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We love fashion, culture, music, and everything in between. From politics to the runway, we're unbashful in our views, constructive in our thoughts, and glamorous in our style. Welcome!

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February 07, 2011  | by: M. Jason Driscoll

Supermodel Tyson Beckford portrayed by fashion photographer Cliff Watts.

Tyson Beckford talked with emcBlue on a wide range of topics, ranging from the state of the fashion industry, his thoughts on Nicki Minaj and Justin Beiber, to his many philanthropic endeavors and future aspirations. Tyson also set the record straight regarding the rumors surrounding his sexual orientation. What you’ll find is that behind the million dollar smile and great looks, is a man full of conviction, determined to make his mark on the world, give back, and make a difference.

As I sat on the conference call line, waiting for Tyson Beckford to beep in, a number of thoughts came to mind.  I thought of his scantily clad Ralph Lauren billboards and the obvious Blessid Union of Souls “Hey Leonardo” song reference (“she likes me for me, not because I look like Tyson Beckford”). Although his website biography begins, “Tyson was destined to give birth to and become synonymous with the term ‘male supermodel,’” his career has progressed from supermodel and fashion icon to actor and philanthropist.

Nonetheless, as a kid, everything wasn’t as glamorous for Tyson. In my interview with the man who was once named one of People’s 50 Most Beautiful People, he spoke about growing up on welfare and how that gave him the determination to work with, and now begin, charities.

Tyson also mentioned that he’s pretty much done with modeling, instead focusing his energy on TV and films. In recent years he has produced and starred in Kings of the Evening and Hotel California. Tyson wants to bring back that Old Hollywood vibe, and something tells me he doesn’t “keep up” with the Kardashians.

Oh, and about that whole gay thing, he’s straight. Sorry, Lance Bass!

I’m pretty much, let me see, little bit GQ, little bit hip-hop.

On your website it says that you were born in New York, but lived in Jamaica until you were 7.  What was it like returning to New York after spending so much of your childhood in the Caribbean?

It was a little weird because I picked up an accent. So then coming to the states, it was weird, you know, because all the kids spoke perfect English. I had the broken patois. So you know it was a little weird. I was sent to English classes and taught how to get rid of it. I hadn’t really spent any time in the snow, so that was weird too. I left New York when I was six months old, so it was a culture shock.

Then you embarked on an incredible career in the world of high-fashion modeling and you became literally, the first male supermodel. How does that make you feel now,  looking back?

It was quite shocking in the beginning, but you get used to it after a while. You get to be around all these hot, beautiful women. [Laughs] You become the little brother for some of them, and, you know, the boyfriend for others. So it had its benefits [Laughs] don’t get me wrong.

Tyson Beckford became most well known for his work with Ralph Lauren.

How would you describe your personal sense of style?

I’m pretty much, let me see, little bit GQ, little bit hip-hop.

About two years back, you attended New York Fashion Week and afterwards were quoted saying that the catwalks lacked diversity, specifically saying “there are no blacks on the cats.”  Do you still think that the fashion industry lacks that multi-cultural diversity?

I did. I mean, I believe it’s gotten slightly better, but, um, you know I still think that Hollywood and the fashion industry are kind of prejudice or racist when it comes to putting African Americans or any kind of minorities in certain roles. I mean, its 2011 and we have a black president, but you don’t have any major black action heroes or leading men or leading women. We got Halle Berry. You know what I mean?

Yeah, that’s true.

But, you have Jennifer Aniston. You have Angelina Jolie. The list goes on for white actresses. If you look at the majority of the Victoria Secret girls the majority of them are white or white complexion looking.  You have models like Chanel Iman, and that’s a start but we still have a long way to go.

Also, you’ve often pointed out the difference between celebrities and models, saying that celebrities don’t always make the best models, try as they might. So why do you think Vogue will more often put Lady Gaga on their cover instead of Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss?

We’ve come into a world where it’s about popularity. Lady Gaga is #1 on Twitter; she beats out the leader of the free world.

Wow, I never thought of that. That’s so weird.

You know what I mean? It’s more popular now to put that [on the cover] instead. Back in the day it was unheard of putting actors instead of models. It used to be all models. But times have changed; it’s all about being famous. It’s a celebrity-driven world. After President Obama’s state of the union address he was signing autographs. I was like wow, I’ve never seen any other president do that.

You have young people nowadays who are just like “Yeah, I wanna be famous.” And you’re like, what do wanna be famous for? And they say, “Nah, I just wanna be famous.”

I wanna leave this world as a humanitarian and I feel like at that point in my life, I wasn’t there yet. I’m gonna look at it as God making me an angel in his army, but on this earth.

Yeah it doesn’t matter anymore, they just wanna be famous.

Yeah it doesn’t matter. The kids who are going to school to be writers, students at Julliard or doctors, that doesn’t matter anymore. Everyone just wants to be famous, for no reason. We’ve given like so many people who are non-talented, fame. I’m not gonna name names, but you know some of them.

