Tyra Banks teases 'Top Model: College Edition,' clashing judges, and sharks (in the water and on the Internet)

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Image Credit: Massimo Campana

After 10 years in production on America’s Next Top Model, Tyra Banks has some stories to tell — like the time the models nearly served as shark bait. Yes, America, you heard it here: There was almost a Top Model shark shoot. Read on to discover why it got nixed at the last minute. What’s more after majorly overhauling the judging panel last April, Banks talks candidly about tension between two judges, the introduction of America as a fourth judge, and getting back to the shows foundations in cycle 19. Plus, get a sneak peek at this season’s hot new judge Rob Evans and A-list stylist-turned-ANTM-creative-consultant Johnny Wujek in action!

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This cycle’s “College Edition” theme was inspired by your return to school. [Banks completed Harvard's Executive Education Training Program in February 2012.] What did you hope to show viewers by choosing this theme?
TYRA BANKS: I think a lot of girls feel like you have to choose education or modeling. I wanted to show that you don’t have to choose. I was really inspired because I went back to school. I actually did make the choice, but mine wasn’t a choice of “Modeling or school?” Mine was a choice of “Modeling now, school later.” That’s what I really wanted to show — that you can do [both]. It is possible.

Also, it was really important to me for this cycle to not just be about Ivy League or big, huge UCLA or University of Michigan. I wanted to celebrate and acknowledge any type of education because I feel that’s more relatable. We have girls in beauty school. I have girls in community colleges. I have girls from party schools and Ivy League. So we have everything just to show that any kind of education you’re trying to get is great and honorable because it’s moving you forward and it makes you that much more get that job or do what you want to do over the person that doesn’t have that education.

It’s a really diverse group.
Really diverse. The girls had some amazing personalities that pop-pop-pop. What we noticed when were editing was that it reminded us of early Top Model, like those kind of personalities that really pop and you’re either rooting for or loving to hate or finding somebody quirky and interesting. We studied why we’re successful in our early seasons, and we found, like, the secret sauce that we actually kind of might have pulled away from in the last couple of years, so we’re going back to that.

The storylines were so strong back then, and that’s what we’re going back to — story, story, story, getting to know these girls and feeling like ‘This team versus that team.’ First season was the church girls versus the heathens. We’re really focusing more on the story and the girls as opposed to just photo shoots and challenges. The photo shoots and challenges will always be there, but we’re getting back to getting the heart and soul of who our girls are. You’ll notice a big difference.

You’re really rebooting the brand this year. It’s kind of a transitional cycle.
Yeah, it is. And change is scary, but, even though I’m the executive producer of the show, I have bosses that I have take strong advice. This was something that was brought to my attention that needed to be done, and it was very difficult when Ken and I had to deliver that message. As I said, it’s scary, but after shooting and being finished with the cycle, we’re like, ‘Hmmm, scary turned into amazing.’ Everything needs to be new again, is what I’ve been learning and seeing. If you think about American Idol with this transition with J.Lo — and now I’m excited to see Mariah Carey… You know, things have to evolve. I now understand that.

Talk about the new judges.
Bryanboy is amazing. Bryanboy is hilarious. He’s the voice of the people, so he just tells it like it is — what people are saying actually in social media, he brings it into the room. He brings his own personality, his crazy outfits. He has so much crazy respect in the fashion industry.

Then Rob Evans is amazing, funny, sexy, gorgeous — and a working male model and close to the girls in terms of what he’s been doing. To me, he is the one to watch, no joke. We’ve gotten to know each other very well. We’re all like a family, but when I see Rob actually on screen, it’s like we all have a crush on him when we’re editing because we’re like, ‘Oh wait. We’re used to him on set, but now we have a crush on him on TV? What’s going on now?’

It must bring a different dynamic to the judging panel with the girls.
Exactly. You can imagine the tension that that creates. We’re like, ‘Rob, you can’t date the models. You can look but you can’t touch!’

Johnny Wujek is a huge name in the industry. Will any of his clients make an appearance?
You’ll have to see. Johnny has been so amazing. The dynamic he  has with the girls is very warm and very nurturing, so it’s a little bit different dynamic than in the past. He brings it, so you’ll just have to see.

How is Kelly Cutrone, who joined the judging panel last season interacting with the new guys?
Kelly and Rob, as the season goes, they actually start to have a little bit of a beef, a little conflict there. Rob is always having to remind Kelly, ‘Look, I am young. I am in the industry now.’ They kind of go at it. I’m in the middle of them, so I’m like, ‘Whew, I feel uncomfortable!’ That starts to happen around mid-season.

NEXT: The models face the harshest judge of all — the Internet, plus the swimming-with-sharks shoot that never happened and cycle 19‘s Tyler Perry cameo

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