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‘America’s Next Top Model’ Puts Business and Branding in the Spotlight for VH1 Revamp

“It’s not just about a pretty face anymore.”

That’s what Tyra Banks preaches at the top of “America’s Next Top Model’s” premiere, which flaunts the show’s makeover at its new home, VH1.

After 22 cycles on the CW and its predecessor UPN, the reality modeling competition has moved to the Viacom-owned cabler, but the new home isn’t the only change for the series that has become a global phenomenon with iterations in more than 170 countries. “Top Model” is embracing the modern age of the female boss, showcasing entrepreneurship and branding as much as image.

Banks, who serves as an executive producer and will make guest mentor appearances throughout the 14-episode season, helped intricately craft VH1’s new “ANTM,” ensuring that the competition embraces the changes that the modeling industry has seen since the original show debuted back in 2003.

“My role is really focused on making one hell of a show for VH1, along with our kick-ass team and my partner, Ken Mok,” Banks says of stepping down from her hosting role.

Stepping into her high heels is British multi-hyphenate Rita Ora. “What I hope the girls learn is how to be a 25-year-old boss — like me,” says Ora. “I know how to sell, I know how to create a brand, and I know how to have multiple business ventures. I’m here representing a 360 overall.”

The winner will be chosen from the series’ most diverse sampling of contestants ever – among the 28 female hopefuls is a gender queer model, a trans woman, black, Asian and Caucasian models – who will be awarded a $100,000 cash prize, a Rimmel London cosmetics commercial, a fashion spread in Paper Magazine and a one-year talent deal at VH1 — a new addition to the winner’s package this year, emphasizing the multi-platform work of models today.

“I think today, we’re seeing models who are self-defining their career and their trajectory,” says Nina Diaz, head of unscripted for VH1 and MTV, who admits social media following and self-made business ventures were both crucial criteria in casting. The executive also notes that the changes are organic to the show’s beginnings.

“In previous seasons, Tyra was a visionary in that way teaching young women how to be a brand. She was one of the first to revolutionize that world,” Diaz explains.

While the show will look a bit different – new judges are plus-sized model Ashley Graham, celebrity stylist Law Roach and Paper Magazine’s Drew Elliott, who was behind Kim Kardashian’s break-the-internet cover – “ANTM” still feels the same. The format still features photoshoot and catwalk challenges, elimination ceremonies where the models’ pictures are blown up in front of the judging panel — as well as plenty of tears, fighting and drama among the contestants. But elements of business, branding and being a boss (which Banks has dubbed “Triple B”) will be thematically weaved into the weekly challenges, such as a social media-inspired bit led by celebrity guest DJ Khaled.

VH1 has high hopes that “Top Model” will be another buzzy property, following in the footsteps of the network’s recent additions like “Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.”

“’ANTM’ did very well when it ran on VH1,” Diaz says of the syndication deal for the original series. “We felt like the fashion and the social nature of modeling at this stage felt like a right time for a renewed marriage between the two brands.”

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