Beauty, business, brand, boss. These are the four categories that dominated the new focus of hit fashion reality TV show, America’s Next Top Model. After being resurrected and saved from the TV graveyard (thank you, VH1!), the reality show got a format makeover when it left The CW. It’s no surprise to see this standard play a big role – the judges, and former host herself Tyra Banks, asked every new contestant to achieve this level to have any shot of winning. The world of modeling has changed, and while strutting the catwalk for Chanel or lining the editorial pages of VOGUE are still the fashion dream, building a personal brand on social media and music videos are some of the ways to ascend from a working model to a top model. And while this is very true, the latest cycle (their seasons are called “cycles”) made a huge shift away from editorial/modeling to be mostly about personal brand development.
The newest design of America’s Next Top Model went back to basics. Gone were the male models, the social media eliminations, the international destinations, the plus-size/petite models, the photos at elimination or any of the major changes that were implemented throughout the past 22 cycles. I wouldn’t exactly call this “Top Model on a budget,” but it did feel noticeably empty without some of the extra inclusions. The direction focused on the traditional look of modeling with an all-female cast of thin 18-26 years old looking to be the next big thing. I had no problem with the cast; in fact, I found this to be one of the more well-balanced and entertaining casts in the last few cycles. However, in a season with body activist and top model Ashley Graham as a judge, I would’ve loved to see more diversity in the group, like having plus-size models.
Speaking of the judging panel, we got a whole new batch of judges critiquing the models. Tyra Banks, the creator and forever leader, stepped away from the middle chair to serve as Executive Producer instead. Taking over the reins was singer and model Rita Ora. Ora did well in her first outing as the main judge and host. You can tell that she was legitimately invested in the models’ progress and picking the right winner, as evidenced through the (now memorable) failed elimination of Krislian. She didn’t quite resonate with the same personality and fire as Tyra Banks, but this could be due to her first tenure as the main host. With further Cycles, Ora will feel more natural and comfortable in the main chair.
Rounding out the judges were model Ashley Graham, Paper magazine CCO Drew Elliot, and celebrity stylist Law Roach. Elliot felt the most knowledgeable with his fashion advice and steering the models to a more editorial stance while also pushing the brand aspect. Graham connected best with the contestants and related back to their experiences. In previous ANTM cycles, I loved when top models (like Twiggy, Janice Dickinson or Paulina Porizkova) were part of the panel as they could easily relate and share their own tips to progressing in the field. It was something missing, and a breath of fresh air to have back. Unfortunately, while Law Roach did have the personality, I didn’t find him necessary on the panel. I think having a photographer who could critique their photos and give editorial tips for what looks best on camera was something that was needed for a modeling show.
But is this a modeling show anymore? I’m a little unsure. I’ve watched every cycle of America’s Next Top Model and this may be the least modeling round yet, even more so than the All-Stars cycle. (That season still had a focus on editorial photos weaved in.) Everyone from the contestants to the judges kept using the word “modeling” and talking about working in the field, but there was a serious lack of model training.
“Photo shoots” and challenges primarily focused on being in music videos, dancing, social media stories and acting. There were only a few times when the contestants actually took part in editorial-style photo shoots, commercials and challenges; though, when they did, there wasn’t much feedback given by the judges about how to make their photographs/footage look better or how to pose as a model. These contestants needed to be prepared for when they head out into the real world. Do they even get a portfolio at the end?
To make matters worse, the best challenge of America’s Next Top Model history – the “Go-Sees” (when models audition for designers) – was only kept to the first episode instead of near the end. I have a feeling this could be due to budget OR because they didn’t have enough photos to show the designers. I miss the Go-Sees! I did quite love the Paper magazine photo shoots, the avant-garde shoot, and the Rimmel London commercial shoot.
The change in style also affected the progression of the models. Don’t get me wrong, some past cycles have skewed toward certain criteria, like some focusing on a high-fashion model or a more commercial model. But this cycle made it difficult to really hone in on a direction, not even the judges knew what they were looking for: fashion or social media. The panel bounced back-and-forth a few times celebrating some for being so fashion/social media/brand while chastising them for not (sometimes even on the same model back-to-back). Contestants like Binta, Courtney, Cody, Tash and Kyle probably would’ve done much better if the show skewed to editorial, like what ANTM used to be, since these were the more high-fashion models.
When it came to the winner, I’m glad India got the title. She consistently grew throughout the competition and claimed five of the first call-outs during the season. She balanced the fine line between high fashion and commercial; her avant-garde photo shoot was flawless and her Rimmel London commercial worked the best with the brand. It’s a shame she didn’t get a modeling contract from a big agency as part of the prize. Though, that is probably aligned with my point above about whether this is still a modeling show.
America’s Next Top Model’s first foray on VH1 (and 23rd cycle overall) was a good step toward trying to update the show to the times. It acknowledged the power of social media, non-editorial model work, and what it takes to grow your brand outside of modeling. The overarching problem, however, is that it left the “model” aspect of the show by the wayside. There’s nothing wrong with building your brand and venturing out into different areas, but without the foundation of being an actual working model – with go-sees, editorial/fashion photo shoots, beauty shots, commercials, runway, and other necessary training – it dilutes the dream (and title) of wanting to be a top supermodel.
Hopefully in the next season, there will be more opportunities for the models to take part in challenges designed for a career in modeling. This would obviously be paired with photo shoots, runways and feedback. I’m a big fan of ANTM and I will always love the show…but this is America’s Next Top Model, not just America’s Next Top Spokesmodel.