America is hot for second chances right now. Netflix resurrected Gilmore Girls and Arrested Development for bonus seasons and exhumed Full House, and the Star Wars franchise bore prodigious (and attractive) fruit. A MacGyver refresh and a TV reincarnation of Lethal Weapon are on TV, Spiderman cannot stop rebooting, Superman won’t take time off, and The Fantastic Four even took a stab at breaking off a piece of that action (although those are all more so that the studios can retain the long-term rights, but still). Girl Meets World even continued Boy Meets World, despite my near-complete confusion as to where the demand was for more Cory and Topanga. And now, America’s Next Top Model joins the ranks of the undead. TV zombies: They’re not just for AMC anymore.
America’s Next Top Model is a fond subject for me. You may recall us mentioning that I worked on a bunch of the early seasons, but you likely don’t know that Go Fug Yourself was partially born in that office during season three. In the nascent days of our little online in-joke, I would sit at my desk in the corner of the story office — while Jess was across town on her show, American Candidate — and sneak up a post or two while on a break from watching tapes of Eva the Diva and Ann and Norelle (and Yaya speaking Portuguese on the phone, despite specifically being asked not to because we didn’t have translators who could vouch that she wasn’t breaking confidentiality). Neither of us ever imagined anyone besides our friends and maybe family would ever read this goofy side project, and then suddenly I was leaving work early to go meet Joan Rivers, and we were off and running.
My relationship was born there, too. I both started dating (season two) and got engaged to (season five) my husband in those offices, because hey, if you fall in love in an edit bay, you might as well pop the question there. Looking back, I can’t figure out why the sight of him in sitting at his Avid in a suit and tie didn’t ring any alarm bells. Later, a colleague randomly started a joke rumor that I was four months pregnant with twins, which another coworker actually believed because he saw me walking in the hall looking “kind of shlubby and tired.” (We are still speaking. I thought it was funny.) (It’s true that I was eating a lot of Pop Tarts and craft service muffins at this time.) And when the prank turned into prophecy and I actually did become pregnant with twins, and indeed up to the day before I had them, my husband was still on the staff. So you could even say, in a way, that my kids were born there too.
As were a small handful of careers, and other memorable faces. (If you click on the photo, a story drops down. GROOVY.)
Oh, Yaya. She started out as The Girl With The Bad Skin, but then she was The Girl With The Bad Attitude. That RESPEITO t-shirt was a thing of beauty; people liked to pick on reality shows back in the day for inventing things, but honestly, even if we’d been allowed to, we didn’t NEED to do that. Truth can be better than fiction, and you couldn’t make up anything better than the RESPEITO scene — in which she wore the t-shirt to send a message to her castmates, all over a pan of “mutilated” brownies — or the line, “I did the girls a favor because my nonpresence there gave someone else a chance to win.” Tyra once made her apologize… to a hat. And then there was the time she said, “I travel all the time and people tell me … how humble I am.” Uh-huh.
Yaya, though, got an AWESOME makeover — Tyra gave her an afro, and she looked incredible — and was so undeniably pretty that she ended up with an Olay campaign, skin be damned. (Also her skin is totally fine and wasn’t even THAT bad before.) She broke into movies with the Antonio Banderas high-school dance movie Take The Lead; then she did The Kids Are All Right, All My Children, Ugly Betty, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, the Chicagos Med and Fire, and played Whitney Houston in a TV joint. She’s basically killing it. Possibly literally, as she now plays a doctor on TV. She’s in the pole position among ANTM alums.
ANTM was somewhat ahead of its time on transgender issues, casting Isis in its eleventh cycle and portraying both aspects of her transition — hormone shots, adverse reactions to them — and certain prejudices and pejorative language bandied about by her fellow contestants. Despite being eliminated fairly early in both her cycles — eleven, and then the all-star season — Isis works quite steadily both in print and TV, most recently on The Bold and the Beautiful (one of whose legacy characters, Rick Forrester, is married to a transgender woman) and a reality show called Strut for Oxygen.
Analeigh is both one of the most successful models, and arguably one of the most interesting. Her background is in figure skating — specifically pairs, where she was twice a regional champ — and when she auditioned for cycle 11, she told Tyra that while seeking modeling agents, she’d been sold into sex slavery to a Saudi buyer but escaped before the deal was final. That’s enough intrigue for two Lifetime movies, but on top of it she finished third and then went on to star in stuff like Crazy Stupid Love, and has four movies coming out with people like JK Simmons, James Franco, Bryan Cranston, Chloe Sevigny, and Zach Braff. Basically, she and YaYa will have to arm-wrestle to determine who’s the ultimate ANTM alum.
