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‘America’s Next Top Model’ Review: “Estelle”

America's Next Top Model
CW

The US team took a hit on ‘America’s Next Top Model‘ last week when they lost Azmarie, arguably the strongest competitor this cycle. This week the teams are equal at four against four, but there’s some resentment against Kyle brewing that could lead to some explosive drama.

Laura, still angry at Kyle after last week’s stuffed animal ordeal, forms an alliance with Sophie to bring Kyle down, but where is this going? This isn’t ‘Survivor.’ You don’t form alliances and vote people off, Laura. Not that it matters because Kyle says she doesn’t like the US girls anyway. Clearly Kyle is taking the Madonna approach to cultural identity.

This week’s challenge is for B.I.O., Tyra’s anti-bullying campaign. It’s a team challenge where each team must create a two minute PSA. Sophie adorably coos, “What’s a PSA?” Each team gets four young girls to be incorporated into their ads. The winning team’s campaign will be featured on the CW website, and the winning girls will receive a personal video message from a family member or loved one on their VIRGIN MOBILE PHONES.

The PSA project brings out some tender emotions in the groups as the girls commiserate over their own personal experiences with bullying growing up. It’s quite touching, especially when they interact with the little girls and hear their stories. This is the only good part of this whole challenge because the rest of it strikes a nerve.

This whole PSA business just feels duplicitous. This is a modeling competition where superficiality is — regardless of what Tyra might have you believe with her posturing about personality — supreme. Even when Tyra talks about having that “Top Model personality” or “Cover Girl personality,” it’s about being bubbly and commercial, and if you can’t put on a fake personality to sell some mascara, then you’re just not cut out for modeling, according to the Bible of Tyra. Is this the reality of modeling? In the commercial industry, yes. But someone like Azmarie would have probably gotten flack in the back-end of the season just like so many alternative types have on past cycles for not being perky enough. What sort of lesson does this teach?

In the real world of modeling there are women with all kinds of personalities and proclivities that have succeeded without a Cover Girl commercial on their resume. Or pop song recorded by CBS, for that matter.

The problems with ‘ANTM’ are two fold: One, the show has become about these girls building themselves as a brand, with perfumes and songs and commercial selling power. It’s become less about modeling ability and more about commercial viability. When the Vogue prize pack was introduced a few cycles back (if you’ll recall, the gawky and wonderfully weird Ann won that cycle, and rightfully so), it seemed like Tyra was angling for something more upscale — a real fashion model. And even though they still incorporated the Cover Girl challenge, it seemed less about being able to sell yourself in a commercial, and more about high fashion. This is the ‘ANTM’ that’s the best.

The second problem, to bring this full circle, is with this PSA. These are young girls who are talking about being bullied by their peers because of their looks. And this is a show where Tyra and her panel of experts often judge the contestants on their appearance. At the end of the day, someone gets eliminated for failing to properly pose in a photo shoot, or for their inability to evolve. But the girls are only on the show because they are beautiful. We can credit Tyra for her inclusion of plus sized models, but even that has always felt like an excuse for Tyra’s own weight fluctuation. It’s admirable, yes, but it’s never felt genuine in so much as there have never been more than two plus sized models on a cycle at any given time, if there are any at all. When the average size of a woman in this country is a size 12, it’s hard to believe that Tyra can barely manage to find one plus sized model per cycle.

And here they are, involving young girls in a PSA about embracing inner beauty and rebuking bullying, but imagine how carefully selected these little girls were. It wasn’t just that they had stories about being bullied — it’s that these little girls are so adorable that it will break the hearts of the audience, who couldn’t possibly fathom that these little precious angels could be bullied. They corral these girls and put them on a show next to models, and while it’s noble to have aspiring models tell these girls that they too — believe it or not — were bullied, there’s just something sort of… off about having impressionable little girls on a show where Queen Tyra dictates the looks and presentation of these women, tells them they aren’t good enough, refuses to listen to their perspective in judging, and often eliminates girls seemingly because they don’t do what she wants — like poor Azmarie last week, whose music video performance was so much better than Kyle’s, but because she wouldn’t cow to Tyra and wear a fake butt pad, she was deemed difficult and stuck-up and sent packing.

So Tyra, it’s nice that you’d like to put an end to bullying — and it sure is the “it” thing to do right now, you trendy shark — with all of your make-up and your pretty aspiring models and your sermonizing about inner beauty, but it just rings sort of false considering the pulpit you’re using.

But back to the challenge: the Brits’ PSA is energetic and well rehearsed, and the models connected well with the girls, while the US team chose a more simplistic, sober approach, but they didn’t seem like they were really that bonded with their young counterparts. The Brits take the win and get lovely messages from their loved ones back home, except for Sophie, whose detached boyfriend just rambled about the weather.

This week’s photo shoot challenge takes place at a mansion, where the girls will be a part of an art installation at a dinner table. British singer Estelle plays the dinner host, and the girls take turns posing on the table for their peers. Alisha and Catherine struggle on the Brit side, unable to strike the big, out there poses Mister Jay demands. Sophie nails it, and as Jay points out, seems to be free from the inhibitions plaguing the other girls.

The fake butt pads are back this week and Kyle gets one due to her lack of junk in the trunk. It’s still not enough to save her shoot, which is — as has become her trademark — bland.

Sophie obviously takes top photo this week for her quirky performance, while Seymone takes the runner-up spot for her curve control. The bottom two this week are Alisha and Kyle, who both gave safe, boring performances during the photo shoot.

Good news for Laura and Sophie because boring, spastic, squirrely Katy Perry lookalike Kyle is sent packing.

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