“America’s Next Top Model” has consistently been my favorite TV show for the past five years, and I don’t think anything can be done at this point to change that. To explain the boundaries of my obsession would perhaps frighten away the casual television watcher. Not only have I seen every single episode from each of the 14 cycles at least six times over, I have also seen every single episode from the international versions: Australia, Canada, Germany and Britain.
Quite literally, this show is taking over my life. Once, I was watching an episode of “Gilmore Girls” in which Luke’s daughter watches an episode of ANTM in the background, and immediately I yelled out, “cycle seven, episode three!” I don’t even remember what the “Gilmore Girls” episode was about. Last semester, I wrote my Great Books paper on the show, evaluating its coherence to Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, and I’m seriously considering writing my senior thesis on the relation between the show’s narrative discourse and story. And to bring my creepiness full circle, I printed out a (candid, might I add) picture from my favorite contestant’s Facebook page and taped it on my wall so I could see it every day. Someone came to my room and was like, “Are those your friends?”
Oh, how I wish.
And if you don’t know what ANTM is, please, please look up “Tyra Banks freakout” on YouTube and tell me that’s not the pinnacle of quality reality television.
In each cycle, Tyra Banks and her sycophantic entourage of fashion police bestow upon one leggy ingénue the hallowed title of “America’s Next Top Model.” Yet the reality of the situation is so, so much more than that. Pointless drama about alarm clocks and supposed racism? Check. “That skank ho poured beer on my weave?” Check. Complete stagnation of modeling career upon venturing out in the real world? Double check. ANTM isn’t your typical Project Runway bullshit, where the designers actually make something out of themselves post-show. Cycle-one winner Adrianne Curry married a senile Brady and landed herself a spread in Playboy. Classy? I think so.
I’ve watched enough ANTM to come up with some pieces of advice for anyone who thinks she has what it takes.
1. Tyra is God. This is the first and foremost law of the land, and anyone who defies it will be cut, most likely immediately. The basic strategy for winning is to worship the ground Tyra walks on. Any other dramatic craziness is just a plus.
2. Models should wear plain tank tops and jeans and not much else. You’d think after 14 cycles, contestants would stop coming into panel in all sorts of outrageous garb, but just last week crazy old Alasia comes into judging wearing a silver cut-out swimsuit and a leather jacket. Not a good idea.
3. Crying about your incredibly tragic home life = good. Crying about the stresses of the show = bad. Never do this or they’ll say you can’t handle it. Actually, you know what’s even worse? Do. Not. Cry. About. Your. Makeover. That is grounds for immediate elimination, no matter how awesome you might be at modeling.
4. Don’t feel compelled to actually shop at Wal-Mart. Top Model consistently attempts to tell me to do so, but it’s never very convincing about it, as if Tyra doesn’t believe it herself. Especially when the contestants themselves express disgust at having to shop there. There was that one time I did consider buying something at Wal-Mart, but that was to buy ANTM underwear, and they were all sold out.
Long story short, I hope this show never goes away. Despite its catapult toward increasing levels of “dreckitude” — as Vogue editor-at-large and newest judge André Leon Talley would put it — I cannot get enough of it. For all of its raging drama and ridiculous judging scandals, the show can manage to pull out some pretty amazing models once in a while.
Elyse Sewell, who won third place in cycle one (and who broke up with her boyfriend Marty two years ago, who was a keyboardist for The Shins, after going through a messy violence court charge. I know too much about this; I’m going to stop), has become an international sensation traveling up and down Asia. Cycle eight winner Jaslene Gonzalez was featured in her own billboard for Lot29 on Times Square. And the most recent winner, Nicole Fox, has already been featured in ads for Forever 21 and Steve Madden mere weeks after earning her title.
Of course, who am I kidding? Even if that show managed to produce zero working models, much less supermodels, I would remain faithfully glued to my television screen, waiting to see what antics Tyra gets herself into next. I might flip through the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and admire the beautiful, waify silhouettes of Gemma Ward and Sasha Pivovarova, but nothing will compare to the excitement I experienced when, while browsing the net, a pop-up wig advertisement revealed, on closer examination, a profile shot of cycle six’s Joanie Dodds, in all her hair-plugged glory. Fiieeeeerce!