America’s Next Top Model, Episode 1: More Than Just Pretty Faces?by Jamie Goralski -- 05/21/2003
Are you lamenting the end of Survivor: The Amazon, wondering how you would fill your television need for vapid, needy, logically-challenged women? Where will you find women who think the world revolves around them and their looks without the help of Mark Burnett? Have no fear. We have America’s Next Top Model, populated with just scads of Jennas and Heidis who think more highly of themselves than anyone else possibly could. Well, most of them. A couple of the girls seemed okay. Have you caught my enthusiasm? Great... let’s get to it...
We begin our odyssey in L.A., where there are 20 semi-finalists hoping to be chosen for one of the 10 spots on the show. If you read my preview based on the website that has been up for about a month you’d know who was chosen. And if you haven’t, why not? Great literature is meant to be savored and memorized. Ahem. Anyway, the editing team wasted no energy on suspense because the girls who were not featured on the site were glossed over so fast they were a blur and the lingering shots and face time saved for the chosen ones. Except for Justine. She got a lot of face time for someone cut before it began but once you see why you will see it was not film misspent. It was, in fact, the first time reality television ever satisfied my need for instant gratification by creating the consummate bitch and then giving her the comeuppance she so richly deserves during the first part of the show. Make us hate her then show her immediate boot. It was really beautiful, as you’ll see.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Back in L.A. we are told ten will be moving on and ten will be going home. Then Tyra Banks herself walks in (creator and executive producer of the show – she’s judging as well) to much applause from the cast of hopefuls. We see various clips of the girls’ audition tapes.
Tyra leaves, telling the girls to “be gorgeous and be great!” Well, I think we all have a new life motto now, don’t we?
Now the women go before a panel to try to convince them to “pick me, pick me!” I would have given anything for one of them to have just done the Horshack hand raising “OOOOH OOOOH.” Their cries for attention were no less obvious but far less charming. Can’t all potential supermodels learn by watching the great Ron Palillo in his signature role?
Elyse tells them she knows she can’t do this (modeling) for life. She has applied to medical school. They ask her what she will do if forced to choose and she says that medical school can be deferred but being 20 cannot. It’s obvious with the way she presents herself that she has a whole lot more going for her than just her looks. She says if she were doing the choosing she wouldn’t select herself. One of the very few instances of modesty in this whole hour and it put me firmly in her corner.
Ebony is questioned about being a lesbian and her thoughts on being upfront about it on television. She is very comfortable with who she is and is very open. She tells a story of when she was in high school and when the other girls found out she was gay they refused to change with her in the locker room so she just went to the boys locker room and they all high fived her and she would change in there. If true, that bespeaks a tremendous amount of confidence at a young age, and an unheard of level of tolerance among high school boys, not an age group generally known for being open-minded in regards to sexuality.
Katie talks of misperceptions about her, she is seen as prissy and claims it isn’t the case. She says no one knows about her work with PETA and how much of an animal lover she is. Why doesn’t she just tell them, then? This proverbial “they” who misperceive her. She is asked if she is a vegetarian and she says no, she does eat chicken. Well good, I didn’t want to have to lose sleep wondering about her protein needs being met.
Natalie speaks as if she is on the verge of tears telling us that she comes from a broken home. She is the eldest of eight children, her mother was on drugs so she was raised in foster care. She needs to be a supermodel as there is no other career where she will fit in, not one, she needs this very, very badly. I think she should have been cautioned about getting her hopes up and perhaps having a plan B in her life since becoming a supermodel isn’t exactly a sure thing.
Justine tells us she loves attention, always has to be the center of attention. Her mom calls her up in the morning and tells her, “you’re great, you’re wonderful,” and she says she knows, she knows and is feeling her greatness. She says she has a better looking face than the other girls, she doesn’t even know what some of them are doing here. How dare people she finds less attractive than herself exist within her line of vision! As she is leaving she says, “I did good, I did great, I’m the best. I knew it.” She’s like Stuart Smalley gone very, very awry.
Adrienne is from Joliet, Illinois, and muses nostalgically about cow tipping for some reason. Asked why she should be chosen she says she is funny, pretty, with perfect teeth (and shows them to us, too), and that she’s very rock and roll. There is an odd quality to her voice and facial expressions. Makes one wonder what they were serving at that party.
Nicole says when she sees supermodels in magazines she sees herself. She really, really, really wants this. Really. She knows the other women do too but she really does. Really.
Kesse says she and her mom aren’t on good terms right now (is this foreshadowing for drama in upcoming episodes? The statement seemed out of place) but Kesse is a true diva complete with attitude and hand gestures and everything. Can we strike this word from our collective vocabulary right now? No one can use it in a non-operatic sense without looking beyond foolish. She knows this is a competition and isn’t here to make friends.
Robin tells us pageantry put her through school and she seems to think this dispels the myth of beauty pageant contestants being stupid. This presupposes two things: that most people think pageant participants are not very bright and that having a college degree is a sign of intelligence. Do people really think in such narrow terms? I have known plenty of intelligent women who happen to be gorgeous (including some with pageant titles) as well of plenty of people with college educations who can’t think their way out of a paper bag.
Shannon is asked if she has always been religious and she says she has. She was saved at about ten but has grown stronger in her faith over the years because “practice makes perfect.” Oh. So you can practice to be a perfect Christian? I didn’t know it worked that way. Shades of JoAnna from the Amazon and it isn’t soothing me. And she tells us how she is a virgin but can’t wait to have sex on her wedding day. I think it’s as unseemly to talk about the sex you aren’t having as the sex that you are, but that’s just me.
