Photo Courtesy of VH1
We know what you’re thinking: how could anyone replace Tyra as the host of America’s Next Top Model? And the truth is, no one could – but if anyone can step in and take the show in a fresh, exciting new direction, that in it’s own way might be just as fun to watch as it’s predecessor, it’s Rita Ora.
The singer, actress, model, and designer has already had a huge career for herself at the ripe age of 26. In addition to her music career, which has already spawned four #1 singles in the UK, she’s appeared in blockbusters like Fast & Furious 6 and Fifty Shades of Grey, as well as collaborating on fashion lines with brands like Adidas and Rimmel.
Perched on an armchair in the Mercer Hotel, wearing a giant, bright orange parka with architectural cutouts, Ora was the picture of poise and glamour, but we were more struck by just how warm and open she was. We caught up with the star about her new hosting gig, her fashion design aspirations, Grammy predictions, and why there’s no more guys this season.
So you’re the new host of America’s Next Top Model.
I feel like I can’t believe it’s coming out so soon, to be honest. We filmed it in August. It was amazing to be a part of – I never approached with the intent to replace Tyra. Our whole idea was to reinvent ANTM for 2016. For people that really want to know what’s going to happen with the winner – because, nowadays, it’s more than just taking a good photo – OK, double-like, move on, oh, something else is going on! It takes a lot to be remembered nowadays. So taking that into consideration, the producers and Tyra and I thought, “Well, let’s do that. Let’s look for a brand-boss beautiful girl who can rock a campaign and still be in a room and hold her own.” Tyra has been so helpful, and she actually makes a cameo in the beginning, telling the girls about the new panel. She’s just been so supportive.
Did she give you any advice?
I asked her “How the hell do you say goodbye to these girls every week?” Because I started to really fall for them, in love with them and their stories. When you see the season, you’ll realize you learn to love these girls, or hate them – they come from nothing. Some of them come from the middle of nowhere. I’m from Kosovo – I was a refugee in the UK. I relate to these girls being told no – when you walk into a room and you’re told “You’re 14. Your music isn’t ready yet.” And Tyra said, “You have to do it. You’re a role model for these girls. You have to say no with pride, and compassion, and remind them that it’s just another chapter in their book.” But god, it was really difficult.
Had you already been a fan of the show before Tyra approached you?
Yes, and I’d been a fan of the iconic moments. There were times I’d have wine with my friends and look at a YouTube reel of the iconic Tyra moments.
We were all rooting for you!
That, for me, everyone remembers that. And that happened without anyone thinking about it. And I’d like to say there’s a few iconic moments in this season. I can’t wait for people to see.
You’ve got some Tiffany moments?
You get angry. You want these girls to win. It’s not anger at them, it’s: “Wake up! Once you’re out there, what’s going to make you get booked, and not Gigi? Or Bella, or Karlie Kloss?”
Who are your style icons whom you look up to?
My figures are people who had a voice – it wasn’t always about how they looked. For me, Tyra, obviously, having the initiative to create a brand and be a boss. Gaga, going on American Horror Story, I really love her. And Freddy Mercury – these people have created moments not just because of how crazy they dress, but because they were really committed to themselves. Madonna, obviously being one. These people – not just for what they’ve done for the gay community, but for people wanting to be creative, and outspoken. It’s amazing to see.
Did you listen to Joanne?
Yes – fantastic record.
How are you feeling about your own new music?
I’m just so ready for this album to come out. I’ve been through a lot, musically. Everything I was trying to do creatively was getting blocked at the time, and it was very difficult for me to voice myself, and there was a point that I really just gave up and started doing other things. Which is incredible – like fashion, and movies, which I’m not complaining about. But I love music, and it’s the reason I started entertaining in the first place, and now I’ve got my second album coming out with Atlantic Records, and I’m so proud of it, I’ve written every song on it. It’s based in London. We live produced everything. Instruments, the band, a full orchestra.
What was it inspired by?
Really just the fact that I couldn’t do it. I was starving, I was like “What the fuck? Why can’t I do this? I have this following, and this amazing fan base, on Twitter, and Instagram, and nothing to tell them, because I didn’t want to go into this whole thing.” I just thought, “Hopefully, they’ll stick by me.” And they did. And it’s a beautiful thing to now be free. This album is about celebrating that, and not dwelling on the past. I’m now able to sing my songs, and dress how I wanted to dress in my videos.
Is it a new sound?
Definitely – it’s more mature. It’s got elements of pop, for sure, but it’s soul. It’s a record with inspirations from The Beatles, to everything… it’s live music. It’s fun. We’re taking it back to basics.
Are you rooting for anyone at the Grammys?
Childish Gambino’s album was great – even though he wasn’t nominated. Chance the Rapper’s album was so cool. I hope he gets that. The Bon Iver album this year for me was fantastic.
What’s your Netflix binge?
The Crown, I’m watching right now, about the royal family. It’s really interesting. Peaky Blinders is one of my favorites. There’s this show America’s Next Top Model coming out soon…
You’ve got a new collection with Adidas?
Yeah, my fifteenth collection with them. I can’t believe it. I signed four and a half years ago, by the way, before any of these sports collaborations happened, thank you very much. Well, to be honest, Missy Elliott was the first – she did one with Adidas before anybody. And so did Katy Perry, I believe, when she did her tour merch with them? But yeah, fifteen collections deep, it’s time to really take Adidas collab into another realm, which is I really want to distribute my line and do it on my own. Adidas will always support me, we’ve had a lot of success with each other. So, it’s not the end. It’s just a new chapter. I’ll never stop collaborating. But it’s all about doing it on your own, I think. It will take a long time. Look at Victoria Beckham – she was in Spice Girls, and now she’s an incredible designer.
The Top Model judges are great. Ashley Graham…
She’s great. She’s someone to me who hasn’t gotten the respect they deserves. She’s had such a great story from her catalogue modeling days to being on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I think that’s such a sick transition. I feel like this show is really going to make people understand not only her struggle, and what she had to do to get there, but also inspire the contestants that it’s OK to be said no to. She knows more than anybody what “no” feels like. People told me all the time, even me: “You’re too big to be on campaigns.” So I can only imagine what Ashley goes through. Not only that, but I also thought she was a really good judge to keep the girls in check when they feel like “I’m too big” – everyone has insecurities. So I think she’s a really good, solid person to listen to in that department.
Is there anything you learned from the contestants while doing this that you weren’t expecting?
The hunger of it all. You never know how much someone wants it until they really want it. You see things… you do stuff that you don’t even recognize yourself doing, when you really want something. It’s: “I will do anything to get there. With class, of course.” But I think these girls are really fighting for their lives in this show. I didn’t realize before I was in it. You see what happens in the house, you see how they are… everything is real. I think people forget when it’s on TV, they think it’s not real. But it is.
Why no guys?
Because in the original ANTM at the start, which is what I looked at before starting this show, it was just girls. I wanted to go back to how it started. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be that way forever. But for the first new branding of the show we wanted to go back to the basics of it, and it was girls. So I thought, “Let’s just start it off like that, see what happens, see how it elevates. And take it from there.”
America’s Next Top Model returned on VH1 December 12 at 10 PM EST.