Megalomodel Tyra Banks and UPN are back again to milk their mighty cash cow with a third cycle of America's Next Top Model. You know the premise: Tyrant Banks is the omnipotent Queen of the Everything who shall hand-pick lucky maidens to be molded by her perfectly-manicured iron hand into a minion of flawless models who will serve as army in their mistress's diabolical plan for world domination. Or something like that.
This season, episode one takes us back to the audition process, which Tyra holds in a city in which every situation is an audition: Los Angeles, California. UPN killed any hope of suspense by their over-zealous promotion of this premiere and, most key, revealing the finalists weeks ago. What, pray tell, is the point of an episode featuring semi-finalists we already know will not make it to the final 14? Let's just say every time a commercial airs, you can almost hear a "cha-ching" ring through the air, and Tyra is one step closer to world domination.
ANTM veterans are used to this: the obligatory barrage of Tyra beauty shots which serve the same purpose as a dog pissing all over the area rug in your living room. Make no mistake, this is her territory, not yours, foolish human. Okay, so she throws in some clips from the last two cycles to make this point: being a model is oh-so-hard. It's not just a glamorous way of cashing in your winning genetic lottery ticket, in which people fuss over and adore you for no good reason other than you were lucky enough to be born with fabu bone structure and smooth skin--oh wait, sorry, IT IS! Well, in addition to that, these clips seem to say, women are competitive, histrionic bitches that are fun to objectify for their stunning physical looks and ridicule for their immense vapidity.
Tyra informs us that thousands of new model hopefuls have auditioned for their own chance at being objectified and ridiculed by the viewing public (come on now, you know I only kid because I love). Tonight, we meet the semi-finalists (almost 40 girls) who will be auditioning for a shot at the 14 spots in New York. At the airport, the first girls we meet are: a bespectacled Amanda, the 25-year-old mother from Hendersonville, NC, whom we all know as the one with the icy eyes to die for; Toccara, 22 and from Dayton, OH, this season's Miss Token Plus Size, who shows great confidence; Cassie, the 19-year-old stripper from Norman, OK (wonder if she will pay for things with only one dollar bills?) who says she's nervous but happy to be here; and Josie, 20 from Fay, NC, who brings a teddy bear named "Baby" around with her everywhere she goes.
All the girls check in at the tony Le Meridien Hotel in Beverly Hills, including Mary (a pleasant-looking 22-year-old from Portland, OR), Natalie (18, but looking more like 34, from Walla Walla, WA), Kimberley (going for a Sam Kinison look with her unfortunate hat and hair), and a gaggle of other girlies you can just kiss goodbye right now since we already know we won't be seeing them in New York. Jay Manuel, who has apparently been rooting through the back of Bea Arthur's closet, shows up and is greeted by screams--whether this is due to true delight at meeting the makeup artist/art director who, thanks to the show, is now a celebrity in his own rite, or because his acid-flashback paisley shirt was burning the retina of their eyes, we'll never know. He tells them to enjoy their last night of relaxation before the competition begins.
Shots of the buffet table distract me and force me to get up for a snack, while more girls we'll never see again have conversations we'll never remember (something about cows, who cares--not even the show producers care enough to tell us the girls' names). Eva (19 and local to L.A.) and Ann (21and looking aloof behind Corey Hart sunglasses--who the hell eats dinner with huge shades on?--from Erie, PA) form a fast friendship, and are cocky enough to clink drinks with a "toast to the top two," meaning themselves. Eva declares Ann her "sister from another mother, she's [...] white and I'm black," which makes me want to break out into a chorus of "Ebony and Ivory." The more reserved Yaya sits on her own, quietly chomping her own dinner when suddenly she spots what looks like a "hologram," and turns out to be Tyra Banks herself.
While Tyra enters on the scene looking lovely in a dress that is like a chiffon cloud of orange sherbet (served with two heaping scoops of booby), the girls scream, stand on the tables, blow kisses, applaud, and even bow down in some of the most fervid ass-kissing I've ever seen nationally televised. Tyra explains that she wanted to start the competition in Los Angeles this time because it is her hometown, then proceeds to throw signs to demonstrate how down she is--Le Meridieeeeeen, rep-ruh-sent, boyeeeee! She also reveals step one of her plan for global domination: reclaiming the covers of magazines for supermodels, not stinkin' actresses like Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Aniston. The battle cry rings through the air! Yeah, because true supermodels have no acting talent whatsoever--or shouldn't anyway! Just ask Tyra (and watch Love Stinks or Fair Game if you doubt it).
