The horror…the horror. It is our ineluctable fate that we embark on yet another journey into the Heart of Modeling Darkness that is this latest cycle of AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL. Along the way, we’ll witness such horrors as wretched runway walks, pathetic posing, and worst of all, woebegone weaves. Bloated, insane, with delusions of grandeur, Tyra is Kurtz-like in her madness…but you just can’t help but watch, and love her, despite this.
Thousands of girls auditioned to be a part of Cycle 8, but only 33 were fortunate enough to make the Semi-Finals. Among those we won’t be meeting at LAX this year: the girl who claimed that she was going so broke from auditions that she would have to resort to selling her body—she is so broke, she apparently can’t afford a razor to shave her armpits (as evidenced in her audition tape when she lifts both arms to scratch her head). That could be why you’re not making the cut, Kiley! Maybe you should try out for one of the European versions of Top Model? (I’m just saying, I hear they don’t have the same hang-ups about body hair that we Americans do, roughly analogous to the Middle-Aged-men-in-Speedos thing.)
Melissa (21, Bronx, NY) believes she will impress the judges with her “drive” and “hunger.” Natasha (21, Dallas, TX) was originally born in Russia, which makes look and sound like a Bond Girl—well, okay, maybe more an Austin Powers girl, named something like Vulva Villainski. Jaslene (20, Chicago, IL), whom I happened to like from last season, has returned for another shot at making the house.
Soon after arriving, all the girls are driven to a remote location. En route, some wonder aloud, will it be the beach? Do they need a bathing suit? They approach some kind of military outpost, where men in uniform lift the gates, and olive drab is always the color of the season. Pretty Micheline (22, Atlanta, GA—with perfect eyebrows!) says that all she sees is “Marine,” and thinks, “Oh dear God, what’s going to happen to us now?”
Before long, Mr. Jay Manuel (photo shoot creative director) and Miss J. Alexander (runway trainer extraordinaire and “drill sergeant” for today, as indicated on her t-shirt) make a grand entrance: they are driven in, standing in a jeep, looking tough in military-inspired ensembles (camouflage is the new black!). So much for that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy!
The girls scream with excitement. “I can’t believe I’m seeing them alive,” Natasha says in her garbled Russian accent. How did you expect to see them, dead? As Jay and J. welcome everyone to “Model Boot Camp,” Jessica (20, Inglewood, CA) observes the great shape of Miss.J.’s posterior in her “short shorts”—I think this is looking more like “booty” camp than a boot camp in those camo cutoffs!
No more fun and games. Mr. Jay says they’re not fit meet Tyra yet, so their job today is whip them into shape. Miss J. gets frighteningly butch and, as their drill sergeant, starts barking at the lineup of model rookies, “We’re sick of your busted walks, your whining, your bitching, your moaning, and your complaining, you bunch of model maggots!” Many of the girls seem taken aback by his gruffness.
Heather (18, Deer Park, TX) says her dad was a boot camp instructor, so she’s anticipating pushups and obstacle courses. This boot camp is a little different. Jay gets up in Heather’s face and asks if she knows who Caroline Herrera is. “No, Sir, I do not.” Most of the other girls are similarly clueless. Jay scolds them, “If you can’t name at least 5 American designers, you don’t deserve to be walking any runway!” Come on, it’s Cycle 8, you think these girls would learn to not only look at the pretty pictures, but read a fashion magazine by now.
Mr. Jay orders them all to change into their model uniforms. The girls have only 2 minutes to scramble into ANTM tank top, camo capris, and black boots. As everyone changes, Renee (20, Maui, HI) scopes out the competition and concludes, “I’ve got this in the bag.” She doesn’t think the other girls have the same amount of “character” and “determination” that she has. Well, they certainly don’t have her humility!
The new recruits line up for a posing competition. Miss J. cries out for “Fashion Mad,” which Jay defines as anger with some “grrr.” I love that there is a distinction between real mad and fashion mad, . Jael (22, Detroit, MI) gets the giggles in line, and Jay orders her to give him pushups for her “mess” of a pose. Then Mr. Jay asks for a “concave back, Richard Avedon, couture pose.” Nearly everyone stares at him as if he asked them to do advanced trigonometry. “Who here knows who Richard Avedon is?” Only one girl, Sarah, knows who he is, and gets a badge of honor from Jay; Bethany (20, Alice, TX) doesn’t think that’s fair because she feels Sarah only knew who Avedon was because she is a professional photographer.
