The outpouring of emotion continues on this week’s episode of America’s Next Top Model. This time all the girls are forced to confront various personal issues—from race, identity, illness, character attacks, former drug addictions and even prison records—all while looking fabulous. I don’t know why these girls find it so damn hard; Honey, this is what I have to do every damn day of my life! Can I get a witness?
Pride and Prejudice
As usual, the show starts with the girls at the apartment, mulling over their respective problems. Catie talks about her disappointment over having let herself “slip down the rankings” while jumping wildly over Sara on the couch in a fit of either desperate attention-seeking or repressed lesbian desire (despite being the far less interesting option, being Catie, I believe it’s the latter).
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, April and Camille discuss the vicissitudes of being a woman of color in the modeling industry. Of course, Camille thinks she has it tough, citing the “million blonde-haired blue-eyed girls” on the runway compared to the paucity of black models. “It’s very competitive,” Camille complains, “It’s like that one token girl.” April counters, “What percentage of magazine covers do you see an Asian on? It’s rougher being an Asian than a black woman, Tyra’s told me up front.” The producers insert a handy flashback of Tyra at April’s audition saying, “The fashion industry is all about race. Do you see Asian girls on the covers of magazines? I’m not talking about Lucy Liu, she’s an actress…If you enter into this fashion world, you would be the underdog.” April admits that prior to this competition, she never thought about her ethnicity (Japanese and Caucasian), and seems a little defensive when she says that she’s never done anything to “associate” herself with being Asian. According to Camille, “I don’t know how much April lives out her Japanese culture in her life, but her Japanese culture might be that one thing that’s gonna give her the edge.”
In contrast to April’s seeming lack of self-acceptance, Sara proclaims, “I am so proud of my Persian culture.” The Iranian culture of her father’s side, however, poses a different kind of problem: in their view, “a model is a whore”. Mercedes is still struggling with the fatigue brought on by her lupus, and works hard to keep her illness a secret, hiding her medication and sneaking her pills whenever she can. “I don’t want to be judged, I just want to be as normal as everyone else,” she says.
Tyra pops in (still wearing those cornrows that makes her head resemble that of Aladar, the baby from Disney’s “Dinosaur”) as some of the girls are playing jump rope, and joins in spontaneously before meeting one-on-one with everybody. Tyra tells Xiomara that what she loves about her is her toughness, and that it appears as if “You’re trying to do this feminine thing that’s not natural for you.” Flashback to Xiomara clomping down the runway in the strange purple tutu from last week’s Betsey Johnson challenge. I’m not going to talk about Catie’s chat with Tyra because I am sick of her whining; but Yoanna talks about missing her mom, leading Tyra to her favorite topic: herself, or in this case, her close relationship with her mother (although impressively, Tyra’s mother quit her job to move to Paris with an 18-year-old Tyra in order to support her career). When it’s her turn, Camille immediately brings up her displeasure at having being called a “diva” at the last judging ceremony, claiming, “This is the first time I have ever been called a diva.” Perhaps that is because in less polite circles, women like Camille are often referred to using other four-letter words (which I cannot share with you here on the PG13 FORT) . “There’s a certain level of humility and modesty that you have to have,” says the woman who reportedly hired a model that looks like herself to make out with in her forthcoming music video. “It’s a quiet confidence,” adds same woman, who appears to be the only person wearing the “Ty” necklace that she made a big show creating and passing out to everyone.