Swimming with Sharks
It's Southern California, you've got a crowd of comely competitors and a camera, so naturally clothes must come off and the girls gambol in the pool. It is ANTM ogle time, when the ratings, among other things, of the straight guy demographic show an abrupt rise, and the rest of the viewers who pretend they're morally above ogling the girls when in fact they are still ogling the girls and, in addition, are scrutinizing their bodies for flaws.
Some of the girls don't want to get in the pool, which snaggle-toothed Ann and psycho-eyed Eva, for some reason, take deep offense to. "Everyone has their bathing suits on, why not get in the water, you dumbasses?" Eva queries. Oh I don't know, acute aquaphobia, maybe they don't know how to swim, or hey how about this, it's a free frickin' country and if you don't want to get in the pool, you don't have to, bitches! The Evil Ebony & Ivory take matters into their own hands, at first by splashing girls standing poolside, then later by physically yanking unwilling victims into the pool (such as one poor girl whose bloodcurdling screams of protest sound like she is being stabbed to death). Amanda believes they were "disrespectful" and Ann says she and Eva both know everyone hates them but they "don't care," in fact, they're pleased that they have intimidated the competition.
Meanwhile, the only two heavyweight contenders, Mary and Toccara, are sizing each other up. "Oh, we're the same boob size!" the ever-smiley Mary exclaims in an attempt, perhaps, to bond (she's one of the non-finalists that I will miss seeing after tonight). Later, Toccara sniffs that she doesn't think Mary is a "real plus-size" at around 160 pounds. "If you're looking for a real woman, something juicy, then here I am. I'm a 180 pounds, carrying it well and loving it...Don't be scared, America." Well, who can argue with that, especially when the confident contender has enviably flawless, smooth, cocoa-colored skin?
Me-heee A-and Mrs. J.
Morning breaks and the girls perform their morning ablutions and express their hopes and fears for the upcoming competition. Brianna (19 and from Plainfield, IL) says that she's "nervous" and worried about not doing something right (like over-plucking your eyebrows into little apostrophes?). Well, since we know she's not moving on to New York, it seems she had every right to be afraid. Amanda says that she will miss her 2-year-old son, Elijah.
The judges for the casting auditions await the first crop of candidates. They are Tyra (natch), and familiar ANTM faces Jay Manuel and J. Alexander (runway trainer extraordinaire), whom Tyra has dubbed Mr. and Mrs. J., respectively. The first girl to audition is Evil Power Twin Ann, who tells the judges in a scratchy, bar whore voice that she is a water polo and swimming champion so competitive that she quit swimming when she stopped winning at it. Yeah, that's a great message: if you're not winning at something, don't work harder to try and succeed, just abandon it. Mrs. J. says her legs are "just as gorgeous as mine" with a slight neck roll, but it's undeniable, particularly when she comes out in a bikini, that Ann's got great stems.
Cassie, is next and claims that she is America's Next Top Model because, even if she looks like the "All-American girl," she does not have the typical, All-American job. "I'm a stripper," she declares. Is this how she's trying to establish edginess? "Well that's an All-American job to me," Mrs. J. cracks. Touché. Cassie breaks out into forced laughter and a horrifically gummy smile. Of her profession, Cassie says that "I try to keep it classy" and clients always come in asking her, "Why don't you model?" Poor Cassie. That is what every horny guy tells every naive stripper from Podunk, usually in hopes of parlaying it into a "private" lingerie photo session. I do feel sympathetic to Cassie when she says that she started stripping because her dad wouldn't help her financially. He has even told her, "You can starve to death," when she's asked him for money before. "No one knows that I strip," Cassie says. Now, for a girl who has said that she tries to keep her stripping a secret, it seems counter-intuitive to BLAB ABOUT IT EVERY CHANCE SHE GETS (like, not just on ANTM but on Entertainment Frickin' Tonight)! Still, I admire her desire to pay for her own way in life herself, one George Washington at a time. Mr. and Mrs. J. each express surprise at how "Disney" and "Breck Girl" she looks doing her walk--not like a stripper at all. Methinks it helped that there was no pole in the room.
