When America's Next Top Model first premiered in the early days of reality TV in 2003, few could have known that Tyra Banks would later turn the series into a pop cultural juggernaut that would last 12 years and 22 seasons before finally getting the ax from The CW in 2015. Thankfully, VH1 swooped in to give the fashion franchise a facelift, tapping singer and up-and-coming actress Rita Ora to slip into Banks's very, very high heels as host. For anyone worried that cycle 23 of the show will be completely different, don't be; the first episode is full of the requisite sob stories and catfights, as well as one contestant's seriously questionable impression of Ora's British accent.
Overall, though, it seems like ANTM is heading in a positive new direction. During a brief cameo in the premiere, Banks tells eager young contestants — who hail all the way from Texas to Seattle to West Africa — that she's "not looking for a traditional model, and I'm not looking for a social media model." Instead, she tells them, she's "looking for both." With the rise of social-media-made talent like Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, the show is hoping to find a boss with a marketable brand, rather than just a pretty face. We recently sat down with Ora to discuss what it takes to win, the crazy photo shoots that are in store, and how the show plans on addressing body positivity despite zero plus-size contestants in the line-up.
POPSUGAR: Part of why this franchise has become so iconic is thanks to the strong presence of Tyra Banks. Was it daunting to take over for her?
Rita Ora: Well, I never wanted to fill Tyra's shoes. I just wanted to create new ones. I say that because you can't fill her shoes — it's been 22 cycles and it's like . . . there's no point in trying. I sat down with Tyra and her team, and we just sort of said, if I was to do this show, how are we going to make it brand new so that it doesn't look like "Rita against Tyra," you know what I'm saying? That's when the rebranding happened. Instead of us finding a beautiful girl who takes a beautiful photo, it's about finding a beautiful girl who can take a great photo and become a brand, have a following, and leave the competition being a threat to the Gigis and the Bellas. That, for me, is what we are trying to find.
PS: The emphasis on the new contestants creating a brand for themselves and essentially becoming entrepreneurs as well as models is really interesting — do you have any advice on how women who want to try out for the show's next cycle should prepare?
RO: Start now. If you're looking to come in next year, start now. As in, get your look together, get your ideas together, get your online presence somewhat happening in some sort of way. Have at least 100, 200, maybe 1,000 followers. Just show me your initiative. I want to see where your brain wants to go, that's really important to me. You don't have to be a success already!
PS: One of the most beloved parts of ANTM has to be its insane fashion shoots. Do you have a personal favorite from the upcoming season, or can you tell us a little bit about them?
RO: This is a fashion show, so we still want to keep things top fashion. Of course we're finding a business brand and a boss, but we're also making sure the fashion and the images are right. Yes, they have to go through it. They have to be cold outside, they have to create some form of attention, they need to make an online video . . . there's actually this scene which is so interesting because obviously DJ Khaled is a great friend of mine, and we share the same birthday. Did you know that?
PS: I didn't!
RO: [laughs] Well for me, he's the King of Snapchat. Who better to give advice for online presence than DJ Khaled? There's a competition that involves them having the certain amount of time that Snapchat gives to do something interesting. I won't tell you what they do, but that for me was fun. We cast a winner off that, and the prize is great. The prizes are phenomenal.
PS: I know Ashley Graham is one of the judges this season, but there aren't any plus-size models in this cycle. You mentioned that you want the show to be rooted in high fashion, but given the backlash the fashion and beauty industries have been receiving over the last few years in regards to promoting poor body image, does the show have any plans to address it?
RO: First of all, when we thought about the panel, I really wanted to create a 360-degree factory for the girls. Drew [Elliott] does the magazines and has the capability to give you a cover, and Law [Roach] turns you into a star, dressing and styling you up so you believe in yourself. Ashley, her story is so interesting and I don't think a lot of people know that about Ashley as much as they should. When Ashley started there was no Instagram . . . I mean when I started I don't think there was Instagram? No, there wasn't. What that means is that we're still here, tackling technology, and that's important. Ashley gives the girls advice to be proud of their bodies. There aren't any plus-size contestants, but there doesn't have to be. That's not what we're trying to do — what we're trying to do is find a superstar in whatever size. It's more about the confidence value. Of course they can audition, because we welcome all sizes. It's more about timing and her story, and the inspiration behind it.
PS: Speaking of the judges, the dynamic between Tyra, Miss J, and Nigel Barker in the previous seasons was always so fun. What's the dynamic like between you guys? It looks like you all got along pretty well in the first episode.
RO: Not all the time!
RO: We get along! But we don't always agree. There are some times when we're like "what are you talking about?" And sometimes I'm like, "you guys are crazy!" And I'm the only one who disagrees with all three of them. But that's how it is! It's not a fairy tale. This is real life, and I want people to understand that. The show is real, the events are real, and the girls' emotional roller coasters are real. It's also fun, you've got to remember that. It's a fun show. It's lighthearted to the point where we make the girls have fun with it, as well.
PS: If you had to sum up the new season in just three words, what would it be?
RO: Crazy, dramatic, and just . . . inspiring.
The new season of America's Next Top Model premieres on Dec. 12 at 10/9c!