Tyra Lynne Banks (born December 4, 1973) is an American media personality, actress, occasional singer, former model and businesswoman. She first became famous as a model in Paris, Milan, London, Tokyo and New York, but television appearances were her commercial breakthrough. Banks is the creator and host of the UPN/The CW reality television show America's Next Top Model and is co-creator of True Beauty. She also hosts her own talk show, The Tyra Banks Show.
In 2009 she was honored by Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) with the Excellence in Media Award.
Tyra Banks was born in Inglewood, California, the daughter of Karolyn (née London), a fashion manager and NASA photographer, and Donald Banks, a computer consultant. The couple divorced in 1980, when Banks was 6 years old. However, the relationship between her parents, and between her and her brother Devin Banks (born 1968), stayed friendly. Later, Carolyn married Clifford Johnson; she now goes by Carolyn London-Johnson. Banks attended John Burroughs Middle School and graduated in 1991 from Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. She was accepted by colleges such as USC and UCLA for television producing.
Banks began modeling in the 11th grade. She later went to Paris, France to do some runway modeling. Within Banks' first week in Paris, designers were so entranced by her presence on the runway that she was booked for an unprecedented twenty-five shows - a record in the business for a newcomer. She has done extensive print and/or runway work for fashion/advertising giants, such as Anna Sui, Coors Light, CoverGirl, Badgley Mischka, Bill Blass, Cynthia Rowley, Chanel, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Donna Karan, Gemma Kahng, H&M, Isaac Mizrahi, Maria Snyder, McDonald's, Aislinn Dubois Modeling Agency, Michael Kors, Milk, Nicole Miller, Nike, Inc., Oscar de la Renta, Pepsi, Perry Ellis, Randy Kemper, Richard Tyler, Rifat Ozbek, Swatch, Todd Oldham, Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria's Secret and Yves Saint Laurent. She has appeared on the covers of high-fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Elle.
Banks was the first African American woman on the covers of GQ and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. In 1997, she received the VH1 award for Supermodel of the Year. That same year, she became the first-ever African American chosen for the cover of the Victoria's Secret catalog.
Banks retired from modeling in May 2005 to concentrate on her television career. She walked the runway for the final time at the 2005 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.
Aside from modeling, In 1998, Banks authored a book entitled Tyra's Beauty, Inside and Out. The book was advertised as a resource for helping women to make the most out of their natural beauty.
Move into television and film
Banks' television career began on the fourth season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, in which she played lead character Will Smith's old friend Jackie Ames. She made seven appearances in the series. Other TV credits include Felicity, MADtv, Nick Cannon's Wild 'n Out (in which she was featured as a special guest host and team captain) and The Price Is Right (guest-starring as a "Barker's Beauty"). She also appeared as a guest in the animated talk show Space Ghost Coast to Coast in an episode entitled "Chinatown."
Currently, Banks can be seen on television as the hostess, judge and executive producer of The CW Television Network show America's Next Top Model. In addition, she hosts The Tyra Banks Show, a daytime talk show aimed at younger women, which premiered on September 12, 2005. The show features stories about everyday people mixed in with celebrity interviews, much like the early format of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Under the slogan "Every woman has a story...and it happened to Tyra too," Banks promotes her show using emotional flashbacks to her own childhood and adolescence. Many of the episodes deal with issues facing women today. Banks and other experts give women advice on fashion, relationships and more. The first two seasons of the show were recorded in Banks' hometown of Los Angeles but, beginning with the fall 2007 season, the show moved to New York City. In 2008, Banks won the Daytime Emmy Award for her work and production on The Tyra Banks Show.
In late-January 2008, Banks got the go-ahead from The CW Television Network to start work on a new reality television series based on fashion magazines called Stylista. The show premiered on October 22, 2008.
Banks' first big screen role came in 1994 when she co-starred in the drama Higher Learning. She went on to co-star with Lindsay Lohan in the Disney film Life-Size, playing a doll named Eve who comes to life and has to learn how to live in the real world. Other notable roles include Love Stinks (1999), Love & Basketball (2000), Coyote Ugly (2000) and Halloween: Resurrection (2002).
Banks has appeared in several music videos, including Michael Jackson's "Black or White", Tina Turner's "Love Thing", Mobb Deep's "Trife Life" and George Michael's "Too Funky" (with fellow supermodel Linda Evangelista). In 2004, she recorded her first single, "Shake Ya Body," which had a music video featuring the final six contestants on America's Next Top Model, Cycle 2. The video was world-premiered on UPN, but the single turned out to be a failure. On America's Next Top Model, Cycle 2 Banks said, "Singing has been a passion of mine for a long, long time...six years on the down low - been ducking in and out of studios cutting tracks." Later, on her talk show, she said, "I can't believe I wasted six years of doing something that I didn't finish...I was almost able to release my album T.Y.R.A., but since my music career hit rock bottom, I quit."
Though "Shake Ya Body" was a failure, record producer Rodney Jerkins told Jet magazine in 2004 that Banks "has what it takes to pull it off...she had a hungriness to want to be in the studio all the time. Some people want to be divas in the studio and work for three or four hours. You had to tell Tyra to stop, or she will keep you going." As for her voice, Jerkins said, "People will be shocked. She can really sing. She's like between soprano and high-alto. I challenged her vocally. I pushed her, but not too far. I pushed her where vocally it fit the track."
Banks released a single with NBA player Kobe Bryant, entitled "K.O.B.E.," which was performed on NBA TV. She also has a single on the soundtrack to Disney Channel's Original Movie Life-Size called "Be A Star." She is credited with performing the theme song to America's Next Top Model.
She devoted an entire show to the subject of "Professional Athletes and the Women Who Love Them" on her talk show in November 2006. She is also the godmother of Ming Lee and Aoki Lee Simmons and Kenzo Lee Hounsou, the children of her friend, Kimora Lee Simmons.