THE ANTM LEGACY: WHAT DID WE LEARN?
Updated: May 6
Some of us grew up with "Tyra Mail!" or watching a girl doing upside down photoshoot on a Thai floating market. The TV show America's Next Top Model has been a pop culture icon by itself. Whether you love it or hate it.
The show ended in 2015 but was revived quickly in 2017 with major changes and the latest winner was just being crowned; India Gants.
Created by a veteran top model herself, Tyra Banks, the idea is basically like "American Idol but for modelling"- as Tyra liked to put it. The first season aired in 2003, and I can't even remember what i was into back then! Growing up in Indonesia, I had to wait for any cable channels to pick up the show so I started watching only from the 2nd season (or Cycle as they call it).
Looking back after all its 23 cycles. I can't help but wonder what exactly the show has contributed to pop culture and most importantly, the fashion industry?
[Cycle 21 contestants, shot by Yu Tsai]
For those who aren't so familiar with this show. Basically they choose around 13 models to formally compete. They put them in a typically huge fancy house or appartment. Then, every episode they would have a photoshoot with different theme, and a challenge where they choose a challenge winner. At the end of the episode they have a judging panel which consists of Tyra Banks herself, and some other professionals from within the fashion industry. The panel would critic each contestant and choose the best photo of the week and eliminate the contestant with the worst performance. The winner of the whole cycle would receive a beauty campaign, a cover and a fashion spread in a major magazine, and a modelling contract.
However, If you think everything is about fashion modelling, nope. It actually goes beyond modelling. There were many occasions where the models were challenged to do tv hosting, singing, acting and even dancing! Ah, television..
As a modelling show, they managed to level-up its high fashion credibility during cycle 15 to 19. Partnering with Vogue Italia as a part of the winning package and putting American Vogue's Editor-at-Large Andre Leon Talley on the judging panel. The contestants even had a chance to travel to Milan and met the late Franca Sozzani.
However, the show had to go through changes throughout its long run. Well, it is TV, they just HAVE to throw something new to stay relevant and keeping people to stay tune. There were special editions such as the petite-girls only cycle, Americans VS British cycle, boys and girls cycle, a college edition, and an all-star edition.
In the world of reality shows that require no neurons to watch, how could ANTM stand the test of time? And what have we actually LEARNED from the show?
Well, let's break it down, shall we??
TYRA TYRA TYRA
The show was created and produced by Tyra Banks. She is the host, the judge, and the boss. One thing we can notice is that the show is basically ALL about her. She clearly loves herself and is unapologetic about it.
We could hear (repeatedly) about her life story on how she started modelling, and throw some designers or photographers name she worked with. If that is not enough, we could also see some big-ass photographs of her on the walls of the contestants house. Throughout the show we are constantly reminded that it is Tyra's show, and there is no escaping.
KNOW THE OG
The show hired some of fashion's most iconic models as judges and guest judges. For the contestants, the presence of these women is important as they can share their experiences and also to show them how it's done. For the viewers, they introduced these ex models to a whole new generation.
Janice Dickinson was one of them. Janice served as a judge from season 1 to 4. Since she left, she was still invited to participate as guest judge and mentor. She was presented as "the world's first supermodel". But it was her larger than life personality and cutting remarks that made her memorable and it served her well as the controversial judge. To viewers she may seem like a crazy bitch, but before all that plastic surgery Janice was actually the most succesful model of the 70s and 80s. She worked with the world's biggest designers of that time, and appeared many times in Vogue, Elle and Harper's Bazaar. So i guess she had a reason to be the bitch of the judging panel.
Replacing Janice was Twiggy. Yes, the show went all the way retro by bringing Twiggy to the show. I personally didn't even know who Twiggy was before the show. It wasn't until my mom popped in front of the TV and said "that's Twiggy???", that i realized she was probably a legend. Twiggy was not only a successful model but she is often referred to as a British cultural icon and the face of the swinging sixties. Her sweet speaking voice and calm demeanor, however, is a complete opposite of Janice's.
Then comes Paulina Porizkova. She served as a judge that was not only beautiful but also quite frank and at times-quite sassy. In the 80s, She was probably the first ever Central European beauty to be recognized Internationally (correct me if i'm wrong on the comments sections below!). Not only was she famous for her signature jawline, at one point of her career she was a model with the highest-paying contract! (reportedly Estee Lauder paid her $ 6 million). However, her glorious past couldn't save her from being fired of the show. Too bad!
The show keeps on bringing along veteran top models as guest judges such as Beverly Johnson (first ever African-American in a cover of American Vogue and French Elle), Elle Macpherson (90s supermodel known as 'The Body'), and some male models too. This clearly allow the new generation like myself to know the faces that once ruled the fashion scene. I must credit them for schooling me abit.
[Left: Janice Dickinson, Center: Paulina Porizkova, Right: Twiggy]
YOU DON'T ONLY SMILE WITH YOUR LIPS
News flash! If you think you only smile with your mouth you are dead wrong.
Wait, y'all don't know that???
Apparently, there is such a thing as smiling with your eyes! Yes. Tyra herself spent half of her career in the show practically teaching and telling the girls to smile with their eyes. She even coined the term "smize", to simplify saying it (until today she keeps on throwing that word everywhere, she probably trademark it or something). This is apparently a modelling technique of not smiling to the camera without looking pissed or constipated.
Easy to say when you have eyes like Tyra's. I've tried many times and it looks dreadful.
IF YOU HAVE TO CRY, GO OUTSIDE
When they hired Kelly Cutrone as a judge to revamp the whole show, I knew it was going to be interesting. Kelly is known as the PR maven, a business woman who is not holding back in throwing critics. Founder of People's Revolution, her fashion PR company, she definitely knows what is needed in a model to be bookable for her clients.
