The downfall and comeback of Tyra Banks

At one point in time, Tyra Banks was one of the most powerful models in the world. The star broke boundaries for people of color when she became the first African American woman to grace the cover of GQ and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue solo. She's since quit the catwalk, built a media empire, and dove into an array of creative fields — from cosmetics and tech investing to teaching and reality TV. Unfortunately, Banks' impressive career has also been plagued by some major missteps.

Since the rise of America's Next Top Model, Banks has been "smizing" through her failures and amassed an estimated net worth of some $90 million. She's endured series cancellations, poor ratings, scandals, and fertility struggles. Most notably, she's been brave enough to walk away from a project when she feels like the time is right — even if a massive contract is on the table. From the end of her modeling career to the rise of the Hollywood producer, here's how Banks navigated a tumultuous professional transition to become a behind-the-scenes boss. Let's take a closer look at the downfall and comeback of Tyra Banks.

She quit the catwalk

In 2005, Banks opted for one of the bravest (and most potentially ill-advised) career moves in Hollywood. The rising star strutted away from a massive, three-year contract renewal with Victoria's Secret to pursue a new career path. According to the Associated Press (via Today), "She 'retired' wearing a red lace bra and underwear with a belt made of military-style medallions, kicking up her high heels with Gisele Bundchen, Heidi Klum and Naomi Campbell at her side." Banks declared that she was done modeling and "wanted to go out on top." 

In an interview with Variety, Banks admitted that she pivoted toward the world of television because she didn't want to starve herself for modeling jobs. She had gained some weight, which caused her to lose work, and preferred to do something that celebrated who she was. That said, Banks is not so sure she'd repeat the same steps if given a second chance. "Of course it all ended up okay," she told Variety. "But if somebody that I was mentoring asked me what to do, I'd say, 'Girl you better sign that contract and do that talk show at the same time!' It was risky."

She sashayed away from her talk show

Though Tyra Banks essentially retired from modeling to focus on her TV career, The Tyra Banks Show hung up the luxury, Egyptian cotton towel in 2009. According to Variety, the show finished the 2010 and 2011 season with a series of best-of segments — but was it a full-on cancellation? According to The Wrap, the show's ratings actually rose by 20 to 25 percent in its key demographics when the program was unloaded onto the CW, though the overall numbers were still lukewarm. Banks insisted that she was the one who gave her show the ax in order to focus on her production company. 

"It was one of the hardest things I've ever done," she told Variety in 2018. "Having a talk show and doing six shows a week is just nonstop, and toward my last season I was so stressed because I was doing two Top Model seasons per year and the talk show all year and I was overlapping."

Her website was riddled with controversy

In 2011, Tyra Banks partnered with Demand Media to launch TypeF, a website geared toward delivering highly personalized, expert fashion and beauty tips. AdWeek reported that the former model enlisted top talent such as former Vogue editor André Leon Talley, but her operation was plagued with controversy from the get-go.

According to The Washington Post, Demand Media wasn't known for its top-tier journalism. The company apparently owned a handful of "sites that rank high in search engine results by producing large amounts of useless content." Beyond that, TypeF reportedly had "loose privacy settings," which allowed the company to "share users' personal information with its corporate affiliates and websites" largely through the use of Facebook. 

"I don't necessarily see it as controversial," Banks said of her partnership with the brand. "The one thing that's great about Demand is that they are employing a lot of people and giving them an opportunity to express themselves."

Two years after the website launched, it appeared to be almost entirely devoid of new content in favor of fellow Demand property eHow.com Style. According to AdWeek, TypeF had just 12,000 YouTube subscribers and only posted between five to ten times a month.

America's Next Top Model was axed

At one point, America's Next Top Model was one of the most successful reality shows of all time. It was an absolute ratings powerhouse, and that's part of the reason it lasted so long. According to Variety, the reality TV competition "smized" through a whopping 12 years and 22 cycles on UPN and the CW since its 2003 premiere. It somehow endured numerous H2T Tyovers — from adding male models to allowing viewer voting — as ratings declined over the course of the decade. According to ThoughtCo., the show lost more than 3.5 million viewers between Cycle 9 and Cycle 18.

ANTM may have been groundbreaking for its portrayal of African American and LGBTQ+ models, but the constant stream of shake-ups ended up being its downfall. After longtime partners such as CoverGirl pulled its advertising, execs ended up firing mainstays Nigel Barker, Jay Manuel and J. Alexander in 2012. The stiletto in the coffin was when Banks publicly floated the idea of Cycle 22 being the show's last. According to Variety, the series was cancelled in 2015 as the CW focused on a "slightly older demographic and superhero series." 

