Love him or loathe him, there’s no denying that Yu Tsai made his presence felt on America’s Next Top Model (ANTM).
Now fans of the fourth season of Asia’s Next Top Model (AsNTM) get to watch the straight-talking photographer in action. As creative director, Yu Tsai guides the model-wannabes in photo challenges; he has no qualms about raising his voice and scolding them in his quest for the perfect picture.
“I push the models hard to do their best and I don’t hold back my opinions at judging,” admits Yu Tsai in an email interview with Star2.
Yu Tsai – who made his debut in episode four – joins AsNTM newcomers Cindy Bishop (as host and head judge) and Kelly Tandiono (as model mentor).
“I think this season will be the most dynamic and exciting cycle,” enthuses Yu Tsai. “Be ready for the perfect storm between Cindy, Kelly and myself on the panel.”
Currently based in Los Angeles and New York, Yu Tsai was born in Taiwan. “I just recently visited Taiwan,” he says. “I have uncles and aunties who still reside in Taipei.”
As a young child, Yu Tsai relocated to a farm in Indiana, the United States, with his family. They then moved to California, where Yu Tsai spent his adolescence.
After majoring in biology (from California State Polytechnic University), Yu Tsai attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, studying graphic design. It was during this time that he discovered his passion for the arts, along with directing and photography as a means of telling a visual story.
Before he became fully immersed in fashion, Yu Tsai participated in a national wildlife conservation programme with the National Geographic Research group.
“During school, I went to Kenya with professors on a National Geographic research team tracking elephants and giraffes,” he recalls. “This experience changed my life and my career path.
“An instructor introduced me to the work of Peter Beard (American photographer who is well-known for his photos of Africa). In Africa, you end up pressing plants and smearing animal blood on your pages – all these are natural processes of creating a journal and work of art. My sketchbook was reminiscent of Beard’s. (My instructor) made a copy of my sketchbook and submitted it to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and I got a full scholarship.”
Thus far, his photography has been featured in magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Vogue Thailand and Vogue Japan. He has photographed celebrities including Janet Jackson, Anne Hathaway, Zhang Ziyi, Ewan McGregor, Sienna Miller and Ryan Reynolds, as well as supermodels Alessandra Ambrosio, Kate Upton and Rosie Huntington.
Yu Tsai replaced Johnny Wujek as photo shoot creative consultant on ANTM, beginning with cycle 21.
“I really enjoyed being part of such an iconic show,” muses Yu Tsai. “I made great friends like Miss J and executive producers Ken Mok and Tyra Banks.”
Yu Tsai confirms that ANTM – which was previously announced as cancelled – will be making a comeback. “I knew it wouldn’t be cancelled,” exclaims Yu Tsai. “Cycle 23 will be back on VH1 next season. ANTM lives on!”
Where his position on AsNTM is concerned, Yu Tsai explains how it all came about.
“I really have to thank Kenneth Goh (editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Singapore) for introducing me to the show. We have been great friends for many years and worked on many Harper’s cover shoots. He thought I would bring a new energy to the show.”
Out of all the challenges that AsNTM contestants had to undergo, which is Yu Tsai’s favourite?
“I loved them all in their own ways, so it is really hard for me to pick out my most favourite,” he replies. “Some were fun and others really showed which model has what it takes to be a professional.”
He is full of praise for Malaysian representative Tuti. “She is very energetic and it is pure joy to watch. Tuti is very special to me,” says Yu Tsai.
In regard to the backlash Tuti received on social media – some viewers thought it was inappropriate for a Muslim woman to expose her body in a modelling competition – Yu Tsai has this to say: “This is something she has to handle on her own. Tuti knows her reasons for participating and she is strong enough to focus on progressing in her career.”
On whether he intends to be based more in this region, Yu Tsai quips: “Perhaps cycle 5 of AsNTM will bring me back to Asia.”
Asia’s Next Top Model airs at 9pm, Wednesday on Star World HD (Astro Ch 722).