ANTM4 Finale Recap: The Cool Competitor Who Quietly Claimed the Crown
How is America’s Next Top Model like organized religion? Well, first there is an omniscient, omnipresent creator who exercises dominion over all. Next, you have all these people you barely know coming at you with a million, seemingly arbitrary rules of what to do and not to do. There are millions of zealous fanatics who observe the whole ritual every week. Then, in Christian religion specifically, when you commune, you are provided with bread and wine. Okay, maybe that’s stretching it bit. But how about I tell you they both involve walking on water? Come on believers, can I get a witness?
Holy Trinity, Batman!
With the 14 girls now whittled down to a mere 3, Tyra refreshes our memories on who the finalists have been edited into over the course of the past 12 weeks: Kahlen is the inexperienced, small town Okie who’d never even seen an episode of ANTM who must prove she has the confidence to be Top Model. Naima is the mohawked dancer with a troubled past who successfully transformed herself into a new person of quiet calm; but has she become too quiet for the panel to notice? From the start, Keenyah has been confident (to a fault), and she struggles with not only her increasingly voracious ambition, but a voracious appetite that has unfortunately increased her waistline. Which of these girls will be America’s Next Top Model?
In order to give us insight into the girls’ state-of-mind in the final days of competition, Tyra conducts her trademark one-on-one with each of the girls. Kahlen makes it clear that despite detractors who have told her that she is not good enough, “girly” enough, tall enough, or unique enough, she is “driven” to model and will pursue it no matter what. Naima says that she has learned to accept herself through ANTM; and Tyra points out that “It’s interesting that a competition that is so much about critique and insecurity is giving you self-esteem.” Drats, Tyra’s evil plan to break you down like the rest of the girls has been foiled! The force is strong in this one...
Keenyah begins by saying, “Right now it’s every man for himself; I don’t want to help anyone with anything that could place them a step above me.” Tyra asks about her experience with modeling and food, and Keenyah believes she has an oral fixation. Somewhere, Freud is rolling his neck and going, “Uhuh, I know she didn’t! Girl is just a pig!” Then Tyra does her favorite thing in the world, which is talk about herself. In her own professional experience, she found she herself “could not follow the rules of the modeling industry” (i.e. could not put down that rack of ribs) but fortunately was already a “supermodel” with “the luxury of switching from high fashion to more commercial modeling” (to illustrate, they show some of La TyTy’s Victoria’s Secret work, displaying a different kind of rack, one that I’ve certainly never seen on those concave-chested, cigarette and amphetamine-fuelled runway skeletons). This is, however, a luxury Keenyah doesn’t have just starting out. Yeah, okay, thanks for nothing, Tyra. They then do one of those obvious post-production dubs (you can tell by the way the audio changes and they don’t show Tyra talking, only Keenyah nodding) in which Tyra makes some lame PSA about being healthy, when in actuality, she was probably instructing Keenyah on the proper way to abuse laxatives.
Crusaders for CoverGirl
TyraMail warns that tomorrow brings “Double Jeopardy” and they must “duck for cover.” Kahlen wonders if this challenge involves ducks, but my psychic powers are telling me they will be doing a sexy photoshoot with a nude Alex Trebek! No? Okay, even Nostradamus occasionally got it wrong. Instead, they arrive at the Sasani Studios to learn they will be shooting a commercial with director Russel Underhill for [available at a store near you!]CoverGirl’s Outlast Makeup[/every time you don’t buy CoverGirl cosmetics, Jesus cries]. The commercial will consist of a faux runway show, and some crazy backstage action (beads fall apart, dress straps snap, a piano falls on Keenyah’s head, crushing her to death). Later on in the same day, the girls will shoot photos for a print campaign with photog Helmut Rautenbach.