FABLife also got the boot

It didn't take long for Banks to quit daytime TV for a second time. According to E! News, the retired model walked away from her Disney/ABC show FABLife in 2015 — even though it had premiered just two months prior. In an interview with Variety, the star admitted she wasn't necessarily committed to the project and mainly saw the show as a way to promote her beauty company. Instead, the show wound up getting in the way of business.

"I realized that being on the show all the time, and then doing meetings [for my cosmetics line] in the alley behind the show, I'm like, wait, this is so much money that I'm spending over here on this business and I'm checking in between commercial breaks and I was already so exhausted even after two months of FABLife," she told Variety. "So I stepped away, which is not my thing — I'm not a quitter."

Did Banks take the whole show down with her? The network abruptly cancelled FABLife not long after she announced her departure.

Was Tyra Beauty a pyramid scheme?

In 2012, Banks shipped off to Harvard Business School — sort of. According to Jezebel, the star took a non-degree certificate course rather than earning her M.B.A. (regardless of how many times she made it look like she got an M.B.A.). Nonetheless, she used that Ivy League knowledge in 2014 to help her launch Tyra Beauty. The cosmetics line, hailed the "Mary Kay for millennials" by The Cut, allowed customers to sign up as "Beautytainers" and sell products for a profit, but the concept was wrought with controversy.

According to a writer for The Cut, who tried out the service, Tyra Beauty was touted as a way to work "on your own terms" (think of it as Uber for lipstick and foundation), but you had to sell $150 worth or products in the first month to qualify and there was a $59 fee to enroll. The more products you sold — and the more people you roped into being Beautainers — the higher your commission. The writer ended up making just $27.75.

Banks' beauty brand was accused of running a multi-level marketing scam. Vice claimed the company "copies several of Mary Kay's disturbing business practices," and a Reddit thread accused Banks of peppering her site with fake product reviews. The direct sales portion of the star's business was shuttered in 2017.

Stress made her take a step back

If it seems like Banks took a step away from the spotlight or quit one too many projects, that's because she actively decided to hit pause. Between Top Model, The Tyra Show, a budding production company, beauty brand, the former model has arguably bit off more than she can chew in the past (Yes, Banks even eats carbs!) but with experience, comes wisdom. Banks seems to now understand that sometimes you truly can't have it all, so she's taking break when she needs them and pick her projects wisely.

"I've learned to not overlap, so I don't go crazy," she told Variety in 2018."I felt like there was a meat hook in my back and I was walking onto the stage and the meat hook is pulling me back to my dressing room saying, 'You need to just stop. You need to rest.' And I'm just pulling against it and my flesh is tearing. That's how I felt."

She became a mama

In 2016, Banks welcomed her first son, but according to People, the journey to motherhood was long and painful. The former model had been trying to get pregnant with then-boyfriend Erik Asla when she finally turned to in vitro fertilization. Unfortunately, every single IVF attempt failed, but not before Banks has set up a nursery in hopes of bringing home a new baby. She  eventually turned to surrogacy to start her family, and today, she's a doting mama to son York, born in January 2016. 

Like so many moms, Banks is now finding creative ways to juggle her professional and personal life. "I wasn't doing that at first," she told Variety. "I was seeing my son in the morning and seeing him after work, which is pretty much a typical working mom thing, but then I was like, let me take advantage of the fact that I am on sets and I am the boss on a lot of my sets and to be able to incorporate him into my life." She created a nursery for him on set! "What's happened now is now he's even more attached to me because he sees me more, so now he's pulling away from the nanny."

Did Funded ever get funded?

What happened to Funded? What even is Funded? Those are the questions Banks fans have probably been asking themselves since 2016. According to Variety, the former Victoria's Secret model signed on to host a Shark Tank-like reality TV show for NBC, but from the looks of it, the series never materialized.

The show was meant to involve three of TV's biggest entrepreneurs: Rob Dyrdek, who's best known for replaying viral Vines on MTV but reportedly has a $50 million net worth; Banks, who has a net worth of $90 million and is reportedly so frugal her accountants told her to "spend some d**n money"; and Rohan Oza, who appeared on Shark Tank and reportedly helped build Glacéau to the point it was bought by Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion. Sounds legit, right?