She was one of my favorite contestants of all time: so much personality, and always good with a sound bite or a reaction shot. Toccara fell victim, I think, to that classic syndrome that derives from getting critiqued day in and day out, and having very few other outlets for your frustration or your creativity, and so eventually you just get demoralized. I also think she started to feel like the climb was too steep — like being The Plus-Size Girl meant being judged extra-harshly on whether she could overcome the precise thing that got her cast on the show in the first place. She’s made a great home for herself as a host on BET and now also does some acting, and I’m delighted every time I’m reminded that her size ended up totally immaterial to her success. As it should be.
I loved Keenyah. She came in third on cycle four (a.k.a. the Naima cycle), and was infamous for complaining that production had shrunk all her clothes when they were sent out to be laundered, when in fact she simply put on weight during the show (she was constantly eating, which I respect, but she was in a bit of denial about what that can do to a person who does not have access to gym equipment). She popped up briefly on New Girl as Winston’s sister, and I keep hoping she’ll come back, because I’m ready for Keenyah 2.0.
Oh, Cassandra. She infamously quit in a (somewhat understandable) huff after the makeover episode took her longer dark hair and chopped it into a blonde bowl. She just could not deal. She acts here and there — most memorably to be, she was on One Tree Hill as the actress playing Brooke in the movie adaptation of Lucas “Chad Michael Murray” Scott’s book — and is married to Stephen Amell of Arrow.
She’s doing pretty well for herself, I’d say. Eugena finished third on cycle 7. In addition to modeling for the Kardashian Kollection, she was Miss December 2015 and is apparently the 2016 Playmate of the Year. Which I find intriguing given that, if I remember correctly, there was some controversy in season one over whether a contestant read as too Playboy (Katie Cleary, who went on to be a Deal or No Deal model and now acts). Anyway, well played, Eugena. She clearly didn’t give up on working after getting the Banksian boot.
Everyone obviously remembers med student and there-for-the-hell-of-it Elyse for that confessional in which she, among other things, called J. Alexander a “shitslice.” She was dating Marty from The Shins, she came in third and later had a popular LiveJournal chronicling her extensive modeling career in Asia, and then… amid a rumored very ugly breakup with Marty, basically vanished. Someone on Reddit tracked her down and learned she’s putting her science mind to good use as a “geospatial analyst” mapping topography in New Mexico. The guy who took her headshot even mentioned her ANTM background.
This poor child. On cycle 6, Tyra decided her teeth were too wonky to live — partly because Joanie hated smiling and showing them — and so Joanie got veneers, which meant having her teeth painfully filed down, then spending in a night in the house (and weeping into the confessional through her enamel nubs) before having the new ones installed. THEN she had to learn to smile around them; impressively, she still managed to come in second to Danielle, and went on to do some modeling. But what I like the most is that she not only co-hosted a renovation show in the DIY network, but is apparently also a licensed contractor. Maybe all that rebuilding in her mouth sparked something in her.
Saleisha won cycle 9, amid a little controversy about whether she’d modeled before (a Wendy’s ad was deemed by the network to be insufficient prior experience) or whether she had a leg up because Tyra discovered her at one of her T-Zone self-image camps. I don’t know that her modeling career was ever that auspicious, but she — like most of the ones who’ve made a name for themselves — is now an actress, most recently (and maybe currently?) on Days of our Lives.
Allison is the cycle 12 contestant who was super hot for blood. Or something. She is big in the cosplay scene, I think, but what really intrigued me about her is that she’s kind of a big deal in the Philippines? I mean, at the very least she’s hosted a couple TV shows there, including one dance competition. Which I do not recall being her particular strong suit while modeling, so… good on you, Allison. I have no idea how any of that happened, but I hope you’re cashing the checks.
On cycle 2, Jenascia overslept and missed half of the nude photoshoot — you know, the one where they all got extensively body-painted and put into some weird Garden of Eden theme. She survived only because another contestant refused to get naked, and got cut a few episodes thereafter… and then notably won a bunch of money a few years ago on Wheel of Fortune, which delights me to no end.