Just as I’m wondering how some crafty brownnoser hasn’t taken to wearing theirs to indicate being “Ty Ty’s” little bitch yet, I notice that April is, in fact, donning the Ty necklace as they chat, during which Tyra touches on the race issue again. “I haven’t been connected with my Japanese heritage and I’m not going to pretend I have. I’m not going to market myself to just Asian girls,” April says, somewhat defiantly. Now I have to step in and say that I’m surprised and more than a little disappointed with April for not properly recognizing her Asian roots. You’d think she’d be grateful that she doesn’t resemble her father (c’mon, we’ve all seen the picture, and even she refers to him as looking like “Art Garfunkel”). She doesn’t have to run around with chopsticks in her hair, but she could learn a lesson from Sara who, despite encountering disapproval from the Iranian side of her culture, is clearly very comfortable and proud of who she is. Speaking of Sara, she asks Tyra for advice about her father, who doesn’t know what she’s doing these past few weeks. He’s been calling, leaving her messages, and asking her mom where she’s been. Tyra asks if Sara wouldn’t benefit from talking to him, but Sara fears that if she reveals the truth “it will be over” between the two of them. Tyra posits that this is something that will have to come out eventually, and speculates that this is why she has detected a “sadness” in Sara’s eyes during shoots.
Meanwhile, Shandi talks about how she has grown much more during the past couple of weeks than she has in the past couple of years, and she fears going back home to her life. Tyra says she doesn’t Shandi to go back home, stating simply, “No more Walgreens for Shandi.” Mercedes then sits down with Tyra, who confronts her about her visible decrease in energy, which Tyra is reading as “attitude”. Mercedes says she did not feel well that day apologizes, but still does not reveal anything about her illness. Tyra says that she would not be eliminated for feeling tired at work, but having an attitude and not working well with others could be a problem, so Tyra bids Mercedes to “Be honest and speak up.” Tears well up in Mercedes’ eyes and she gives Tyra a hug, but says no more. In the confession room, however, Mercedes says she feel herself “draining down”. In a soliloquy that would give Hamlet a run for his money, Mercedes confesses, “I’m thinking negative, I think I’m gonna die…my liver’s gonna go out, I’m having short term memory loss, my hair is falling out, I feel vulnerable, I feel weak, I’m hiding all these things, I’m just tired of it.”
Got an Issue? Here’s a Tissue
The next day, the girls go to meet “personality coach” Sam Christensen, an avuncular, albeit strangely bland, man who says he is there to teach them “the magic of charisma”. I guess those who can’t really do end up teaching. Nevertheless, his job is to help the girls become more comfortable talking about themselves for things like interviews, etc. Their session starts with a questionnaire to gather info on how others perceive you. It contains a list of adjectives that the girls must mark to describe their cohort. Later, the sheets will be handed to the respective girl, who will get to see what her peers really think of her. Xiomara was described as “adventurous” and “headstrong”; Yoanna was seen as “stylish and sophisticated”; Shandi got “quirky”; Catie was perceived by others as “secretive” and “emotional” (what, Catie emotional? I guess histrionic was not on the list). Others saw April as “responsible” and “intelligent”, and Sara as “kind” and “exotic”. And Camille? In a voice dripping with poison, Camille reads her list: “Superior, relentless, headstrong, defiant, outspoken, cunning, aggressive, opinionated, demanding and single-minded.” At the end of the exercise, Sam asks if anyone feels attacked, and Camille raises her hand. “Camille was not happy with her results,” Mercedes says, “She was sucking her lips and rolling her eyes.” Sam says that part of charisma is the “willingness to deal with people’s judgements, opinions, critiques”. Camille? Willing? Not so much. After declaring that she could care less, and her only objective is to win, she proceeds to act classically attitudinal for the rest of the day.
The next exercise involves getting up in front of everyone and telling stories to give insight on their individuality. Mercedes gets up first and starts to get verklempt talking about how the person she loves most is her mother because they’ve been through so much together; her mother allows her to be herself and loves her unconditionally. Shandi reveals that she has gone through her life as the black sheep of her family with no one to talk to, so her boyfriend Eric is the person she loves the most because he understands her more than anyone else. She gets a little choked up too, and I’m feeling like this “personality coaching” session is looking more and more like a group therapy session by the minute. Sure enough, Sara pulls a Catie, and gets weepy talking about how the worst thing she’s ever done was lie to her father about her ambition in life. Sam tells everyone that charisma comes from “public self-acceptance”, and that models who succeed do so by allowing others to see their individuality.