From an exotic dancer to an exotic beauty, Cassie is followed by Julie, a 19-year-old East Indian hailing from Kent, WA with smoldering, good looks and a surprisingly deep, sexy voice who says that she is the "black sheep" in her family, which frowns upon the modelling profession. She wants to create a new image for Indian women, to show that "you don't have to be nurses or work in a convenience store." As Julie attempts to break stereotypes, Tyra reinforces them by asking, "Do you dream of choreographing a Bollywood movie?" I don't know, Tyra, does every African American dream of being a gangsta rapper, or every Asian American dream of winning the Mathlete championship? Julie then proceeds to break out into a dance that looks more like it's from the Truth Hurts "Addictive" video than from a traditional Bollywood film. Speaking of not wanting to be a nurse, we meet Magdelena, a 24-year-old Latina from Worcester, MA, has given up on her nursing school program to participate in ANTM. She looks prettier in the audition room than the early UPN photos or her home video indicate, although she too is a victim of over-plucked, unnaturally-pencilled eyebrows.
Next up is Tiffany, a gangly 21-year-old from Miami, FL, who prefaces her audition by stating, "I know I may be a little ghetto." She then proceeds to fawn over how beautiful Tyra is, so she also may be a little ass-kisser too. We learn that she was kicked out of her high school for fighting, so I hereby withdraw any snarky comments I might have made about the Tiff lest she track me down to administer a beat-down. Despite her checkered past, she wants to become a model to prove to everyone that she can be somebody. After a lifetime of disappointing them, her family is finally proud of her, like her grandma. Tiffany hopes to make it to New York because she feels there she might be able to "soften up" at last. [foreshadowing]"I'm tired of being tough, I don't want to fight no more," she says.[/foreshadowing] Ah, Tiffany, if only that could be true.
After the first round of auditions are over, the girls head out for a night on the town to Barney's Beanery in West Hollywood (their potato skins, by the way, rock). They let loose and start dancing, but alas the good times last for only a short time before a group of nasty Hollywood barflies starts trouble with them. Well of course they're angry, their faces are big, pixellated blobs! "Get your big ass out of my face," one of the blobby girls slurs drunkenly. Oh it's on, and a dance-off is called. Who's the first to confront the belligerent, blob bitches? Tiffany, of course, who gets a face-full of beer when drunken blob #1 pours her bottle over Tiff's head. Tiff is, naturally, tiffed, and I can't blame her. Tiffany fights against her violent urges, saying she didn't know whether to listen to her "evil twin" or "the good one," but the dark side won out in the end, as we watch her grab a glass and fling liquid at the blobfaces. Next thing you know, drunken blob #2 actually starts throwing glasses at the models, then it is a full-on brawl, replete with crashing bottles and flying beer. Most of the girls are appalled, except for Toccara who excitedly confesses, "I've never been in a bar fight before, and that was the best!"
The girls are ushered outside by security, where Tiffany screams the quote of the night that I loved so much, it had to be in the recap title: "That stank ho poured a beer on my weave! This is not even my real hair!" Tiffany, head bleeding slightly, desperately wants to go back in to beat the ass of drunken blob #1. "All I know is violence, because that's all I see," she laments. Okay, now I am really sad that we already know she doesn't make it to New York, because it might have been Tiffany's only chance. I would have gladly traded "Man Face" (you know who I'm talking about) to save Tiffany from a miserable life of violence. Some hippy chick further exacerbates Tiffany on the ride home by asking whether Tiffany feels she might have provoked the drunken blob, and whether violence really is the answer. "That's great, Martin Luther King," Tiffany quips, "I'm with Malcolm." Tip to hippy chick: shut up and watch your back in the lobby when you leave Le Meridien after the auditions.
