The new season of America’s Next Top Model is currently in full swing on Living TV. Considering that this is the eleventh series, and the show is as popular as ever, the question is what makes ANTM (as the regulars say) so brilliant? Since it first hit America’s screens in May 2003, Tyra Banks and her team have been churning out new models faster than you can say ‘fierce’, but unlike other reality TV series, which usually dwindle after the second or third season, ANTM shows no signs of losing popularity. The premise of the show is simple: fourteen beautiful girls who each want to break into the world of modelling compete to win a once in a lifetime modelling contract with a top agency, a $100,000 contract with Cover Girl Cosmetics and a spread in a magazine.
I’ll admit the modelling and fashion world may seem superficial to most and to the untrained eye this show might seem as pointless and repetitive as any other reality TV series, but believe me there is an undeniably unique and addictive element to Top Model. It seems to have it all – drama, glamour, bitching girls, stunning clothes, exotic locations, heartache and elation, everything a girl would want in a television program.
We start with fourteen hopefuls and every week they face a series of modelling challenges and themed photo shoots, with the weakest contestant eliminated each week. The judging is where the main action takes place, with screaming matches, girls fainting and deep dark secrets being revealed, to name but a few memorable events. Dreams are made and shattered as the girls line up to hear the verdict on their pictures. The panel is made up of the show’s creator and modelling icon, Tyra Banks, the gorgeous photographer Nigel Barker, and cross-dressing runway coach extraordinaire J Alexander (also known as Miss J). This series also introduces international model Paulina Porizkova for the fourth seat. The eliminations continue until we reach a nail-biting finale where the girls are put to the ultimate runway test and we find out who is America’s Next Top Model.
During the past six years, the show has seen a massive variety of girls; aside from contestants of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities they’ve had blind models, models with rare illnesses, anger management issues and impoverished childhoods. Despite the continuing emphasis on a “model-like” personality it seems that along with killer cheekbones and legs that go on for days, a good sob story will significantly improve your chances of getting on the show.
A major issue in ANTM has of course been that of weight. It seems obvious these days that you can’t mention fashion without the size 0 taboo being brought to mind. Although the judges often discourage girls that appear ‘too thin’ and have included several plus sized girls in the program, many thought a ‘full-figured’ model would never win the show until cycle ten when Whitney, a UK size 14, take the top prize. However, her win came as something of a shallow victory as many claimed controversially that she won only because of her voluptuous figure, rather than her talent as model. This cycle the show’s pursuit of political correctness has gone one step further with the inclusion of Isis King, a pre-op transsexual who was head hunted for the series after standing out as a background model in a photo shoot on a former season.
Although undeniably a fascinating addition to the program one can’t help but feel a slight sense of guilt for enjoying her ‘novelty value’. Isis is a stunning and talented model but is undoubtedly included only to give the show an additional ‘freak-show’ appeal. I for one would be very surprised to see her win.
As interesting as the lives of the contestants are, you’d be hard pushed to get into the depth of their characters this cycle. As the seasons go on the show become more and more focused on just one person: Tyra Banks. ANTM has become increasingly Tyra-centric and although her influence has always been noticeable, of late her desperation to put herself in the limelight has become a little embarrassing. Tyra clearly has valuable wisdom to share with the aspiring models but this series it seems that every other episode is focused on facilitating an eccentric set piece in which Tyra can take centre stage. Unsatisfied with singing the show’s theme tune she has removed the faces of past winners from the titles and replaced them instead with images of herself. Though in my opinion the crowning glory of her ego-centrism this cycle has been asking two of the girls to change their names – there were three contestants called Brittany, clearly too much for her to cope with. Of course they happily obliged, but there is something unsettling about their unquestioning willingness to change their identities at Tyra’s suggestion. I suppose it’s only natural for her to want to hold on to the adoration she received during the peak of her career, especially as at 35 she’s practically an OAP by model standards, but as the show itself is a tribute to her success, career and talent, everything else is surplus to requirement.
It might sound like my opinion of the show has decreased in recent years, and in some ways it has, but don’t get me wrong. Despite its many flaws there is something about ANTM that just cannot be beaten. Although I highly recommend it I do think it should come with a warning. Once you start watching you’re hooked for life. It is indulgent, shameless entertainment and I love it. My name is Maxine Bodicoat and I’m an America’s Next Top Model addict.