Credit: Michael Buckner/ Getty Images, Amanda Schwab/Startraks Photo: Nigel Barker Hair

Were you surprised to see Nigel Barker in the premiere of America’s Next Top Model? This season, the producers decided to skip the casting footage and dive right into the competition, which means the entire team is already in full swing. Wetpaint talks exclusively with Nigel about changes to the show in Cycle 16 and the behind the scenes antics of Tyra Banks and the other Top Model judges!

Why did they decide to cut the casting footage from the Cycle 16 premiere?
I don’t know exactly why they decided to do it, but I certainly think that it was a good idea for them to cut it. I was never particularly that fond of it. Some people love it, some people don’t. We were hearing from a lot of people that they always waited for the second episode. They love to just get straight into it. I think it was simply that. We still did the actual process the whole way we normally work. It was still there. We just didn’t film it or show it, which is interesting why they decided to do it that way or whether they’ll decide to continue on in that same fashion [next] season. I guess we’ll have to see how people react to Cycle 16 and the change. For me, it was quite nice. Normally, I’m out there promoting Episode 1 – and I’m not even in it! (laughs)

Are there other aspects of Top Model that viewers never get to see?
Yeah, there are for sure. I think [there could] be a great show on the production of America’s Next Top Model. People don’t have any idea of how much work and effort goes into the behind the scenes of making a show like [this]. When we go to our abroad locations, we often take over 120 people with us. We book out entire hotels, often multiple hotels. When you see a juggernaut like that arrive in some country, it’s almost impossible to arrive without anyone knowing that we’re there! I think that part of it is fascinating. Also, judging can take hours and I think you only ever see 15 minutes. We often sit there and go back-and-forth. We’ve had tears. We’ve had people really disagreeing because, ultimately, it’s a vote. Sometimes it’s 3 to 2 and a person gets voted off, and there’s two judges that wanted that person to stay, and you never know that. Nor do you know if one judge liked that person or not. I think that’s quite interesting. I’ve had girls come up and see me [after the show]. They’re still a little bitter that they got voted off in Episode 2. They look at you, and perhaps you said something on TV, and that’s the bit they catch where you’re saying something that might sound critical or might sound like that’s the reason she was going. Ultimately, it could have been you who was defending her or liked her, and that’s just the way it all ended in the edit. Also, the judges don’t get to see the show until it’s actually airing. I only ever see it when it airs. I’ve never once in 10 years ever received an early version of the show.

What is it like working with the one-and-only Tyra Banks?
It’s wonderful. She’s a good friend. She’s an inspiration, to be honest. She’s very, very hard working. I’m always very impressed by her work ethic and how much she cares about the girls and the show. It’s her baby. She designed it, she thought about it, and she created it. She’s very hands on with every photo shoot. She truly picks every picture that gets published on America’s Next Top Model. It doesn’t matter who the photographer is. It could be Patrick Demarchelier, but she’s going through the film. A lot of people don’t realize that and how much time that takes. It takes hours and hours after the shoot. It’s all rushed, don’t forget. We do the shoot and have judging the very next day. Normally, you don’t wrap a shoot until late into the night, so she’ll be working into the night or early in the morning. It’s quite impressive, really.

Almost every Top Model fan remembers Tiffany's elimination during Cycle 4, mainly because Tyra had a very strong reaction to it. What is the biggest Top Model meltdown you've witnessed?
I think that’s probably gotta be it. That was quite extreme for [all] of us. We were all shocked, as was Tyra. I think it talked to the fact of how passionate Tyra is. It wasn’t planned or anything. We were all just sitting there. I think Tyra just got very upset that [Tiffany] was throwing it all away, and she felt that she didn’t need to. She was disappointed, and she just exploded – and then the fact that she decided to keep it in [the show]. In theory, she could have said, “Listen, I’m an Executive Producer. I don’t want that in there.” She didn’t. She was like, “No. This is me. This is how much we care, and people can see this.” There’s a risk when you do something like that. She went for it, she let it happen and let it play out the way it does. That’s the thing about Top Model – one of the reasons why we love it, all of us, the audience the judges, and everyone who gets involved. They realize that everyone who is on the show is very committed. They’re very passionate. They know what they’re talking about.

We all work in the industry. We all do what we do. I still am a photographer. That’s what I do day-to-day. Miss J still does runway coaching. He was doing Pamella Roland’s show just recently. I saw him there backstage, and I also helped with a creative consult for that firm. He works for Baby Phat a lot. Jay Manuel obviously does a variety of different things now and has moved more into hosting and stuff like that, but he was a makeup artist for many years and has creative directed on many shoots. I think that authenticity there and that believability really helps cement it. Of course, all our guest judges are industry experts.