The second round of auditions begins with the pretty and bubbly Norelle, 20 from Newport Beach, CA. "I'm the only one here with bling bling on my grill," she says, flashing a mouthful of braces. Yet another girl from a dysfunctional family, we learn that she lived with her and "step-monster" all her life, and didn't even meet her real mother until she was in 8th grade. They now have a great relationship, and home video shows Norelle with a sexy, hip-looking, tattooed babe in glasses who looks more like her sister than her mom. Jay asks if Norelle ever played model as a little girl, and Norelle answers by saying that she played "Paris Hilton." So that means, what, while her peers were pretending to work the runway, she pretended to be videotaping herself having sex with other people's partners? Mrs. J. appears unimpressed with this response. She looks impressive in her bikini, however, despite a dreadful walk punctuated by an absurd bunny dip. Also, note that she is one of the models with a prominent tattoo, a design on her lower back.
Kelle, 19 and from New York, NY, brags that she is from a good neighborhood and her friends would say "Kelle's just a white girl with a really good tan." I believe they said the same thing about Uncle Tom; okay, maybe not precisely that, but Kelle's boasts of "I'm used to being the only white girl" must be irritating to not only most of the minorities watching this program, but to Mrs. J., who looks like it's taking all the self-control he can manage to not scratch Kelle's uppity eyes out. She does look good in her bikini, and Mrs. J. begrudgingly admits, "I think we can do something with that walk." Mrs. J., who is, after all, the runway expert, informs us that some of the girls are instinctually better walkers than others while others are beyond help. "People think I'm a miracle worker," he sighs, over clips of bumbling and clod-hopping girls.
It's Mary's turn and she comes in looking curvy and cute. She asks something ANTM fans have been wracking their brains from jump: "The competition: skinny girls and one big girl. It's like, what is the competition in that?" [foreshadowing]She wishes Tyra and crew would pick both her and Toccara, so they could at least be matched against each other.[/foreshadowing] Speak of the devil, Toccara comes in next (well, as far as we know, you crafty editors), like a supernova of infectious energy. "I'm big, black, beautiful and loving it!" she says, winning the judges over instantly with her enthusiasm and confidence. She says she wants to encourage full-figured women to love their bodies, and when she says full-figured she is not kidding, her breasts ar giganimous! The judges try to maintain their composure, but the second Toccara leaves, eyes pop out and jaws drop. "I had no idea," Tyra says, "I thought she was smaller than me." Earth to Tyra, you're not the apex of all things. "When she unleashed those puppies, they were full-grown dogs," J. gasps.
In contrast, we meet the skeletal Amy, 22 and from Ocala, FL, who is over 5'11" but weighs in only at 115. The judges seem skeptical about her weight somehow, and Jay remarks about how people might think she has an eating disorder. "It's genetic," Amy claims. When Amy comes out, the judges expressions register horror and Tyra says flat-out that she feels Amy is too thin and her body might send a negative message to women. Wow, when people in the fashion industry tell you that you are too thin, then it means you look like a damn holocaust victim. Amy defends herself by saying she's been drinking weight gainer shakes, and Tyra replies, "I ate barbecued ribs and potato salad, that's what gave me this ass. You need some food." Now that's the first advice Tyra ever gave that I can live by.
There's a quick montage of the girls we'll never see again, like the girl with the teddy bear who actually brings "Baby" to the audition because "he" wanted to meet Tyra, a squeaky voiced tramp who wants to be "a model or a dancer" (I suggest getting a reference from Cassie), a dominatrix with a bull ring in her septum, a girl who claims that her "big nose" allows her to "smell more than other people do," and others who manage to make complete asses of themselves in less than a second. The biggest ass of all is a sour-pussed girl whose permanent facial expression appears as if she just sucked a lemon, who claims "People tell me I'm beautiful on a daily basis" and "I'm used to being the prettiest girl at my school." After one of the worst walks ever (she had a creepy, clompy man-walk) and lengthy proclamations of how great and beautiful she is, she suddenly decides this competition is not right for her and says "I want to go home, I can't take the pressure of it." She walks out leaving Tyra in mid-sentence, and the J.'s baffled.
This bizarre event is followed by Leah, a 21-year-old Diane Lane look-alike from Oklahoma City, OK. She plays the aw-shucks farmgirl card, talking about tractors and looking around with dewy-eyed incredulity at being in the big city. She talks about how her family is Catholic, Catholic, Catholic (yes, she says this repeatedly, as if the needle on her record was stuck), so Jay asks if she has any problem with nudity. Her answer is, "No problem whatsoever, nude me up." I know she said she was from Oklahoma, but with her attitude on nudity, is she sure her family didn't belong to the Boston Diocese?
