ANTM

America’s Next Top Model: Cycles 20 and 21

America's Next Top Model, Cycle 21

Jonathan May

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 owen.may@gmail.com

Advertisements

Johnny-Come-Lately: America’s Next Top Model, Cycles 9-14

tyra_banks

Jonathan May

Jonathan May grew up in Zimbabwe as a child of missionaries and missed a lot of “important” American things along the way. He chronicles his journey to catch up in a feature called “Johnny-Come-Lately.”

Over the past three weekends, I’ve watched cycles 9-14 of the CW’s America’s Next Top Model, and by God if I haven’t tried to smile with my eyes (“smize”) in the mirror at least a few times during the process. I’ve practiced using my space and being fierce and throwing shade with the very best, Ms. Tyra Banks, in my head. This show would quite literally be nothing without her; she’s never afraid to be goofy and fierce and smoldering, sometimes all in the same five minutes. But that, as she points out, is the essence of being a supermodel: being able to be memorable, yet a chameleon. She emphasizes the three C’s of modeling: catalogue, commercial, and couture. And the girls worship her. Who wouldn’t, with that flawless skin and that bravado?

The show focuses on different types of beauty (plus-size, petite, alien, masculine, strong bone structure) through the different girls picked to enter the competition; every cycle is usually “fair” in its makeup, although that’s a hard task when you’re literally trying to find the most beautiful girl out there. Luckily Tyra and the judges emphasize personality and inner beauty throughout; the girls have to interview and make conversation. They must participate in social graces, sometimes in totally different countries for those girls lucky enough to make it that far. This is very attractive as a quality in the show; rarely does a complete bitch make it to the top two. While being fair to the reality format, the show consistently delivers the message that in order to win in the fashion industry, people need to like you; ergo, don’t be a bitch.

So, we have 13-14 girls who learn about modeling and walking and posing, who get makeovers (there are inevitable tears), who are winnowed down week by week for their participation in challenges, overall attitude and appearance, and weekly photograph challenges. During the course of this madness, the viewer becomes endearingly acquainted with Jay Manuel (creative director of photo shoots) and “Ms. J” Alexander, a fierce modeling coach who works it with the best of the ladies; these two help the girls along to the best of their abilities, but ultimately the girls must want it for themselves the most.

Why do I watch so obsessively? First of all, the judges and coaches show in their own behavior that having a genuine personality is what makes a real top model; girls of all looks and sizes have won the coveted top prize, but they all share the same warmness of a real girl shining through the model. Second, the transformations of the girls are remarkable, both mental and physical; by the end, the girls look and act totally foreign to themselves just weeks prior. The house drama among that many girls of course has its dramatic appeal, but for me, the winners usually aren’t the instigators or the participants in the whole she-said, she-said. Third, girls can literally come from nothing and become something; even the girls who don’t win often receive contracts after appearing on the show. Who doesn’t love a good American Dream story, complete with pretty women? In the end, I like a show that emphasizes the positive aspects of one’s emotional character. I don’t think the show promotes a typical standard of beauty, but rather many types of beauty.

My advice if you want to audition: Know your designers, photographers, and top models. Practice in front of a mirror. Take a look at your wardrobe to see if it’s fresh. And be fierce.

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 owen.may@gmail.com