Tyra Banks proves that she is the Charles Darwin of Fashion by pondering whether Top Models are created or if they evolve. What’s my theory? Of the thirteen finalists, only three were found fit enough to compete for the ultimate title: AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL. Who will survive? And who will go the way of the Dodo?
The Origin of Specious
In order to investigate our theory of Top Model Evolution, we must take a deeper look at our three finalists, and their pre-ANTM origins. We start off with Natasha, or as Tyra calls her, “the Russian Beauty and mom who started the competition knowing the least about modeling.” Yes, Virginia (and Dionne), there is photographic evidence of Natasha’s life before the competition. At long last, we get a glimpse of her husband—who actually turns out to be a very attractive, youthful-looking mate, and not the withered, Mail Order Bride-buying, dirty old man some may have imagined him to be (I admit, I myself was guilty of picturing him as Mr. Burns from The Simpsons)—and her baby (adorable, ginger-haired little ragamuffin). Although nearly eliminated early on, Natasha’s borderline delusional optimism actually rubbed off and won us over…and talk about the law of attraction, it’s no Secret here that since then Natasha’s trajectory has only been upward. And talk about adaptation—Darwin would be proud. Even if she doesn’t get Top Model, her knack for learning has already earned Natasha the title of “Most Improved.”
Our second contender is Jaslene, who also had to adapt in order to survive. “The Latin spitfire who didn’t make the cut Cycle 7” never gave up, and not only reapplied but “proved to be a force to be reckoned with this time around.” Not only did she kick culo from the very start of this competition, her portfolio was also the most consistently strong throughout this cycle. However, the judges felt her inner Cha Cha Diva began to fade as the weeks went by. Can Jaslene make her personality pop without taking it “over the top” in order to claim the crown?
Last, but not least, that c—relax, everybody, I was going to say cont-roversial mother and wife from Hawaii: Renee! (Team Renee, you know I love you guys!) As Tyra mentions, “she took amazing photos but aggravated her competitors.” Cue footage of her about to throw down with Dionne and Jael. After the big confrontation/intervention, Renee seems to have found a “balance between her competitive and nurturing side,” i.e. stopped being such a blatant bitch that took crap pictures, and instead became an insidious bitch that took great ones. But for the judges, the line between maternal and mature is a fine one that puts a wrinkle in Renee’s race for the top. Could she be the one to win it all?
Voyage of the CoverGirl
Jay Manuel chirpily greets the final three for the CoverGirl Print Ad challenge. For the person who ends up winning ANTM, this ad will be published in magazines for the eyes of millions to see. Renee, it seems, has been waiting for this moment all her life. She says she and her sisters used to practice the CoverGirl wink, and even demonstrates it for us. Not only will the girls be posing for their Tru Shine lipcolor advertisement, but they will also be shooting different spots for “My Life as a CoverGirl,” you know, those things you fast-forward through on your TiVo or get up during to make a sammich or take a potty break. Each of them gets her own scenario, and the spot will be adlibbed, so the girls must be prepared to speak extemporaneously. ANTM fixture Jim De Yonker is the photographer today.
Mr. Jay says he will not be at there to coach them for their photo sessions (he will be present for “My Life as a CoverGirl”), however they will be getting extra help from none other than reigning ANTM CoverGirl herself, CariDee (dressed in a fringe-y suede dress that looks like something Cher donated to Goodwill from her “Half Breed” days). CariDee shares her experience and advice: she says to be strong and that the competition is easy compared to what life is like after you’ve won. I can just hear Tyra cracking her whip now…Mr. Jay also warns the girls that Brent Poer, the CoverGirl representative who oversees all the “My Life as a CoverGirl” spots, will be present today, so they must do their best to impress. Brent adds that winner’s spot will run on television during the next Cycle.
Natasha is up first to shoot her MLaaCG spot; there’s no script, but she does have to hit the following line: “New Tru Shine Lip Color in sheer shiny shades that match 97% of skin tones.” Yeah, there’s a sentence that just rolls naturally off the tongue. She must act like she just won the competition is on set for a shoot and is having the time of her life wearing Tru Shine. Her first take comes off too scripted, “like she’s reciting her grocery list,” Mr. Jay laments. The second take, however, captures more of Natasha’s spontaneous side. “Much better,” Jay tells her, leading Natasha to break out into a spontaneous happy dance.
