Tyra Banks' Most Controversial Moments Ever

There's no such thing as bad publicity, right? That adage apparently applies to Tyra Banks, a woman who seems to have had more than nine lives in the entertainment industry. She went from breaking boundaries as a model for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and Victoria's Secret to becoming a seasoned host on shows like America's Next Top ModelAmerica's Got TalentDancing With the Stars, and her own self-titled talk show. Banks has also tried her hand at acting in movies like Coyote Ugly and television shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She's even added "executive producer" to her list of job titles.

Banks' resumé just keeps on growing, no matter what she says or does to stir up controversy. To the surprise of some, this star has never truly been "cancelled." There have been plenty of memes poking fun at her slip-ups, and social media criticisms in response to her seemingly offensive remarks, but Banks ultimately appears to come out unscathed. Every. Single Time. Most people would be finished in Hollywood if they had just one scandal akin to Banks' most controversial moments. However, Banks' success just can't be stopped, and she just keeps booking one high profile job after another. 

Maybe she's smizing her way out of trouble and into new business ventures, or perhaps it's the constant controversy that actually fuels her career instead of hindering it. Let's take a look back at some of Tyra Banks' most infamous scandals. 

Tyra Banks 'was rooting for' Tiffany Richardson

No one will forget Tyra Banks yelling at Tiffany Richardson. Because of this freak-out's unrivaled popularity as a meme, even people who have never watched America's Next Top Model recognize Banks yelling, "I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you!" That instantly infamous moment aired during Cycle 4 in 2005. The episode's eliminations came down to Richardson and Rebecca Epley, with Banks sending them both home. 

Epley cried while Richardson smiled and hugged her castmates as she said goodbye. Banks told Richardson she was "disappointed," accused her of viewing the competition as "a joke," and mentioned that Richardson's grandmother got "her lights turned off to buy her a swimsuit for this competition." For her part, Richardson told BuzzFeed in 2016, "I felt like we were just there to be humiliated." She also alleged that day was "1,000 times worse" than what viewers saw on TV, claiming that the host remarked, "You can go back to your house and sleep on your mattress on the floor with your baby."

Years later, fans are still bothered, with one YouTube user saying, "Tyra was just mad because she didn't react how she wanted her too." Another commented, "[Richardson] handedly the situation maturely. It's not like crying would have put her back in the competition." Despite the continued backlash for the outburst, Banks told BuzzFeed when asked if she would have done anything differently during that elimination, "Maybe I wouldn't have aired it."

An America's Got Talent contestant's allegations against Tyra Banks

In May 2017, an America's Got Talent contestant identified as "Jane Doe" filed an 18-page lawsuit against the show's production company, Marathon Productions, Inc. (via Deadline). The woman and her husband auditioned for the show as their daughter, referred to as "Mary Doe," watched. Jane claimed host Tyra Banks "verbally abused" her daughter, adding, "Banks shook Mary's shoulder, pulled Mary's hair back and physically manipulated Mary." Additionally, Jane alleged that Banks "insinuated that Mary was accidentally conceived, made fun of the performance and ridiculed [the song] in front of Mary."

Going on to claim that her daughter "was traumatized and became deeply depressed" after the audition, the plaintiffs requested that AGT not share the audition footage or their daughter's reaction to prevent "further emotional distress." AGT producers later issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, declaring that the lawsuit will be dismissed, insisting that they "take great care of all acts that cross the AGT stage and their families," and praising Banks as an "incredible addition to the show." 

Meanwhile, Banks eventually hinted at an AGT departure, saying she had a "nice run" during an Access Live appearance in November 2018. A month later, Us Weekly reported that she left AGT "on her own volition" to "produce and act more."

Angelea Preston claimed Tyra Banks 'cynically exploits' ANTM contestants

Angelea Preston technically won America's Next Top Model Cycle 17 in 2011. However, that's not what fans saw on air. While the judges announced her disqualification and chose a different winner without specifically revealing what Preston did, it turns out she was disqualified for working as an escort prior to the season, which she contested in a subsequent lawsuit (via TMZ). Claiming that production knew about her past and that she didn't actually violate her contract, Preston alleged that "she suffered at least $3 million in damages."

In 2015, Preston opened about ANTM during an explosive interview with the Daily Mail. She disputed Tyra Banks' image as a caring mentor, claiming that the host "cynically exploits" the models and is "a stranger" when they're not filming. Alleging that the cast was forced to film for 16-17 hours without food, water, and sometimes without talking, Preston claimed she was denied medical care when she had an anxiety attack so cameras could capture drama for the show. "I used to admire Tyra so much. I wanted to be like her," she shared. "I don't want to be like her now." Why is that? Preston explained, "Tyra was non-existent. The only time we saw Tyra was at panel. Tyra never came in to talk to us personally."

