America’s Next Top Model aired its latest finale last night, crowning Gigi Hadid lookalike India Gants (pictured above) as the titular winner. And good for her, she deserved it! (Perhaps Tatiana did more, but Top Model rarely gets it right in the end tbqh.) While this was the TWENTY-THIRD cycle finale in total, it’s the end of the first season since the show was rebooted by VH1 after, for reasons I can’t even begin to understand, the CW Network canceled it back in 2015. Those were dark times.
I should offer a disclosure of sorts right off the bat: I fucking love America’s Next Top Model. I have loved it from the very first episode when Ebony fake-cried her way into the cast and the dangerously low budget rooftop photoshoot featured Jennifer Lopez-designed swimwear. (I don’t think I’m making it up when I say a model was almost blown off the roof by a gust of wind, right?!)
I have watched every episode. I could tell you, in order, my top 10-12 favorites - Angelea is #1 forever and always. I have developed an uncanny knack for recognizing the show’s alumnae in skincare ads or church hat ads or, strangely enough, walking the Project Runway finale show at NYFW. (This happens a lot.) I have the post-Top Model single from cycle 10 (and 17) contestant Dominique Reighard, “Top of the World,” on my workout playlist and it’s a bop, OK?
Where I’m going with this is making it very clear how nervous the prospect of Top Model’s return made me. ESPECIALLY WITHOUT MY MODELLAND QUEEN TYRA BANKS - who, incidentally, returned for the reboot's premiere and finale episodes, on both occasions reminding me exactly what I was missing from her (i.e. everything). Deep down, then, I think I wanted to hate Top Model 2.0? But I didn’t! In fact, I quite liked this cycle. But it also wasn’t good enough.
Let’s deal with the case of the missing supermodel first and foremost: nobody is as surprised as I was, and still am, and will always be (whether she’s back for cycle 24 or not) that Rita Ora did a pretty good job fronting the show.
She is no Tyra Banks, that is clear to one and all, and to her credit Rita didn’t even attempt to go there. This cycle brought with it no new catchphrases coined (beyond the whole “BOSS” thing which we’ll get to, don’t worry) or camp challenges at judging. Rita didn’t even keep to the whole “I have one photo left in my hand…” deal, and I missed that so very much but also I wouldn’t have stood for it coming for anyone but my smize queen I suppose.
Rita also seemed genuinely invested in the contestants in a way that, well, Tyra wasn’t. We’ve all seen Fifty Shades and know that Rita can A-C-T but, call me sentimental I can take it, I felt like it was the real deal when she spent time with the cast. (Versus, you know, when Tyra just showed up on occasion to fake faint and fuck with them.) She seemed invested in her faves, and all the contestants’ potential, and even had a lil’ tantrum when she was overruled on an elimination that one time.
But let’s also not pretend that she wasn’t upstaged (frequently) by her second-in-command: Ashley Graham was the single best casting decision the producers made when putting the reboot together (and were it not for the fact that I’ve come to peace with Rita, I’d stan for her as the real-deal host). She offered tough love and real talk and, also, real modeling insight into a business that she’s at the forefront of changing. Ashley Graham is my America’s Next Top Model.
Ashley Graham is my America’s Next Top Model.
I also grew to appreciate Paper magazine’s Drew Elliott - at around the same pace as, his makeup artist on the show, it seemed. Around the same time they stopped sabotaging his foundation (let’s say episode five or six) he seemed to hit the right snark-from-a-place-of-love sweetspot for his critiques, and developed enough of a presence throughout the cycle’s photoshoots that when he got mean, because he sure got mean on occasion, he had the insight to back it up.
“Image architect” Law Roach on the other hand could not. Can we bounce him please? (Replace him with Stacey McKenzie, who worked hard for her screentime and deserves a “model house mom” role if nothing else.) Aside from one flop of a personal aesthetic challenge and the voiceovers he provided for Burlington Coat Factory in early episodes, Law brought very little to the judging table and he seemed to be able to offer little more than a bitchy read on the models’ shoes when, Law, we don’t even get to see your footwear so I’m just not buying it. I’m not!
[related id='2a6c6ec7-4f8a-4fb8-b9f6-ca17f4ef18ff' align='center'][/related]
Despite their apparently bad shoes, the models themselves were a surprisingly modelesque bunch! Kudos to the casting team for finding contestants who brought the drama as well as the cheekbones (even if most are too old to make it in the business for real). Would it have been bad to round the cast out to 15 or 16? No - two standouts from the casting episode were Quan, who I feel confident would have excelled in the confessional booth and Starr, who could have brought us the first Top Model love triangle, I mean come on now. But everyone in the top 14 played their role; particular shout-outs to Marissa, Binta, and Courtney, who EXCELLED in showcasing much of the spectrum of reality TV messiness.
So with a good cast, a (mostly) good lineup of judges, for the most part good editing, and the ~allure~ of celebrity-driven high fashion glamour, what was missing? Character development first and foremost - perhaps because each of the models played to type so well, and so consistently, there were very few surprises along the way. The awk and nervous girls’ nerves got the better of them and were eliminated, the commercial girls couldn’t do editorial and were eliminated, the sexy girls couldn’t tone it down and were eliminated etc. etc. We knew all this in the premiere, and even the “growing into her confidence” winner’s arc foisted on India in latter episodes seemed forced. Classic Top Model cycles take the contestants - and all of us watching along by proxy - to places even they weren’t expecting (see: cycle 8’s Brittany melting the fuck down during the go-see challenge) and that just didn’t happen here.
What I'm saying is, you shouldn't cast an all-American peppy cheerleader like Paige without making sure you're going to break her spirit by the fourth episode thanks to a shaved head and, IDK a photoshoot that happens to feature her very real fear of gnomes prominently. Pose with the gnome Paige, fondle his pointy lil' hat! It's cruel, sure, but it's the way the Top Model cookie crumbles. (For obvious reasons, that's a metaphorical cookie.) Also, the confessionals in particular this cycle were damp squibs.
A greater problem still was the whole multi-hyphenate “standard” by which the models were held. In the immortal words of Jade Cole, this is America’s Next Top Model not America’s Next Top Model/Boss/Brand/Whatever. As judging criteria, this never made sense, and it was almost impossible to quantify (not that I ever want to go back to the judges’ SCORING because that was awful, Bryanboy I’m talking to you). Yes, the modeling business has changed in the years since the show started, and it would be naïve of the show to ignore that. But it’s also equally naïve to pretend that ANTM is a legitimate vehicle to success for 90%+ of its contestants anyway, so just have fun with it, you know!? Let the models rest on pretty so you can critique them for it!
Of course the show has always taken itself very seriously on face value, but when you’re forcing your models to writhe around in a person-sized bowl of Greek salad, literally grinding up on large chunks of feta and pouring olive oil on themselves all “sexy”-like for the camera, it’s serious… but also not at all. This reboot was missing the latter part. It needed more cheese in every context.
I will never stop watching Top Model, let’s be clear. But if we’re going to bring the show back from the dead, we need to make sure it’s (re)living its very best life, and that means making things a bit more ridic. A lot more ridic. It’s what Tyra would want.
Follow Alex on Twitter.
You Might Also Like