Then Amanda strides in and tells the judges she should be America's Next Top Model, because whatever "it" is (a pronoun?), she's got it. She says that she would be the "Mama" of the house if asked to go to New York due to her maternal, nurturing personality, which of course leads the judges to ask how she feels about leaving her son behind, something she will have to do if chosen to win, due to the busy schedule which accompanies the title of Top Model. "I will definitely be sad...but it will benefit him in the long-run." She says he will "blossom...like a rose growing through a concrete crack"--um, isn't that a line from Tupac Shakur? She says that she tries hard to convey things through her eyes, since she feels they are her best feature; she adds that she hasn't told anyone about her "problem" with them yet though. She does her walk, displaying a big tattoo on the right, lower back; I can't see what it is exactly from afar, but the closest thing it resembles to me is an Indian dreamcatcher. Or a one of those nets you use to clean leaves out of pools? I dunno, I need my eyes checked, probably.
A Weighty Discussion
Back at the hotel, the girls are eating and Eva starts to give Amy a hard time about her weight. "It can't be helped, my metabolism is way too fast," Amy says, on the defensive yet again. "Amy won't say she has a problem," Eva says viciously, "She says, 'Oh I'm on weight gainers.' No, you're not. Don't lie." Even if you have your suspicions about Amy, and okay we all do, why is this your business, Eva? Eva adds insult to injury by sniping, "Seeing every bone like that is disgusting to me. Makes me gag. My cousin is like that and she's definitely bulimic." Eva goes on and on and on about Amy's weight, while Ann snickers like a good little lackey. When it comes to how to make enemies and alienate people, Eva could have written the book. For her part, Amy says that she is letting the situation roll off her (bony, little) back; however, she's heard that the first cut will come tomorrow, and she hopes the rudest ones will go first.
Meanwhile, the judges meet with more girls, like the beautiful and intelligent Yaya, 21 from Harlem, NY, a student at Brown who speaks Portuguese fluently and is learning French. She admits to the judges that she has problems with skin breakouts; nothing a good dermatologist couldn't zap away, in my opinion. One skin problem she doesn't have, however, is cellulite, which Tyra points out when Yaya comes out for her bikini walk. Next up is the annoyingly spelled Jennipher, from Pocatello, Idaho, who breaks down crying when Tyra asks her why she wants to model. "I want to get out of where I am. If I don't do something like this, I will never get out of there. I don't want to be a Pocatello girl that gets knocked up and stays there." Ack! This message not brought to you by the Pocatello Tourism Board. Next up is a Cruella Deville impersonator named Rachael, from Alabama--hey, how did she get my grandma's favorite crocheted table runner, and why is she wearing it?
Out comes (she's a man, baby) Kristi, who says her "most powerful asset is"--not something like her intellect or some other personality trait--no, its her "blonde hair." Does it have the ability to come to life and strangle people? She also proudly declares herself a Republican in a way that makes me hate her all the more (vote Kerry in November!). She then does her walk in an atrocious American Flag ballgown whose train drags along the ground--is this not considered a sacrilege to the flag (according to United States Code, Title 36, Chapter 10), not to mention a sacrilege to style? Nicole, 21, from Minot, ND says she can't drink or else she becomes a ho that throws herself on anything with a pulse--well, that's the gist of it. So ladies and gentleman, remember her face at the bar--it's a sure thing. Some chick named Nargis, from Mohegan Lake, NY, comes in and tongue trips through her introduction. "When you practice it, it's not natural when you mess up," Tyra scolds her, already seeming impatient. Yes, stumbling over your practiced speech looks pretty pathetic. Maybe things like this are why Nargis didn't make the cut the last time she was a semi-finalist last season. She just keeps digger the hole deeper, too, like when Tyra asks why it is she wants to be a model, and she says she sees it as "just a job," which does not win over the judges at all.
