‘Top Model’ judge Jay Manuel spills all the tea on working with Tyra Banks, says “It was a struggle”

Model Tyra Banks was recently accused of being a bully after clips from America’s Next Top Model, which premiered in 2003 and aired for 24 seasons, began recirculating online. Now, former ANTM judge and creative director Jay Manuel is speaking out about his experiences on the show and he says that, yeah, she was kinda awful, but he still respects her.

In an interview with Variety, 47-year-old Manuel says he was often made to feel uncomfortable by the things that were said and done on the show, but he felt silenced by Banks and co-executive producer Ken Mock.

“Many times when you’re working in an environment like that, you have to listen to your executive producers, and ultimately the two voices at the top were Ken and Tyra,” he says. “There were sometimes several objections by other producers and myself about layers that were added to creative, and we were just told to execute.”

“The team wasn’t really supported, so to speak.”

Manuel, whose novel “The Wig, The Bitch & The Meltdown,” inspired by his time on ANTM, will be released later this year, adds that he thinks it’s “a little unfair for people to persecute Tyra now” since she has already taken heat and apologized for her behavior in past years.

But, he adds, “I can’t really defend her either because when ratings were high and things were great, she remained a clear figurehead, because it was her show.”

One of Banks’ indefensible actions included telling a model not to be too proud about being queer or she might turn people off, which Manuel says was an uncomfortable moment for him to film.

“I was in the room, and I was sitting right next to her. I remember feeling a little uncomfortable with the statement,” he recalls.

He elaborates:

I could see Tyra trying to draw the parallel and what she was trying to illustrate, and I was confused by it because we ask these girls to come in the room and the producers remind the girls before they come in, “Tell them who you are. You’re not just a pretty face. You have to have a discussion about who you are.” These girls are coached to speak their truth and tell Tyra who they are, and then Tyra said that, so it seemed a bit unfair. You can see it on that model’s face, like, “Wait a minute, I was told to say everything about myself, and now you’re telling me to not say this?”

Looking back, Manuel calls the whole situation “confusing.”

“At the time, I had not done reality TV, and I was also learning as I went along,” he says, “and I was guided by Tyra and Ken, and you have to trust your producers to follow their lead. It was a struggle to process some stuff at times.”

Asked about his relationship with Banks today, Manuel says they’ve exchanged a few emails here and there, but they haven’t actually seen each other since a brief run-in at BeautyCon back in 2017.

“To be very honest, we really have no relationship to speak of, which is really sad,” he says. “Our time together on ANTM was amazingly productive and, at times, magical. We got to experience being part of a global phenomenon.”

He continues, “Tyra is a pioneer in many respects and I have nothing but respect for her in everything that she’s accomplished in business. The fashion industry is a difficult industry. Tyra was an incredible model. She understands the business. I think what she was trying to do was give the girls a taste of tough love of what they had to experience.”

Related: That time Tyra Banks told a model not to be proud about being gay has come back to haunt her