Jay Manuel

Monty Brinton/CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

You wanna be on top?!

Those famous words will remain apart of pop culture history, thanks to the hit competition series, America's Next Top Model.

But despite the glitz and the glamour the Tyra Banks run-show highlighted throughout the years, it wasn't always a fabulous experience behind-the-scenes.

Jay Manuel, who was the Creative Director on the hit series, is now opening up about his time there.

Speaking to Variety, the 47-year-old star got real about his most "uncomfortable" moments, being "scared to speak up" during certain situations on ANTM and his views on the show now, especially since it recently received backlash.

Before spilling the tea on his experience, he explained that he and Tyra aren't as close as they were before.

"Over the past few years, we've emailed," he shared with the publication, noting that the last time they ran into each other was at BeautyCon in 2017. "To be very honest, we really have no relationship to speak of, which is really sad."

However, he fondly remembered their special time together.

"Our time together on ANTM was amazingly productive and, at times, magical. We got to experience being part of a global phenomenon," he said.

Despite his memories with Tyra, he addressed the recent criticisms she's received after old clips from the show resurfaced, and that many considered problematic.

"I do think it's a little unfair for people to persecute Tyra now, especially because she has already taken heat for her past executive decisions in past years," he shared. "However, I can't really defend her either because when ratings were high and things were great, she remained a clear figurehead, because it was her show."

Adding, "Consistently, when s--t hit the fan and people wanted to talk about some of the things that were said on the show, we would have another singular EP come forward to claim that all creative decisions were made as the team, and I really wish that were the case, but that just simply is not true."

Jay also claimed there were times when he felt "scared to speak up" when he worked on the reality TV series.

"There were just certain people working on the show in a senior position where several producers, not just myself, became very scared to speak up," he expressed. "I actually brought my concern first to another co-executive producer because I was too scared to even take it up higher to an executive producer."

Moreover, he revealed that there were multiple instances that made him "uncomfortable," including a photoshoot in Cycle 4 where the models were asked to swap "races" and put in blackface. The creative director recalled objecting to the shoot, but said, "ultimately the two voices at the top were Ken [Mok] and Tyra."

"It was very uncomfortable for me, in Cycle 4, it was a photoshoot where the girls had to swap races," Jay explained of that episode. "I was so, so, so uncomfortable with this. I was never scripted for my intros or anything, and I didn't know how I was going to be able to set this up—I was so afraid that I would wear this because I was the creative director, but it was not my idea."

He added, "That swapped race was a layer added in. It was supposed to be a different concept. I remember that very, very clearly. I was basically told that I had to execute the creative, and it made me very uncomfortable."

Tyra Banks, America's Next Top Model

Another incident? Jay said that during Cycle 5 Tyra made comments about a contestant's sexual orientation that made him feel "uncomfortable." In the episode, Kim Stolz told the judges she was "proud" to be gay. However, Tyra's response was surprising to the creative director.

"I was in the room, and I was sitting right next to her. I remember feeling a little uncomfortable with the statement," he expressed of Tyra's remarks. "I could see Tyra trying to draw the parallel and what she was trying to illustrate, and I was confused by it because we ask these girls to come in the room and the producers remind the girls before they come in, 'Tell them who you are. You're not just a pretty face. You have to have a discussion about who you are.'"

He continued, "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?'"

You can read the 42-year-old star's full interview on Variety for more details about working on ANTM.

But if you still want more tea, Manuel is releasing a novel that will be published on Aug. 3. It's titled, "The Wig, The Bitch & The Meltdown," and is inspired by his time on the modeling competition series.

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