It's unclear exactly what happened with Preston's suit, but Reddit users speculated that the case was dropped or they settled out of court.

Tyra Banks praised 'the smallest waist in the world'

In a 2010 commercial promoting America's Next Top Model Cycle 15, Tyra Banks told Ann Ward, "You have the smallest waist in the world. Look at this waist!" Then, Miss J Alexander grasped her entire waist with his hands. To make matters worse, Jay Manuel remarked, "She's gonna make Miss J eat Tic Tacs and watercress for the rest of the season."

In response, one viewer tweeted, "Just found out that Ann won #ANTM wasn't she the one that Tyra got criticized for admiring her tiny waist?" Meanwhile, Banks issued a statement to ABC News, saying, "As a leader in celebrating and promoting healthy body image, I must admit that I regrettably didn't see this clip before it was released to the public." Banks apologized for "any confusion, anger or disappointment it may have caused," but maintained, "I am committed to expanding the definition of beauty which includes ALL shapes, sizes and proportions, from skinny to curvy and everything in between." 

Nevertheless, the controversy continued for years. One fan, for example, tweeted in 2019, "I remember miss J demonstrated how thin she was by making his hands meet around her waist," in addition to sharing a photo of the moment and asking, "how." Another viewer wondered, "i dont get how tyra turns down skinny girls for antm all the time for an 'unhealthy body image' but ann won cycle 15???"

That time Tyra Banks pretended to be homeless

Inspired by Will Smith's movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, Tyra Banks spent a day living as a homeless person for a segment on a 2006 episode of The Tyra Banks Show. Banks warned viewers, "Believe it or not, being homeless can happen to you." She explained, "I thought the best way to bring this story to all of you was to experience it myself." 

Banks wore a knit hat, a flannel top, and – seemingly not grasping the irony that many homeless people cannot not afford to be selective with their footwear selections – shared, "I was instructed to wear very thick boots, because where we're going, there's a lot of dirty needles from heroin use and there's a possibility that a needle could go through my foot." Banks had a formerly homeless woman "guide" her throughout the experience, saying, "I wanted to experience firsthand the desperation of the homeless. I wanted to understand what their lives are really like."

This obviously isn't realistically possible to accomplish while filming for one afternoon. And while it seems like Banks' heart was in the right place, the segment came across as tone deaf to many people. One person, for example, tweeted, "who remembers when tyra 'lived in the shoes' as a homeless person for twelve hours then went home after? why was she like this?"

Tyra Banks wore a fat suit on 'one of the most heartbreaking days' of her life

Tyra Banks donned a fat suit for an episode of her talk show in 2005. "It seemed like the last form of open discrimination that's OK, and I decided to put on a 350-pound suit myself and live that life for a day and see what happens," Banks explained, per Fox News. The former Victoria's Secret Angel went on to remark, "It was one of the most heartbreaking days of my life." Noting that people "snickered" and "laughed" when she walked down the street, Banks admitted, "I had no idea it was that blatant."

However, as a Chicago Tribune article stated, "Good intentions or not, it's inherently insensitive." The writer asked, "Who is the fat suit for, really? It's not like so-called fat women don't know they are mocked and scorned because of their size. They live it every day." The segment was slammed as "a self-serving ploy to get attention, or in this case, a ratings boost."

Meanwhile, one viewer tweeted, "Watching tyra she's wearing a fatsuit today...that lady has the weirdest ideas." But while the televised experiment bothered some people, another countered, "I am a fat person who's been overweight pretty much my entire life, and I found literally nothing wrong with what Tyra did with the fat suit."

Tyra Banks darkened her skin tone when she went 'undercover' as a stripper

In a 2006 episode of The Tyra Banks Show, Tyra Banks "went undercover" yet again — this time as a stripper — and inexplicably darkened her skin with makeup. She disguised herself so the strip club patrons would not recognize her. While she gazed at the camera as she stood near the pole, she never actually stripped during the episode, instead rocking a black dress with a white shirt underneath. 

Regardless, many viewers didn't approve, with one person later tweeting "she's disgusting" in response to someone who mentioned another incident where Banks darkened her skin color. Another person tweeted, "Lmao. Tyra goes undercover as a stripper...? The things she does for her show smh." While a different viewer called the episode "so lame" yet "funny," someone on a 2006 message board posted, "Pure and Simple. Sounds like a ratings gimmick to me." Another remarked, "she is getting on my nerves."

Years later, Reddit users ridiculed Banks for the entire concept. While one person called her out for "the way she demonizes the life choices of others," another explained, "If you ever want to insult someone deeply, go into their place of work and do exactly this."

