In an effort to bring some new life to the reality competition series, "America's Next Top Model," Tyra Banks, who serves as Creator, Executive Producer and Head Judge of the series, made a few tweaks to the 19th cycle. Former supermodel and talk show host Banks has added some new faces to her panel of judges (model Rob Evans and fashion blogger Bryanboy along with the returning Kelly Cutrone) as well as brought in celebrity stylist Johnny Wujek as the new Creative Director of the photo shoots.
The new cycle, subtitled "College Edition," features 13 model hopefuls from Universities all over the country who hope to win a modeling contract with LA Models & NY Models Management, become the face of the "ANTM" perfume, a spread in "Nylon" magazine, campaigns with Nine West and Smashbox Cosmetics and a $100,000 cash prize. The competition kicked off last week with another new twist - for the first time, viewers will able to weigh in on which models should get to stick around for the competition and who should go home.
Wujek took a step away from the models earlier this week to talk to our Jim Halterman about the new cycle as well as shared how he's handling this new level of exposure on the show and teased which models viewers should keep their eyes on during these upcoming episodes.
Jim Halterman: Talk to me first about just being a part of the show. I know you've worked with a lot of big names like Katy Perry but I'm not sure if you're used to being a personality on a show. Is that new for you?
Johnny Wujek: It's all new for me. I mean, I've definitely done TV interviews and being in Katy's movie was a really big deal but this is the first time that I was like consistently appearing on a recurring TV show. So, it's just a whole new adventure for me, but I love it.
JH: Did you have any expectations or do you just kind of go in and go with the flow?
JW: You know what? I didn't. People are like, 'Are you nervous? You have so much to live up to. It's the 19th season of this.' And, man, I was like, 'Look, I'm just coming in as me, and I'm just going to be me, and I think I can do that.' I've been doing it my whole life so I think I'll be alright.
JH: I know what Jay Manuel did as the creative director prior to this cycle. What actually is your role?
JW: Every episode they have their photo shoot so I basically host that segment. [The models] show up, they have no idea where they are or what they're doing. I explain to them, 'Here we are, this is what we're doing, this is our direction, this is the emotion, this is what we want out of you [and] what we want your look to look like.' And then during the shoot, I'll direct them as they go. And then we'll wrap it up, kind of sum it up like, 'how was that for you?' and either they cry and freak out or they had fun with it. It's fun. Some of them have never done a photo shoot before so it's a lot of firsts.
JH: Tyra has said the new thing this season is that the viewers get to be a part of the voting. How does that work?
JW: What happens is every time we do a shoot, the next morning it's posted online, on CW's 'America's Next Top Model's' Facebook Page. Users basically can submit videos and comments on the girls. They can be like, 'oh, I really love this girl, this girl needs to go home, she looks fat here, she's so pretty, blah, blah, blah.' And then there's a voting system and then it's tallied up so that it's Tyra votes, Kelly votes, Rob votes and then the tally from the online users counts in the girls' votes. Also, they put a little twist on it that the online users also have the power to bring back an eliminated girl, which is really fun.
JH: It's one thing to get comments from all the judges, but the girls also get to see this online feedback and some of it's pretty harsh. Did you see that rattle them a little bit?
JW: I found out by doing the show... I didn't think that I was a sensitive guy but I'm sensitive for other people. So, I felt that for these girls, because of the criticism they would get and the feedback that they would get, whether it be negative and hurtful... they were strong. They knew coming into it that they wanted the feedback. They loved when Kelly told them what was up. And they loved when I told them what was up. And they loved when Tyra told them what was up. So, they actually really loved the feedback. Some girls had hurt feelings, and got frustrated after awhile when they were hearing the same shit and they were trying to fix it and trying to change but overall they were all very receptive to the criticism, which is really cool.
JH: What do you think these girls need outside of looks to get far in the competition? It's definitely more than looks?
JW: I think one thing really, is confidence. It's just about confidence because when you get in front of the camera and there's a whole set full of people and everyone's looking at you... some of these girls buckle up. They don't know what they're doing, and they just kind of freeze up. And then some of the girls... you can see how confident they are in their own skin and who they are, and they can move their body and they can do things, like when a photographer tells them to do it. They don't think, 'oh, my God!' They just do it. So, I think confidence really in modeling is just kind of a huge element. You try to be comfortable with yourself and who you are because if you don't it shows in the photos.
JH: You see this every season, where there are models that look great in person but some of it just doesn't always translate in the photos, or vice versa. How do you explain that?
JW: I was definitely surprised. I mean, even in the real world of fashion, when you see these supermodels on the street. Some of them, you're like, 'Oh, she looks so average.' And then all of a sudden done up you're like, 'Holy shit. Okay, she's a supermodel!' That's true with some of these girls. They'll look so average to me, and then you see them in a photo and the angles... you touch up one image and you're like 'oh wow, look at that look.' There were definitely some surprises for me in girls who, I thought, weren't much of anything and then all of a sudden, you're like, 'okay. I can see potential.'
JH: What are some of the things that we'll see this season? What you just described, is that something that actually does happen on the show?
JW: You know, there are different things. Obviously every shoot has a twist. [The producers] don't want it to be so easy for them so they definitely add challenges whether it be a prosthetic or some sort of environmental thing or an element of all these little factors that they add on there. [This week's] episode is taxidermy and they want it like a beauty shot. So, these girls are literally like wall mounts. Their heads are through this little hole. Minimal movement. Awful balance through this wall and have to work at all this through a little hole in the wall.
JH: Did you find the more you worked with the models that it was harder for you to be critical with them because you were getting to know them personally or were you able to separate yourself from that?
JW: It was actually easier to be more critical because I got to know them more and you pick up on each girl's things and what they're lacking and what they're strong in. So, it actually twisted it for me. I got more comfortable, and they got more comfortable with me. And after each shoot, they'd be like, 'I sucked,' or 'what did I do? How can I do this?' And it's actually getting to know them made it a lot easier to be blunt with it because I cared more about them and them going far and you could see how much more they wanted it. If they weren't learning it was frustrating because it's like, 'look, every shoot we're telling you this, this, and this so why aren't you doing this?' And then they'd get frustrated.
JH: Of the models that we started with, who would you tell the audience to keep their eye on the most?
JW: The response I got from the first episode... Victoria, the crazy one that was crying and called her mom. She's just really entertaining. She's so surprising. Every time she'd show up, I didn't know what to expect of her and I was totally surprised by her. She just was a really, really... just a character. Watch out for her. And actually, watch out for Kristin, the blonde, like super wholesome, all-American girl. She surprised me.
JH: There are a lot of different personalities from what I've seen in this first episode. Are we going to see some catfights on the show?
JW: Oh, yeah. For sure. Unfortunately, I don't know much about what happened in the house because I would just see them on set but I could always pick up on tension between girls. They never fought on set but I heard stories about who was a bitch in the house, who's this and who's that. I know there's going to be lots of drama. There are thirteen girls all wanting one trophy.
"America's Next Top Model" airs Fridays at 8:00/7:00c on The CW.