No stranger to reality shows, she appeared on the successful MTV reality show The Hills as the boss of Lauren Conrad. She also starred in her own reality show about her work, Kell on Earth, and wrote multiple books.
Her no-bullshit approach is so refreshing to the show. She was not there to talk about how to be pretty, but too see if any of these models actually have substance that real clients would want to book. Making her to be relevant. She is tough, but she knows what she's talking about. Fashion is a cruel and competitive industry and one must have a thick skin in order to survive. As one of her books' title speak for itself;"If you have to cry, go outside".
Got that, Kelly!
WHEN IN ROME, DO AS THE ROMANS DO (or what you think they do..)
In most cycles, the show usually travels to foreign destinations where the competition continues until the final round. The first cycles travelled to various fashion capitals of the world (Paris, Milan, London), then they continued to explore cities with huge, thriving fashion scene (Sao Paulo, Sydney, Cape Town, Seoul, etc). Then they travel to random places wherever Tyra wants (as much as I am happy that they stopped by to my country..but, Bali?)
They clearly have taken advantage of the unique locations by doing photoshoot there. However, sometimes I can't help myself to cringe over how hard they try to embrace the local "thing" and ended up playing on stereotypes.
While some images they produced are stunning, some are just deliciously tacky.
[Model posed as a bullfighter in-you guessed it-Spain!]
[Kimono photoshoot in Tokyo, Japan]
[Cycle 9 model posed as a warrior on The Geat Wall of China]
[Left: Being a Greek salad in Greece. Right: Dripped in maple syroup and maple leaves in Canada]
[Left: Posing as a Springbok in South Africa. Right: Posing as Carmen Miranda in a Brazilian favela]
[Left: Posing as a mermaid on a floating market in Thailand. Right: posing as a bat on a Balinese temple]
BEAUTY IS THE BEAST
Tyra repeatedly talked about her mission in finding beauty in its rarest form. She wanted to break the modelling barriers by championing those who might not fit the common standard of "beauty" in society. Creating another Urban Dictionary-worthy of a term such as Flawsome and Fiercely Real. In this case, she might have succeeded.
The show has embraced unique type of faces that the real modelling industry didn't showcase yet. They made headlines by casting their first ever transgender model, Isis King (cycle 11); years before Andreja Pejic walked the runway in Paris or Valentina Sampaio's cover of French Vogue.
Sometimes the show even did a bold makeover to purposely take away conventional beauty looks to certain girls. Such as what happened to Bianca Golden (cycle 9), by shaving her head all the way and leave her with a buzzcut afro hair. Years later, we see more and more models with androgynous shaved head on the high fashion runway like Ruth Bell and Lienesy Montero.
The show also casted a model with vitiligo skin condition, Winnie Harlow (cycle 21). Despite not winning the show, she ended up becoming a brand ambassador of the Spanish brand Desigual, appeared in I-D, Dazed and Vogue Italia, walked London Fashion Week, and appearing on Diesel ad.
The modelling industry has slightly changed by embracing different types of beauty, and perhaps Tyra was smart enough by identifying it beforehand.
[Winnie Harlow, shot by Nick Knight]
LOSING IS WINNING
The show often being questioned for producing actual top models. Well, "top model" is probably too high of a term, as NONE of the winners really turn into a legit high fashion model after the show.
However, some of the girls who made it into the house don't even need the Top Model prize to succeed after the show. It is a lesson to all of us all that sometimes losing something could actually means winning.
And these girls can tell us that.
[Toccara Jones apparead in a sold out black issue of Vogue Italia, with a 14 page spread shot by Steven Meisel]
[Fatima Siad from Cycle 10 landed in high fashion campaigns such as Ralph Lauren]
[Posing in the middle is the most succesful non-winning contestant; Leila Goldkuhl, who walked for high fashion houses in Paris and Milan, appeared in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and L'Officiel editions of various countries, and appeared in a Givenchy ad campaign, among others]
[Some alumnis found their luck in acting. Left: Yaya DaCosta played in successful movies such as The Butler. Right: Analeigh Tipton played in successfull tv series such as The Big Bang Theory]
Without a doubt, America's Next Top Model is the longest running fashion tv show ever. It aired in over 100 countries and inspired many Top Model franchises across the globe. It is THE most successful fashion tv show in the history of television (eventhough the fashion itself is bad at most times). Because of this show, a generation like mine really got the first impression about a portion of the fashion industry through this show, whether it is true or false.
However, this is a television show. Some situations are clearly amplified for dramatic purposes, and that's pretty much entertainment 101. Having said that, the show is pretty much a game changer by fusing entertainment and fashion. It introduces components and personalities of the fashion industry to a much wider audience and be a part of the pop culture.
Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times wrote that the biggest winner of the show is none other than Tyra Banks herself, and i couldn't agree more. The show clearly revived her career and took it to a level that is much bigger than her modelling career. She turns herself into a brand and a boss. Expanding her career in television as producers of (no longer running) the Tyra show and Fab Life. She also recently appointed as the host of America's Got Talent, replacing Nick Cannon. One must agree that Ms. Tyra really is bankable.
It was announced that the show will continue to its 24th cycle, after being picked up by VH1 in the previous cycle and was hosted by Rita Ora. Good or bad news is, Tyra will always be Tyra, and she is coming back to resume her role as a host and judge.
Tyra's return means that perhaps the show cannot be what it is without her presence. It has such a strong association with Tyra that perhaps many viewers tuned in because of her. At the end of the day, the ONLY top model of the show is Tyra herself.
So the legacy continues as we all smize through it.
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