At 19 seasons in, America’s Next Top Model is more than long in the tooth. It’s currently going through a full-blown mid-life crisis, though who knows how many cycles of hapless models we have yet to come. After firing every recognizable stalwart of the franchise, Tyra Banks introduced amusingly British model Rob Evans and fashion blogger/social media slave Bryanboy to her roster of new judges. No more Nigel’s weird hair choices, no more Miss Jay eyebrow crooks, no more Mr. Jay sassy faces. It’s a cruel world out there.
As Tyra explained last week in her casting extravaganza, this revamped cycle introduces yet another anxiety trigger for the young ladies. In addition to getting scored by the judges, the cumulative voice of people voting for them online will be factored in. So that put-down you have cooped up about one of these 13 ladies? That can be read aloud on stage, as a ticker underneath shows quotes from people picking out contestants’ flaws. Isn’t technology wonderful?
Oh, and, on top of it all, this season is the “college edition” of ANTM, which means that almost none of the women are of a reasonable age to actually start a modeling career. But never mind that! Sorority puns! Athletic gear! Giant chess set! “Be True to Your School” on endless loop! And now, instead of vague criteria, the girls will be assigned actual number grades out of 10 for each activity. Of course, these are still totally subjective—but it makes the competition so much more like synchronized swimming, doncha think? And the winner each week gets access to the exclusive “Tyra Suite,” decked out with tacky art with Tyra portmanteaus on it (Tyrateaus, henceforth. Two can play that game.) and a huge fashion closet. It’s VH1’s Charm School plus Drag U plus Tyra’s own version of Gossip Girl.
At this point, the 13 contestants are a giggling indistinguishable group, but for the resident and obligatory weirdo, Victoria. She goes to Liberty University, an online university, and has unhealthy attachment issues with her mom. No I know, but even more than usual for this show. She mentions that she is a virgin and never wants a boyfriend because her relationship with her mother satisfies her relationship needs. What? She’s the real life version of SNL’s Bedelia. Maria is the Harvard snot. Actually, she’s a grad school snot to boot, since she went to college when she was 16. And Kiara is the resident tough chick, having raised her seven siblings more or less by herself.
In the very first challenge, we’re introduced to our Miss Jay surrogate, a hula hooping leather-clad dancer named Jonte’. I already dislike him for not being Miss Jay and for making me type that apostrophe every time. He instructs the girls to work the dance platform for access to the Tyra Suite and addresses everyone as “sweetheart.” Leila, who has a gap in her teeth and tremble-y doe eyes, runs into the dangling hula-hoops. Androgynous Jessie has a robotic walk that Jonte’ really dislikes. “You ruined my whole fantasy about you,” he tells her. The winner: Yvonne, who threw in some high kicks and saved the day.
The photo challenge is a particularly awkward one given current events: Each of the girls has to pose as a hunting trophy. Not to get into that whole thing, but yeesh, y’all. Insensitive, much? The photographer is Shanae Grimes, who you may know from the redone 90210 or, if you are a follower of Drake’s early career, from her days on Degrassi. Though the context is a bit icky, the challenge itself is an interesting one. Without anything but their necks and faces, it’s a good primer on what the models can actually do.
When it comes to judging, things are all made over. There’s no monolithic judging desk now, just a group of chairs. And there are screens everywhere to display the statistical awfulness of each girl’s smize, plus how much people care about her on Twitter. Vogue’s sponsorship is gone along with Andre Leon Talley; now the prize is a spread in Nylon and campaigns from Smashbox and Nine West. Each model comes up to the podium to be numerically assessed. Bryanboy says things like “You barely made an impact online” or “your online presence is weak” or “Kristen, you nearly broke the Internet!” The best photo, empirically, was Leila’s: All three human judges gave her a ten, and the nebulous Internet force also scored her highly. Putting the numbers up takes some of the fun out of judging panel. No one else got nearly as high a score, so it was clear that Leila had the best picture before it was announced. Ditto for the girl getting kicked off. Destiny and Jessie had the lowest scores, and anyone actually paying attention could tell that it was Jessie going home. So long, only androgynous girl this cycle.
- Soon to come: Moneyball modeling.
- Apparently the eliminees get a chance to come back by participating in the photo shoots and submitting to the will of the Internet. And yes, I’ll definitely be watching that.
- Guys, I miss Miss Jay.