Three shocking truths about Tyra Banks:
1) She has cellulite.
2) She wears control-top undies.
3) She readily admits to 1) and 2).
“My silhouette looks fine, but…I have dimples in the backs of my thighs,” says the longtime runway goddess. “At the Victoria’s Secret fashion shows you will never see me walking with my drawers and bra on without a little skirt or drape in the back,” she says. “I know where I got it. I’m not going to walk on a runway and show it.” Adds the new daytime gabber: “I want to do a whole [episode] on cellulite.”
Somehow it’s hard to imagine glamazons Gisele or Heidi or Kate offering up such dimples-and-all confessions as talk-show fodder. But it’s just the sort of between-us-girls chatter that Banks, 31, is hoping will make The Tyra Banks Show a hit. As with her stilettos-and-catfights reality fest America’s Next Top Model, which kicks off its fifth installment on UPN Sept. 21, the insomniac Banks—who often fires off middle-of-the-night e-mails to her staff—is pulling double duty as both host and executive producer of Tyra. “She’s a very driven, focused person,” says Jim Paratore, president of Telepictures Productions, which produces Tyra. Ken Mok, one of her producing partners, recalls the time that a take-charge Banks once hot-glued beads to the Top Model set at 3 a.m. in order to make the shooting deadline. As he teasingly puts it: “I think Tyra is a control freak.”
One notable Tyra touch: a catwalk for the host to strut with her guests, most of whom she says will be “real people,” not celebs. “To me, the runway signifies something that is so intimidating,” she says. “I wanted to make it accessible, more of a sense of empowerment.” Notes her mom, Carolyn London, 56, who serves as CEO of Bankable Productions: “Tyra has never looked to be this perfect thing.”
Her supermodel-next-door relatability has its roots in her childhood in L.A., where she lived from age 6 with her mother after her parents’ divorce. (Her father, Donald, 58, is a computer consultant; brother Devin, 37, is an Air Force captain.) Banks was 11 when she endured an acute case of what might be termed Future Supermodel Syndrome: a raging growth spurt that transformed her into “this tall bean-pole freak,” says the 5’10” star.
Her discovery by the modeling world, perhaps, was only a matter of time; at 17 she signed with Elite Model Management and headed for Paris. Unlike many of her club-hopping counterparts, “I went to work and then I went home,” she says. “A party for me was going to a movie that was in English.”
Not much has changed. These days the ultra-frugal Banks (see box) lives in a three-bedroom L.A. condo, prefers the Cheesecake Factory to Mr. Chow and matinees to late nights. “I have a 70-year-old woman’s social life and a 15-year-old girl’s energy,” she says. As for relationships, Banks—who in the past has been linked to director John Singleton and NBA star Chris Webber—says she has recently rethought her view that career success and romance can’t coexist: “I used to tell my mom, ‘I think I traded it off,’ and she’d say, ‘If you think that way, then you did.’ I’m not living in that fear that I’ll never find love anymore. I want to get married. I want to have kids. But you’ve got to time it right,” she says. “There’s no way I could do that now.”
Michelle Tauber. Brenda Rodriguez in Los Angeles