Nigel Barker Talks about 'America's Next Top Model'
America's Next Top Model spends a lot of time focusing on the beauty of the young women on the show. But for many of the straight women and gay men at home, there's an even more gorgeous creature sitting behind the judges' table. No, Tyra Banks, sit down, actually we're talking about Nigel Barker.

Former model, current “noted fashion photographer,” and all-around hottie Nigel Barker provides a calm but forceful presence at the panel, and is usually one of the most direct in telling a girl when her personality is not impressing judges. He comes to the role with years of experience in the fashion industry, again, both in front of and behind the camera. What some might not know is that Nigel himself once competed to be a “Top Model”

Nigel recently spoke about the competition that was his big break into the industry, saying it was actually his mother – who has also appeared on America's Next Top Model and who's just as lovely-looking as you would expect – was the person who got him to compete.

He said, “My mum was Miss Sri Lanka years ago, and she became obsessed with this model search show called The Clothes Show. She entered me in it in the mid-80s, and I got into the top three. I was studying to be a doctor at the time, but that show launched my modeling career.”

His experience gives him an especially unique perspective into the modeling industry, and he feels he has a good grasp on what it takes, even if it's sometimes not immediately obvious to the audience at home. He said, “Some [viewers] complain that a lot of the girls we select aren't even pretty enough to be models…But the thing that differentiates a top model from a regular model isn't generally that she's more beautiful.  There's a lot to be said for charm and personality, or just being striking. Look at Kate Moss. When she came along, people said she was too short, too flat chested and had a face like an alien. Now she's everybody's darling and, even if she does incredible amounts of drugs, people still hire her."

Those kooky Tyra moments at panel might sometimes seem to come out of nowhere, but don't think the joking around is a reality TV creation designed to help contribute to the softer “Mama Tyra” image. Nigel's comments seem to indicate that it's all pretty genuine.

"Among the judges, we're like family," he has said. "We giggle and laugh and crack jokes, and sometimes we get so hysterical we have to pull ourselves together because we're wasting tape.”

Of course, it's not all fun – this is a competition and each week, another girl goes home. “It gets terribly sad too. We all get really emotionally involved with the contestants, because we're with these girls for three months, and they're just teenagers, you know. Their feelings are really close to the surface.

"They're nervous as hell, so they're not sleeping very well, and as the weeks go by, they get extremely worn out and emotional. Then one day you have to say 'Sorry, you didn't make the cut'. The tears well up like you wouldn't believe. All us judges have cried on the show many times, though not as often as the girls, of course."

If it all seems like an awful lot of emotion to invest in a modeling competition, Nigel concedes he can see that point of view. Nevertheless, it's still a real passion for both the modelettes and the fashion experts involved in America's Next Top Model.

"The rest of the world might find that all very shallow compared with, say, being a surgeon saving a life, but to the people within the fashion industry, it's a vocation. They feel a calling to it. I feel a calling to it, too. Perhaps, one day I'll exceed my diva quotient and have to do something else, but not for a while yet, I hope."

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of TV Guide)