Psychic Friends Network
The girls return to the house, and Mercedes mentions that she is feeling tired again and stressed out (very bad for those with lupus). We watch her curl up on the couch for a nap while the other girls are laughing and carousing. “I’m just trying to stick in there,” she says in a private interview, visibly fighting back tears. Shandi tells the girls that her mother used to put her down, and being here is freedom from her mother’s criticism.
A surprise guest comes out of the elevator bearing what looks like take-out: the fetching delivery boy is none other than (in)famous runway trainer, J. Alexander. He trades kicks with Yoanna, and air kisses with Camille before sitting down with the girls for dinner and announcing that he has brought someone to meet them, Suzannah Galland, “Intuitive Advisor” according to her onscreen title. What is an intuitive advisor, you might ask? I guess it’s the new, politically correct for “Psychic”. “Doesn’t it make the devil come or something?” Catie asks. I think that’s an exorcism, Catie, something that you might possibly need, if your past behavior is to be believed. But no, Suzannah is here to give them all a psychic consultation. Swearing that she knows nothing about them, Suzannah proceeds to read the girls with uncanny accuracy that leads me to believe the producers briefed her before her little visit.
To Mercedes: “Your body’s tired, your mind isn’t. Sometimes you want to do more than you physically can, so you will be struggling. Do you understand?” Mercedes looks as if someone shot her with an arrow, but feigns ignorance. To Camille: “I don’t care if you punch me, but I’m going to level with you. You put people off.” Sara asks Suzannah how her father will react when he finds out about her modeling, and Suzannah says, “He’s going to hate it, but he’ll secretly love it.” To April: “You are determined to be a top model no matter what. You will be a top model.” To Xiomara: “It’s easy to be your friend, but I don’t know how long you remain friends with people…but there are genuine people that will remain friends with you.” Shandi smiles at Xiomara. To Shandi: “There’s a lot of addictive behavior in your family…Shandi needs family. Does anybody hug you?” Shandi reveals that she never received much love from her family, but says that here she does get hugged. The psychic says, “See everybody loves you…Even in the moment you have family, and that makes you rich.” Shandi starts sobbing, and Yoanna embraces her. “Give Mama some sugar,” J. says before giving Shandi a hug.
It’s morning and even Catie is trying to get April to find happiness in Hapa-ness. “You have no idea how far you can go with your look,” Catie pleads with April. “Do you know how many people said, when I told them I was trying out for this, the word ‘token Asian’ to me?” April asks, adding that even her mother perceives models as “big-boobed blonde-haired Barbie dolls, so she doesn’t look at me and see a model”. While the girls are eating breakfast, Sam comes in to tell them that later today someone is coming to interview them, and they must use the skills he taught them yesterday to be charismatic and comfortable. Most importantly, the girl who gives the best interview will win a shopping spree (no two words are sweeter my ears). The girls speculate who they’ll be meeting? Someone from the press?
Xiomara is sent in to a room set up for an interview with lights and a separate camera crew to find Janice Dickinson, and starts laughing hysterically, like the delirium that hits a man on death row. Forget Barbara Walters, Janice asks the tough questions like: “Where is the craziest place you’ve had sex?” Xiomara: a broom closet at her high school; Camille: in a ferris wheel; Catie: “I’m a virgin.” Screeching halt, Janice gets a look on her face as if she just sucked a lemon. Janice also asks if they could be a judge and eliminate anyone right now, who would it be. Camille: “Ooh that’s a tough question.” A montage sequence of virtually everyone else (I’m sure if they could include the camera man and crew they would also chime in): “Camille.” When asked why, Yoanna responds “Because she’s a witch.”
Janice then asks Camille (whose face is frozen into a nervous rictus of fake joy) if Camille is intimidated by her, to which Camille replies, “I love you. People may call you the bitch or whatever—” Janice, taken slightly aback, says sternly, “I didn’t say bitch, but are they calling me that?” Camille tries to back-pedal desperately, but the damage is done. Later, Janice comments, “That was really offensive to me. I’m a member of the PTA.”