The girls quickly memorize their lines during hair and makeup, then after slipping to wardrobe, get up on the runway. Mr. Jay and Miss J. are both in attendance this time, and J. warns Naima not to lead with her chin when she walks, otherwise the camera goes right up her nostrils and “we can see what you’re thinking.” Jay remarks that he thinks Keenyah looks too rehearsed, embellishing her runway walk with a cheesy little wink at the end, every single time. The backstage action is, according to Kahlen, truly “chaotic”; although to me, it just looks corny as hell, with all the exaggerated reactions and faux “oopsy” faces (though I shouldn’t be so hard on them as it is a makeup commercial and not a Mamet play).
The hardest part of the commercial is when the girls must deliver their lines close-up to the camera. When Jay advises the girls on how to “bring the viewer in”, I’m thinking: How dare he coach them on how to do a CoverGirl spot?!! I remember his and Elsa’s “Beauty Tip of the Week,” and I have seen pornos with more compelling dramatic performances. Even though Naima and Keenyah both make a few mistakes, it’s Kahlen who has the most trouble in front of the camera. “I’m not a memorizer, never have been,” she admits, and repeatedly flubs her lines, with visible frustration.
Finally, it’s time for the money—er, sorry still thinking about porno—beauty shot. Jay says Keenyah gave the “right smile” but it “just got stuck there.” Naima says it’s a lot harder to “smile and be happy” for a CoverGirl ad than to simply be “fierce” as they have done in shoots all cycle. Kahlen is relieved to have an opportunity to be back in her element, in front of a still photographer, where she can redeem herself after having struggled with the commercial today.
The most amusing part of this segment has nothing to do with girls, however; instead, it’s the chorus line of coaches (Jay, J. and photoshoot producer Jim De Yonker) demonstrating how to give small changes (like the Rockettes, only with penises). “Bam! Bam! Bam!” they bark out as they shift poses slightly. It’s enough to make even Emeril scream, “Enough already, that’s getting annoying!” Miss J.’s best advice is to giggle like you’re going to fart, and his flatulence comment produces a real smile from Kahlen. Great, now I will never be able to look at a CoverGirl ad without imagining the model with a violent case of flatulence.
The Power of Tyra Compels You!
After a long day, the girls return to the hotel for the night, knowing that tomorrow brings the penultimate elimination. They size each other up, with Keenyah remarking that her biggest competition is Naima, because “the judges see something special in her that I really don’t see.” I will so miss Keenyah’s sweet and humble nature when she gets tossed out on her gigantic keister. Keenyah’s not worried about Kahlen, saying she’s been slipping over the past few weeks, and Kahlen seems to agree. She herself is convinced that her poor performance in the commercial means she will be the one eliminated tomorrow.
A pretty, pink Tyra beauty shot signals that another head’s on the chopping block. The final three appear before the panel, who are joined by special guest judge, Poison Ivy designer Gretha Scholtz, who will help them determine which of the three will walk in the runway show featuring the designs of several Cape Town designers, such as Gretha’s own swimwear line. The girls will today be judged on the following three aspects: their CoverGirl commercial performance, their runway walks, and their beauty shots.
They start by showing a 30 second CoverGirl spot they have created using footage of all three girls, which I’m sorry to say looks much shoddier than I expected, even for UPN. The commercial has all the production value of a Korean game show—not to offend any Korean television producers, but you know what I mean: the bad, hot lighting and super saturated look of video. It looks especially poor in contrast to the real bits of CoverGirl commercial (the closeup shots of the makeup and its packaging) that are cut into the segment.
Finally, the evaluations begin with Naima, who must first demonstrate her walk. Janice says her legs look “Gumby” and scornfully says if that’s her signature walk, she should change it right away. All the judges, however, respond positively to her beauty shot; even Janice admits it would be at home in “any magazine, from [i]Vogue[i] to Allure to Glamour.” In terms of her work in the commercial, Nolé, food-centric as ever, says he was “blown away” by Naima’s “special spice” (I feel when Nolé says that, all he sees standing in front of him is not Naima, but a big fried chicken leg, à la a Warner Bros. cartoon). Tyra is impressed that Naima has gone from “edgy, mysterious girl” to “commercial” and “relatable.” They talk again about how she has suppressed herself, but now Naima is willing to let go of the past, and for this Tyra is “proud” of her.