Renee gets the plum assignment of being outside on a boat near the Sydney Harbor bridge. For the commercial, they have her apply the lipcolor herself, and it looks a little too thick, especially on her top lip, making Renee’s lips look unnaturally thick for her face. Her demeanor is as sunny and bright as the beautiful Australian day—until she says, “I had a baby nine months ago and I thought my life was over.” What in the heck? Downersville! I’m sure the family’s going to enjoy watching this on video for years to come. Remember when Mommy thought I ruined her life? Mr. Jay cuts her off immediately. “You probably don’t want to say ‘I had a baby nine months ago and I thought my life was over’…you want to say things in a positive way.” Renee got the note and did what she does best: “flipped it around 180.” This time she rocks her shoot, lands her line, and sticks it to the mat with a perfect, “little old Renee, wife and mother, I just feel easy, breezy, and beautiful.” “Could you ask for anything more?” Jay says to an impressed Brent.
Jaslene is in her element on the red carpet. Her scenario has her in and out of a limo looking fabulous and giving you A List. She clearly loves the limelight, saying, “I live for the glamorous life. It’s me!” Like the others, her first take is a little shaky. Mr. Jay. Via microphone to the inside of the limo, where Jaslene is filming her speaking part, summons like spiritual medium, “I need Cha Cha to come forward!” Jay wants that energy and fire to come forward. Jaslene eventually loosens up and gives a great take, getting extra credit points for throwing in some Spanish to spice up the scenario.
Meanwhile, back at the studio, Natasha goes up for her print ad shoot after getting neck-lengthening lessons from CariDee. CariDee teaches her some moves, and the quick study that Natasha is, she makes sure to incorporate them into her session. Natasha gets the giggles and makes the whole set laugh, but Jim observes that she has a hard time smiling naturally and almost needs to laugh in order to get her facial expression to look right. “She can’t fake it,” Jim remarks. That’s what she said when the bed broke!
The CoverGirl shoot tires out Jaslene’s face (am I the only one who thinks she looks like a young Phoebe Cates here). “Your muscles tense up right here,” she says, gesturing to her jaw, “and smiling, my lips started shaking.” See? Who says modeling isn’t hard work? Take that, you whiny, little crab fishermen from Deadliest Catch!
Jim thinks Renee was “great” like she was in it to “win this today.” He does think that she looks older than the rest of the girls. To me, she resembles Sharon Stone in this shoot, an actress who looks damn good considering, but is, yes, a woman of a certain age. “She seems almost too mature to be starting off in the modeling industry,” he notes. Notice Jim doesn’t say this to her face. He’s probably scared of her too!
The girls go home to TyraMail announcing the upcoming judging ceremony. Renee hopes the judges don’t select Natasha for the final runway challenge, because in Renee’s opinion, Natasha “walks like a pigeon-toed duck with a piece of poop hanging out of her ass.” What a, um, colorful simile! Natasha says that while you never know who can get sent home, she guesses it might be Jaslene for not showing the judges enough personality. Jaslene doesn’t even hazard a guess, she just says to “expect the unexpected.” Miss J. will announce that he’s turning straight and is running away to marry Twiggy and raise Alpacas on their own farm? Well, she said the unexpected, didn’t she?
Extinction of the Dinosaur
Tyra, working the wavy fall and like three layers of false eye lashes, asks the girls what it’s like to be the “three baddest bitches in town”? What is this, a Russ Meyer movie? Joining the panel of Nigel Barker, J. Alexander (and his many ruffles), and Twiggy will be Australian designing duo Sarah-Jane Clarke and Heidi Middleton, otherwise known as Sass & Bide. Natasha exclaims, “Oh my God!” and puts her hands up to her face like the crying girl with braces did when Sanjaya sang on American Idol. Come on, is it that exciting to meet these two? Maybe she’s just thrilled because the two who survive this cut will be walking in their fashion show. (Well, it certainly won’t be Karl Lagerfeld’s, considering how he thinks this show is “trash”!)
Evaluations start with Natasha, and they look first at her best take from the MLaaCG commercial shoot. The judges are politely quiet, only reacting when Natasha makes a gaffe at the end of her take, then laughs and buries her head in her hands, endearingly. Tyra thinks that Natasha has difficulty adlibbing—strange, since she won that correspondent challenge and will have to appear on your talk show later, TyTy. Twiggy gives her a break since English is her second language. Nigel thinks that what makes her special is her imperfection; he is won over by the goofy head-in-hands gesture. As for her photograph, it’s not Twiggy’s favorite, but she thinks Natasha does look beautiful and it’s clear the camera loves her. Nigel says the eyes look questioning, but she has “all the pieces you need.” What does that even mean? Did he expect to see a face that was, say, missing a nose? I don’t see Michael Jackson as a finalist here tonight.
