Pop Culture

Janice Dickinson redefines model behavior

Janice Dickinson is not an enigma.

As the self-proclaimed “world’s first supermodel,” she gained fame on the covers of magazines and the runways of the world. Now, however, she’s earned a much wider audience because of her appearances on three reality TV shows.

That audience is not entirely in love with Janice, who, like many reality stars, is best-known by her first name only. As with , she's loved by some viewers, while others love to hate her. She is arrogant and emotional, over-the-top and harsh. She is loathed for her abrasive personality and cutting remarks, and she also loved for the exact same reasons. What Simon Cowell is to music, Janice Dickinson is to modeling.

Her sometimes caustic, always blunt personality is not unlike Cowell’s, nor was her model-judging performance as a former judge on UPN's “America’s Next Top Model” all that different from his singer-judging act on “American Idol.” But while Simon restricts his brutal honesty for when he’s judging performers in a competition, Janice Dickinson’s honesty extends to her entire life and the entire world, and everyone who she interacts with.

One of her books is titled “Everything About Me Is Fake . . . And I’m Perfect,” and that describes her life—and her appeal—well. From her plastic surgery to her sex life, she presents her life for public consumption, and dissects others with the same ruthless efficiency that she uses on herself.

That is on display as part of Janice’s latest venture. “The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency.” That is both the name of her new modeling agency and the title of the Oxygen reality series that follows her life as she starts the company and looks to acquire a stable of models.

New show is different from ‘Top Model’Her approach to judging on “Top Model,” which generally involved semi-shouting compact, shocking criticism without exchanging pleasantries, extends to her new agency. Janice said in an interview with MSNBC.com that “there’s no sugarcoating in this agency. If the kids don’t get the honest-to god truth from me ... they’re going to get it from [others].”

The truth is often delivered in a way that tends to shock both those on the receiving end and viewers. After one potential “Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency” model gave her size, Janice responded, “You’re a thirty-seven ass? You gotta lose some poundage, missy!” In another episode, she told a different model that what she really needed was “a big nose job.”

Models, she said, “don’t fall off a truck. ... It’s a learned technique.” Janice Dickinson clearly values perseverance as much as personality, which are, unsurprisingly, those attributes that helped her career develop since she started modeling at age 14.

There is nothing she’s looking for specifically. “I have no idea until I see the person,” she said, admitting that “sometimes I don’t even see it.”

Although she critiques models who want to join her agency, the approach her new series takes is the opposite of “Top Model,” however. It is not a talent search show that will crown a winner, as the Tyra Banks-hosted UPN show does, but instead it will award “not just contracts but careers,” she said. And the series, which was filmed over four months, is “a real documentary of my life,” Janice says.

As a result, “now the public has an idea” of her real self and her real life, she says. That real life includes her two children, to whom she’s intensely committed, admitting unapologetically that her stay in VH1’s “Surreal Life” house was for the money. Her new show, too, is ultimately for financial benefit. Dickinson’s daughter, she said, “hates being in front of the camera. ... But I have to have her on because it’s part of my show. If she wants to go to college,” Janice said, her daughter will appear on-screen. Janice says viewers will eventually “see her warming up to it.”

Her son, Nathan, on the other hand, is clearly more comfortable in front of the camera, and as a recent episode showed, chose the real-world education of working with his mother in the agency and on the show over going to film school.

With this new Oxygen series, Janice Dickinson is, for the first time, in control of how the show is produced—and, it follows, how other people perceive her. Filming for this series “wasn’t intrusive,” Janice said in an interview, “because I’m an executive producer. I’m able to turn the camera on and off at whim. … or I edit out what I think is too personal.”

That was important for her, perhaps because the public’s current perception of her has been formed by her two previous reality shows, “Top Model” and “The Surreal Life.” It’s “very important for people to have control over their lives,” Janice said.

Perhaps contradictorily, she insists that “there’s no editing and no bulls---“ and that the new series remains one “of rigorous honesty.”

On VH1’s “The Surreal Life,” a number of episodes focused on Janice’s near-constant combat with “Apprentice” star Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth. The two reality TV stars shrieked things such as, “I’ll yank your weave off, honey,” and Janice appeared to delight in torturing Omarosa, who relentlessly called Janice a “crackhead.” Fellow cast member Jose Canseco summed up the conflict by saying that Janice and Omarosa’s confrontation was “more scary than jail.”

It was riveting television that did more for VH1’s ratings than it did for Janice’s reputation, which was developed over four seasons on “America’s Next Top Model.” There, she sat in judgment of the models, hurling honesty-fueled verbal fireballs at them.

Surprisingly, two seasons ago Janice was essentially fired and replaced on the panel by the far more demure Twiggy. Janice said at the time that producers no longer wanted her brand of extreme truth-telling on the show, and in an interview, she said that producers ultimately “edited out all the stuff that I was saying that meant something.”

Still, she has appeared four times in the fifth and sixth season of the show, as a photographer and guest judge. Even after firing her, “Top Model” couldn’t divorce itself from Janice Dickinson, just as viewers are both repulsed and drawn in at the same time.

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.

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