Keenyah is next. When Gretha tells Keenyah her walks needs work, Keenyah shoots the designer a withering look to rival Christina’s psycho-killer glare. The judges are split on her beauty shot. Nigel likes it and finds it “commanding.” Janice doesn’t like the lack of neck, though Tyra says the shoulder-on-the-chin is “one of my signature moves.” From the commercial the Janice “didn’t get a sense of your inner beauty at all,” but Nigel disagrees, believing this to be Keenyah’s “forté.”
Kahlen’s strut is fierce, but she’s warned about holding her breath and not being aware of her face when she walks. Her beauty shot is also a bit controversial. Janice loves it and says it “reeks CoverGirl” (though, after the whole Miss J.-Fart-thing, Janice’s word choice is somewhat unfortunate). In fact, everyone seems to love it except for Tyra, who is extremely displeased and doesn’t think it looks like a cosmetics ad. Nigel loves Kahlen in the commercial, and says that even when she wasn’t the focus of the camera, his eyes were drawn to her. Nolé, however, thinks she was “stale…had no flavor, no punch, no pizzazz.” This guy is on the wrong panel; Nolé must think he’s a judge on Iron Chef, the way he talks about these girls.
The judges’ deliberations are heated but as Gretha points out, “There can only be one!” What is this, The Highlander? Everyone reconvenes for the moment of truth. The first girl to get her picture back is Naima, leaving a very nervous-looking Kahlen and Keenyah in the bottom two. Tyra asks the girls to face each other, and explains that each girl has what the other one needs: Keenyah has the self-esteem and commanding personality Kahlen lacks, Kahlen has the natural posing and walking abilities Keenyah could use. Tyra then molecularly melds the two girls to make one, gigantic, 50 foot über-model that goes on a rampage of destruction, tearing the roofs off buildings and attacking the citizens of Cape Town. In actuality, the girls remain standing, awaiting to learn their fates: Keenyah feeling confident, and Kahlen feeling defeated…
But before the big reveal, UPN breaks for commercials, during which we learn that Naima has been voted CoverGirl of the Week for an “unprecedented” 10 straight weeks (if she doesn’t win at this point, I predict a riot). Then it’s back to the proceedings, where we learn it is, in fact, Kahlen, who will be remaining in the competition. Keenyah is devastated, and with her typical humility, blubbers, “I really felt I had more potential than Kahlen. I think highly of myself. I really thought it was gonna be me.” Yes, these are her actual words, verbatim! Keenyah vows to take what she’s learned from ANTM and continue pursuing her modeling dream. “Nothing’s gonna hold me back,” is her parting shot, “Unless I get fatter.” Is this a joke, or a threat of some kind?
Walking on Water
The next day, Kahlen and Naima are taken for a ride up to the top of a glorious mountain that overlooks Cape Town. From this vantage point, you can see so much of the breathtaking South African landscape, even a glimpse of Dave Chapelle in the distance. “I feel like I’m in Heaven,” Kahlen exclaims, and she could be talking about having made it to the final two just as much as being high above the earth in the picturesque clouds above Table Mountain. I, for one, am so glad to see the two best friends in the final two. “Right now, Kahlen is not my friend.” Geez, okay, sorry, Naima! Thanks for correcting me there. What Naima is saying, however, is that while the two have been mutually supportive of each other throughout the competition, she must now regard her friend as “a girl I have to outshine; I’ve got to do better than her, bottom line.” Even Kahlen admits that this is a competition, and “I’m here to beat Naima.”
Enough sightseeing, it’s time to for the final challenge. Jay meets the girls and tells them that tonight they will be walking in a show for designers Poison Ivy, Gavin Rajah, and Ruby before a full audience. Jay takes them to a large courtyard, where a beautiful pool with a fountain centerpiece dominates. “I have no idea where the ramp is,” Kahlen says. Jay finally reveals that tonight they will be walking on water.
