In a recent blog post, I mentioned that I was reading Jay Manuel’s 2020 novel, The Wig, The Bitch, & The Meltdown. In that post, I wrote that I understood and appreciated what Jay Manuel was doing with his first novel. He was processing trauma by turning it into a fun fictionalized read. I’ve done the same thing on multiple occasions, so I already had a warm feeling about Manuel’s debut into fiction.
I also can’t stand Tyra Banks, even though I watched her reality show for years. My devotion to America’s Next Top Model was less about idolizing a retired supermodel than watching a trainwreck. I don’t actually care much about fashion, and those who have seen me in person can attest to that. I just find narcissists fascinating, even if I want to keep them at an arm’s length. ANTM was chock full of narcissists, and its resident Queen Bee, Tyra Banks, was the most toxic of them all… as far as I can tell, anyway. Obviously, I’ve never met Tyra in person, but I have heard what she says and observed how she behaves. She makes my N chimes ring even louder than Meghan Markle does.
I downloaded Jay Manuel’s satirical novel about reality TV modeling competitions back in January 2022. I decided to read the book when I started watching episodes of ANTM while Bill was away in Bavaria. As I watched ANTM and cringed, I read up on Jay Manuel and his now non-existent relationship with Tyra Banks. I remembered that they once used to be friends. What happened?
Well… Jay wrote his book, and that sure didn’t help their friendship. But there was a lot that led up to the book being written, and having been around a lot of narcissists myself, I spotted all of the red flags in The Wig, The Bitch, & The Meltdown. Clearly Mr. Manuel had loads of experiences and incidents to fuel his creativity when he penned his novel. If only a fraction of the crazy in this novel has any basis in truth, Jay Manuel went through Hell to birth this book. And the price of writing the book was losing his “friends” from ANTM, as it was reported that Tyra Banks was angry about the novel. She allegedly asked people from ANTM not to interact with Jay, or help promote the book. Apparently, people from ANTM value relationships with Tyra enough to grant her request/demand.
I can understand why Tyra Banks would be upset about Jay Manuel’s novel. The novel is clearly based on Jay Manuel’s relationship with her and others from ANTM, even though the book is fiction. I’m sure she sees him as disloyal, and narcissists can’t abide disloyalty. Moreover, Jay Manuel really took the piss out of Tyra, including plots that were obviously based on things that actually happened on the show. The end result, for a reader like me, is pure entertainment and occasional laugh out loud moments. Obviously, Tyra Banks doesn’t want to be laughed at, and even though she’s made a lot of money and become very powerful in the entertainment business, she doesn’t want to be upstaged in any way.
Jay Manuel is still not as powerful as Tyra is– or was– (like Donald Trump, she seems to have lost some of her popularity). However, writing this book probably boosted his prestige. I was definitely impressed by the imagination and creativity he showed in his novel. There’s a good reason why Jay Manuel was the creative director on ANTM for so many years. On the other hand, a lot of what he writes was obviously inspired by crazy stuff that actually happened on the show.
So… on with the plot…
Pablo Michaels (Jay’s alter ego) is the silver haired, silver eyed creative director of a reality show called Model Muse. It’s a rip off of America’s Next Top Model, set in the present. I mention that the novel is set in the present because Manuel mentions a lot of technology that didn’t exist when ANTM started in 2003, or even when it finally ended in 2018. He seems particularly wedded to Apple products, as he mentions them a lot in the book.
Pablo is not naturally silver eyed or silver haired. This is a look that the supermodel he works for, Keisha Kash (Kash is perhaps a play on the last name, Banks?), wants him to look that way. Pablo and Keisha met when they were both a lot less famous, and they were friends. Over the years, they had shared a lot of pints of Dulce de Leche ice cream. Pablo had become Keisha’s rock, fixing things that went wrong, and always having Keisha’s back. She started her reality show, and he was the one person she trusted to be the creative director. She was right to trust him, though the job means that he never gets any time to himself, nor can he do things that he wants to do.
Pablo and Keisha work with other “legends” from the fashion industry. Noted British fashion photographer, Mason Hughes (modeled after Nigel Barker) is onhand, as is the world’s “first” supermodel, Sasha Barenson (Janice Dickinson). Miss Thing (J. Alexander– Miss J.) serves as a judge and a runway coach. Joe Vong (perhaps Ken Mok) is an executive producer. And De La Renta (perhaps Sutan and/or Christian Marc combined) is in charge of hair and makeup.
Sasha still wears a size four dress, even though she’s in her 60s. But she constantly nurses a sippy cup full of “water” that smells a lot like Chardonnay. Mason is “happily married” to a boyish looking Indian woman, although he seems to like men. Miss Thing is hilarious and witty, but also a bit catty and two-faced. Joe Vong has created many successful reality TV shows, but is completely dictatorial and manic. And De La Renta, like Pablo, seems to be one of the “good” guys who cares about the models somewhat. Keisha’s mother Brenda Paris (Tyra’s mom, Carolyn London) is in prison for trying to steal jewelry from a safe at the morgue where she worked as a photographer. Carolyn London, in real life, is a medical photographer. Tyra always presented her mother as wonderful, but in Jay’s novel, she’s a criminal.