It’s time to take height and measurements, followed by a quick Polaroid. At 40”, Whitney (21, West Palm Beach, FL) is proud to have the “biggest boobs in the whole line.” Yes, Whitney is proud to be plus size, and she has “no doubt that a plus size model can walk the same runway as Naomi Campbell.” Diana (21, Garfield, NJ) says she is not threatened by the other plus-sized competition, she thinks it would be great to have two of them in the competition.
The J’s then lead the girls on a march in their high-heeled army boots while sounding off: “Your old pose is not the best! You are just a Top Model mess! 1, 2, 3, 4…POSE OFF!” When they are finally at ease, someone else comes stomping along. Actually, it’s Tyra and her Phi Beta Sigma friends, come stepping. Tyra steps her little heart out, impressing Kathleen and Whitney (whose mom was Greek, and granddad a Sigma so she knows from step).
Tyra gives the girls a rousing call to battle, her version of “Once more to the breach…” I suppose, and in the process, pulls out every war cliché in the book (or, rather, every favorite quote in the IMDB database). “CAN YOU HANDLE THE TRUTH?” Tyra snaps ferociously, before doing her best impression of Robert Duvall, “I love the smell of hair and make up in the morning…it smells like victory!” She says she wants them to “be all you can be, not bitch all you can bitch.” Oh go on, Tyra, you love it when they bitch! She also wants them to be “Top Guns, not Top Son of a Guns” aaand that’s about when the whole military motif runs out of ammunition.
The real battle begins in the casting room at the Century Plaza Hotel. The first girl to come screaming out is Kathleen (20, Brooklyn, NY). Tyra wants to know why she’s screaming so loud, and Kathleen says it because Tyra’s just so pretty. Interesting reaction, does she do this whenever something’s beautiful? I find myself imagining her screaming at a gorgeous sunset, hollering at a newborn baby, caterwauling at the Sistine Chapel. Miss J. (whose black and white ensemble and low bun give him a striking resemblance to Olive Oyl) make seems jealous that Tyra’s getting all the attention, and Kathleen says, “You’re beautiful too,” but is soon diverted by Tyra again. Tyra and her ever-faithful retinue of Mr. and Miss J. proceed to question Kathleen but no matter they say, Kathleen is swept away on a wave of Tyra-induced A.D.D. Kathleen’s overwhelming preoccupation with Tyra’s beauty does not seem ass-kissy at all; in fact, she seems truly distracted, like an infant fascinated by bright, shiny object, or jangling keys. Kathleen strides out confidently in her bathing suit, after saying she has no modeling experience whatsoever except walking the streets of Brooklyn.
Next up is Sarah, the girl who won the boot camp competition. She loves fashion and the fashion industry, particularly because she is herself a fashion photographer. You will hear that she is a photographer at least 45 million times more tonight and in the future. Okay, we get it! J. seems to love Sarah, probably because she looks like a boy, thus securing the androgyne vote.
When Tyra describes the next model Cassandra’s (24, Seattle, WA) outfit as “Little House on the Prairie meets Superman meets Wonderwoman,” it is not a compliment. Miss J. runs out like the pit crew at a NASCAR race and proceeds to strip off most of the hideous ensemble, which consists of multiple, primary colored pieces that have no business being together. As the panel works her over, Cassandra has to explain why her weave is so thick. She has everyone crying laughing when she tells them, “I went to go have a wig sewn to my head.” Miss J. literally falls over with laughter. “I’m ghetto, I admit it,” says Cassandra. To her credit, she looks bangin’ in a bikini.
Heather was the girl who earlier mentioned that her father was a boot camp instructor; so in casting, Tyra asks her to show J. and Jay how it’s really done. I find something oddly enjoyable about seeing this delicate, girl-next-door type get in the faces of J. and Jay and verbally abuse them. She gets Mr. Jay to go down on the floor and give her pushups (although he might just be using this as an opportunity to show off his gym-sculpted arms). She hollers at Miss J., who calls her “Ma’am” but remains defiant, “I’ll pose but you not gonna get no pushups.”
Brittany (21, Savannah, GA) is insecure about her volume control. She speaks loudly all the time, at nearly yelling level all the time. When Tyra asks if she’s ever had her hearing checked to see if her loudness has anything to do with that, Brittany responds by leaning in and asking, “Pardon?” The panel again falls out laughing. Brittany works as a bartender, so maybe it’s all those hours in a loud bar that might have affected her—what? I SAID MAYBE IT’S ALL THOSE HOURS IN A LOUD BAR THAT…oh, forget about it.
