I still remember when America’s Next Top Model first came out. I heard people talking about it at school and thought it sounded really stupid. Cue to me three years, later, obsessively watching Top Model marathons in my pajamas, becoming ridiculously invested in the people I wanted to win while trying to psychologically diagnose the people causing all the drama.
By the 15th cycle, I had developed a fantasy of an apocalypse scenario in which all pressures of life were off and I had about 12 hours to do whatever I wanted before dying a fiery and epic death. In this fantasy I sat on the couch watching America’s Next Top Model, drinking whiskey and eating Cheetos until my hands turned orange. (Are these apocalypse fantasies common? The amazing pilot of Last Man on Earth made me think so.)
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I like this show so much. In some ways, it’s my favorite show. Not in the way The Sopranos is my favorite show. If The Sopranos is an aged, artisanal cheese, Top Model is chicken fingers. And there’s just something about chicken fingers. (Also aged cheese is the fanciest food I could think of, which shows about where my taste level is.)
I like to think I’m not just watching Top Model for the dramz. If I wanted that I could watch Real Housewives. Top Model‘s main appeal to me is the sort of ugly duckling narrative. Tyra Banks picks these diamonds in the rough types, people who you could never imagine on the cover of your next Victoria’s Secret Catalogue, and tries to make them into world-class models. But the narrative goes both ways. By watching real, flawed people endeavor to become our new standard of beauty, that exact standard starts to smudge. There’s something freeing about watching just how fucked up the people in the beautiful pictures are.
But I wasn’t just watching to hate. I got genuinely invested in a lot of the people on this show. Allison Harvard was probably my favorite contestant of the whole series, an odd, mousy artistic girl who 4chan had called “Creepychan.” She turned into a babydoll bombshell under Tyra’s care.
Allison as Creepychan
Allison as a Top Model
Tyra really does have an eye for unusual beauty. One of the weirdest moments of the whole series was when Tyra had all the contestants write songs, and Allison wrote a beautiful song about the passing of her father. Then Tyra revealed that all the songs had to work in the phrase “pot ledom,” which is top model backward. Allison cried and I almost did too.
Nik was the contestant who I thought was probably the most beautiful of the whole series. I could not believe she didn’t win.
Mamé on the current season is also a world-class beauty. I really hope she wins. But who will be the next Tyra? Are any of them at her level? Who can say?
Who could forget the first-ever male winner, Keith Carlos?
And RIP to Mirjana, who was recently tragically killed.
The show could have done more to support the contestants from troubled backgrounds, since it seemed to select them on purpose for their reality T.V. appeal. As Mirjana’s death revealed, the show was not a gateway to success for most of its contestants.
But for a couple, the show did help. Most of them are actresses now, like Yaya DaCosta and Analeigh Tipton.
Top Model was a flawed show, but it was my favorite flawed show. I shall miss its politically incorrect photoshoots, its unnecessarily dangerous runways and Tyra’s many oddball photoshoot concepts, like when she made everyone act like birds.
I shall miss the men’s facial hair weaves, Tyra Banks’ attempts to act like the show was influenced by social media, and her many over-the-top foreign accents. Goodbye Top Model. I will have to console myself by watching the hundreds of franchises of this show from the rest of the world.