Cycle 21 of The CW’s America’s Next Top Model starts at the end of August this year. Going along with the 2.0 reinvention theme from last cycle, this latest will feature both male and female models, competing for the top prize. After much brouhaha, Ms. J. Alexander will return to judge alongside Tyra, the fans, and the fabulous Kelly Cutrone. Being from Memphis, I’m proud to say we have a male Memphian representing the River City in the competition. And because Tyra loves to shake it up, this upcoming season will also feature a female African-American contestant with vitiligo—I’ve seen her photos posted on the ANTM Facebook page, and she is gorgeous. I’m glad to see that Tyra keeps pushing the fashion envelope as far as the mainstream is concerned; it’s the same reason I like the United Colors of Benetton ads for their “whole-world” perspective on what is beautiful. America’s Next Top Model over the years has addressed and codified many forms of beauty, but what keeps it from becoming formulaic is the insistence on a model who can actually function well in the industry, perhaps the most important factor.
But let’s take a look at how the introduction of guys to the competition went in Cycle 20. Hormones raged as soon as the final contestants were decided. Romances quickly developed between various pairs; one particular couple, Marvin and Renee, were even termed “Marnee” like so many celebrity pairs. Cycle 20 also proved that the men could be just as bitchy as the women; for example, Chris, the hot and emotional brunette-turned-blond, drains the other contestants constantly with his notes about dishes and yelling about others’ behaviors. I personally blame him for Nina going home as early as she did, because she would spend so much time listening to his emotional quibbling.
This cycle also heightened the suspense by leading up to an elimination (or comeback) right as the episode ends, so you have to tune in the following week to see the results. While this may be an aggravating move for television viewing, when you binge-watch online it makes much less of a difference. One particular episode, however, wherein two contestants are brought back almost broke the emotional will of Phil, the bearded contender. He broke down while being eliminated, only to be told that tonight was the night someone was being brought back, upon which he broke down again. Then Tyra announces that Alexandra is coming back, and Phil breaks down again because he thinks that’s the end. Then Tyra says that she only just announced the female comeback contestant and has yet to pick the male. Phil breaks down again at that point. When he finally loses coming back to Jeremy and breaks down for the final time, I fully expected him to suffer a total nervous collapse. Such is the drama of reality television.
Ultimately, the winner was determined more by virtue of the sponsors (Guess Jeans, Nylon magazine) than by sheer talent. I won’t spoil the results in case you haven’t watched, but let’s just say I wish there were more variety in the lineup. Does a guy stand a chance of winning America’s Next Top Model? I’ll be tuning in this August to find out.
Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org