MTV has given them power. E! has given them power. They have given these people the power of fame, but what does that say to America and the rest of the world?  It makes us seem like we are not the most educated people in the world. Which is not true, Americans are smart people, but right now, we are like in the Twilight Zone.

We’re like “Hold on, let’s get this girl famous because she’s good in bed, or at least looks like she could be.” What message does that send to young girls growing up now, like “Oh, I can make a sex tape and be famous?”

It’s definitely not a good one.

Yeah, it’s not. We’re a lost little society right now, man.

But, your career has allowed you to also do a lot of work for charities like Race to Deliver, which benefits AIDS and the Clothes Off Our Back charity. Is there any one of these experiences that really stand out to you?

I love doing charities, because to me when I was on welfare, sometimes my parents didn’t have food for us, but we had places we could go. Growing up, I was one of the kids with the free lunch, the free breakfast. And you know, the free breakfast was started by none other than the Black Panthers, you know, people like that, who gave back made me think like, when I grow up, I wanna do that.

I got a foundation I’m getting ready to start, we’re gonna go to different countries and see what they need, then I’m gonna go to these big corporations and get on my hands and knees and beg for them to give me the products, the food, whatever I need to feed to these villages, or these cities. I’ll still do my race to deliver, my St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

The name of the foundation, we’re playing with a bunch of names, but it’ll probably be “Model Citizens” or something to that effect, where it plays on me, being a model or an ex-model. I will go and try to show the rest of the world how to be a good citizen. Like I said, we’re so caught up in the celebrity-ism, nobody’s willing to go out and get dirty. I mean we have our Brad and Angelina and Madonna, those are the people, Elton John too, but it’s not enough people.

So I’m starting this so I can be like “you’re not eating, cool, here’s some food.” You know?

Like to me, I’d rather feed the homeless than go to a night club.

Modeling’s been good, but my heart was always in acting.

Yeah, I mean, that’s so important, especially now.

It’s hard for me to go to a party, I’ll go if like I got something to celebrate, because I’ll be like, I may be having fun, but there’s like a hundred families not eating tonight and here I am at a bar blowing a hundred bucks on drinks, I work hard for that money, but sometimes it’s hard for me to process it, I can’t accept it. So yeah, I’m definitely on that mission for 2011 and the future, if we have a future in this world [Laughs], if we don’t destroy it.

I wanna try and show people like, stop watching that mindless television and go out and do something. Be famous for that, don’t be famous for just being like [pauses] drunk, you know partying. I’m trying to change what society thinks is important.

I definitely love doing the charities and giving back, because you know, if we don’t, who will?

Tyson Beckford at the 2010 Victoria Secret Fashion Show

Yeah, kind of on the same note, you’ve given a bunch of interviews saying that you have retired from modeling and want to devote your energy into other things, including like TV and films. Was that always something you planned to do?

Modeling’s been good, but my heart was always in acting. When they found me on the street in New York, I was picking up the paper looking for acting jobs; I wasn’t looking for modeling jobs because I didn’t think I was model material. The whole thing about acting is like, you as an actor, you can be old, your hair can be falling out, you can be overweight. There are no guidelines.

As a model, it’s such a strict business with like weight, height, those kinds of things. Plus, I didn’t think they were really looking for any black models. So I didn’t think of it.

But then I always told myself once I was at a certain position, I was gonna go back to acting.

You’ve been doing a lot of work within TV and film, you’ve starred in several films over the past few years, including Hotel California and Kings of the Evening and according to IMDB your next film, Shady Creek, is in pre-production. What can we expect out of Shady Creek and your future roles in general?

So, the thing is, Shady Creek, we never even started it. I don’t know how that got on my IMDB. They pitched me the story, and I loved it, I really wanted to do it, but I never got a script from the writer and they never proceeded to move forward. So I dunno how IMDB got a hold of that. So I guess the whole thing with that is, don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Yeah I definitely want to start producing more, kind of put more stuff on television that I feel like we’re missing.

Yeah, well alright then! Kind of switching gears here, back in 2005 you did an emotional interview with Oprah about a car accident you had earlier that year, and you said “I live everyday like it’s the last. I value life more than I ever did before.” Do you still look back to that day now with that same sentiment?

Oh yeah, [pauses], I mean definitely. It’s like, man, when you go through something like that, and I came close so many times, it’s like some kind of higher being or something really wants you to be here. It’s so hard to explain, I didn’t see the white light, but I did see my life flash in front of me and I did see another presence in the truck with me like basically telling me, get your ass out and live, live like there’s no tomorrow.

It was very eye opening for me. I’m a guy who lives for speed, you know, I drive motorcycles and race cars on race tracks. And I’ve been in accidents before, but I never had anything as eye opening as that. I was like “Okay, I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that, but I’m definitely gonna leave this world with a name and it won’t just be because of fashion, it will be because of the giving person that I was. I changed this; I made this better for some people.”

I wanna leave this world as a humanitarian and I feel like at that point in my life, I wasn’t there yet. I’m gonna look at it as God making me an angel in his army, but on this earth.

Beckford admits he loves the speed in motorsports.

