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Tyra Banks does more than talk

Talk show has featured Banks as a stripper and an overweight woman
/ Source: The Associated Press

Tyra Banks really throws herself into her job as a talk-show host, often in ways only a recently retired supermodel can.

On Wednesday’s show, for instance, Banks will be shown going “undercover” as a stripper at a topless club, although the former Victoria’s Secret model stops short of complete disclosure. In the past, she’s posed as a Las Vegas showgirl and used her face as canvas for makeup lessons.

The stripper segment, she said, was the result of hearing friends and viewers express frustration about the men in their lives spending time and money in strip clubs.

“When I found out the majority of business is from males from married homes, I wanted to go inside the minds of the men who frequent these clubs. I wanted to see and hear why they went. And the only way to do that was to go undercover and see for myself,” Banks said.

Having Banks strut her stuff incognito as a dancer (named “Chanel”) can only be a ratings plus for the syndicated “The Tyra Banks Show,” exactly the point in a sweeps month used to set local TV ad rates (check local listings for time).

But Banks, 32, said she considers her program, which typically draws a heavily young and female audience, a vehicle to educate as well as entertain.

For one segment, she donned an elaborate disguise that turned her into a 350-pound woman and then ventured into stores and on blind dates to test people’s reactions to obesity.

“I feel like it’s the last form of discrimination that’s openly acceptable. I wanted to experience that firsthand to share that with my audience,” Banks said. She also did a show in which people confronted their phobias (for her, it’s dolphins and birds).

Helping women help each other
There are further issues she wants to explore, she said, both through her show and the Tyra Banks Foundation, which sponsors an annual summer camp program intended to help boost self-esteem in girls.

Women can “have a hard time trusting each other. ... It’s something very important to me to change that,” she said. Encouraging self-sufficiency is another goal.

“I think that’s very important, whether you’re a housemom or a working mother, that you have that independence so you’re not stuck in a situation you’re not comfortable in for financial reasons or emotional reasons,” she said.

Banks lacks the therapy credentials for such topics — she brings experts on her show when the going gets deep — but she’s certainly got the resume of a successful woman.

She started modeling at age 15 and ended up smashing boundaries: She was the first black model on the covers of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition, GQ and the fabled Victoria’s Secret catalogue.

Before she jumped into the talk show arena as host and producer, she successfully launched “America’s Next Top Model,” the UPN reality series which may end up with even more clout when the network merges with WB to form the new CW network.

Did she imagine her career would extend beyond modeling?

“Yes,” she said, laughing. “When I was 18 years old I was doing an interview for Italian television and I told them I was going to have my own talk show. I try to teach my girls on ’Top Model’ that modeling is temporary and you have to find what your true passion is.’

“And I found out this is mine,” Banks said of her daytime show.

She took her last runway stroll for the Victoria’s Secret show last December, finally deciding to shut the lingerie drawer on modeling. Does she regret the decision at all?

“Oh, gosh, no. I have no second thoughts. My mom told me to always leave at the top, and that’s what I did.”