By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - German supermodel Heidi Klum, who has strutted from the runway to entrepreneur and reality TV host, will now try her hand as a judge on NBC's television competition show "America's Got Talent."
Klum, 40, nicknamed "The Body" for her statuesque figure, has carved a career beyond modeling, as the host of Lifetime's fashion series "Project Runway" and "Germany's Next Top Model."
For "America's Got Talent," the model stepped out of her role as fashion expert for the first time, to sit alongside former Spice Girl Mel B., comedian Howie Mandel and radio host Howard Stern on the judging panel for the show's eighth season, which began this week.
Klum, who has her own fashion empire with jewelry, clothing and fragrances, spoke to Reuters about her transition from a model to entrepreneur and major television player in the United States and Germany.
Q: What is it like to be in your first non-fashion role?
A: I think (producers) look at me as a judge that has traveled a lot for 20 years. I have climbed from the bottom up through many different maneuvers ... and I think that's why they wanted me there. I don't think they want me there for fashion. I look at (contestants) for their talent and not necessarily the way they're dressed and if their hem length is right. That's what I do on "Project Runway" but not here.
Q: In what kind of role do you see yourself as a judge?
A: I look at it as a woman, as a mom, someone who has seen a lot of shows. You know, I think about, "Hey, is this an act that is interesting? Is this something that I want to see again? Did that excite me? Would my children love to watch this?"
Q: Do you have any specific criteria you are looking for?
A: I love people that surprise me, that show me things I haven't seen before. Today we looked at this guy ... he's a sword swallower. He combined that with pole dancing. He was pole dancing with a sword down his throat and did that deadly drop that they do at the end sometimes, you know? With a sword in his mouth. ... We're jaded and we've seen so many things and you're looking for something that surprises you.
Q: What made you interested in doing a show like this?
A: I never saw myself as a judge on the show because I was judging on my couch at home and that was it. And when they called me I was like, "Oh my gosh, what a fun gig that would be." I met with them and I was flattered that they would want me to be part of this. When the news came out that Mel B. was replacing Sharon Osbourne, I thought they just wanted to see if I was into it. Then they're like, "No, no, no, actually we were always planning on having four judges and you're going to be our surprise fourth judge."
Q: Does it remind you of auditions starting out as a model?
A: No, not really. When you model, people don't really care so much what you have to say. You don't really have to sing or dance or do a performance. It's about your look and they look at your face and your body. You get a once over, and people look at you and either they like your look or they don't.
Q: When did you know that modeling might not last forever?
A: It wasn't so much that I was thinking I have to branch out. I just branched out naturally because I enjoyed all the different things that I got into. For example, I started designing jewelry because the people who were making the million-dollar bra for Victoria's Secret - I got to wear the bra three times - and they saw my passion for design. So they said, 'Why don't we do a line together?' And that's how it started.
Before I entered my modeling competition in '92, I finished my school and I would've gone to Duesseldorf to design school. ... I wanted to be a fashion designer and if I wouldn't have won that modeling competition, I would've gone to school.
Q: How do you balance work in the United States and Germany?
A: I spend most of my time in America. I shoot "Germany's Next Top Model" in Los Angeles too. It airs in Germany, but I do all of it from home basically because I can't travel that much. So I do the finale in Germany and when I do the casting and look at all the girls, but I take them all to America and then we shoot the show in L.A. ... For me, this (show) is the closest to my heart, because these girls want to do what I've been doing for the last 20 years, and so I feel the closest to these kind of contestants.
(Reporting by Eric Kelsey, Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Sandra Maler)