Jaslene walks up, and I have to say, I am getting a little annoyed by the crazy Latin-esque theme music they always play behind her when she walks up. To me, it’s kind of the equivalent of banging a gong every time an Asian person walks in the room. I don’t hear balalaikas every time Natasha comes onscreen! But this is a minor quibble. Speaking of quibbles, Tyra makes fun. Of the way. Jaslene pauses. In between. Everything…
[…wait for it…]
…She says. But Tyra does think throwing in the Spanish was “brilliant.” Represent! Her CoverGirl ad is “pretty” and Nigel is pleased that her jawline doesn’t look too big in this pic. One of the Aussies thinks it’s a “really great shot.” Tyra senses she was “nervous” being commercial and must find a way to be comfortable with sweet and pretty, not just fieeerce! [snaps in your direction]
Tyra likes the way Renee seemed to really believe her MLaaCG act. Twiggy thinks she “caught the excitement.” Tyra likes the way Renee’s excitement seemed “humble” in a way that viewers could find easily relatable. Nigel didn’t like that Renee’s beautiful eyes were obscured for most of the spot because the bright lighting made her Squinty MacGumphrey. They like her photo; Twiggy thinks she looks healthy, and Tyra thought she looked most comfortable out of all the girls with this shoot. Nigel, however, thinks she photographs “old looking…I don’t know how to deal with it actually.” Tyra points out the “puffiness” and the “wrinkling” around her eyes that would make people in the fashion industry pass over Renee. “Maybe it’s from the sun,” Tyra guesses—or maybe it’s all that constant smoking, Mrs. Puff the Magic Dragon! Let this be a lesson to all you ANTM viewers to stub out your ciggies!
The judges deliberate. Twiggy thinks Natasha is the most beautiful of the remaining three, but one of the Aussies think she lacks X Factor. Nigel and Tyra defend her though. As for Jaslene, Nigel finds her a rare beauty and Twiggy loves her edgy side but she and Tyra think her CoverGirl ad is unremarkable, a yearbook picture. I don’t know about you, but I’d kill to have my yearbook photo look half as good as that! Twiggy loves Renee’s joie de vivre and thinks her photo is the best of the week; Miss J. disagrees, “too mature.” “Not the freshest face for me,” Nigel says, as if choosing tomatoes in the produce department. But Tyra points out that Renee has the height and the body for modeling.
Tyra calls the girls back in. She tells them that not only will the two names she calls be stomping off in the runway challenge, they will also immediately go to a Seventeen photo shoot for what will be their cover shot. The first person to make it to the final for sure is Jaslene. Tyra congratulates a choked-up Jaslene before moving on to Natasha and Renee. Tyra points out their strengths and weaknesses: Natasha’s weak showing in the MLaaCG spot made the judges nervous; Renee rocked that part, but the judges are concerned about how Natasha looks “older” than her actual age (DON’T SMOKE! WEAR SUNBLOCK!).
Tyra calls Natasha’s name, and Natasha’s jaw drops down to the floor, the same floor that Renee’s heart seems to have hit with a loud kerplunk. Natasha appears stunned, and hugs Renee, whose cheeks are streaked with tears but still puts on a brave face. Tyra hugs Renee goodbye, saying, “You’re not a finalist but you’re still fierce.”
Renee congratulates the finalists, and curiously hugs Natasha and whispers, “Win this for the Mamas,” to her. It seems touching but…wait last week, she was rallying everyone to knock Natasha out, now Renee is telling Natasha to beat Jaslene? Renee, you so crazy! Renee seems to think the judges are crazy, because despite them thinking she had the best picture and best commercial this challenge, she still got the boot. And yes, the judges don’t make sense either. She also adds, “Apparently I look old…that’s fine.” “I would rather have wisdom in my eyes and knowledge in my head than just be blank and stupid, not have anything there,” is her parting shot.
Jaslene and Natasha rush off for their Seventeen magazine cover shoot, which has them in hot pink South Pole hoodies, and big brass knuckles that say “Top” and “Model.” Jaslene is shocked it’s Natasha with her in final, and says if Natasha wins the competition, she will “pull off all her hair.” Yikes! Natasha channels Renee and says she is doing this for her baby, because “If I win I’m gonna be happy and of course my baby’s gonna want an happy woman to be raising them.” Come again? I’m starting to see why CoverGirl’s getting nervous about Natasha as their spokeswoman. Imagine: “Tru Shine it is gonna be an wonderful color for the lips of the 97% of happy women’s skin.” Jaslene is teary and sentimental imagining her family; she feels they would be proud of her for making it this far.
