â€œAmericaâ€™s Next Top Modelâ€ judge and fashion photographer Nigel Barker has become one of Americaâ€™s most recognizable mainstream personalities in the fashion and modeling industries, but he admits that when the show started, he and his co-stars hardly believed it would become a runaway success.
â€œWe thought, â€˜OK, maybe a season. Maybe two seasons.â€™â€
And, in fact, some of his industry colleagues were doubters from the beginning. â€œThere were a lot of people who kind of laughed of us and said, â€˜Hey, itâ€™s a TV show. Itâ€™ isnâ€™t really fashion,â€ he said. â€œWhen we would do our photo shoots, people would accuse us of being way too extreme. Theyâ€™d say, â€˜Oh câ€™mon it doesnâ€™t really happen like that.â€™ But weâ€™re not about doing a TV show about shooting everyone in a white studio. We take the most extreme elements of fashion, put them together, and create these exciting shoots.â€
Earlier this week, led by entrepreneurial host Tyra Banks, â€œAmericaâ€™s Next Top Modelâ€ began its seventeenth season. Aired to over 170 countries on the CW Network, the show has scored respectable ratings, but hasnâ€™t escaped criticism, mainly due to the fact that none of its contestants have ever gone on to become a supermodel and some former winners have had a hard time landing many high-profile bookings.
Still, Barker is happy with the results of the show. It has helped make Banks a household name and spurred Barkerâ€™s other careers. Heâ€™s not just a fashion photographer, but heâ€™s also an author, a documentarian, and a celebrity spokesperson. And, Barker says, the show has provided a powerful platform for aspiring models who might not otherwise get a chance and invigorated the industryâ€™s ongoing conversation about realistic female body images against the industryâ€™s own more rigid standards of beauty.
â€œModeling shows pretty much have always been about models. Models in the business, doing their thing. But (Top Model) is about the diamond in the rough, and truly I think thatâ€™s really thatâ€™s sort of the American dream,â€ Barker said.
As he prepares to start taping the 18th season in only days, he hopes Banks and the show will continue to challenge the widely accepted fashion industry notion that thinness and youth are the only barometers through which beauty can be defined. â€œItâ€™s beginning to catch on. These things donâ€™t happen overnight,â€ Barker said.