The above are just a couple women I remember, for one reason or another, but I could honestly have listed another dozen (Ann, Eva, Norelle, Coryn, Kim, Kahlen, Brittany, April, Yoanna, Wholahay, Natasha, Jaslene… it goes on). Others have faded a little over time, something I never thought possible. I used to be able to tell you exactly who got eliminated and when and why, and who stood next to her when it happened. Still, there have been a gratifying handful of moments that, unbelievably, people still remember and reference as clearly as if they happened yesterday. Like anything Jade did, or the entirety of Tiffany — her getting into a barfight during casting in cycle three, returning in cycle four, then emotionally quitting and getting reamed in the infamous Tyra Flips Her Weave scene — and of course the legendary “Respeito” fight starring YaYa. Or that time in cycle four that everyone thought Michelle had a flesh-eating disease but it was actually impetigo. And don’t forget Moderately Blind Amanda. I can’t remember if this made it into the show, but it’s been 13 years so I’m going to take a risk and share it: Our story team full-on wore out the VHS tape — yes, VHS — of the moment that Amanda, mistakenly thinking she’d been eliminated in casting, gathered all the girls for a long and tearful farewell which she delivered in the form of a lengthy beat poem about life and blindness and her child and Assorted Meaningful Meaningfulness.
ANTM may never have topped giving the girls bikini waxes in the very first season. But it tried. We had nude and gender-bending and controversial ethnicity-tweaking photoshoots. There was the infamous Shandi cheating scene, and how your heart may have broken a little when she called to tell her boyfriend, or when Lisa D’Amaton drunkenly talked to a plant (and, in a cameo that amuses me to this day, she also gave deep sass and a behind-the-back eyeroll to my husband). And who DID eat Bre’s granola bars in cycle five? And when Jade promised she would write a book someday, so that Furonda could read it and learn something, can we hold her to that? I loved Furonda, but I really loved Jade. When she rapped her way out of the house, snapping her fingers, it was Tyra’s brainwave to have Jade zap herself of the group shot — disappearing in a blink timed to her own snaps — instead of fading out like everyone else. A perfect moment.
Oh, and let’s all pour some out for Melrose.
I fell away from ANTM in what I refer to as its teen years. The so-called Short Girls cycle, which I believe is thirteen, is the last one my husband worked on, during his hiatus from Chuck. Roughly six hours after he got home from the Hawaii shoot, the beans decided they wanted to be Tauruses rather than Virgos; once we got through both my labor and watching the fruits of his, we drifted away. Possibly because, let’s be honest, it was never going to get more dramatic or more personal for us than that. I heard the seasons with men were entertaining — there was a BEARD WEAVE involved! — but I never reconnected with my onetime love, and it got cancelled shortly thereafter.
Until now: In case you missed the uproar (and all Rita’s questionable fashion choices while they shot in New York), Top Model is being resurrected on Dec. 12 by VH-1 with Rita Ora as the host, and Ashley Graham as one of the judges. Some very short musical promo reels have started coming out for the new show, which are clearly trying to give it a poppier, sexier, occasionally grittier feel.
This second one features the new judges briefly, as well.
There are two montages of the new contestants, but this one has more actual photos in to look at than the first one. It’s also nine minutes long, though, so here’s the shorter one if you prefer (the music on that one sounds like someone adapted the backing track for Tyra’s seminal pop song, “Shake Ya Body,” and yes, I know this because that song is totally on my workout mix).
I don’t know what any of this means for the actual look and feel of a show; you can cut anything into a stylish mini-movie if you want to, but there is no way to tell whether the format of the show will feel hipper than its aging predecessor. Maybe, after some odd experiments here and there with incorporating social media, it will be a return to basics — that old season one magic, where judging happened in a tiny, cramped room that looked like a decorated broom closet.
Can Rita Ora possibly live up to TyTy’s legacy? Can Ashley Graham ever match the skeptical facial configurations of Janice Dickinson? If you were ever watching, will you continue? If you were never watching, will you start, if only to play Spot The Rita Ora Outfit We Already Hated? Or will you Netflix the glory days and live forever in that divine dream space that is Jade’s first CoverGirl commercial? “Wonderful, fabulous,” she cooed, twirling like a socialite who thinks her life is a musical. If only it had become one.
Maybe VH-1 can help with that, too.