Back at home, the girls arrive to find Tyra who wants some one-on-one time with the finalists. Tyra asks Natasha about her life in Russia. We learn that Natasha’s family could not afford to put her through university, so she moved to the big city, Moscow, and struggled with nothing to her name and nothing to eat. Natasha also expresses that she did worry about what girls thought of her because she really did want to make friends with them. Tyra asks if they might have been upset at all that Natasha was an immigrant in a competition for AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL, but Natasha says that since the USA is a melting pot, she feels herself to be an American and so never thought of this as a concern. Tyra gives her a little advice, to relax the neck and face, and wishes her luck for the final challenge.
Tyra takes Jaslene back to that other cycle when Tyra didn’t call her name. How did she feel? Jaslene says she wondered what she did wrong, since she knew she had a lot of heart. Jaslene overcame it by building her own character, learn to love herself through therapy and soul-searching. Jaslene cries thinking about what a life changing experience ANTM has been for her all around. She is happy and grateful for learning to stand strong, and thanks Tyra with a hug.
The Upright Bipedalism Brigade
Straight on to the runway competition! Jay meets them to tell them about the show they will be in, the theme of which is “Evolution.” CariDee will lead the show. Miss J. makes a guest appearance by striding in to demonstrate how to walk on the rounded, sloping runway. Since the theme is evolution, they will start the show as “Early Woman” so they will come out a bit hunched over, then as the show goes on, they will become more “upright” and sophisticated.
Natasha talks about the challenges runway presents (keeping from falling, etc.) and Jaslene says she’s not going to let what Natasha says get to her. Jaslene says she doesn’t know what “strategy” Natasha has, but she’s not having anything to do with it. Natasha thinks Jaslene is “fierce but I’m more exciting and fun.” The girls get made up in interesting, organic looking headpieces and avant garde make up. Tyra goes backstage and tells the girls to “go for it” and “be strong” but not “drag queen” (in Jaslene’s case) or “stiff” (in Natasha’s).
The audience is seated, and out they go. CariDee comes creeping out, trailed by a couple of non-ANTMers, but then soon followed with Jaslene and Natasha. As unattractive as the concept of “Early Woman” sounded to me at first, I actually like the faux-primitive theatrics, the literal face-off between Natasha and Jaslene, and the animalistic vibe. “Natasha is working it,” Tyra mutters to Nigel. I want someone to shush her, like an old church lady sitting in a pew.
Then comes the crazed quick changes backstage. It’s a frantic rush to get the girls into their first outfits. Natasha stomps out strong, even though her skirt is falling off. “She looks gorgeous,” Nigel comments, not even noticing the wardrobe malfunction; Twiggy is in agreement. Even when it slides all the way down to her ankles, and she feels “ashamed,” Natasha doesn’t let it phase her. She steps out of the garment without missing a step; Nigel says it looks almost as if it was “deliberate.” Nice save.
Jaslene strides out with confidence, even a little smirk on her face. Work it like it’s Latina Night at Lips, girl! She looks right at the judges during her walk. “It feels surreal,” she says, but the look on her face says, Yeah that’s right, Miss Cha Cha Diva is back, walking like she walks all day and every day.
Natasha’s change is a “wreck” backstage; they have to call out another girl to cover her spot. But then they have to turn her out, and when they do, she doesn’t show any sign of the craziness from backstage, and you couldn’t tell they had styling struggles at all. She feels she did the best on the runway, “I don’t have to yell and scream that I’m the best, if I’m confident in myself, everyone will know.” Jaslene comes out, bringing a “fierceness on the runway” that she sees Natasha as lacking. When they stand side by side in front of the judges, Jaslene does seem to have a slight edge from the expression on her face.
For the finale, everyone comes out to pose on ladders—get it? Upright? Har har. It’s a fun show, sort of harkening back to the 80s in style and execution. It’s all applause. Jay says it was one of the “craziest shows” he ever worked. Natasha and Jaslene are elated, and had so much fun they both want to do it again. Natasha says her family is 100% American, and that she wants to be a role model for millions. Jaslene declares herself the “Latin Spice…I’m not your girl next door, but I’m the girl down the block, in your hood.” Girlfriend, I thought I saw you at the nail place last Saturday! Who will win? Quick, on to the final judging!
