TORONTO - "America's Next Top Model" is easily one of television's most delightful guilty pleasures, a sordid hour of catfights among aspiring young supermodels overseen by an occasionally volatile Tyra Banks, herself a former denizen of the catwalk.

Toronto's Jay Manuel, in fact, often seems one of the few voices of sanity on the reality show, sensibly dishing out advice to the girls in a no-nonsense Canadian way as he coaches them on their photo shoots.

Manuel, 34, was back in his hometown on Wednesday to promote the second cycle of "Canada's Next Top Model," premiering May 30 on Citytv. He's not only taking over the show's hosting duties from Canadian model Tricia Helfer, who was at the helm for the first season, but he's also executive producer.

"Being a Canadian and from Toronto, I really wanted to be a part of it," the tanned and buff Manuel, wearing a tight, patterned T-shirt and sporting his trademark spiky platinum-blond hairstyle, said at Citytv's downtown Toronto office.

"When they asked me to come and host the show, it was really important to me to be an executive producer. It wasn't just a credit. I am involved in the show from soup to nuts, from hiring the right staff to educating them on how the show is done in the States to overseeing every little detail in production."

Manuel, a onetime makeup artist whose clientele grew to include such Hollywood stars as Jennifer Lopez and Banks herself, called it "hugely gratifying" to be back at Citytv given he grew up watching one of its most beloved shows before moving to New York City when he was 18.

"Saturdays at 5 was, like a religion, Fashion Television. It really was what inspired me to get to the level that I'm at now. It just feels like I've come full circle."

Manuel, taller than expected in person at almost six feet, is all business today, passionately discussing his determination to make the second season of "Canada's Next Top Model" even more "fierce" - Tyra-speak for extraordinary - than its U.S. mothership, currently near the end of its eighth successful season (it airs Wednesday nights on Citytv).

The show, Banks's brainchild, has expanded into more than 100 countries, but Manuel noted that Canada is renowned for turning out some of the fashion world's most successful and sought-after catwalk models.

"It's the first thing I tell these girls. From Linda Evangelista to Shalom Harlow to Jessica Stam, Canadian models compete on an international level. And I wanted this show to compete on an international level," he said. "I wanted it to be more rooted in high fashion than the first (season), and the shoots definitely look more high fashion."

But what about this season's "America's Next Top Model," he's asked. Will it be Jaslene, Renee, Natasha or Dionne who takes the top prize?

"I'd tell you if you gave me $5 million," Manuel said with a laugh, explaining that's how much those associated with the show are fined if they blab about the outcome.

Manuel suggested he was disappointed with the quality of the aspiring models, both physically and otherwise, on this season's "America's Next Top Model" in comparison to the girls in season 2 of the Canadian show. He rolled his eyes, in fact, at the mention of Jael, arguably one of the least "fierce" contestants in "America's Next Top Model" history.

"In the American show, you know, you look at it and you can say: 'I can guess that these five are going to be gone before they travel.' You know what I mean? The beginning isn't a guessing game," he said, referring to the point in the show mid-season when the contestants leave Los Angeles and fly to another country.

All 10 of the Canadian contestants, on the other hand, have the looks and demeanour of a future fashion superstar, Manuel said.

"The girls are an incredible group of girls, so right off the bat, from the end of the first episode, you're going to think: 'I don't know who's going to go next week.' And that's what you want. In our show, I want it to be a guessing game from the get-go. I wanted to start with a higher calibre of girls."

He also has great expectations of the Canadian wannabe supermodels, insisting they also have some integrity on top of great bone structure, good hair and long legs.

"I am also looking for a role model," he said. "Young girls of nine, 10, 11 and 12 - those girls all watch 'Top Model' so I wanted the group of girls, especially the winner, to be a role model. I really believe in the empowerment of women. So many cultures, even our own, tear women down. I want 'Top Model' to celebrate strong and smart and beautiful women."