From Russia With Love
Last but not least, Natasha struts out dramatically, announcing that while she is from Texas, she was originally born in Russia. “I feel myself American,” Natasha announces, “because we all from different places originally but we Americans because we all want to be here.” I think, at first, what a heartwarming affirmation of the American dream! Awww. Then it’s revealed she was married at 18…to a 40 year old man. Ewww! Miss J. asks delicately where she met her dear husband, “Business trip? Mail Order?” Natasha evades the question by talking about how much her husband and America changed her life. She goes to change into her bathing suit, and Miss J. wonders aloud “how many stamps it took to get her here.” Mr. Jay thinks she’s gorgeous though, and I’d almost agree if it weren’t for her ridiculous walk and slightly psycho eyes.
Does Tyra have some kind of guarantee I don’t know about? Like “Trouble and Nudity delivered in thirty minutes or less, or your money back!” It’s a total of 18 minutes before the pixilation starts, when Kathleen’s Brooklyn bazoomies come popping out of her shirt.
Shortly thereafter, Sarah and Natasha get into it, after Natasha contradicts Sarah, who’s trying to show off with a lengthy story about working a Chanel fashion show. Natasha is showing off about having attended certain fashion shows herself, and not recalling the shoes Sarah’s talking about.
They’re both being arrogant and annoying, but Natasha really takes the cake. She says (broken English, by the way, not due to poor proofreading on recapper's part—this time—but written verbatim): “There are girls really masculine and they just not supposed to be here. Why are they here? But I don’t care, there is no competition for me because I can beat them all.”
Natasha continues to charm her fellow contestants with stories about her marriage. Many girls look appalled as she talks about her 40 year old husband a bit more cavalierly in the hotel than she did before panel. “So basically, he’s the one who brought you over here,” one girl sums up, “So you aren’t completely broke because you have your husband pretty much take care of you.” Natasha does not contradict this. When they ask how much English she knew before coming to America to marry, she says she knew “I love you” and “Hi, my name’s Natasha.”
All You Do To Me is Talk Talk
The casting continues with Micheline. I just so happen to love her retro-pinup look (like a punk rock Ava Gardner), but the panel attacks her styling from jump. This time Jay is the one rushing up to take the flowers out of her hair (or it was just an excuse for Miss J. and Tyra to wear them), wipe off her make up, and tie her hair back. Micheline loves being creative and has worked jobs in make up, animation and art—speaking of art, her body is covered with it, nearly 20 tattoos in all. Tyra ribs her a bit for her pronunciation of “haute couture” (hint: it’s not “hot”), nevertheless, Micheline says just being there today has already made her hopes and dreams come true.
In contrast to Micheline’s colorful display, in comes Samantha (19, Pinson, AL) in neutrals. A self-professed “country girl,” Samantha’s from a small town known only for its Butterbean Festival. Unfortunately, Samantha’s missing a tooth; Miss J. suggests that next time she stick a butterbean up there. Tada! Quicker and cheaper than cosmetic dentistry! This is Samantha’s first time doing any kind of modeling, so she finds walking front of people “really strange.” Bless her heart, if she makes it far enough, I hope they do better than stick a butterbean up in her jaws when it’s makeover time.
Melissa, whom we met earlier, gets the panel in stitches over her Bronx Tale, which starts with her friend borrowing her weave. “She borrowed your hair?” Tyra asks, in disbelief, while both J’s quake with laughter to each side. “When you guys called, I didn’t have the money to get a new weave, so I told her I needed it back,” Melissa explains, “[Then] I sewed it back in my hair.” “So this is the weave that keeps on giving,” Tyra quips. Melissa wants to prove to her girls in the Bronx “We can make it too!” Yes, even with a recycled weave—now why wasn’t that a suggestion at the end of An Inconvenient Truth?
Dionne (20, Montgomery, AL) must be the “Girl Who Won’t Stop Talking” of the title, because she goes on and on about a multitude of uninteresting things in the same monotone drone. She’s a mother, she has three sisters, she’s a “former pianist” (whatever that means), she had a pet tarantula named Sassy that died, her favorite food is spaghetti, t-bone steaks, and salad (in that order, because she “loves loves loves spaghetti”), her favorite color is blue…Oh my stars and garters, for the love, please shut her up! Put a muzzle on her! Shoot her with a tranquilizer dart or something!