Dressed like Blade Runner meets Biba, Natasha and Jaslene walk into the judging room one last time, hand in hand. Tyra tells the girls what one of them will win today: the Elite modeling contract, the 6 page spread and cover of Seventeen magazine, the $100,000 contract with CoverGirl, the shoot with Gilles Bensimon (oops, sorry, I just got used to saying this through the years—that’s all!). The guest judge today is Mr. Jay, of course, the ersatz papa (or should we say papi) of the show, since he knows them so well. Mr. J., looks like a pop art Christmas tree with his comical conical collar of lost girl ruffles.
Runway evaluations start with Natasha. Tyra was wowed by the way she started the show, Miss J. thought she showed nice control in her walk. Mr. Jay gives her props for pulling herself together despite chaotic mishaps backstage. They mention her amazing save with the skirt on the runway; Nigel says it looked almost “like it was meant to happen.” But judges didn’t think Natasha kept the intensity up all the way through the show.
Jaslene is likened favorably to a Bond girl by Nigel. Mr. Jay thinks Jaslene’s first pass was a little too “church fashion show” with the looks into the audience. Tyra said it wasn’t bad. But wasn’t “as strong as the Jaslene we know.” But as the show went on, Jaslene’s walk only got stronger. Twiggy describes Jaslene as “powerful” saying “You look extraordinary on the catwalk.” Nigel said when Jaslene and Natasha stood side by side, Jaslene’s confidence made her look “like a winner” and like she already had it in the bag.
The judges then go over the highlights and lowlights of their respective portfolios. The first, controversial political statement shoot gave the advantage to Jaslene, who came out strong. Mr. Jay says he surprised Natasha even made it past that shoot. Same with high school stereotypes; Jaslene produced “one of the best shots of the entire season” and Natasha’s was one of the most “painful” shoots Mr. Jay ever had to do. The gender switching shoot was one of Natasha’s best. Mr. Jay mentions the way she had the entire set in stitches laughing, and the great initiative Natasha showed in creating her character. Next they look at the men’s mag shoot: Twiggy’s favorite is Natasha’s, Nigel’s (and Miss J.’s) is Jaslene’s. In terms of the women’s mag shoot, Tyra was a wee bit disappointed by the lack of Cha Cha Diva that day; Nigel sees the better picture as being Natasha’s.
Surprisingly, those are the only pics they look at, but before the judges break for deliberation, they ask the girls if they have any final words. What would you like on your tombstone, as it were? Natasha jumps right in, thanking the judges for giving them the opportunity to prove they can be better, adding in Russian, “I’m happy that girls with accents made it to the final round.” Jaslene says it’s been a “life-changing experience” and also thanks them for the opportunity, but in Spanish. Hey, there’s more subtitles going on here than in a festival of Ingmar Bergman films! “It’s the battle of the accents,” Tyra declares.
The judges judge. The general consensus is that they love Natasha’s spunk, and are impressed by her ability to learn and adapt quickly, and constantly improve. Nigel thinks Jaslene came out strong, but her pictures never really improved—Mr. Jay just thinks this means she came in with all the goods. He thinks Jaslene’s journey was coming in with ability but refining the tacky, wacky girl that came in call crazy into a sophisticated, modern day Top Model Pygmalion. They do wonder if she has the ability to be commercial. Nigel, however, thinks that once established, she could break the “law” of what’s considered commercial in fashion. The judges disagree on who did better on the runway, with Nigel and Twiggy preferring Jaslene, Tyra preferring Natasha.
“The time has come,” Tyra says dramatically. She commends the girls for their big hearts and for epitomizing what ANTM, and indeed, America is all about. Without further ado, AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL is JASLENE! It’s hugs all around. As with everything, Natasha takes the news like a champ and says she is just happy that now she will be able to go home to see her family. Jaslene is jazzed! She is proof that dreams can come true, even after setbacks. “I didn’t make it the first time, but now look at me, I’m AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL and a CoverGirl. And I think it shows to all young women, if you have that drive, keep going.” As we look at Jaslene’s first Top Model photo shoot, Tyra says her spicy personality sets her apart, “but more importantly, she’s fierce.” ¡Felicidades, Cha Cha Diva!
Thanks again for joining me for yet another cycle of AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MODEL. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the recaps as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them for you. Use your opposable thumbs to email me at snowflakegirl@fansofrealitytv. com