Bad news, everyone: Your regular guide to Tyra’s Next Top On-Air Meltdown, Amelie Gillette, cannot be with you tonight because she’s on vacation. Worse news: I’ve volunteered to be her replacement, despite not having watched a single episode this cycle and very few before that. But I have flipped past a few of those Oxygen marathons recently, and tonight, Season Three’s plus-sized bore Toccara Jones turned in a cameo appearance, so I felt right at home. Especially since it seem like pretty much the same show it always was, only drained of all life and purpose and energy. Will someone please wake up Tyra and tell her she’s on TV?
Let’s start at the end, which would seem like the kind of manufactured controversy that makes reality television reality television. Having spent most of the episode whining about withering confidence and talking openly about leaving the show and finding another way into modeling, Tahlia proceeded to crush the competition where it counted—on an old-timey Ellis Island photo shoot where she transformed herself into a flamenco dancer from Spain, or something to that effect. But Tahlia made the mistake of voicing her misgivings ealier to overeager Martha Plimpton lookalike Celia, who decided to take it upon herself to rat Tahlia out to Tyra after leggy chucklesmith Kortnie was sent home. Why should Kortnie (who wanted to be there but had no shot of winning) go home while Tahlia (who didn’t want to be there but took a much better photograph than any of the other nine models) gets to stay?
This was Tyra’s moment to unleash the crazy, and help the good folks at The Soup find their Clip Of The Week. But she couldn’t even manage something on the level of President Obama’s cool smackdown of CNN’s Ed Henry (“I took two days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak”). It was obvious that Celia was totally out of line, and that if Tahlia wasn’t up for staying in the competition, she’d have said so herself. But then Tyra just comes right out and says that, and the only moment of real tension in the episode is allowed to pass. It’s as if Tyra had someplace else to be and Celia was a fruitfly she was swatting on her way out the door. How long has she looked this thoroughly bored by her own show?
Without the Tahlia/Celia sideshow, however, there wasn’t going to be anything particularly memorable about this episode, which began with an enervating visit by Toccara, who appeared as part of ANTM’s periodic need to confirm that the show does, in fact, turn out a few working models. They may not be America’s next top model, but in Toccara’s case, they can at least be the first plus-sized black model ever to appear on the cover of Italian Vogue. (I believe my Senator, Roland Burris, would consider that mausoleum-worthy.) The girls are excited to have Toccara over for a totally spontaneous sleepover—and look, she’s brought everyone Mira Kelis sleepwear. (“Such a sweet gesture,” one of them notes.) After blazing through there, she leaves them with one message: Don’t be afraid to show your personality. Profound.
From there, the contestants waste a little time on posing with Benny Ninja and model/“DJ sensation” Sky Nellor, who drops tracks of various musical genres while they freeze in various hammy expressions. “It’s not brain surgery,” says Nellor, but it probably seems like it to models who have to listen to directions like “think of horse dung” when they’re posing to a country song. Their practice run is prelude to what’s essentially a drag queen show masquerading as a “high fashion” pose-off in front of an audience of harsh critics. While it was fun to watch the contestants actually get showered with boos—as all but the two finalists did, in fact—winning didn’t give anyone much of an advantage. So the whole day with Benny and the DJ was just a practice for a practice for the next day’s photo shoot, which relied on disciplined still poses in order to register in the old-fashioned equipment.
I thought the final challenge was a good one: Dress up like an immigrant coming to America via Ellis Island in the early 19th century, and stand out in a family tableaux rounded out by kids and Benny Ninja as the husband. (Benny, to his credit and my surprise, managed to recede into the shots further than I thought possible for someone so naturally hammy.) The girls only had 10 shots to get it right, and I felt retroactively sorry for those like London or Sandra who weren’t told to direct their gazes toward the camera like the others in the picture. So naturally, their model-y looking-off-into-the-sunset profile pictures were completely inappropriate and they didn’t find out about that until later. Good on Tahlia for taking a great photograph when it counted. When all the other nonsense is set aside—and oh what an abundance of nonsense on this episode—those 10 frames are all that matters. The rest is stuff that Tyra doesn’t see and clearly doesn’t care about.
• Another cycle, another group of contestants who don’t looks remotely like professional models. But I will give Cycle 12 this: They have the crappy names of professional models. Aminat, Fo, Nijah, Tahlia, London, Teyona. Even someone with a normal-sounding name like Courtney spells it K-O-R-T-N-I-E.
• “Practice your posin’ if you want to be chosen.” Hey look everyone, it rhymes!
• Kate Winslet in Titanic was literally London’s inspiration. Oh my God you guys.