Pablo Michaels is doing all he can to keep the show together, as Keisha and the rest of the cast misbehave in a multitude of ways, showing a complete lack of regard for those who aren’t narcissists. Pablo ties to be the voice of reason as Keisha does everything she can to make more money, become more famous, and expand her brand. Manuel really went to town on this– bringing up Tyra Banks’ memorable foray into the music business by making Keisha release a song, even though she’s tone deaf. In real life, Jay Manuel studied opera, and presumably, he can sing. I’ve heard Tyra’s song, and as a musician myself, it didn’t impress me.
Manuel also covers Tyra’s attempts at writing, as he has Keisha write a novel. Tyra also famously wrote a novel for teenagers. I have it downloaded, but I can’t seem to bring myself to read it. Maybe I’ll punish myself by reading it soon.
Throughout the book Manuel skillfully illustrates the classic ways of a malignant narcissist, to include having Keisha have a huge meltdown in panel. Tyra Banks also famously screamed at a contestant in Cycle 4, angry that the young woman wasn’t “upset” enough about being cut. The circumstances of Keisha’s meltdown are somewhat different, but the behavior he describes is the same as what all ANTM fans witnessed when they watched that episode.
More outrageous behaviors are described, and if you were a viewer of ANTM during its prime years, when Mr. Jay and Miss J. were on it, you will easily recognize some of the contestants. Manuel blends some of them into new people, including some famous and memorable statements some of them uttered during the show’s run. Some of the incidents are clearly based on things that happened on the show, but others are pretty diabolical (and hilarious) mashups based on things that a malignant narcissist supermodel might do. The part about the wig, for instance, is pretty scandalous. If you’ve ever seen one of Tyra Banks’ famously crappy makeovers, you might have a good laugh… as you also cringe in horror.
Manuel’s writing is often pretty snarky, and there’s a lot of objectionable (but believable) language in this novel. Sometimes, I wish he’d hired an editor. He misspells some words and names. For instance, he repeatedly refers to Mommie Dearest (the book and movie about Joan Crawford, written by her adoptive daughter, Christina Crawford), but he spells it Mommy Dearest. He refers to “door jams”, rather than “door jambs”. He also employs some words that are what one might call “fifty cent words”. At times, he doesn’t quite use them correctly, or he uses them when a simpler word would better suffice.
I got a kick out of how Manuel describes Keisha, who is obviously based on Tyra in almost every way. He repeatedly writes about Keisha’s “creepy” little girl voice. If you’ve seen ANTM, you know what he’s referring to, as Tyra does the same thing. He describes what she looks like, and her tendency to not like contestants who look, in any way, like her. Manuel also makes Model Muse rigged– blatantly stating that the winners were chosen long before the runway show at the end of the season. I don’t know if that’s actually how it worked on ANTM, but I’ve always suspected that the winners were ringers. What’s sad to me is that a lot of the young women, who tried out for that show, legitimately thought it would open doors for them. Although some contestants went on to form careers in entertainment, only a few became legitimate working models.
I enjoyed Jay Manuel’s book, The Wig, The Bitch, & The Meltdown. I found it a fun and entertaining read. I’ve seen a lot of people saying that Manuel isn’t much better than Tyra Banks is. I don’t know if that’s true, but he does appear to have some real talents. I think it would be pretty difficult for him to have an ego larger than Tyra’s. Moreover, while I think Tyra has some talents in terms of self-promotion, I also think she totally got off on being worshiped by the contestants on the show, even when she gave bullshit advice, contradicted herself, or cut them for ridiculous reasons. Jay, at least, seemed to have some sensitivity… and he has the excuse that he wasn’t the boss of the show. Tyra was. He was working at her behest.
I found some of the elements of Jay’s personal story– which he weaved into Pablo’s story– fascinating. Jay Manuel was born in the United States and grew up in Canada. He was adopted when he was a baby, and he puts part of that story into the book. Jay also has a very interesting racial makeup; many people think he’s Hispanic, but he’s actually got Italian, Czech, and South African ancestry and thinks of himself as Black.
I think I’d give The Wig, The Bitch, and The Meltdown four stars out of five. I don’t read a lot of novels anymore, but I legitimately enjoyed Jay’s snarkfest. I laughed out loud several times, or just exclaimed in disbelief; I think that counts for a lot. I also liked the ending. I found it very satisfying.
I’m taking off a star for the editing glitches, although I am impressed by how well-written the book is, given that Jay Manuel isn’t primarily a writer. I hope he’ll write another novel, and next time, hire an editor to give it some polish. And I hope he’s as likable in real life as he is in his writing and on television… although I’m sure those who knew him on Top Model are probably no longer sending him any emails. 😉
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