Conventional wisdom states that we live in a youth-obsessed culture, which measures everything against its relevancy to the all-powerful 15-34-year-old demographic. She’s Got the Look rolled the dice and decided to focus on people whose attention isn’t considered sexy enough for some advertisers. Its stated goal is to find the next supermodel over 35, with the winner receiving a modeling contract. Using an American Idol-style formula of three expert judges, the contestants put their best catwalk strut forward and put themselves at the judges’ mercy. The only thing missing was the snark, as judges Sean Patterson (president of Wilhelmina Models), celebrity stylist Robert Verdi and supermodel Beverly Johnson were honest with the contestants but did not resort to name-calling or out-and-out humiliation.
It was a smash, so much so that TV Land ordered a second season that begins tonight at 9, and will run eight episodes this season instead of six. Supermodel Kim Alexis returns to host, and the 48-year-old said she can relate to feeling like an outsider in certain parts of the culture. She talked with us about why the show works, what difference adding $100,000 to the grand prize made, and why she thinks the show will be continue to thrive.
What are your thoughts on how Season 2 turned out?
I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t quite sure at the beginning who would come out on top, but I’m really happy with the results.
Any differences you noted in the contestants and the production in general this time out?
For me, it wasn’t so much playing with the format, but knowing exactly what it was going to look like when it was done. It just sort of helped, I think, for me, knowing how the overall picture would look. I also think it might have had something to do with the contestants, because they had all had a chance to see [Season] 1, so they knew a little bit about what was going to be coming. We couldn’t surprise them as much as we could everyone in the first season.
Were people playing up to the camera because they’d seen the first season?
I don’t really think I noticed that. I think it was more almost either a confidence — they went in with a little bit more of a confidence knowing parameters, maybe. Like they knew they weren’t going to eat spiders.
You’ve added the $100,000 prize this season. Has that changed the contestants at all, or the type that you get?
I am not sure. It could have had something to do with the people and made it a little bit more — maybe they perked up a little bit more and made it more legitimate. It shows the audience more than anything that this is a serious show. Any of those contestants would have done it just for the same prizes as last year, because they were valuable on their own.
Were you surprised at the success of the first season?
I didn’t have any expectations, because, as we all know, there’s a lot of reality out there, there’s a lot of people trying new ideas and shows and things like that, so I always go in just sort of cautiously and never really either expect or not expect. I just do the best I can, do my best job and just really think of the moment itself. I was pleasantly surprised at how well received it was, just because it’s fun when you’re doing something and you enjoy it, and then other people really enjoy it also. The comment I kept getting from people is, “I’m hooked. When’s Season 2?”
How does the version of the show that airs on television compare to the experience of going through it?
I think it is an accurate reflection, but there is so much that goes on and you can only fit so much into one hour. We did add two extra hours to it. We have eight episodes versus six the first season. But still, to edit for a full show all the cameras that were running all the time, I’m sure we could have gone an hour and a half or two hours and been able to fill in a little bit more behind the scenes or people’s reactions to things.
A lot of reality shows use editing to artificially amp up the drama. Is there much of that going on here?
I don’t think so. Things just sort of end up, if someone’s doing something, you’re going to see what their true colors are. And even with these girls, as we would put them through different challenges, they might have started out sugar sweet, or they act sugar sweet to us, but then behind the scenes in the loft you’re like, “Ooh, where’d that come from?” So I just think no matter how you edit, at some point, everybody’s true colors come out.
This show seems to be a little nicer than other competition shows like American Idol, in that they’re not trotting out the worst of the worst and letting the judges have at them. Is that a fair assessment, and why do you think that’s the case?
That’s one of the reasons I like this show and wanted to host this show, because I think that in the long run, encouraging and building people up and teaching them, especially a woman who’s already seasoned, let’s say, and has many years under her belt — she might be a mother, she might be a grandmother — they deserve more respect than some of these … Let’s say you’re talking about Tyra [Banks]’s show, you know, some of these young 16- or 18-year-old girls, who … might deserve more of the criticism.
You’ve said that the models today have more attitude, and are not as hard-working. Do you think that’s negated with the crowd on She’s Got the Look, because they are of a different generation?
The women on our show are very hard-working and very eager to please, but they’re not professional, so they’re learning how to be professionals. My statement was that the young models that are out there today, with the amount of money they’re getting, which is probably 10 times what I was making, they are less professional, I think they’re less beautiful. That’s just my opinion. From the feedback I’ve had from photographers where if I stand in front of a camera, they’re like, “Boy, you make it easy” and then they make comments about the young girls.
Everyone on the show says modeling is their dream. You didn’t grow up wanting to be a model, so do you have any insight as to why someone might dream about being a model?
That’s a really good question. I guess you’d just have to take it from my opinion. I grew up thinking more of a long-term career. I wanted to be a pharmacist. To me, schooling was important and where I grew up in this small little town, there was never even any idea of modeling. There weren’t modeling schools, not anyone I knew who was a model. I was so busy swimming that I wasn’t reading those magazines. Fashion was not my passion back then. It was more athletics, more my academics. So I think in this day and age, it’s more glamorized. People know some of the histories of the top girls … so these young girls are seeing what they think of as this great life. I guess it could lead to some of them thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is it.” But no matter what they do, no matter what any young girl pursues, I think you always need to have something else to fall back on. If a young girl is trying to model, if that’s all they’ve got, and they don’t have academics, if they don’t have some skill in case the modeling doesn’t work out … it could possibly lead a girl to thinking that she’d better give up things she wouldn’t normally give up or give in to. Putting a young girl in a desperate situation I don’t think is a good idea. I think a place of empowerment comes when you’ve always got something to fall back on.
The empowerment from She’s Got the Look comes from women not believing they could stand up to the scrutiny, right?
Yes. And I think that you’re more empowered when you feel good about yourself. I guess it’s a catch-22, to feel good about yourself, you’ve got to have and present to society certain skills and certain attitudes, and all those things work together.
What’s the most difficult part for you as host?
I guess for me personally the most difficult part is I also do judge at the very end, and because I’m the host, I have been with these girls through the elimination, sometimes sitting behind the scenes and watching the day-to-day stuff of them going through a photo shoot, and seeing how difficult the photo shoot could have been, or seeing a certain situation that these girls were in, and the other judges don’t. For me, because I do see what they go through, for me to be too critical, is difficult. Knowing that whatever I say, if I say it in the right way, would help them, it benefits me instead of like, “What were you thinking?” and screaming at them, it’s more coming at it from, “You know, next time you do this, you might want to think about this, because that didn’t work.”
Do you ever take issue with the other judges’ comments?
Some of that stuff is edited out, but we’ll be at the table sitting there discussing that stuff and either I’ve got a frown on my face when possibly Beverly — Beverly sees stuff I don’t see. And I guess that’s good. That’s why we have different judges, because we all come from different aspects of the business, and Beverly and I, even though we’re both models, she looks at things differently and she’s much more critical than I am. But it’s necessary and needed on the show. I’m sort of the mother hen figure. She’s more like the agent woman figure.
Do you see a time when it won’t be so notable to have a woman over 35 as a model?
The reason I think it will stay around for a while is that it’s a positive show and it’s an uplifting and an encouraging show, and because there are so many women who fall into this category. We have so many 30- to 60-year-olds, even in just this country, that it appeals to these women, and they can relate to one of the girls because of something, because of either the personality, or the background or how they visually look. When you have that many viewers watching women that they can relate to and learning things, and being encouraged and possibly inspired to step out of the boat and do something out of their comfort zone, I think it’s going to stay for a while.
Photo: Courtesy of TV Land