Rewatching America’s Next Top Model is a lot like visiting one’s grandmother. They wax poetic about their outings with Little Richard and constantly repeat that story of the one time they chanced upon Marilyn Monroe in the West Village. All of it seems grand until they drop a casual racial slur. Then it’s “Let’s get you to bed, Grandma”, and then the whole affair is over.
Tyra is, without a doubt, a perennial legend. ANTM and even her ill-fated talk show helped revolutionize reality TV as we know it today. Not to mention, she’s in an unsurpassed pantheon of super-supermodels. However, in recent years she’s been reevaluated (as many early aughts celebrities have) in an entirely different light. A cursory viewing of early seasons of ANTM and her talk show reveals scenes of overt racism, fat shaming, toxic workplace culture, and bullying – cringe moments abound, from straight-up xenophobia to outright cringe. Here are the 10 most cringeworthy moments in her storied, albeit controversial career.
That time she interviewed Beyoncé
Truly iconic in its stupidity. Utterly idiosyncratic in its interview style. Never to be repeated again (one can only hope). Tyra asks, “Brie-oncé, what’s your favorite kind of cheese?” followed by “Sea-oncé, have you ever seen a ghost?”, tearing through iterations of Bey’s name in a rapid fire of useless, insane questions that Beyoncé answers in kind like a champ. It’s an incredible moment in TV history.
That time she had the ANTM contestants wear blackface
It’s initially bewildering and ultimately upsetting that Tyra thought this might be a good idea. Her reasoning was, ironically, to instill empathy and racial understanding in the models. Needless to say, it had the opposite effect, and is now a permanent stain on whatever legacy ANTM left behind.
“I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you!”
Perhaps the most quotable of Tyra’s meltdowns, she lets in to Tiffany for appearing too flippant after being sent home. Viewers were left wondering what the point of the meltdown was given she was being sent home anyway. Many initially received Tiffany as coming off both disrespectful and ungrateful to be a part of the competition. On repeated viewing, it’s clear that was initially meant to me a sincere moment was no more than a stunt.
That time Tyra taught the girls about “acting”
Tyra fake passes out, the girls are distraught, moving quickly to check her pulse. Just as they move to help her, Tyra springs up and shouts:
Tyra: “Today you guys are going to learn about acting!!!”
Somebody: “where going where?”
Chaos. Television. Drama. Perfection. Cringe.
That time Tyra pretended to be homeless
The Tyra Banks Show is a hidden gem, a treasure trove of cringe content. Here, she puts Wendy Williams to shame in terms of being completely tone deaf. Here, she sleeps on the street for one night surrounded by her producers and crew, fully aware that she’ll be returning to her palatial home the very next day. She then claims to empathize and understand the plight of the homeless.
“We’re going to Thailand!!”
We love a Sutan moment. Those who’ve come to love Raja from RuPaul’s Drag Race may have noticed him out of drag throughout ANTM as the beloved makeup artist, Sutan. He drags himself up to look like Tyra and shocks the girls, until Tyra comes in and the resemblance is almost too uncanny. After the two go back and forth over who the real ‘Ty’ is, Tyra screams that they’ll have to find out by going to Thailand. It’s hilariously bizarre, a fever dream of a fever dream.
That time Tyra felt up Katharine McPhee
After seeming to question whether American Idol star Katharine McPhee’s mammary glands were authentic, Kat screams, “Feel em’, they’re real!” And “feel them” Tyra does. It’s somewhat funny and uncomfortable.
That time she taught a young boy what sex was like
Tyra instills the fear of God into a child who asks her what sex is like. Imagine your dad giving you “the talk” but he’s a pastor at BYU hellbent at keeping you from premarital hellfire. Disturbing, but she meant well!
That time she fat-shamed Robin Manning
It’s no secret that ANTM is notoriously fatphobic. The show has routinely tokenized and ostracized plus-sized models, but this is perhaps the most egregious example of mistreatment. Robin, a size six (!), is made to dress like an elephant when she gains weight, and Tyra repeatedly critiques her figure. Truly insane behavior. Luckily, Robin puts Tyra’s hypocrisy on full display in the above clip.
That time Tyra pretended to have rabies
Psychotic, chaotic, show-stopping, never-the-same, unhinged behavior. An oscar-worthy performance. One holds their breath as Tyra fake convulses on the ground and begins foaming at the mouth. Iconic? Yes. Confusing? Also, yes.