Credit: Ivano Grasso/The CW ©2010 The CW Network Photo: Finale Guest Judge

For a number of seasons now, one judge's chair has become a revolving door. Most recently, Andre Leon Talley has stepped in as a regular. Do you think changing up the panel so frequently is good for Top Model?
It’s been good. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had the one door that hasn’t revolved. (laughs) Something is right there… at least I hope, at the moment. I haven’t been told if they’re going to revolve my door anytime soon! I think it’s just different strokes for different folks. We’ve changed it up a little bit. After a while, people want to change position or do something different. We’ve been very lucky with our guest judges. Andre Leon Talley is a formidable individual and a great judge. He’s like a walking encyclopedia of fashion. Talk about passionate. You’re never gonna meet anyone more passionate about his subject than him. The two of us, we certainly have our moments when we disagree, and then we agree. I think we’re both as shocked when we both agree as when we disagree sometimes. We look at each other and he’s like, “Nigel, I completely agree with you!” And then ten minutes later, he’s like, “I completely disagree with you.” (laughs) There’s no in between.

What are some of the pranks the judges play on each other?
I think we’re actually less about playing pranks on one another as we are about trying to help each other or care for each other. We’re rather nice to one another, surprisingly. There have been pranks in the past. I know [Mr. Jay & Miss J] like to play pranks where they do something in your trailer – remove all your food or do something silly like that.. We’re actually quite caring of one another. We’re kind of a little love bunch.

As a former model yourself, what are your thoughts on America's Next Top Model devoting an entire season to men?
I get asked that quite a lot by people on the street, especially young boys and men who really would love to be in it. I think it would be fun. I don’t see it happening any time soon. I think that it would not be America’s Next Top Model that would do that, but perhaps another show like an America’s Next Top Male Model or like another version or something versus an exclusive season of it. I mean, never say never. Who knows? We did a petite cycle. We might well do a sophisticated cycle. We might do an All-Stars cycle. Who knows if we have it in us at all. There was that one show, Manhunt. It wasn’t very successful. We’ve discussed it too – Tyra, myself, the other judges and the producers. What it seems to boil down to is that guys are just not as dramatic as girls when it comes to the bitchiness and the arguing and the reality that makes it so exciting on Top Model. They feel it wouldn’t be as entertaining, but who knows? Perhaps.

Would you ever consider getting in front of the camera again for a modeling gig?
Not exactly. But yes, in as much as I do already. That’s what Top Model has done for me. I guess it’s that perfect combination, in many respects, where I get to be in front of the camera and talk to people. I’m very comfortable being in front of the camera. I’ve never not been. I certainly know that as a photographer, I use the fact that I can empathize with the model because I used to be one, even when I’m shooting. I will always get in front of my own light and have my assistants shoot me, and then I look at the picture. I look at the lighting on myself. That’s one of the ways how I personally work my set and understand what I’m doing. That helps me. I think just being on Top Model and being interviewed and doing all those sorts of things are something that most photographers don’t do. They’re behind the scenes all the time. I get to fulfill that desire.

After the Cycle 9 smoking ban, we were shocked to find out that a recent anti-smoking study by the American Legacy Foundation named America's Next Top Model as one of the worst cigarette use offenders. How can the fashion industry take a stronger stand against smoking?
I mean, I think that ultimately the fashion business takes a pretty strong stance against it. There’s many people who talk about it, and there’s lots of designers who are against [it], who don’t allow smoking on their sets or backstage. I’ve seen it with a bunch of the designers. It’s hard to get up in everybody’s business the whole time, and it’s difficult with kids to tell them what to do and what not to do. I think the anti-smoking campaign is pretty strong, certainly here in the U.S. You can’t smoke in bars, you can’t smoke in restaurants. You have to be out in the street. I actually didn’t see very many models out backstage, like I normally do, smoking cigarettes in between shows. Normally, you go outside and you have to waft through the cigarette smoke in order to get in backstage with all the young girls out there smoking. Literally, every show I went to, I saw one person one time having a cigarette, and it did actually cross my mind. You can always do more, but I really think you just have to speak up and ban it.

Cycle 10 winner Whitney Thompson tweeted us with a special assignment: Did you like the candles she gave you from her webstore, Supermodel?
(laughs) I did like the candles. Actually, we put them in the bathroom! They were great. I think we actually might still have one. She’s great. I saw her at Fashion Week this season and she looked lovely and bubbly as ever. I like it when [the] girls take the initiative to go out there and do something else as well. Things like designing a candle, or something like that, is a fun way to take advantage of the situation they’ve got. Show some creativity!

Want more Nigel Barker? Check out the second half of our exclusive interview!