Tyra Banks announced the wrong bottom two on Dancing With the Stars

When Tyra Banks replaced Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews on Dancing With the Stars, she faced an uphill battle to win over the viewers who love the duo. Unfortunately, she also experienced a technical difficulty during the Oct. 5, 2020 episode, according to Us Weekly, and announced that Vernon Davis and Peta Murgatroyd were in the bottom two with Anne Heche and Keo Motsepe. However, it was actually Monica Aldama and Val Chmerkovskiy who were at the bottom with Heche and Motsepe. Banks called Aldama and Chmerkovskiy back to the stage, after they celebrated, thinking they were safe. Awkward.

"There has been an error in our control room, but we're making it happen" Banks explained on-air (via Variety). Later, she tweeted, "Wowzers. Live TV. Wrong name on cards. So challenging to deal with moments like these. But we power through."

However, one viewer didn't buy that, tweeting, "Tyra is lying. I know she messed up!!!" Another fan posted, "For the first time in Dancing with the Stars HISTORY, Tyra the new host messed up the elimination." Yet another disgruntled viewer tweeted, "You know... this live TV snafu would NEVER have happened under Tom Bergeron's watch." Regardless of who was responsible for the flub, some viewers just seemed to miss Bergeron and Andrews.

Tyra Banks had contestants switch races multiple times on ANTM

Tyra Banks had America's Next Top Model contestants pose as different races multiple times throughout the show's run, which included several instances of blackface. In Cycle 4, Banks had them portray a different race while holding a child. During Cycle 13, the contestants wore makeup to appear "biracial." 

In 2020, fans blamed Banks on social media, tweeting, "Wait wait wait. We must talk about this as well. Tyra was out here normalizing Blackface. How is this woman not cancelled." Someone else asked in all caps, "WHY IS THIS MODEL IN BLACKFACE ON THIS EPISODE OF AMERICAS NEXT TOP MODEL?!?!?! I NEED ANSWERS?!?! WHY IS THERE AN ETHNICITY SWITCH CHALLENGE?!?!"

Banks vaguely addressed the feedback, tweeting that May, "Been seeing the posts about the insensitivity of some past ANTM moments and I agree with you. Looking back, those were some really off choices. Appreciate your honest feedback and am sending so much love and virtual hugs." Nevertheless, 2020 wasn't the first time these themes were addressed. Even Banks' former ANTM co-star Jay Manuel told Variety he was "so, so, so uncomfortable with" the race swap photoshoot, declaring, "I disagree with that statement of people saying it was a different time. I really do. It didn't fly then."

Tyra Banks discouraged a woman for being proud of her sexuality

In May 2020, a clip resurfaced from America's Next Top Model Cycle 5 with Kim Stolz telling Tyra Banks, Jay Manuel, and Miss J Alexander, "I want to be out," declaring, "I'm gay and I'm really proud of it." In response, Banks told the contestant, "I think there's a certain thing of being proud. Like, I'm Black and proud, you know what I mean? But, I'm not like walking down the red carpet, 'I'm Black. I'm Black.' You know what I'm saying?"

In response to the renewed backlash, Stolz wrote on Instagram, "Didn't even remember this scene but now that I do... In support of gays everywhere walking down the street out and being who they are." In that same post, Stolz shared a video of herself skipping, saying "I'm gay" multiple times, ultimately asking, "I'm sorry, was that too gay for you?" She also included the hashtag "#toogayfortyra." 

Banks didn't respond to Variety's request for a comment on that scene, but Manuel recalled, "I was in the room, and I was sitting right next to her. I remember feeling a little uncomfortable with the statement." He added, "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?'"

Tyra Banks shamed an ANTM contestant for her gap tooth

Dani Evans won America's Next Top Model Cycle 6, but her journey was far from easy. At one point, Tyra Banks asked her, "Do you really think you can have a CoverGirl contract with a gap in your mouth?" When Evans wondered, "Yes, why not?" Banks seemingly made fun of her, talking with her finger on her teeth, claiming, "This is all people see ... It's not marketable."

One person who saw the clip in May 2020 tweeted, "I have a gap. Now I'm sad." Someone else claimed Banks "used that show to exploit young girls." Even Jay Manuel complimented Evans and shaded Banks when he posted, "#TBT The #ANTM winner who went on to #slay despite her gap! I was honored to do her #makeup for/produce her finale shoot & #CoverGirl ad, and I'm blessed to still call her my friend today. [love] U @danievans1." Evans also weighed in on the controversy with her own Instagram video. "I knew that I was basically set up and not being told that Tyra wants me to get my gap closed, so that it's good for TV," she said, which she accepted, admittedly hoping to find success so she could get out of Arkansas. 

Amid the renewed backlash against Banks, it's worth noting that Evans went on to achieve her own goals and may even find comfort in knowing she's not the only one who's experienced a public shaming from Banks. But unfortunately, she may not be the last.