Meanwhile, Natalie (22, Atlanta, GA) talks about how much she loves Audrey Hepburn, especially in “Dinner at Tiffany’s.” Recognizing she’s made an error, she corrects herself to say, “Lunch at Tiffany’s.” The panel laughs their collective asses off before Mr. Jay says, “Guess what, honey, it was Breakfast!” I’m glad they stepped in before we heard her go through Brunch/Snack/Repast/High Tea/All-Day-All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet at Tiffany’s.
After a lovely montage of girls walking in their bathing suits (which pretty much guarantees they’re not making the finals), we find that Dionne is still…bloody…talking! She’s afraid of water, she likes to color her hair 1b on top and 30 on the bottom, and aside from modeling, dentistry is her passion.
The panel braces themselves for the return of Jaslene! They refresh our memories with a clip of Jaslene dancing around and doing her dramatic walk and declaring, “I walk like this every day, all day!” Tyra notices how calm Jaslene is this time around, and opines that she finds her “too calm, there was some fire I liked before, now I almost find you a little boring.” Jaslene turns up the heat and says, “I’m still spicy.” Tyra wants more of that beauty they saw before, except for the infamous “Jaslene catalog pose” which consists of an awkward hand brought up to a super-affected gasping face. Jaslene leaves them by saying, “And yes, I still walk like this all day, every day.”
When Jessica comes out (20, Inglewood, CA), Tyra goes, “Inglewood, up to no good, holla!” Tyra then challenges her homegirl by saying she’d like to see an example of Jessica’s fiery temper. They then get into it with each other, necks rolling, and tongues snapping like two girls fighting over the last fake Murakami LV at the swap meet. But Tyra is no match for Jessica, who gets the last word in, “I dare you to put your [censored] hands on me!” Tyra is scared to silence. Even though Jessica says she’s is ready for them to “Tyra-fy me,” it looks like she may have terrified Tyra a bit too much.
Renee is the 25 year old from Maui who shockingly just had a baby seven months ago, and her stomach is tight as a drum. She gets emotional thinking about her son, and tears up saying she’s doing this to give him a better life. Tyra points that Renee describes herself as a “catty person.” “I’m not a complete bitch, but if I have something to say, I’m gonna say it.” She oughtta be fun, then. I’m ready to sick her on Natasha.
Speak of the devil, looks like a lot of the girls are already sick of Natasha. As they sit around having a bite to eat, some of the girls (including Kathleen and Renee) are talking about burping and farting. Okay, perhaps not the kind of dinner conversation I’d have in mind, but Natasha gets super-pissy and starts telling the girls how to act. “I was born in a different place than you girls,” Natasha says, a place apparently where women are lady-like and don’t ever burp or fart (I’d rather have Cassandra tell the story, because she does spot-on impressions of both Kathleen’s Brooklyn accent and Natasha’s Russian accent). Natasha then declares, “I’m normal, I don’t know maybe you’re not normal,” which pisses Renee off and starts Natasha’s second fight of the day. Congratulations, Tyra! You found your bitch of the season, and she’s not black! Woohoo! [throws ticker tape parade]
Plus Size, Plus Two
Popping into the casting room (and out of her blouse) is Titney—I mean Whitney, who talks about being an Ivy League girl, playing basketball at Dartmouth, and…okay, seriously, I don’t remember anything else but her breasts repeatedly busting out of her blouse. Even Tyra is distracted and keeps gesturing for her to tuck her puppies back in. Whitney is not just well-endowed in the chestal region, she’s well-endowed in the mind, and smart girl that she is, she already anticipates what she’ll face in the fashion industry: being told she’s too fat, and that plus-size models have no place in high fashion, etc. but she’s prepared to “revamp” that ideal.
Jael (22, Detroit, MI) comes in a blubbering, crying mess. They ask why she’s so emotional, and she says it’s because she doesn’t understand why she was chosen at all. She doesn’t think she’s “the hottest thing” and she doesn’t “follow the drum and beat of everyone else.” They ask what her ethnicity is (stop saying nationality, Tyra, that implies people aren’t American) and are shocked to find out that Jael’s mom is African-American. Miss J. says that “there must be some strong DNA” on her dad’s German side, because Jael basically looks like a white girl, meaning, she has that Wentworth Miller, Undercover Brother (or in her case, Sistah) thing going on. Jael thinks people focus too much on what’s different, instead of what we have in common. Sure she’s kooky, off-kilter, and looks like Bubbles from AbFab if she was on crystal meth, but there is an endearing sweetness about her.
