CANADA'S NEXT TOP MODEL premieres Wednesday (May 30), 8 pm, on Citytv. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
When I was flipping channels the other day , a familiar-looking head of platinum spikes caught my attention.
Canada's Next Top Model host Jay Manuel was shilling some sort of eyebrow-shaping product on the Home Shopping Network.
The Toronto native is everywhere these days. He's hanging with Miss Tyra over on America's Next Top Model, and now he's taken over for Battlestar Galactica robo-babe Tricia Helfer as the host of season two of Canada's Next Top Model. (Don't call it the Canadian version of America's Next Top Model; Jay gets a little pissy).
Sure, there are a dozen or so hot young Kate Moss wannabes striking a pose on the newest CNTM poster. But they're just window dressing behind Manuel, front and centre, jaw set, cheeks sucked in and dressed like a Spider-villain in a skin-tight black outfight that looks like the tread of my Adidas sneakers.
Jay Manuel has become a brand. He refers to the Jay brand several times when we meet for an interview across the street from the CHUM building.
"One of the things I teach the girls is that there's Jay the brand and then there's Jay you don't want it to over-inflate who you are." Riiiight.
At this point you're wondering one of two things: Who the hell cares about Jay Manuel? Or what does he look like you know, in person?
On the first count, turns out a lot of people care, if the ratings for these runway showdowns are any indication.
As for how he looks pretty much the same as on TV and billboards, except shorter. He's like the less cartoonish, less plastic love child of Bart Simpson and a Barbie doll.
Jay would make a great drag queen, I think, as our conversation follows its light and fluffy path.
About maintaining his anonymity: "I have a lot of baseball caps."
About his hair: "It's part of that brand of that person. It's written into my contracts that I can't change that."
About Tyra Banks's habit of wearing pirate-style headscarves and at one point a wig that looked like David Bowie's in Labyrinth: "We all know what Tyra can do and how she can look, and if she's not having her best day, well, unfortunately, she's doing it in front of millions of people."
About recent ANTM contender Jael: "I didn't get it. Did I enjoy Jael? She was fun, but a model? Naw."
But therein lies the problem with the Next Top Model shows. While real models need to have a certain tabula rasa quality they are merely clothes hangers for the designers, after all the women cast in these shows need to have strong personalities or the runoff would be duller than Fashion Television.
"There's a little bit of a mixed message there," Manuel admits, "but true top models and supermodels are muses. Especially today they're expected to be superwomen spokesmodels, runway models and role models."
Which is why when it comes to casting (and make no mistake, these shows are cast just like any sitcom or drama), hundreds, sometimes thousands of potential clothes hangers are screened to find just the right mix. "Not that we think we need two alpha girls so they clash," Manuel says.
Perhaps the biggest criticism levelled at the model shows (and ANTM in particular) is that unlike American Idol, which has produced actual pop stars, they've come up with nothing resembling an actual supermodel.
"Where's our Kelly Clarkson? Yeah, it's a comment I've heard a few times," says Manuel.
"With ANTM, beyond the show there isn't the support to help the winner grow beyond the brand. With Canada's Next Top Model, it's a very different energy.
"The winner will be getting a great prize but also will have my commitment to manage her beyond the show, and both [judge] Jeanne Beker and I will use our contacts to help grow this talent."
And if there's anyone who knows how to grow a brand, it's Jay Manuel.
Additional Interview Audio Clips
On his loss of anonymity
On Canada's Next Top Model as a distinct show from America's Next Top Model
On Kate Moss
On being a fashion critic
What to watch this week
Saturday, May 26
Forgiveness: Stories for Our Time (Documentary) The recent Hot Docs award winner about individuals who have come to terms with the murder of their loved ones. 7 pm on CTV