NEW YORK - Kelly Cutrone knows how it works: She's supposed to bring the "reality" to fashion reality TV.
That's what she did on The Hills, The City, and Kell on Earth. Now she'll be a judge on America's Next Top Model, where once again the truth can hurt.
Cutrone's unflinching on-screen rep doesn't bother her a bit. The publicist with a long roster of hipster clients said she's trying to build stronger, smarter women.
She wants young fans to see the seductive world of fashion with their eyes wide open. It's a world, she said, that has become more cutthroat in the two decades she has worked in it.
It doesn't bother her if she comes off as harsh. That's different than mean, she said, even though the distinction is blurred a bit on big flat screens.
"You need the characters on TV. You need the Jennifer Aniston and you need the person who makes trouble. If anyone followed anyone around all the time, though, you'd see there are minutes where I'll be yelling 'What?!' one minute, but I might have been saying 'I love you' to my daughter just a few minutes earlier."
Sometimes, she acknowledges sheepishly, she'll even agree with Top Model's resident nice guy, Nigel Barker, that a particular young woman has what it takes to make it. But she'll also burst a bubble to save some heartbreak later.
Modeling is hard work and not every woman with stars in her eyes seems to know it, said Cutrone, who helps her fashion clients cast shows and get them played in magazines.
Mothers will stop Cutrone on the street and say right in front of their daughters, "Isn't she beautiful? Shouldn't she be a model?" Cutrone said. Yet those moms seem shocked when Cutrone, 46, points out if the girls are too short for runway work or don't have an avant garde Vogue look.
Don't ask the questions if you don't want the answers, Cutrone said.
"I wouldn't tell a young girl that her shoulders are rolled and her walk sucked, but I might think it - and I might tell her agent. On the show, I might even say it, but the girls understand that's why they're there. . . . It's an accelerated learning curve."
In all the focus-group testing her shows have gone through, she gets the most positive response from young viewers when she's honest, Cutrone said. "Kids like me because I tell the truth, and they think their parents have sugarcoated everything in their lives and they want to know what's real. I give really good advice."
The best advice she ever received came from her parents: "You're going to have bad days, people are going to be mean, and you're going to make mistakes, but you need to get up the next day, dust yourself off, and keep going."