Q & A with Tyra Banks on Harvard, Modelland & Inspiration
Supermodels That Have Super Powers

Tyra Banks and her 'Took-alikes'
Photo courtesy of Donavan Zegna

Tookie. Intoxibellas. Bestosterone. A smize. All things hailing from Tyra's vivid imagination in her new fantasy book Modelland which was released earlier this month. Yesterday, the supermodel-turned TV host-turned Harvard student-turned author made an appearance at Neiman Marcus in Bal Harbour to a full house of her fans, each of whom received a signed copy of her new novel. (You'd expect the majority to be tween girls but the audience was quite eclectic including everyone from kids to middle-aged married couples to Tyra's favorite 93-year-old wigmaker.) 

After encouraging the crowd to their feet and warming everyone up with some silly catalog, couture and sexy poses, Tyra started by stating the obvious. "I’m nervous about Modelland because I’ve never written a fiction book before. But I do know fashion and I do know modeling and I do know storytelling but this is the first of a series so bear with me because it will get better as it goes along."

The book stars an awkward 15-year-old version of Tyra named Tookie De La Creme and a group of misfit models selected to attend school in Modelland. There's the mini-sized model named Shiraz, a 'fiercely real' plus-sized model named Dillon and a model with Albinism named Piper, all from their own odd nations.

What purpose does this place have? Tyra says excitedly, "Modelland trains what are supermodels that have super powers." Of course. To become an 'Intoxibella,' you must endure training including thigh-high bootcamp. If you're bad, you are banished to Catwak Corridor and turned into an actual cat until you are good again. There's also a male modeling school home to a guy named Bravo (but sadly, no mention of Derek Zoolander or Blue Steel) and a mysterious rogue model that has rebelled against Modelland. [Not kidding.]

Sounds kind of like Harry Potter meets America's Next Top Model on crack. But, underneath all the wackiness there is a good moral for young girls that everyone can be beautiful no matter who they are or what they look like.  

Tyra Storytelling
Photos courtesy of Donavan Zegna


What inspired the characters in your book?
Well Tookie, of course, is very similar to me, except her parents are crazy and my mom and dad are amazing. Um, Dillon, actually there are a couple of plus size or 'fiercely real' models that I love and I combined a bunch of them and put them into her... There was a model that I roomed with in Paris and her name was Shiraz. She was from Israel and she had all this personality... So whenever I would see her backstage at Fashion shows, I’d be like 'Yea me and Shiraz, we roomed together for like a month.' And she’d be like 'Tyra, it was a day.' It was one day, but she had that much impact on me. Now Shiraz is not her at all in the book, but I just was inspired by Shiraz the model’s spunkiness. 
And then I was walking down the street in New York City years ago - probably a year and a half ago - and I actually changed Piper. She didn’t have Albinism at first. But there was a male model that ran up to me, he had total Albinism. [An] African American guy with blonde hair, white skin and these light eyes and I could tell people were kinda scared of him in an odd way and I just saw this beautiful angel coming toward me through the crowd. And he was so interesting and so different-looking and he tried to get my attention and I was like 'Oh wait, I’m walking. I gotta keep walking.' But I meant 'Walk with me' and he didn’t know that [and] he was crushed, and I turned around and he was gone and there were too many people and I had to keep going. So I twittered, 'Looking for beautiful male model with Albinism.'  And so people found him then I had him on my talk show, oh it was a whole thing! Yea, so from that encounter, I made him a girl [and] I modeled that character after him because he had an impact on me.

Who would you cast as the main characters if your book were made into a movie?
Well believe it or not, if Modelland were to ever be a movie - first of all, I’ve been offered for it to be a movie and I said no because I was still writing. And I didn’t want a producer over my shoulder saying “Ok Chapter 25 should end with Tookie’s HEAD BLOWING UP because that’s gonna be HUGE.” So… I said no to him. But...if it’s a movie and I do a contract and I get control, I wouldn’t want them to be famous. I would wanna open it up to everybody in the entire world to be able to play Tookie, Dillon, Shiraz and Piper. You know, give new people a chance. 

How has attending Harvard Business School impacted your career?
Oh my gosh, going to Harvard has totally transformed my life. It’s just changed my entire life and my entire business... One thing that it taught me is before I went there, I wanted to do so many different things. I was doing X and Y and Z. All these things that you guys didn’t know but they were in the plans. And then I left school realizing that I needed to focus. And that you don’t always have to be the biggest at something, but you should be the best at what you do. And so that really changed me a lot so I left there saying ... 'I’m focusing on expanding the definition of beauty and making girls feel more beautiful when they look in the mirror and see a reflection of themselves.'

How do you stay pretty with all the stress of everything you do?
With the makeup, false lashes! I did NBC this morning and…I was running late and I ran in and I was like 'I need lashes!' And so they glued lashes on me and I ran on set really fast. I’m really good with makeup. I did my own hair and makeup for the entire [book] tour. 

What advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
So let me tell you what you do when it comes to fantasy, you write things normal first. Ok so you write ‘She walks down the street and she duh-duh-duh-duh-duh, does all that.' Get all the normal story out first and then add your magic and your fantasy and adventure to that. So that the fantasy and the magic is not leading your story because your story has to be pure and true and the minute you start focusing on the hi-jinks too much you’re gonna lose your audience. Stories are very basic: good vs evil, somebody, you, know, overcoming obstacles. So get all that first and then add “SHE FLEW OFF THE ROOF AND DID A SOMERSAULT AND TURNED INTO A FAIRY WITH PIXIEDUST” you know, add that later. That’s my best advice.


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