I really admire that you’re still so passionate about motor sports, though. You’re an active participant in the rally scene. What’s that like, do you get nervous now?

No, you know what it is? Everyone has their thing that gets [pauses] I don’t wanna say that gets them off, but that gets them off. Speed and motorcycles and cars and motorsports are my thing, ever since I was a kid, being in fashion you get to take pictures with cool cars or work with Ralph Lauren, who has like the best car collection in the world.

So that fascination has been with me ever since I was a little kid playing with matchbox cars, I can’t explain it but I love them. From toy cars to big cars, I can’t explain the fascination with it and the love for speed, it’s incredible. I feel like Steve McQueen with a little bit of Mario Andretti. You know it’s a weird James Dean kind of feel.

And although sometimes we get mad at brother Kanye, the fool is a genius.

So, where do you see yourself in five or ten years? You were credited as a producer on Hotel California. Do you have any interest in working behind the scenes?

Yeah I definitely want to start producing more, kind of put more stuff on television that I feel like we’re missing. I feel like Hollywood…they’re bored. We’re getting a lot of remakes, everything’s 3-D. The genius of film is not there. James Dean, Cary Grant, we kind of lost that. Like when you see an actor and you’re like “Man, he’s a movie star.” The person who does that for me: George Clooney.

When you see George Clooney, you’re like “he’s classy, he looks good.” He’s our modern day movie star, our modern day Cary Grant. When you look at him you’re like “that guy’s classy, that’s a movie star.” Whereas you see these other kids and you’re like “yeah, they’re actors.”

I feel like as a producer that kinda grew up watching that, I feel like I’ll have a better understanding about it than someone who grew up watching Star Wars. I produced Kings of the Evening and Hotel California, and those were back to back, and I was like “Hey, I like this producing thing.”

So now I’ve got two TV shows on the shelves, hopefully they’ll be something educational. One of the shows is “Model Citizens,” now that it’s gonna be a foundation, we’re shooting to make it a TV show as well, where one week I could be here in New York, helping out a family in Harlem and next week I’m in Haiti building makeshift villages and schools, or I’m in Bill Gates’ office talking to him about donating computers for a tribe in the Sudan. Something that by the end of the show, you’re crying, clapping, a show that’s gonna take you through all your emotions. You’re gonna be educated by the end.

Yeah, cool man. Switching topics, what type of music do you have on your iPod? Do you listen to different music working out than you do just driving around?

Everything man, everything from Daft to Metallica to Lil Wayne to Waka Flocka. Lady Gaga. I just bought Kanye’s album. And I don’t ever buy female rappers’ stuff but this young lady, Nicki Minaj, I had to buy her stuff.

She’s great.

Yeah, she really is. I was blown away. And although sometimes we get mad at brother Kanye, the fool is a genius. When I say he’s a fool [Laughs] and a genius in the same sentence, he’s such a genius that it makes him a fool sometimes.

Beckford and 50 Cent at a MTV Video Music Awards After Party

What are your thoughts on recent sensations Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Justin Beiber?

Uh [pauses] these kids, who were kind of blown up by the internet, they’re all talented. To compare a Justin Beiber to a Justin Timberlake, you can’t. It was a different time, a different society. Like, a Nicki Minaj versus Lil Kim, both talented but they’re from different eras. So therefore, one becomes better because of the times we’re in.

To compare Drake to [pause] shit you can’t even compare anyone to him, the singing, the rapping, maybe you could say a Ja Rule in his prime. But it’s so different now, music has been thrown in a blender, it’s a little bit of everything. You’re not just getting an ordinary artist anymore. These artists have to work ten times as hard to win people over. But you also have YouTube and Twitter, there’s so many other ways to promote albums nowadays.

So it’s hard to compare these new kids to the music we grew up on, you know?

Yeah, it actually is difficult.

Yeah, they’re in this TMI world, [Laughs] you know, “too much information.” You’re probably like I’m sick of this Justin Beiber, oh wait he just put out a movie.

Shoot that little boy is talented. It’s not my kind of music but my nieces love him and he ain’t teaching them to get on the stripper pole, so he’s alright with me.

Okay, well no interview would be complete without a little controversy, so if you could choose between Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and Taylor Swift, for a night out, who would be the lucky girl?

I’m gonna narrow it down to the talented ones, so Beyoncé, Rihanna…and who else?

Uh, it was Beyoncé, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift.

Alright, well I don’t think Rihanna is ready to be hanging out with me yet. And Beyoncé, I’ve hung out with her before, but she’s a married woman and I don’t wanna get in trouble with Jay. We hung out with like an entourage, so she’s cool people. I’d have to say Nicki on that one.

Interesting, she’d be a fun time though!

Yeah, [laughs], I don’t know where we’d end up, from the races to the strip club…or the studio. Yeah it doesn’t matter with her.

Alright, cool, well, last question, if you only had three words you could use to describe yourself, which would you choose?

Cool. Humble. Edgy. Yeah.

Jason Driscoll serves as Managing Editor at emcBlue.com

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