There's been virtually no information about the project since 2016. Deadline called Funded the "working title," which means the whole project may have been in such an early stage that it was axed before it even got a real name. Alternatively, this idea could be part of Banks' Universal deal, which wasn't worked out until 2018. Funded was reportedly intended to be produced by both Universal Television Alternative Studio (who has a contract with Banks) and Dyrdek's SuperJacket Productions, but it's not currently listed on SuperJacket's website. Hmm…

Her stint on AGT was a blink-and-you-missed-it moment

In 2017, Banks put on her designer reality TV host hat and joined America's Got Talent. The former model was set to replace Nick Cannon, who allegedly had some drama with the show's network executives, according to the Los Angeles Times. By all accounts, NBC was thrilled to have Banks on board. The star told Billboard that producer Nigel Caaro even gave her some pre-show advice: "'You be you, darling. If they give you any lines that don't feel natural, just throw it out and be you. That's why I have you here.'"

Producers may have wanted Banks there for her bombastic personality, but her tenure with the show was short-lived. In November of 2018, the star mysteriously told Access (via Page Six) that she "had really nice run with AGT" and "had a lot of fun" with the series. (Notice the term "had.") A month later, a source told Page Six that Banks was leaving the show to focus on producing with her company Bankable Productions.

ANTM returns with a new network

In 2017, Tyra Banks' iconic series, America's Next Top Model, came back with a vengeance on VH1 — the place where reality shows go when they're put out to pasture by primetime network execs. According to Variety, Banks stayed on as an executive producer but took a one-season hosting hiatus when the show was renewed. British pop star Rita Ora filled her shoes. 

That didn't last long. Banks returned to the series thanks to a nudge — or full-fledged social media uproar — from her long-time fans. "My social media was really blowing up," she told Variety"We had a lot of spirited conversations of [co-creator Ken Mok] really wanting me to come back and me being not so sure, but then I started seeing the feedback on my feeds and I couldn't ignore it, and so finally I called him. It was kind of an uproar." According to TV GuideBanks returned to save her beloved series from cancellation yet again — and it just might have worked.

It's never too late to make a sequel

It's never too late to follow your dreams, even if those dreams happen to be making a TV movie sequel 18 years after the first one aired. In 2018, Banks reprised her role as the living, Barbie-like doll named Eve in Life-Size 2. The star even dusted off her rapping skills for the Freeform flick. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Banks revealed that she wrote the melody and lyrics to her rap on the "Be a Star" remix. She even re-sang her old parts from the original 2008 flick.

"[I sang] every word in the original, that was me, too," she told Entertainment Weekly. "Instead of getting a sample and pulling that into the new song, though, Disney couldn't locate the [recorded] lyrics separate from the music, so I had to re-sing it for the remix."

Alas, Life-Size 2 was met with poor reviews compared to the first installment. It received a 23 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, though it did earn a 40 percent from critics. According to Page Six, the sequel was Freeform's biggest premiere and was also nominated for a 2019 GLAAD Award. That's not too shabby. It's dare we say, shabby chic? 

She's been hustling behind the scenes

There's a good reason you're not seeing Tyra Banks on the red carpet much these days. She's found new passions behind the scenes. In 2016, The Wall Street Journal announced that the Harvard Business School certificate holder would co-teach an M.B.A. class at Stanford University. Are you skeptical? The course was about building a personal brand, and there's no denying that Banks' extensive list of Tyra-isms are proof that she's skilled in the art of branding. She even branded her teaching style as "edu-tainment." 

In addition to teaching a graduate business course, the star also became a tech investor. According to Variety, Banks put up cash during a $12 million round of funding for TheSkimm, a digital media company geared towards female millennials. That same year, she released a memoir called Perfect is Boring, where she revealed juicy secrets about her teenage period party and her nose job. In other words, Banks has been busy.

She's poised to become a big Hollywood producer

Tyra Banks didn't want to just be on TV. She wants to be in charge of TV. In 2018, she inked a massive first-look deal with Universal Television and Universal Television Alternative Studios. Deadline reported that Banks would "develop and produce scripted and unscripted programming" via her production company, Bankable Productions. "I always knew I was going to produce TV and film because that's what I was going to go to college for and I deferred that to go to Paris to model," she told Variety. "…now I'm right back to where I always wanted to be. Now, I say that modeling happened to me, but I happened to TV and film because that was the goal and the dream."

Banks is no stranger to production. She has credits on America's Next Top Model, The Tyra Banks Show, and Life-Size 2. Her reality series and talk show earned her two Daytime Emmy Awards, and ANTM is still chugging along after airing some 300 episodes. That's not a bad track record, right? 

Banks knows she's got plenty of critics that may be hung up on what she refers to as "the model thing." As she told Variety, "I'm always like, 'Let me show you how smart I am! Let me prove to you how focused I am!' Even when I'm 80 years old, I'll be like, 'But I'm a smart model!'" We see you, Tyra, and we think you're "flawsome."