It's pointless to talk about America's Next Top Model as a formulaic show: the formula is the whole point, the greatest source of pleasure for longtime viewers of the the show (which is why the firing of cast members Nigel Barker and the Jays seems so unconscionable). None of the winners ever live up to their title, and the internal logic of the show never matches up with the logic of the outside world, but ANTM still fulfills the promise of reality TV — it's an innane, compulsively watchable circus. Yeah: Tyra's the ringleader and the contestants are monkeys banging cymbals.
Anyway, as part of the formula, there's always this one scene in which Tyra just pops in to the model house to do some serious girl talk with the contestants. It's an excuse for the supermodel to show off her down-to-earth side, brand herself as a kind of self-esteem guru, and milk the girls for the kind of overwraught, falsely emotional backstories that supposedly appeal to ANTM's viewership.
Tyra preaches a message of empowerment, but it's always seemed false because she's bandied it around on camera, using it as a promotional tool. It's like she's more interested in empowering her bank account than anything else. But it looks like the ANTM creator is finally getting serious about her mission to help young women.
The New York Times reports that Tyra Banks is opening up shop at the soon-to-be new center for the Lower Eastside Girls Club on Avenue D in New York City. Working off the model of the TZONE summer camps Banks launched in 1999 (poking a tiny hole in my theory that Tyra's previous efforts have been more about branding than making any kind of real world difference), the square foot space will feature a bakery, studio space, wellness center, and even a planetarium (!).
“My dream was to have a place that was brick and mortar, where they could build on that experience all the time. The real impact is to have consistency, as opposed to an excursion.
What I don’t want to be is Tyra, the ‘celebrity girl,’ coming here and the girls being excited when they see me. I want them to be numb to me. I can do normal work here and they can see me, to know that this is what a business is. It’s not about living on a red carpet. I am a businesswoman who goes to work every single day.”
For once, Tyra is saying all the right things, seeming genuine, and backing it up with the kind of concrete action that could actually have an impact. I might sound gushy, but I haven't been this excited about anything she's done since…well, ever. Way to break the mold, Ms. Banks.
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