ANTM’s Nigel Barker Appeals For Plus Size Applicants
An Interview with Nigel Barker, Jay Manuel, and Ken Mok
FansOfRealityTV.com -- America’s Next Top Model photographer and judge Nigel Barker is begging for plus size women to apply for the seventh season of the hit show.
“Believe in yourselves! You’ve got what it takes,” said Barker. “Plus size girls are beautiful. Come out, don’t be shy!”
In a conference call Tuesday, Executive Producer Ken Mok told reporters that the show searches out plus size contestants during the casting process, and that they hope to have more than one contestant in the larger size range in a future cycle.
Jay Manuel, the makeup artist to Tyra Banks who serves as Art Director for the show’s photoshoots, noted that the fashion industry is changing, “despite what Janice [Dickenson] might say.”
“If you look at Vogue and Allure and Bazaar, they are actually doing editorials with plus size girls in size 14 and 16," said Manuel. "I do think a plus size girl could win America’s Next Top Model.”
The cast of cycle 6 appears to be taller and older than previous casts, but Mok said this was not intentional. “It’s the luck of the draw,” said Mok, adding that “it is entirely the quality of girls that come out and audition” that determines the makeup of the show.
Some critics have wondered if the show is pushing for winners who will have visible success in the modeling world, noting that the current winner, Nicole Linkletter, has been praised for being the show’s first winner suitable for haute couture. In contrast, the show’s first winner, Adrianne Curry, has moved on from the fashion industry to “reality celebrity” shows such as “The Surreal Life” and “My Fair Brady.”
Mok disputed this, saying the show is looking to cast contestants that will succeed in several areas of modeling. For the original concept of the show, Mok looked at the career of supermodel Banks and broke down her success into several elements. “They should be able to do commercial, they should be able to do editorial, they should be able to do runway; and they have to have a sparkling personality, be articulate, and be a spokesperson,” he explained.
“We’re looking for face, we’re looking for walk, we’re looking for talk. You’ve got to have all three things,” added Barker, who has been both a model and a Fashion Photographer before becoming a judge on the show. “We’re looking for someone who can inspire us and can be a muse in the industry.”
Not included in the list is a likeability, or whether the contestant is easy to work with. That’s because when it comes to the modeling world, women with diva-like demeanors are a dime a dozen. “I’ve dealt with a lot of women with attitude," said Manuel. "I’d rather have the strongest girl on film, really."
Barker agreed that although it looks like the contestants are sometimes criticized by the judges for having a “smart” attitude at panel, he’s not basing his criteria on how polite a girl is in person. “I’m really looking for someone who’s got personality, someone who’s willing to stick up for themselves, and someone who can turn it on at the right moment. If you’re too polite, too sweet – often those girls fall flat when it comes to delivering.”
Will Top Model ever go the way of American Idol, with the American public voting for their favorite? Don’t hold your breath, said Manuel, who explained that the show is about industry professionals grooming a girl to enter the world of fashion and be successful, not to choose a girl America likes.
Barker, who has been with the show since its second season, agreed. “The point is that with industry experts, you get a true feeling of what the fashion industry’s about. We’re the ones with our [finger on the] pulse of the fashion industry,” said Barker. “It’s good to be the judge, but only a few of us can be the judge.”
Yes, Lluvy Did Look Like a Dead Fish
If you’re a regular reader of FORT’s America’s Next Top Model interviews, you already know that sometimes an eliminated contestant will say there was a better picture from her photoshoot that didn’t make it into the judging panel. But Jay Manuel laughed at the suggestion that there is any conspiracy keeping the best shot away from the judges. “These young girls are just jumping into this industry,” he pointed out. “I don’t know how they can think their best shot isn’t selected just because they haven’t seen the rest of the shots.” The decision of which photo will be brought to panel is made by Tyra Banks along with Manuel, he said. The contestants may feel they had a better shot, but Manuel warns that is a common misperception for new models. “A lot of them think if it feels good, it will look good, when it’s the opposite. If it feels awkward, a lot of times it looks better on film,” said Manuel.
