In light of today’s news that Tyra Banks fired three of her longtime America's Next Top Model stars — Nigel Barker, Jay Manuel, and J. Alexander — we decided to talk to “noted fashion photographer” Nigel, to hear his side of the story. As it turns out, he’s both excited about the opportunity to break free from ANTM and a bit uncertain about the show’s future.
In an exclusive interview with Wetpaint Entertainment, Nigel opens up about what was going on behind the scenes leading up to this major upheaval, what the sinking ratings had to do with Tyra’s decision, and what we can expect from him next.
Wetpaint Entertainment: Was this a mutual decision?
Nigel Barker: No, I don’t think so. It wasn’t really mutual. We weren’t given any option, it was just told to us. It’s one of those things, when you work in this business, no one advises you to leave a show that’s been picked up again. Even if you’re given another show, and I have been offered many opportunities to work on other shows, you just think to yourself, well if I jump onto another show, and it fails, then I’ve just left Top Model that’s a success, why would I do that? Even if, in many respects, you would have had a bigger role. [This] could be the shove that some of us needed to explore other things. I always try to look to the positive and think, what’s the next step here. In many ways it’s a new lease on life for all of us, and new beginnings. I said to the guys [at ANTM], that they should just call it Season 1 again, instead of Cycle 19.
Do you think this decision had to do with ratings?
I have no doubt. There’s no doubt. I mean if you look at the past history, changing the judges up doesn’t seem to have ever particularly picked up the ratings. The fan base there, the reality is that they were very fond of the Js and myself, and us them, and I don’t know how this is going to pan out for them. I don’t know who they’re replacing us with, or if we’re being replaced at all. I just don’t know what the new format is.
Does this affect your friendship with Tyra?
Not really, to be honest. As I said, she was very candid with me and very open and I had more than an inkling that things were up a couple of months ago. When the ratings started to go down, I got calls from the producers that people at the networks were panicking and certainly, when it’s this moment of a show, Cycle 19, it’s a sort of twilight. And hey, sometimes it’s great to kind of break free and do your own things before things don’t work out. I wish them the best and they have great ideas. Tyra’s been on the cutting edge of this space for a very, very long time and I have an enormous amount of respect for her.
Do you think this is a sign that Tyra is revamping ANTM completely?
They don’t tell me all those sorts of things. I guess it might be. I don’t really know. I’ve only read what you’ve read. As far as this social media thing I’ve read about, and what have you. It has to be somewhat revamped because, to knock out the two Jays and myself in one fell swoop means that something’s up. All I can say is good luck to them, and hopefully it will work. There’s a lot of fans around ANTM and potentially, if it is a new show, I guess it’ll be a different fan base or something.
Tyra mentioned this being a “new chapter” for you. Will you still be involved in the show?
No I won’t be involved in the show. The new chapter for me certainly will be the ability to take advantage of no more exclusivity around ANTM. In many respects, I can’t speak for the others because I don’t know what their contracts look like, but I certainly wasn’t allowed to do anything other than Top Model. I was only allowed to do the odd role here and there, or a guest part. I’m off the leash, so to speak.
Are you referring to other television opportunities?
Television, yes. That was it, it was just Top Model and nothing else. Certainly in the photography and fashion spaces, we’ve had many opportunities and things that have come to us but that was always a risk. Are you going to leave a show and join another one that may not succeed? At a certain point, it’s just, we had a great run, we had a wonderful time, there isn’t any hard feelings. And certainly [Tyra] was very candid with me, and the producers had been candid with me in the run-up to what was happening, and I was aware, sort of a month or two ago that things were really shifting there, and that they were kind of trying to find themselves and seeing what they could do and how it was going to pan out.
Certainly over the years, I’ve been lucky enough not to have been eliminated off the judging panel, and done my best to be as honest and as straightforward and as fun and all the rest of it, to create the great show on America’s Next Top Model. And I wish them all the best. Good luck, I hope this works out for you, and I know it’s a gamble for them too, it may not work out. There are a lot of fans out there that are not happy. Hey, we’re not going anywhere. The Js and myself are all very excited to try a bunch of other new things. I know for myself, I have many different projects in the works that I can now truly focus on. And a bunch of stuff that we weren’t even able to touch and now we can.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been working on a cosmetics line with my lovely wife Chrissy, who’s a makeup artist and has obviously appeared on ANTM many times as a Cover Girl spokesperson and we’ll be working on a line of cosmetics called Beauty Equation, which is based on my book which came out a year and a half ago. We’re also working on a men’s skincare line, which is a bit fun and something that I thought hasn’t really been out there for men. With photography, things continue to go on. I’ve always been shooting, nothing ever ended for me on that end. We have a huge campaign with Nine West, a big advertising campaign for Pamella Roland again. As you may know I’ve been directing films over the past several years, so for one, to direct my first feature film, which is very exciting. And then there’s always the TV world, where now I can do various other projects that I wasn’t able to do. I was the creator of a show The Shots on VH1, and I wasn’t in it. I wasn’t able to be in it. When I created that show, I had created it for myself, to be the host of that show, only to find out that I couldn’t be, because of the exclusivity after I pitched it. These are all the things that I love about the fashion business, the entertainment industry, photography, filmmaking, and to take it to a whole new level. To have the ability to actually have the freedom to do it.
Will you still watch ANTM?
I would imagine so, once in awhile I’m sure. I get to watch it on DVD most of the time. When you have a busy schedule, I think that’s part of the problem. Most people have been watching Top Model in reruns on Lifetime and Bravo and goodness, wherever else it’s playing, on airplanes, and the funny thing is that I don’t think people will even know we’re off the show, because it’s in reruns all over the world.
Catch the next episode of ANTM Cycle 18 on Wednesday, April 25 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
Molly Friedman is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @MollyFriedman.