Speaking of not winning over people, Eva strides in looking good and talking big, but Tyra cuts her down quick by saying, "About 80% of the girls who come in here have something negative to say about you." Some of the girls have even dubbed her "Diva Eva." I prefer calling her, simply, Evil; so Evil dismisses the girls as ultra-sensitive, to which Tyra asks, "Do you feel the need to be nasty [and] negative?" Evil says she doesn't feel has been nasty or negative, but admits that she thinks Amy looks nasty. Per criticism of the last two seasons of ANTM, Tyra says that she "doesn't want to cast another black bitch." So just don't, Tyra. She will anyway, though, because she knows it makes for good ratings. Nobody wants to watch a bunch of women trying to be civil with each other, that show is called "Starting Over." Evil just sees it as not being fake and doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, when Tyra interrupts her by saying, "I think you do," before proceeding to Dr. Phil the girl to tears. Evil admits she's vulnerable too, blah blah, shows TyTy a softer side of Sears, whatever, and they hug. Later that night, Eva gets up in front of all the girls and apologizes to all of them for being such a major cooz. Calculated move on Eva's part or does Tyra really do have the power to transform lives? We'll have to wait and see.
The First Cuts are the Deepest
Jay reports to the girls and says that tomorrow morning, a list will be posted with the names of girls who will be doing a photo shoot with him. The rest will have to be splitsville. Casting director Michelle Mock-Falcon tells them that only 20 will advance. The ones who make it are clearly ecstatic, while the ones who don't are, naturally, quite devastated. Sorry teddy bear-toting girl, sorry token Asian, sorry Skeletor...I am sorriest for Tiffany, who goes home to a life of violence and mangled, beer-soaked weaves. "It's cool, I'm used to failing. Someone's gotta fail right," Tiffany says, wiping tears from her eyes and completely breaking my heart. No, no! I want to grab her hand and enroll her in school, crying, "It doesn't have to be this way."
Amanda decides that it is time for her to come out, so to speak, to the rest of the girls. She starts out by saying she is sorry to the girls who didn't make it and happy for the girls who did, then says she's not been completely honest. Some girls look excited, probably thinking, "Man, I totally thought it was Kristi who was the M to F, TS." But no, that's not the revelation. Instead, Amanda says she is legally blind, and will be completely blind by 30, due to a disease called retinitis pigmentosa. Many of the girls are stunned, and even start to cry. By the time Amanda says, "I just want y'all to know I will always see your face. Please don't cry, I've had 10 years to get used to this. I've seen my son smile and that's all I ever wanted," damn it, I'm crying too.
After emotional goodbyes, the remaining 20 meet with Jay, who will conduct a simple shoot with a digital camera. "No hair and makeup," he says, "It will be all about the direction you get from me." The shoot goes by fast and furious, and the twenty resulting shots are...for the most part, less than stellar. The judges deliberate over the scary-looking pictures. Since we know who they're going to pick, nothing they say in the deliberation room is anything new: Cassie's stripper past scares them, Amanda's eyes are "spellbinding," Yaya is gorgeous and they like her afro-centric vibe but not her troubled skin, etc. They compare Mary and Toccara, and while they feel Mary is more proportional, they like Toccara's personality more (Mary, you were right about the plus-sizers, it's like Highlander--there can only be one!).
Finally, it's time to reveal the final 14 who will continue in the competition. She hands out photographs in the following order: Ann, Lea, Kelle, Cassie, Yaya, Kristi (why?), Julie, Magdelena, Nicole, Amanda, Norelle, Toccara, Jennipher, and...(surprise, surprise) Eva. The six who are not selected are devastated. Nargis says she's surprised she didn't get in the second time--does she not remember her own audition? The lovely Mary cries, saying she thought this time God was going to give her a break at something she loved. And a distraught Rachel sits, sobbing, in fetal position in a toilet stall; Tyra goes in and comforts her with hugs and giving her the best possible advice anyone could give--change that awful, skunky hairdo! As far as the remaining girls, Toccara says that "it's on" and because she's plus-size will have to work harder to win; Amanda says that despite her disability, "you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it"; Eva says that she will take advantage of this second chance to "take it all."
Whatever "it" is, I've got it. If by "it" you mean the annoying tendency of using vague pronouns instead of precise language. You can love me, hate me, adore me, or berate me at snowflakegirl@fansofrealitytv. com.