Alleluia! I’m not sure if I’m psychic or have some strange kind of televisual telekinesis. Remember how I presciently proposed a model would have crustacean claws, then—shazaam!—next episode, Tiffany’s sportin’ a pair that would make the seafood lover in you cry for melted butter? Well, I also seemed to have anticipated the final runway challenge, too. Don’t believe me? Read this, from my Ep. 3 Recap: “J. says girls have to be comfortable walking in any environment, as you never know what designers might require of you. Walking on water, perhaps? [Imagines Jesus serving it on the Sea of Galilee, and executing a perfect turn in his sandals and flowing white robe.]” Plus, my two favorite girls make the final two. Am I making these things happen with my mind?!!
Out comes Miss J. in short shorts and rubbers (rain boots, for you dirty-minded folk), showing the girls how to work it on the watery runway. “You need to stomp and make this water do the water dance,” Miss J. orders, before instructing them to “walk like Jesus.” Jay says he’s not sure Jesus had the right “hip action” but J. defends the Lord Christ by saying it was there, all right, it was just “under the robe.” Who says there’s not enough serious theological debate on television?
Kahlen is worried she’s going to fall and, being myself a bit accident-prone, I do worry for the safety of the girls who will, after all, not be sporting galoshes like Miss J., but strappy, stilettos. Naima, however, is “excited as all hell.” They join the rest of the professional models in hair and makeup, and just before the show starts, Tyra joins them to wish them give them a little pep talk. She says that she herself has never walked on an underwater runway before—OH MY GOD, SOMETHING TYRA’S NEVER DONE!!! [SFG faints] She also adds that whenever one is going to walk in a swimsuit or lingerie show, one must whip off all one’s clothes right when you arrive, so there will be no unsightly lines. I say, better yet, why not travel there naked? Just be careful sitting down on the subway.
After sundown, the guests arrive (including our illustrious panel and other VIPs) and the girls are ready. Jay tells them one last time to be careful as he doesn’t want to see any of them fall off the runway. Hell, I do (well, not any of our girls)! Now that would be entertainment (besides, it’s not like any of them would get hurt, they’d just splash comfortably into the pool). Naima prepares herself, saying she considers every girl there her competition, not just Kahlen, and she must stand out from all of them. Kahlen is also trying not to get distracted, aware that focus is important, there is no room for mistakes now: “One of us will win, one of us will lose.”
Before long, all the models head out into swirl of lights and music. Naima is out first, and with her Mohawk higher and more gold than ever, she is head and shoulders above the rest of models in more ways than one. Kahlen heads out with stomp fierce enough to get Janice to yell, “That’s my girl!” They head back into the madness that is backstage to change from their booty shorts into evening gowns. Naima heads out and really gives it her all, working not just her walk but her face. When Kahlen walks, she says she’s stomping on “not only all the people that didn’t believe in me [but also] that girl who didn’t believe in herself.”
For the last pass, Naima and Kahlen will be walking off head to head. In strappilicious little ensembles that look more like comic book heroine costumes than bathing suits, they come out both determined to be the best. In contrast to her calm, quiet demeanor, Naima says that on the runway tonight she will be all “Look, bitch, this is what I have to offer,” and indeed, she walks with the perfect cocky half-smile and tilts her head up at the stop like she could beat your ass down no problem, if she had the time. Kahlen keeps an impassive mask of fierce, but her legs are kicking up water like a strong, rebellious colt.
Kahlen then recalls the final walk with tears of joyful emotion, saying that she was so overcome, she couldn’t even hold the beat when she clapped. Naima soaks up the attention of the crowd along with the final shower blast at the stage door, making the most of her final Flashdancing moments before the crowd. Finally, soaking wet, the girls hug each other backstage; and if there was ever any doubt as to Jay’s sexual orientation—hey, stop laughing—when the next-to-naked Kahlen offers Jay a hug, he screams no, and recoils, not wanting to spoil his outfit. It’s an offer for which any of ANTM’s straight male viewers would gladly eat their own legs. After drying off, Kahlen leaps on Naima and gives her a big smooch on the cheek, and Naima sighs, “Now we can be friends again!” The hardest part is over, now it’s only a matter of time.