Janice asks Sara why she should win the competition, and Sara answers, very passionately, “To give a good image of Middle Eastern women. She is beautiful, she is exotic, she does not let men walk all over her.” Janice says that Sara really “sold [her]” with her personality and drive, whereas April’s unwillingness to accept her identity rubbed Janice the wrong way. During April’s interview, Janice says, “I’m getting the sense that you’ve got this negativity toward your ethnicity.” Aprils reacts very defensively, “I’m half white and half Asian, okay, just because I haven’t identified myself as an Asian or a white person, it doesn’t mean I’m rejecting it.” Janice says that what bothers her about April is that she “doesn’t know what to call herself”. Janice observes, “She clearly looks Asian, and she should be proud of it.”
Upon being asked if there’s anything in her past that she’s afraid will get out if she becomes famous, Shandi answers with brave bluntness: “Probably the drugs.” Janice asked if and how she stopped using, and Shandi replies, “I was arrested for robbery and I got on probation for two years.” Janice admits that Shandi’s honesty “knocked my socks off”. Finally, Mercedes comes in, and Janice broached the issue of her flagging energy. Mercedes pauses for a moment to contemplate her answer before finally admitting, “I don’t want to make excuses that I have an illness, but I do.” She explains having lupus to Janice as “a chronic illness in which your body attacks itself” and says that she is trying to fight through it. This was a huge revelation for Mercedes, who says that this is something she has not really shared with others before.
Janice gathers the girls tells them that part charisma is admitting you have flaws, and that being honest is what makes someone interesting. She tells April that she has “beautiful Asian features” and therefore should embrace her ethnicity (thank you, Janice!); she then tells Sara that she earned “brownie points” for “waving the flag for Persian women”. Janice tells Shandi that owning up to her prison record was a big plus because “everyone has a past”. But the winner of the competition is Mercedes. When Janice says that she was touched by Mercedes’ honesty in admitting to having lupus, many of the girls’ eyes widen in surprise. “The fact that Mercedes has lupus definitely comes as a shock to all of us,” Xiomara says, “And the fact that she’s working through it on her own says a lot for her.” An ecstatic Mercedes is told she can bring one other girl to go shopping with her, and she picks Sara. Later, we watch Mercedes and Sara go to Intermix for their shopping spree, and Mercedes shows no lack of energy while trying on various cute outfits—now that’s my kind of girl. When they get home, Yoanna congratulates Mercedes for her courage to speak out about her illness, and Mercedes says it was just easier to fess up than to keep hiding it.
Swimming with the Fishes
TyraMail arrives and announces that the girls’ next challenge will require them to “sink or swim”. They go to a place called “Aquatic Creations”, which is filled with many tanks containing various tropical fish (and one conspicuously large one) where they are met by ridiculously well-groomed and sculpted art director Jay Manuel, who explains that today there will be a fish theme for this photo shoot to sell Quench Water. They are introduced to their photographer George Holtz, as well as their stylist, the “fabulous” Nolé Marin (think: a more chic Aleks Syntek)…and his little dog too (a miniature Pomeranian in a little yellow rainhat named “Mini”). Camille is skeeved at the thought of having to swim with fish and their excretions, but who’s to say they’re all that thrilled to be swimming with her? And don’t get me started on the fish jokes.
The girls are made-up, dressed, accessorized and styled carefully…all so they can get dunked into a huge fish tank filled with water and fish. Sara, in turquoise chiffon, is the first to take the plunge. Nervous because of the comments Tyra made about her eyes lacking feeling or intensity, she does her best to evoke feeling, all while submerged in water. It is not an easy assignment, because although you want you pose to look dynamic, too much movement creates bubbles that will spoil the picture. Looking good and trying to position your body underwater is no mean feat, but Sara does her best. Jay tells her that her “eyes are ten times better” and warns the other girls to do their best, because Sara was “better underwater than she was on land”. Catie goes second, and sinks in an ungainly manner, looking like one of the victims in The Cell. George tells her, “Don’t be a puffer fish.” Yoanna does a fine job, leading Nolé to say, “It’s getting dangerous in there, there’s some sharks in that water!”
