She's walked international runways, starred in feature films, authored a book and is a pioneer in the industry.
Now supermodel Tyra Banks is trying on a different hat as creator and co-executive producer of UPN's new reality-style series, "America's Next Top Model," which premiered May 20 and airs Tuesdays at 9.
'What made me come up with the idea is that there are so many people coming up to me asking how to get into the modeling business. I thought, 'how can I get all these people off my back.' I wanted to get across this message about the modeling world and what it takes. TV has a lot of power and it reaches the masses.
'There are scam artists giving people a false dream. I wanted to give them the real dream," she said.
The show's premise: For eight weeks, 10 young women live together in a New York penthouse and compete against one another to win an appearance in Marie Claire magazine and an opportunity to receive a Revlon modeling contract.
'It's almost like a reality version of Cinderella," said co-executive producer Ken Mock. "It's a transformation show. Ordinary small-town girls are transformed into beauties.' The first episode featured the 20 semi-finalists selected from 1,000. Banks, who has a double on-air role as judge and mentor to the contestants, selected the 10 finalists.
Former supermodel Janice Dickinson, Marie Claire fashion editor Beau Quillian and fashion designer Kimora Lee Simmons comprise the rest of the panel that rates the contestants' modeling style, physical fitness, fashion photo shoots and publicity skills. In addition, there will be a guest judge each week.
Mock, who created ABC's "Making the Band," said "Top Model" has given him a new appreciation for the profession.
'I absolutely have a new healthy respect for the modeling world. It's exhausting and very stressful.
'It's not just about looking good in a picture. Every week they're taught a specific skill. They had to go through various challenges," such as modeling swimsuits in freezing temperatures on a windy rooftop, as seen in the first episode.
However, Banks said, "a top model can make it seem like it's all fun.' Although Mock acknowledges that the show could be "dismissed as fluff," he said it is not only beautiful women that will hold viewers' attention, but the real-life drama of the series.
" 'Top Model' differs from some other can-you-eat-this-bug? reality shows because it follows human drama," said Mock.
'It's a prime-time soap opera where you get involved in all of these girls' lives. It is compelling. A lot of things happen in the show that you cannot script any better in your mind," he said.
In the show's first episode, religious differences threatened to divide the contestants.
In addition to competing beliefs, "there are 10 women and two bathrooms, so there is definitely conflict," said Banks.
Even though there is a focus on outward appearance, personality clashes and domestic disputes, Banks said the show offers a positive message.
She hopes it will dispel myths about models and help young women see that "it's just entertainment and all of these girls have insecurities too. Everybody ain't pretty when they wake up in the morning.' Banks said she purposely sought women of different shapes, sizes and backgrounds, including one plus-size model (who weighs approximately 165 pounds).
'The plus-size industry is taking America by storm. It's not really plus-size, it's normal size," Banks said.
Although ratings will determine whether there will be a second season of "Top Model," Banks said she is interested in producing more for TV and doing a sitcom.
'I really like being behind the camera," said Banks.
'It would be great to move on and not have people call me a model for the rest of my life.'