Also Credited As:Tyra Lynne Banks
|Tyra Lynne Banks on December 4, 1973 in Inglewood, California, USA|
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Born Tyra Lynne Banks on Dec. 4, 1973, Banks was raised in middle class Inglewood, CA, the daughter of a photographer and a computer programmer. A tall, thin and awkward pre-teen, Banks was ridiculed by classmates for her striking looks and 5'10" height, but she would overcome her self-doubt by her mid-teens in her determination to explore modeling as a career. Like many aspiring models, she struggled to land a contract with an agency, but was finally accepted by Elite Agency at the age of 17. After being relocated to the high fashion mecca of Paris, she became an overnight sensation, booking a record 25 shows within her first weeks in the country. She went on to rack up an extensive list of credits with the world's biggest and most acclaimed fashion and makeup companies, including Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, and Yves St. Laurent. Her face graced the front of numerous fashion publications as well as lifestyle magazines like GQ and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. In both of those cases, she was the first African-American model to appear on their covers, and was also the first black model to grace the cover of the Victoria's Secret catalog.
Meanwhile, Banks began to come to life on the screen in music videos from Michael Jackson (1991's "Black or White"), Tina Turner (1992's "Love Thing") and George Michael (1992's "Too Funky"). An appearance in the 1992 British television sex drama "Inferno" marked Banks' acting debut, after which she snared a recurring role as Will Smith's unrequited love interest on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (NBC, 1990-96). In 1994, Banks established the Tyra Banks Scholarship, aimed at helping girls enroll in her alma mater, The Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. The following year, she had a substantial role in then-boyfriend John Singleton's drama "Higher Learning" (1995), but was lambasted by critics for her performance. The high-profile personality and ever-present face continued to earn praise from fashion and culture critics, with Banks being named VH1's Supermodel of the Year in 1997. Setting her sights further and wider, in 1998, Banks penned the health and beauty tome Tyra's Beauty Inside and Out, and developed T-Zone, a summer camp designed to boost the leadership skills of disadvantaged teenage girls in Los Angeles. Persevering with her acting career, Banks had supporting roles in "Love and Basketball" (2000) and "Coyote Ugly" (2000), in which she played one of the sexy, sassy bartenders at the eponymous watering hole.
Her most charming turn came as a doll that comes to life for owner Lindsay Lohan in the Disney TV feature, "Life Size" (2000), for which Banks also recorded the accompanying song "Life Size." The single was one of several attempts to launch a recording career, though her contribution to Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant's embarrassing rap single "K.O.B.E." and her vocals in the Adam Sandler animated comedy "Eight Crazy Nights" (2002) did not generate much heat. A co-starring role in the campy horror outing "Halloween: Resurrection" (2002) was followed by much more serious work. In 2003, Banks served as creator, executive producer and host of "America's Next Top Model," a reality competition series that put modeling hopefuls through fairly grueling paces in the hopes of landing an exclusive contract. Banks' on-camera presence was exceptionally poised, and if the show occasionally dipped into catty territory in its coverage of repartee and squabbles between the contestants, she remained above it. Banks' star power helped to make the show one of the highest rated on UPN prior to its conversion to The CW, after which it became the most watched show on the newly named network. The following year, Banks executive produced an Australian spin-off of the series.
Banks officially retired from modeling in 2005 with a final walk at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. At that time in her life, she had loftier goals. She doubled her TV exposure with "The Tyra Banks Show," a highly energetic and remarkably positive entity that set it apart from its lowbrow competition. Banks, who served as executive producer, divided her show coverage between the standard celebrity-driven interviews and more personal pieces about women and weight, job goals, and health and happiness. Banks frequently offered her own personal experiences with these areas, and made public some of the unhappier elements of her adolescence. Occasionally, her efforts to bring these topics into discussion bordered on outlandish - her donning a fat suit in public or dressing like a man for job interviews - earned her sniggering comments from talk show pundits, but audiences seemed to appreciate her willingness to reveal the human side of a supermodel. For her efforts, and for the exposure and subject matter of her talk show, Banks was named one of the world's most influential people by TIME magazine - one of only seven women (and four African-Americans) to receive such a laurel. Forbes magazine also included her among the wealthiest celebrity entrepreneurs in the early 21st century, with a personal fortune estimated at $18 million.
In 2009, the unstoppable media mogul teamed with Ashton Kutcher to co-create "True Beauty" (ABC, 2009-), a sort of "Punk'd" (MTV, 2003-07) meets "Top Model" reality series aimed at exposing the true character of aspiring models. Banks' positive works and empowered persona led to her Teen Choice Award nomination in 2009 for Favorite TV Personality.