From top model to young Oprah
The former supermodel and new talk show host tells what she learned from those who came before her.

(FORTUNE Magazine) - Tyra Banks was a supermodel for 15 years--Victoria's Secret, Sports Illustrated, you name it--and more recently the host of America's Next Top Model, a reality show with legs. Some scoffed when Banks retired from modeling last year at 32 and set out to produce and star in her own talk show. But it appears this self-described former ugly duckling just might have what it takes. In its second season, The Tyra Banks Show is the talkfest most watched by women ages 18 to 39, according to its producers. FORTUNE's Andy Serwer chatted with Banks about branding, sponsors--and what she learned from Oprah.

So Tyra, what's your show all about?

It's not really a talk show. It's a woman's guide to life. It's topical, connected to the news, but we do fashion and fun stuff. It's like different pages or sections in a women's magazine. They're unique, but they all fit together under one cover.

Do you pay attention to the ads?

Of course. I watch the show with friends and get so excited when a big new ad comes on, and my friends look at me like I'm crazy. Success on the business side is such a validation. We have makeup, toothpaste, but also Toyota and Johnson & Johnson and cereal commercials.

I hear that a General Mills deal is in the works too.

I'm not going to comment on something that may or may not be happening.

Do you get involved in ad sales?

Yes. I'll explain the concept of the show to an advertiser, and as far as certain products go, I'll tell them, "I want you on this show."

People compare you to a young Oprah.

I lost a lot of sleep about that early on. The next Oprah! Damn, I don't compare! My mother told me to just forget about that. Oprah has been an incredible success for 20 years, and I'm just starting. The biggest thing about Oprah is her authenticity. She is so true. There is no pretense to her, and the audience knows it.

Has Oprah ever given you advice?

Yes, I've talked to her. She's been really helpful. She told me life is going to change, and she's right.

Are you consciously looking to brand yourself, like Oprah or Martha Stewart?

Those are the two women I admire the most. They are two brands. Their vision is clear and cohesive. Who can say? Maybe one day I can be like that. You have to keep that level of authenticity and not do anything that would cheapen your image from a product standpoint. Top of page