America’s Next Top Model: Is it still on top?

AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODELYou wanna be on top? “So next 2.0,” declares a very low voice as Tyra Banks flashes the V-sign on the intro for the latest, and 20th Cycle of America’s Next Top Model.

I can’t believe that America’s Next Top Model (ANTM) is now celebrating its tenth year. Ten years! Ten years of models getting lost on go-sees, ten years of gleefully watching makeovers, and ten years of the great Tyra Banks declaring almost  every city as the fashion capital of the world. ANTM was the precursor to an epoch of profession-based reality contest shows, such as Project Runway, The Apprentice and So You Think You Can Dance? This being the tenth year of the show, it’s difficult to imagine Tyra and her ever-changing panel of fashion cronies coming up with anything essentially new.

The show has been through several incarnations of late. Cycle 17 featured an All-Stars cycle where past contestants competed against each other. Cycle 18, titled British Invasion, had contestants from Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model compete alongside 7 all-new American contestants. Cycle 19 was a special college edition, where all the contestants were of college age.  This year sees the first cycle in which chaps are allowed to compete for the coveted title, much to the annoyance of this year’s lovely ladies.

Looking back at Cycle 1, it seems so fledgling and frail. Many of the contestants didn’t seem to understand how to act in the confessional booth, which is something of a standard now in today’s reality shows. The editing was straight-forward and uncomplicated, unlike the super-choppy and dishonest patchwork storytelling we’ve come to expect. Tyra Banks was intensely solemn, Jay Manuel seemed like an actual human, Janice Dickinson’s face was animate and rock-like all at once and Kimora Lee-Simons had impossibly high standards – were we ever so innocent?

It’s rare in a show that it hits its stride in the 15th Cycle, but ANTM proved its heavyweight potential when it aired its first High Fashion Cycle. The main prize was jaw-dropping – a spread in Italian Vogue, a huge step up from Seventeen, not to mention a contract with IMG Model Management. The judging panel had also never been stronger, with Andre Leon Talley, one of the most influential figures in entire fashion industry and Nigel Barker, one of the most notable photographers of the past twenty years. Alongside Tyra they sorted through one of the strongest cast of girls in ANTM history, finally settling on quirky Texan Ann Ward.

With the 20th Cycle, ANTM  has once again found its stride. Johnny Wujek delivers current and dazzling creative direction, Kelly Cutrone delivers acidic put-downs and one-liners that wreck the dreams of model-after-model and new hottie, male super-model Rob Evans adds a masculinity that feels necessary with the introduction of male-models. Tyra, is of course fabulous and her ever-changing weaves are a weekly highlight at panel.

So, happy ten-year anniversary, ANTM! Sure, the judges’ table is a constant game of musical chairs, and Tyra continues to spout senseless, ever more bizarre catchphrases (smize, booty tooch, H2T), but I for one will still be singing along to that jingle of a theme tune in ten years’ time.