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One of the world's top supermodels in the 1990s and into the 21st century, Tyra Banks broke through the limited career options available to the distractingly beautiful and made a name for herself as a compassionate, media-savvy television producer and host. Having conquered international fashion magazines and runways, Banks racked up a number of significant achievements in the U.S. as the first African-American model to grace the covers of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and the Victoria's Secret lingerie catalog. Banks made a handful of acting efforts, including a stint on "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" (NBC, 1990-96) before finding her niche as the creator and original host of "America's Next Top Model" (UPN/The CW, 2003-2015, VH1 2016- ) and "The Tyra Banks Show" (syndicated, 2005-10). The supermodel talent search peppered with cat fights became a top-rated guilty pleasure, while Banks' syndicated daytime talk show rose above the competition, thanks to the hostess' emotional and personal approach to sensitive female topics such as body image and gender roles. Even after leaving hosting duties for "Top Model" in 2015 (before announcing her return in 2017), Banks' ongoing philanthropic and onscreen efforts to empower and encourage young women led to her recognition as a powerful one-woman media empire styled after her idol, Oprah Winfrey.
Born Tyra Lynne Banks on Dec. 4, 1973, Banks was raised in middle class Inglewood, CA, the daughter of a photographer and a computer programmer. A tall, thin and awkward pre-teen, Banks was ridiculed by classmates for her striking looks and 5'10" height, but she would overcome her self-doubt by her mid-teens in her determination to explore modeling as a career. Like many aspiring models, she struggled to land a contract with an agency, but was finally accepted by Elite Agency at the age of 17. After being relocated to the high fashion mecca of Paris, she became an overnight sensation, booking a record 25 shows within her first weeks in the country. She went on to rack up an extensive list of credits with the world's biggest and most acclaimed fashion and makeup companies, including Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, and Yves St. Laurent. Her face graced the front of numerous fashion publications as well as lifestyle magazines like GQ and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. In both of those cases, she was the first African-American model to appear on their covers, and was also the first black model to grace the cover of the Victoria's Secret catalog.
Meanwhile, Banks began to come to life on the screen in music videos from Michael Jackson (1991's "Black or White"), Tina Turner (1992's "Love Thing") and George Michael (1992's "Too Funky"). An appearance in the 1992 British television sex drama "Inferno" marked Banks' acting debut, after which she snared a recurring role as Will Smith's unrequited love interest on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (NBC, 1990-96). In 1994, Banks established the Tyra Banks Scholarship, aimed at helping girls enroll in her alma mater, The Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. The following year, she had a substantial role in then-boyfriend John Singleton's drama "Higher Learning" (1995), but was lambasted by critics for her performance. The high-profile personality and ever-present face continued to earn praise from fashion and culture critics, with Banks being named VH1's Supermodel of the Year in 1997. Setting her sights further and wider, in 1998, Banks penned the health and beauty tome Tyra's Beauty Inside and Out, and developed T-Zone, a summer camp designed to boost the leadership skills of disadvantaged teenage girls in Los Angeles. Persevering with her acting career, Banks had supporting roles in "Love and Basketball" (2000) and "Coyote Ugly" (2000), in which she played one of the sexy, sassy bartenders at the eponymous watering hole.
Her most charming turn came as a doll that comes to life for owner Lindsay Lohan in the Disney TV feature, "Life Size" (2000), for which Banks also recorded the accompanying song "Life Size." The single was one of several attempts to launch a recording career, though her contribution to Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant's embarrassing rap single "K.O.B.E." and her vocals in the Adam Sandler animated comedy "Eight Crazy Nights" (2002) did not generate much heat. A co-starring role in the campy horror outing "Halloween: Resurrection" (2002) was followed by much more serious work. In 2003, Banks served as creator, executive producer and host of "America's Next Top Model," a reality competition series that put modeling hopefuls through fairly grueling paces in the hopes of landing an exclusive contract. Banks' on-camera presence was exceptionally poised, and if the show occasionally dipped into catty territory in its coverage of repartee and squabbles between the contestants, she remained above it. Banks' star power helped to make the show one of the highest rated on UPN prior to its conversion to The CW, after which it became the most watched show on the newly named network. The following year, Banks executive produced an Australian spin-off of the series.
Banks officially retired from modeling in 2005 with a final walk at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. At that time in her life, she had loftier goals. She doubled her TV exposure with "The Tyra Banks Show," a highly energetic and remarkably positive entity that set it apart from its lowbrow competition. Banks, who served as executive producer, divided her show coverage between the standard celebrity-driven interviews and more personal pieces about women and weight, job goals, and health and happiness. Banks frequently offered her own personal experiences with these areas, and made public some of the unhappier elements of her adolescence. Occasionally, her efforts to bring these topics into discussion bordered on outlandish - her donning a fat suit in public or dressing like a man for job interviews - earned her sniggering comments from talk show pundits, but audiences seemed to appreciate her willingness to reveal the human side of a supermodel. For her efforts, and for the exposure and subject matter of her talk show, Banks was named one of the world's most influential people by TIME magazine - one of only seven women (and four African-Americans) to receive such a laurel. Forbes magazine also included her among the wealthiest celebrity entrepreneurs in the early 21st century, with a personal fortune estimated at $18 million.
In 2009, the unstoppable media mogul teamed with Ashton Kutcher to co-create "True Beauty" (ABC, 2009-10), a sort of "Punk'd" (MTV, 2003-07) meets "Top Model" reality series aimed at exposing the true character of aspiring models. Banks' positive works and empowered persona led to her Teen Choice Award nomination in 2009 for Favorite TV Personality. After overseeing the expansion of the "Next Top Model" franchise across the globe, Banks ended the series in 2015, although it was revived on VH1 in 2016 with Rita Ora replacing Banks as host. Banks next created and co-hosted the fashion-themed talk show "FABlife" (Syndication 2015-16), though she ended her hosting duties after three months, and appeared in several episodes of the sitcom "Black-ish" (ABC 2014- ) as Gigi Franklin, an international pop star who was the childhood best friend of main character Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson). In March 2017, it was announced that along with taking over hosting duties on "America's Got Talent" (NBC 2006- ) from Nick Cannon, Banks was returning to hosting duties on the revived "America's Next Top Model."
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Began modeling at age 17
Appeared in her first music video, "Black or White" by Michael Jackson
Had a small part in the British production "Inferno"
Established the Tyra Banks College Scholarship Fund
Featured model on the <i>Sports Illustrated</i> Calendar
Played a recurring role on "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" (NBC)
Feature film debut, John Singleton's "Higher Learning"
Began corresponding for "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (Syndicated)
Co-wrote book <i>Tyra's Beauty Inside and Out</i>
Established her company Tyinc and T-Zone
Featured in "Love and Basketball"
Promoted a line of greeting cards for neglected and abused children
Played a sexy New York City bartender in "Coyote Ugly"
Co-starred in the summer horror feature "Halloween: Resurrection"
Produced and hosted hit reality competition series "America's Next Top Model" (UPN, The CW)
Hosted and executive produced the syndicated show "The Tyra Banks Show"
Guest starred on teen drama series "Gossip Girl" (The CW)
Published her first novel <i>Modelland</i>
Was the host on "FabLife"
Played Gigi on two episodes of "Black-ish"
Reprised the role she was born for in "Life-Size 2"