Diana wants to make a statement by becoming the “first plus-size girl to win AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL.” She is confident in herself despite the lack of support from home, particularly from her father, who often made disparaging remarks upon Diana’s weight gain through the years. In the end, she stuck up for herself and told him to stop. “I love who I am, and I love my body,” Diana concludes. She thinks being plus size will probably lead her competitors to underestimate her, thus allowing her to “sneak under the radar.”
Felicia (19, Houston, Texas) says everyone tells her she looks like Tyra. “I have the girls here calling me Baby Tyra.” Okay, I don’t about that, but someone needs to fix her eyebrows before they leap off her face. Felicia says she keeping an eye out for Jaslene’s walk and Melissa’s looks, but otherwise, she’s pretty confident she’s not getting cut.
Some of the girls are talking about the plus size contenders. Kathleen believes that Whitney and Diana are real competition that the others might not recognize yet. “Diana could bring it, like better than a skinny girl can,” Kathleen observes. I like that Brooklyn girl keeps it real.
Mr. and Miss J. gather the girls for the first cut. Everyone’s nervous; Micheline says that she quit her job, so it’s a big risk for her to be here. Butterflies are “destroying” Kathleen’s stomach. They are let loose in a room where gift bags with invitations to a Marc Ecko fashion party. If you find your photo, it means you must get ready on the spot to attend the party, where the paparazzi will be snapping photos of them. There are only 20 photos, so only 20 will attend the party, the same 20 who move on the competition.
Among the girls to get invites are: Bethany, Lauren, Kathleen, Gelecia, Sarah, Dionne, Heather, Chelsea, Samantha, Felicia, Brittany, Natasha, Hannah, Melissa, Jaslene, Renee, Diana, Whitney, and Jael. Some girls are psyched, like Jaslene who declares that she is going to be the “first Latina to win AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL.” Er, what was Yoanna, chopped liver? Others have had their dreams dashed, and don’t react too well. Micheline is particularly upset that she was beat out by Jael because she presumably “doesn’t care about being here [and acts] like an idiot,” adding that she wants to punch her. Tyra’s going to have to watch her back if she’s ever in Inglewood, because Jessica is so mad, you can almost see the steam coming off her curls as she curses the whole way out of the Century Plaza Hotel.
The competition waits for no one, however, and the lucky 20 change frantically for their first fashion function of the cycle. They meet designer Marc Ecko at his chi-chi-poo-poo party, and he gives them his seal of approval. The biggest celebrity at the party is Jermaine Dupree, and I use both the term “biggest” and “celebrity” very loosely.
The girls party on! Excellent! Of course, they are ever aware that roving photogs are snapping their pictures all the while. Natasha is “theenking” she can “ween” this competition tonight, but if her dancing is any indicator, might think she’s better than she actually is. Kathleen thinks Natasha needs to “turn it down a notch” with her dancing which is too “out there.” Now if Kathleen is telling you that you are over-the-top, then you surely are.
Big Girls Don’t Cry
Later at the Century Plaza, Tyra starts deliberations by asking her J’s if they have any favorites. Miss J. pleads the fifth, because he says when he mentions them, they “disappear.” After a harrowing time narrowing 20 girls to 13, Tyra gathers all the girls on the rooftop to hand out photos to the finalists. She says that even though it’s her 8th time doing this, it just doesn’t get any easier.
Tyra calls out names in the following order: Natasha, Kathleen, Sarah, Cassandra, Renee, Samantha, Dionne (whom Tyra calls out as “1b/30 Girl”), Whitney, Brittany, Felicia, Jael, Jaslene, and Diana. Top Model history is made as two plus-size models make it to the finals. Looks like Tyra’s finally giving big girls a chance after the hoopla made over her weight recently. Tabloids publish a picture of her post-retirement body in a bikini and all of a sudden “Big is beautiful!” Coincidence? Hmm, I don’t know, but while I think about it, I’ma chew over some Flamin’ Hot Cheetoes.
For part two of AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL Cycle 8 Premiere recap, click here).