The Last Temptation of Tyra
At long last, the girls appear before the judging panel, resplendent in their Gavin Rajah evening gowns from the show. Tyra says this is a very special judging day, as it is the final judging day. Tonight they will “graduate into the real world of modeling” and finally learn who will become America’s Next Top Model. For the last time, Tyra announces the prize package that we probably all know by heart by now: the contract with Ford models, the spread in Elle shot by “world-renowned photographer” Gilles Bensimon, and last but not least, the $100,000 contract with CoverGirl cosmetics. There is no guest judge, because, Tyra asks, “Who knows you better than us four?” Oh, I dunno, maybe Miss J., their mothers, etc…
They get right into evaluating their runway performance from the night before. Tyra says when Naima came out, she got “scared” in a good way; she was in “shock [and] awe” and wondered if “Beyoncé morphed into a top model.” Tyra “felt the stomp” Kahlen delivered, and Janice concurred that it was “Galliano” all the way. Nolé thinks Naima “commanded that runway” and looked like pro from a “Versace show.” Tyra warns Kahlen about the “tenseness” in the face and neck, but Janice defends her girl by saying she has a “better bathing suit body” than Naima.
Next, they do a retrospective of the girls’ portfolios, during which Nigel confesses that they were both his early favorites. They go over both the girls’ strengths and weaknesses in each photo before Tyra asks the girls themselves to explain why they feel they should be America’s Next Top Model. Kahlen tears up as she recounts how much of her insecurity she has overcome during the course of the competition. Naima’s floodgates also open, and she cries over how much she “hated” herself before, but now “I walked in here today and I felt beautiful.” Tyra says they are both exemplars of how models are not just “shells,” and they both are “beautiful inside and out.”
The judges deliberate, and it’s clear this decision will be tough. Kahlen is clearly the more consistently photogenic of the two, showing versatility and natural ability week after week. But it’s equally evident that Naima ruled that runway. “She was so amazing, I still have chills thinking about it,” Tyra confesses, and believes that in “the CoverGirl shoot, the commercial, and the fashion show, Naima wins hands down.” The judges must now choose between “the girl that did good all semester and kind of failed in final exams, or the girl that did fair during the semester but killed in the final exams.”
The girls finally reappear, and Tyra lays it all out for them. Naima’s portfolio “wasn’t great” but in the final challenges, she “rocked” with “an aura that speaks to a lot of young girls in America.” Kahlen, on the other hand, has pictures “so gorgeous” they “rival the top models that are in Elle, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar right now” however, she didn’t “own that fashion show.” Tyra lets them know this was the longest deliberation they’ve ever had, but they have finally come to a decision. America’s Next Top Model is…Naima.
Elated, Naima says she’s speechless, though the person who is truly unable to speak is Kahlen, whose tears say everything we need to know. Tyra embraces Kahlen and says she’s still proud of her. Kahlen says the “competition has opened her eyes” to why she is driven to model: it is a way for her to express herself. I certainly hope she continues to express herself through modeling, because her kind and sincere personality has won her many fans, and as the judges themselves admit, her portfolio is truly inspiring.
Naima, beatific, says “I was forced to look inside Naima and see what it is that makes me me, what makes me beautiful and I found it.” Naima is also proud to be able to represent something more than herself: “I represent a black girl, I represent a Mexican girl, I’m part Irish, I’m everything.” And now she’s America’s Next Top Model. Congratulations, Naima, and here’s a toast to the new face of fashion: one that is complex, real, and unique. You are a true reflection of America, because when we look at you, we can all see a little of our own beauty shining right back.
Amen! Testify: snowflakegirl@fansofrealitytv. com. Thanks to everyone who has joined me all season long. See you next cycle!