Why Is Tyra Banks Flailing So Hard on ‘Dancing with the Stars’?

Laura Bradley
Laretta Houston/ABC
Laretta Houston/ABC

Whichever cameraman caught Dancing with the Stars professional dancer Keo Motsepe’s confused look as Tyra Banks announced the wrong bottom two dance duos on Monday night deserves a big raise.

Ever since she took over as host of the beloved, long-running competition show, fans have been complaining about Banks’ on-stage antics, and more specifically her mistakes. The vitriol has been harsh—which might be why as soon as Banks realized something was wrong on Monday night, she struggled to improvise her way through it.

Three couples remained on-stage Monday night when Banks announced the week’s bottom two pairs—a discrepancy Banks quickly noticed. It turned out that although one of those couples, Heche and Motsepe, were at least one of those couples, the other team, Monica Aldama and Val Chmerkovskiy, had already been sent off as “safe.”

After blaming the error on both the control room and her notecards, Banks ushered the safe couples off the dance floor, calling Aldama and Chmerkovskiy back up. “We apologize for this,” she said. “This is live TV and we’re all human.” It was a near-perfect emotional echo of another recent TV disaster: The 2017 Oscars, where Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly crowned La La Land best picture over Moonlight.

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Banks also addressed the debacle on Twitter that night after the show aired. “Wowzers,” she wrote. “Live TV. Wrong name on cards. So challenging to deal with moments like these. But we power through.”

Dancing with the Stars fans have made their disdain for Banks’ performance plain since Day One of the season, and Monday’s “Steve Harvey” moment only sealed their disapproval. The supermodel’s insistence on starting each show by strutting onto the stage, turning the ballroom into her personal catwalk, has not endeared her to many—and neither have her stiff banter, her inability to ad-lib, or the moments she’s fumbled contestants’ names.

Perhaps even more important, fans really miss longtime host Tom Bergeron and his former co-host Erin Andrews, who joined in 2014. DWTS producers let both hosts go after last season citing “creative differences”—and now, they seem to be avoiding questions about whether Bergeron was fired for criticizing Sean Spicer’s casting last season. Whatever the reason for Bergeron and Andrews’ exit, fans have been begging DWTS to bring them back for weeks.

Banks responded to her critics early on in an interview with Us Weekly last month.

“Every host messes up,” she said. “It’s just normal. It’s live TV. If it wasn’t live, there would be no mess-ups... Even on America’s Next Top Model, I would mess up and tell my editors to leave it in. That’s what makes things human... If I didn’t want to mess up, if I wanted to be perfect, I know how to do that.”

Banks cited her 25 years as a TV host and noted that on DWTS, she’s trying to shake things up. “[W]hen you’re relaxed and you keep it real, the mess-ups happen,” she told Us. “And the producer in me knows that even though somebody might be like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you’re messing up!’ it’s live, and it’s real. It’s better than being like a doll.”

Some of Banks’ issues on DWTS have been out of her control: Fans likely would have taken a beat to warm to just about any replacement for their beloved hosts, and the pre-recorded cheers the show has been using this season to fake a live audience despite the pandemic often drown Banks out, especially during the show’s introductions. (I’m begging someone, anyone, to tweak those audio levels!)

Still, it’s undeniable: Banks is not exactly thriving. And the “why” might be a little more complicated than a botched line here and there.

Although her daytime stint on The Tyra Banks Show was live, the reality competition show that made her famous, America’s Next Top Model, was pre-taped—so maybe Banks just doesn’t thrive in a live, scripted format.

But there’s something broader at play here as well: Early on during lockdown this spring, Banks became subject of a cultural reconsideration of sorts. Has she been the villain of her own shows all along?

Anyone who watched ANTM knows that at the very least, Banks was not an innocent participant; despite the cuddly girlfriend image she sometimes tried to embody on the show, Banks could also be a tyrant. Her talk show, meanwhile, could be equally exploitative.

Some former ANTM contestants have called out the treatment they received on the show. And in 2015, one former winner sued the show for allegedly stripping her of the title after finding out she’d worked as an escort. In 2017, after Banks left a one-year gig with NBC’s America’s Got Talent, she was accused in a lawsuit of terrorizing a contestant.

It’s unclear how invested Banks’ DWTS haters are in her broader narrative as a celebrity. It’s very possible they just hate her anecdotes and want their show to eliminate the right people at the right time. Either way, though, it’s clear the TV tides have, at least for now, officially turned against Tyra Banks.

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