As for drama, who can forget the catty fights over leaving dirty dishes in the sink, the missing granola bars, and the drunken conversations with a bush in the back yard? It makes no difference to the judges, said Barker, because they aren’t told about any of it. “We’re very strict about keeping that life separate,” agreed Mok, adding that they don’t want the contestants to censor themselves in the house with the judges in mind. It wouldn’t be a reality show without a few cat fights over lucky crystals and missing twenty dollar bills, but in front of the judging panel, their personal behavior is left out of it.
Except for the notes Jay Manuel sends to the judges reporting on the contestants’ performance during the photoshoot challenges, that is. Manuel says that it’s realistic to expect hairdressers, make-up artists, photographers, or anyone on the set of a shoot to pass along how well a model worked - or how hard she was to work with - in the fashion industry.
How Real is "Reality"?
Fans of the show have sometimes scoffed at the notion of models crawling through mud before a go-see, or jumping high on a trampoline in high heels. Barker dismissed the notion that the show’s challenges are created for television, saying that the wilder photoshoots are a part of the fashion industry. “I’ve been hung by a wire...everything little thing that happens in the show has happened to me, so I know it’s happening to other models. The show is very realistic in that aspect.”
Mok said that he personally has a reputation for not “creating” reality and for representing the contestants accurately on the shows he produces. “If you fall over flat on your back in the middle of judging, they’re going to show that,” added Barker. “But guess what – when Tyra screams at someone, whether I like it or not, they’re going to show that as well.”
Unfortunately, there’s no video footage of who took the granola bars, but Mok named his prime suspect: Jayla. But...but...she swore to me she was asleep!
Both Manuel and Barker claim there was never a time they wished a contestant would be eliminated sooner, but Manuel admits that it looked like he and Cycle 3's Ann Markley had a contentious relationship on screen. Manuel says that he was pushing her to succeed, which came across as personal dislike – which he says is far from the case. “She really is this amazing young girl. We all saw this potential in her,” said Manuel. “She unfortunately didn’t win, but she’s gone on to great things. If you look at her book now, she looks like an amazing model.”
Mok admits that the first season winner of the show, Adrianne Curry, had more of a challenge finding work in the fashion industry than the winners that have come after her. Saying that the show “flew under the radar” its first season, Mok said it was difficult to find fashion industry sponsors and participants in the show’s first run. Curry has since said publicly that she was not given the prizes she was promised by the show, nor has she found a niche in the fashion industry. “We all feel very, very badly about that, but I know personally that everybody from the show – from the executive producers, to the people in the fashion world, to Jay, to Tyra – all of us bent over backwards to really, really try to make it work for Adrianne out there.”
“You have to want this career, and Adrianne wanted it,” said Manuel. “I think she’s doing very well, but she’s made those decisions or herself...the operative word here is ‘work’. The celebrity world is easy.”
Mok agreed, saying that the show can provide the winner with the best kick-start into the modeling world. “But you have to take that opportunity and run with it. It comes down to personal responsibility.”
Manuel and Nigel both said they have run into former contestants in the regular world of modeling since their cycles have aired, and are “very proud” of the success seen by both the winners and top finishers of previous seasons. For more information about previous contestants, be sure to catch tonight’s “Top Model Reunion” special airing on UPN at 8:00 P.M.
While casting has been announced for cycle 7, cycle 6 has yet to air. The two-hour premiere can be seen on Wednesday, March 8, at 8:00 P.M. Manuel remarked cryptically that in the first photoshoot, he “leveled the playing field.” Barker described cycle 6 as “one of the greatest Top Models ever” and says he is excited to see it air. Manuel said to be on the lookout for one girl that he was “very excited to meet.”
“She just constantly blew me away. I think that the public is going to love her, and the fashion industry is going to love her. I’m really excited for everybody to meet her," gushed Manuel. "You’ll know who she is – just watch for my reaction.”
As for cycle 7, what with the call for girls with attitude and possibly in a larger size range, are Manuel and Barker ready for an onslaught of plus size divas trying out for the show? “Bring it on,” said Barker, game faced. Added Manuel, “We’ll enjoy it.”