Before getting in the tank, Camille talks about being Caribbean, and how she’s going to just pretend she’s in the ocean. Once she’s underwater, she starts pumping out hard poses, for which Jay chastises her roundly. Disappointed, he asks to her to give him “more ethereal” and less “drag queen vogue”. Xiomara has extreme difficulty in the water: she starts to panic and flail. Nolé says, “Absolutely gorgeous girl, but underwater she looked like a walrus wearing chiffon.” April, however, slips into the water with the grace of a mermaid, causing the crew to marvel how she can stay underwater so long (she’s also wearing one of the best outfits, a scarlet corset and a red and white printed blouse with long Japanese sleeves). Nolé raves over April being “like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the Matrix…She was fabulous.”
The second Shandi goes under, she’s told she looks “constipated” and is not working “from the neck up”. Nolé provides another dead-on one-liner when he laughingly recounts Shandi as looking “petrified…just like a drowning chicken” as we look at a shot of a shivering Shandi. Mercedes, in a snakeskin halter, looks like a golden goddess, and manages to do a good job. Nolé applauds her, calling out, “That was water couture, all the way.” Mercedes exits the tank looking satisfied from a job well done. “Like Gloria Gaynor says, ‘I will survive’ in this competition,” Mercedes declares triumphantly.
Drama for Your Mamas
Back at the apartment, TyraMail announces that as part of their prize, Mercedes and Sara have one more surprise. Suddenly, the elevator opens and two sweet little women are standing there—Mercedes’ and Sara’s MOMS! They run up and embrace their mothers with much emotion. April comments that, “Sara and Mercedes to me have such an ethnic, funky, trendy look, and here are these, like, blonde-haired white moms!” April says she can relate though, because being biracial herself, she’s used to getting weird looks from people. That’s not the only mother up in this house tonight, yo. Tyra comes rolling in with her mother, Carolyn London. The Mama Trifecta and all the girls gather in the living room for a chat about the industry, keeping things real, but mostly, about Tyra. Tyra, Tyra, Tyra. Tyra’s early years, Tyra’s travels and travails in the business, Tyra’s summer camp for girls (T-Zone) and empowering and uplifting girls, blah blah. I suspect the most Tyra knows about uplift is whatever fits in her Miracle Bra, but everyone gets verklempt and the whole evening is a big, steamy bowl of estrogen soup.
Later, Sara’s mom does her best to allay Sara’s fears that her “whole Persian family [will] hate [her]”. Sara’s mom reassures by saying that while no one can control what her father thinks, she must bear in mind that it is a cultural thing, and Sara should be proud of what she has accomplished. Mercedes and her mom cuddle on the couch, and at one point, when Mercedes gets upset talking about her illness, her mother comforts her with a warm hug. They clearly have a very close and loving relationship. Sadly, seeing the girls with their moms makes Shandi’s heart ache a little, reminding her about how bad her relationship is with her parents. Shandi says that although she and the other girls are all in a competition with each other, she feels as if they are a sort of family now, and the thought of someone leaving tomorrow pains her, as it does all of us by now (well, with the exception of Catie & Camille—if a Mack truck hits them tomorrow, I’d be fine.
Gone in 60 Seconds
It’s elimination day and the girls’ test is to do a 60 second pitch for a fictitious line of makeup called “ANTM.” The judging panel consists of the usual suspects (Janice, Eric, Nigel), plus guest judges Nolé Marin and Mini (the essence of canine glamour, seated on a velvet pillow, with pink satin bows wrapped around his paws). Sara is first, and begins well, but then “kind of fell into the homegirl thing,” according to Eric. Her picture, which looks to me as if she’s flying in the new Cirque De Soleil show, gets mixed reviews. Janice (who, when she bends over, is giving “undercleavage” in her X-wrap halter), writes it off as too “bicep-y,” but Tyra and Nigel compliment her on the intensity that she finally brought to her eyes. April comes in second, and her pitch is rather cold and clinical, like she’s the Vulcan of models. All the judges seem to agree that her pitch lacked warmth, loveability, and personality. Her picture, however, is undeniably to die for, earning a collective “Wow” from the entire panel. Tyra says that April made it look like she was just in a regular studio posing, not underwater, which she accedes is difficult even for professional models.
