The Betty Interview: Miss J
America’s Next Top Model’s most outspoken and outlandishly dressed judge gets (a little) serious as he tells BettyConfidential about his new book, his uncensored description of Tyra Banks, and his take on the US’ obesity problem and Glamour’s stance on using “real women” as models.
America’s Next Top Model (which airs on the CW tonight) may be Tyra Banks’ show, but in episode after episode it’s Miss J’s memorable cat-walking and trash-talking that steals the spotlight. Tyra hand-picked Miss J to be on the judging panel because she learned from his expertise first-hand. He helped teach the 16-year-old future mogul how to sashay in sky-high stilettos, along with the likes of fellow supermodels Naomi Campbell and Kimora Lee Simmons.
A former Elite model, who walked in runway shows for Jean Paul Gautier, Miss J now lives in Paris and casts and coaches models for big-name designers including Chanel, Valentino, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. The Queen of the Catwalk put all of his larger-than-life experiences into his first book, Follow the Model: Miss J’s Guide to Unleashing Presence, Poise and Power, which comes out on November 10, and is part tell-all, part self-help. “People have been telling me I should write a book for the last 20 years,” says J. “But it was actually Tyra’s agent who convinced me to do it. I share everything from facing adversity as a kid all the way up to winning my 2009 Teen Choice Award [for Choice Fab-u-lous], and all of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.”
He may be living the fab life now, but Miss J aka J. Alexander (born Alexander Jenkins) came from humble beginnings, growing up in New York’s South Bronx. Don’t call his rise to fame a Cinderfella story, though, unless you want to be slapped. “I like that I grew up lower-middle class,” says Miss J, who was the seventh of 10 kids and made designer knock-offs on his grandmother’s sewing machine. “We were poor but we ate. So there’s no rags-to-riches story with me. My mama taught me, if you want what they have, you better work — and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Honey, life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.”
What are the biggest lessons you want readers to learn from Follow the Model?
The main thing is really just to stay true to yourself. People have dreams and hopes and there’s always someone trying to dash those dreams, but you can’t listen to them. I lived in the South Bronx as a kid and I remember going to a job interview in the city, and the man taking applications said to me, “If I were you, I wouldn’t tell anyone I lived in the Bronx.” I said, “Why?” And he told me, “Because no one will hire you. You may get a job in the Bronx, but not in Manhattan.” I walked away trying to understand that thinking. Why would I say I lived someplace else on my application? Then I thought, F*** ’em! Then that job wasn’t the job for me. Another time, I didn’t get a job at the Fresh Air Fund because the guy told my friend, “I think he’s gay and that may not be a good thing with the Fresh Air Fund.” So I called the guy, and I said, “No, it’s not that you thought that I was gay, I am gay!” If I had to play hide ‘n’ seek with my true self in order to work there, then I probably wouldn’t have been happy there anyway. I respect myself and I think everyone should respect themselves. I hope people reading the book gain that message. Whether at work or in your personal life, if a relationship has a secret, then you shouldn’t be in it.