Former America's Next Top Model creative director Jay Manuel has opened up about the recent backlash against Tyra Banks. During an interview with Variety, Manuel said about his relationship with Tyra, saying, “Over the past few years, we’ve emailed. To be very honest, we really have no relationship to speak of, which is really sad. Our time together on ‘ANTM’ was amazingly productive and, at times, magical. We got to experience being part of a global phenomenon.”

On the recent criticism of Tyra for comments she made about 2006 winner Dani Evans for having a gap, he said, “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. 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.”

He continued, “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.”

He also discussed a time when the show appeared to promote blackface. Manuel said, “I do remember, and it was very uncomfortable for me, in Cycle 4, it was a photoshoot where the girls had to swap races.” He added, “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 continued, “That swapped race was a layer added in,” he continued. “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.”

He also cleared up rumors that he left the show after 18 seasons because he had a fallout with Tyra and was fired. He said, “When we parted ways, I had already completed my contract after Cycle 18 with no plans to return for Cycle 19, and that’s something that people don’t know. It was 100% my decision to leave the show, as I was ready to move my career in a different direction, but unfortunately at the time, my departure was misreported to the press, and contractually, I could not speak about leaving the show.”

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