Xiomara, sadly, chokes during her makeup presentation, and gets panned as having “poor delivery” and being “scatterbrained”. Her picture just gets a collective “ugh” from the panel, and Nolé comments on her open mouth by saying, “You were not catching the fish, the fish were just in the water.” It’s a bad day for the U.D. duo. Shandi (looking cute in a t-shirt that says “Shanthrax”) also blows her presentation by being too quiet and not “selling it”. Her picture is deemed by Janice to be “freaky” and Nolé reads her for “not work[ing] the blouse, the face…you did nothing but sink like the Titanic.” Nigel defends Shandi by saying that he is impressed with the way Shandi is calmly handling Nolé’s abuse, saying “a lot of the other girls would have burst into tears with that kind of criticism.” *cough, cough—CATIE*
Well there’s a nice segue. The Queen of Cry takes the podium, and actually does a good job (although Nigel mentions she could use “more force and power”). They show Catie’s best shot, which has her doubled backwards in a somersault that, to me, screams “LOOK AT MY CROTCH”. Janice, however, responds well to Catie’s picture, hooting, “the pose is insane, I love it.” Mercedes wins over the judges with her warm personality and her pitch tauting ANTM beauty products to “everybody…it’s for my mother who has white and fair skin, or for my father when he goes out and does his drag queen thing,” proving that everyone, but everyone, loves a drag queen. Janice (and the rest of America, I’m sure) is disappointed to find out that her Daddy is not really sporting a tuck, but still tells Mercedes, “You rocked.” Tyra says that watching Mercedes made her smile. Her picture is not well-received by the judges, save for Nolé who defends her by saying, “You are a visual orgasm.”
Yoanna sputters over her presentation, and her picture is described by Janice as “the worst picture I’ve ever seen in my life,” adding that her hair makes her “look like a [oops]atoo.” Eric nearly makes me pee on myself when he says, flatly, “Your picture looks a bit like an adult ultrasound,” referring to her fetal pose. Last, and least, is Camille who, in her pitch, repeatedly refers to herself as the “winner of America’s Next Top Model”. She repeats it so often and so fervidly, that the judges literally start to squirm in their seats, looking incredibly put off. Janice tells Camille that she sounded not only “arrogant” but “pathological and psychotic [saying] you were last year’s winner…you made me feel uncomfortable.” They love her photo, however, and Nigel tells her if she can be like that photo in person, she could win them over with her “sweetness” as well. When she walks out of the room, Eric mutters “insane” under his breath.
After heated deliberations (in which Janice states baldly that she was so put off by Camille that she will vote her off tonight), the girls reconvene in the elimination room. Pictures are handed back to six remaining girls, leaving Xiomara and Camille as the bottom two. Tyra tells Camille that she has “a problem with people telling you what to do, and if you have a problem with that, you’re not going to be a top model”. She turns to Xiomara and says that the judges love her personality, but she is just not clicking at the photo shoots. The picture is handed to…Xiomara—okay, no I’m lying, but I refuse to believe that the Wicked Witch of the East Coast is coming back. It is a sorrowful goodbye for Xiomara, especially when Shandi comes over to embrace her with tears in her eyes. They sob in each others arms, and then Xiomara returns to the Red Tulip apartment for the last time, where she writes the girls a goodbye note saying, “I love you all.”
In the immortal words of Sam Christensen, personality coach, “Charisma is the willingness to deal with people’s judgements, opinions [and] critiques.” Lay it on me people--Contact me at snowflakegirl@fansofrealitytv. com