You have to give it to the producers of America’s Next Top Model. This cycle marks the 18th season of the show. You would have thought that Tyra’s modeling gambits would have petered out long ago, but she keeps coming up with shticks that are splashy and filled with the possibility for reality awkwardness. After last cycle’s whimper of a season finale from the most promising of all the gimmicks thus far, I wasn’t sure that Tyra could coax me to watch the newest installment of her never-ending carnival of pouting, spandex, and teenage bickering. But then, she brought in the British. Just when I thought I was out… Tyra pulls me back in.
Yes, this cycle is the “British Invasion” version of ANTM, which, as the credits are quick to point out, is all about the American love of the British tabloid, none of that Revolutionary war shit. Just think of the awful feigned cockney accents! The cultural misunderstandings! The weird guest stars! The inevitable challenge where they all have to dress up like spotted dick! The newest batch of ANTM hopefuls is half American up-and-comers, half recruits from past seasons of Britain’s Next Top Model. So, it’s like the Olympics, if the Olympics only had two countries and were judged entirely by the whims of Tyra Banks and Nigel Barker.
The 14 ladies are still a blur of formal shorts and willowy frames, but a couple stood out immediately. There’s the intimidatingly pretty, Milwaukee-born, androgynous Azmarie, who informs us that she’s a lesbian and not above doing some flirting, y’hear. There’s the adorable 22-year-old Ashley, who has a serious stew of a Scottish accent and knows it. “I’m so getting subtitled,” one of her subtitles reads. Then there’s the lithe blonde Sophie who’s “from Oxford, like the dictionary.” And then there’s Native American Mariah, who immediately gets some weird racial flak from the judges in the photo challenge.
Apparently, the Americans don’t immediately realize that seven of their opponents are from across the pond, and Tyra and friends do their best to stoke an international rivalry. At the beginning, the models all join a half-hearted “fierce parade,” culminating in a model-off, which seems ripped straight from Zoolander. The best part of the whole thing is Ms. Jay’s outfit, which combines a tartan kilt with a formal shirt full of fake medals, an American flag bandanna, and aviators. If only Kim Jong Il had been alive to see it, no doubt that look would have been immediately adopted as dictator chic worldwide. The model-off itself seemed like mostly an opportunity for terrible trash talk, as when one model on the Brit team stared down the American team and offered the mediocre burn: “Just remember: You guys speak English.”
The real fun comes during the photo shoot, which combines a number of crazy ploys into one incoherent cross-cultural mess. The ladies will be paired up, one Brit to one Yank, and dress up as pop cultural figures from their respective countries. Oh, and they’ll be bouncing on trampolines. And this will be shot in 3-D. Now that’s a classic ANTM photo shoot, and it only gets better when we find out what the models are dressing up as. It’s like they had a pair of third-graders name every famous British and American person they could. There were George Washington and Queen Elizabeth, Pocahontas and John Lennon (what?), Amy Winehouse and Andy Warhol (double what?), and Margaret Thatcher and Michelle Obama (I just can't even…). I was half expecting to see two of them as Kim Kardashian and Russell Brand, or maybe George Bush and the Dowager Countess.
All of the pictures made them look like they were squinting, but some seemed more offensive than others to the judges. Kelly Cutrone, a.k.a The Hills intern master, has taken Andre Leon Talley’s former seat on the judge’s panel. While I miss Talley’s unpredictable muumuus and inexplicable personal vocabulary, Cutrone seems more energized and capable of a serious dressing down. I think she'll be a good addition to the table of photo sass. Guest judge Kelly Osbourne was also surprisingly on point, correctly describing Alisha’s Elton John impression as more of a “pissed off Aladdin.” Mariah was criticized for not doing more with her Pocahontas costume, what with being Native American and all that, which set the table for the offensive Native American-related commentary we can expect later in the season. Plus-sized model Symorne won the first picture with her Michelle Obama as the Statue of Liberty picture, putting the Americans solidly in the lead. In fact, the bottom five models were all Brits, which isn’t a good sign for the invaders. The final two were Jasmia, whose John Lennon impression was deemed “too '80s,” and poor Scottish Ashley, who couldn’t muster Princess Diana on a trampoline. In the end, Jasmia got kicked off the continent, and Tyra didn’t even put in some fake bad teeth.
- Those flag lipstick patterns were not flattering.
- On Ashley: “I feel bad for anyone from the UK who sees that photo.” Way harsh, Cutrone.
- Please, Tyra. You were not a “young girl” when the Spice Girls videos first came out.