Haiti, The HSUS, the Make A Wish Foundation, The United Nations Foundation and many more will continue with full force. This next chapter promises to be even more thrilling with the sky’s the limit. I look forward to taking you with me.”
As for Banks and what remains for Top Model in cycle 19, the Post reported that there are “major changes” planned for the show, and producers have reached out to “bloggers and fashion insiders with a strong Web presence, including street-style blogger Bryan Boy.”
Bryanboy is a Filipino fashion blogger with a “non-sexual” wife named Hannah who also calls himself “Planet Earth’s Favorite Third World Fag” and “so gay I sweat glitter.” He once posted on his blog that he and his wife Hannah were “getting fat and we’re ageing disgracefully! We need liposuction, cocaine, and crystal meth to get our 95-pound figures back!” Perhaps he’ll fit in at ANTM well.