At the hotel Shannon says it’s like one big slumber party while Elyse is surprised no one is bitchy. Guess she wasn’t treated to Justine’s musings. Natalie said she wasn’t invited to the party and hasn’t clicked with anyone. That’s so sad. Justine says she’s “sitting back watching all these chicks annoying everybody and I feel like they’re pushing me out.” She is very sullen like it occurred to her for the first time ever that other people exist and may stand in her way. Maybe instead of the affirmations she has down pat she should have looked up the definition of the word “competition”? That might have served her better.
All the girls are called together to hear who made the cut. They were shooting for 10 girls but Tyra and the producers could only agree on eight. Wow. So if you didn’t make the cut you have to live with the fact they would rather have two slots left empty rather than choose you. That’s gotta hurt. Actually as it plays out later I think they planned on picking eight all along and the other two later to mix up the dynamic, but who am I to soothe the emotional rejection of wannabe models? I don’t have that kinda time.
So who makes the cut? Nicole, Robin, Kesse, Elyse, Katie, Ebony, Adrienne (who makes the Warrant high sign, cracking me up – we have our gritty rocker girl folks. I can recognize one of my own people in any crowd.), and Shannon. The producers fought tooth and nail over this. They are in the beauty business, shouldn’t they be protecting their pretty teeth and manicures? Oh, perhaps it was a figure of speech. Never mind.
Justine is crying and just wants to go. Please do, I enjoyed seeing your story arc crash and burn so brilliantly and quickly. Kudos to the editing team. Natalie is feeling crushed. So many people look up to her and she wanted this so badly to show them she could succeed. There are many people who consider themselves successful who have never gone on a modeling game show. Just a thought. Adrienne feels like throwing up. Apparently she’s familiar enough with reality TV to know what she just got herself into.
The finalists head off to New York to get the keys to their deluxe penthouse apartment in the sky. Ebony is from the Bronx but everyone else is in awe and wonder at the glories of the Big Apple. We get a lot of “aww shucks, I’m just a small town girl” from a few of them. They seem to think that is winsome. It’s really not. Someone comments about the apartment’s feng shui, which you can’t tell from plopping down on a bed, by the way. Each of the rooms is decorated in a distinct style of a specific locale. Paris, Tokyo, Milan, London, Miami.
Elyse, Nicole, and Katie are sharing a room, as are Kesse, Robin, and Shannon who are bonded by their shared faith. Yet they call it the diva room. I had no idea Jesus was so pro-diva, guess we can blame him for the horror show over at VH-1 that keeps putting Mariah Carey onstage.
Shannon tells us that she is saving herself for marriage. Again. In case we missed it the first time and we are desperately craving information about her virtue. I don’t know about you but I wasn’t
Adrienne is last to choose a bedroom, claiming the one no one else wanted. Calling it the effing room further solidifying her particular stereotype as the gritty one. Elyse notes that the Christians all room together and she sees a separation developing between those who do and do not need quiet time to study their bibles. In other news, the girls discover it isn’t storage under their beds but they are in fact trundle beds. They think it is for their boyfriends to have a place to sleep when they visit. How considerate that would be and how very wrong that assumption is.
Tyra is back and tells the girls that while they chose those eight she likes round numbers so they did another search and found two more girls. This news isn’t greeted with happiness. Just messed with their odds when she introduces Giselle and Tessa. Giselle, we are told, has a strong personality and it is important that she is a Latina. No, I don’t know why. Tessa, we learn, has a look that is an exotic twist on the typical blonde. I don’t know what that means either. I don’t think I’m smart enough to recap this show. Tessa says she could feel the other girls looking her up and down and checking her out and she didn’t like it. Wow, if it will bother you to be scrutinized and judged, do you think you should be entering a competition based on you being scrutinized and judged?
This is why I don’t think they had any intention of choosing 10 girls from the batch of 20 we met in L.A. Introducing Giselle and Tessa after they had settled into their rooms and checked out the competition threw everyone off their game and left them with the trundle beds by default. Good thing because you can’t have enough conflict with this particular group of women.
Tyra tells the women that they will be undergoing lots of tests while they learn media training, speaking instruction, and various other skills. Once a week they will be evaluated with one contestant being eliminated. The winner will walk away with a Revlon contract, a layout in Marie Claire, and representation by Wilhelmina Models. This is cause for much applause as is almost everything Tyra says.
Giselle says she and Katie have a similar look while Tessa is jealous of Nicole’s beauty. Giselle and Tessa get the “bunk beds.” Uh, no. I’m no interior designer but bunk beds tend to be one on top of the other and trundle beds pull out for sleeping and slide under the main bed during the day to save space.
Adrienne and Tessa are each glad to have found a smoking buddy in each other as they find a little corner to light up. Can we all see what’s coming? Smoking in a apartment you share with eight other people all of whom are non-smokers is not a good idea. Robin comes out to lecture them pointing out that she doesn’t care if they want to kill themselves but she doesn’t want the smell in her clothes. You can see why she is so proud of her religion, what a kind thing to say. Couldn’t she just ask them not to smoke without climbing on the self-righteous soapbox?
Oh look! Company! The first of two visitors is John Sherman, their personal trainer, and he is taking a height/weight record of each of the girls so they can see the change in themselves over time. If their heights change maybe that means they will be punished for indiscretions by being stretched on the rack. That would certainly make this show worth watching.
The girls feel bad for Robin as the only “plus sized” model among them. They are so sympathetic to her plight of how very hard it must be to have to live with so many skinny women. Yes, everyone in the world is jealous of you all... and the only reason anyone could have for not liking you is your perfect bodies and great looks. You know how older women are and after all Robin is all of 26. There are too many Heidis in this world. Robin in turn thinks Elyse is too thin and sickly.
Can everyone take a deep breath and stop judging for one moment? Didn’t think so.
The next visitor comes to give everyone bikini waxes. What a treat! Some of the women are freaked out and afraid and there is a lot of whining. Honestly, I know it isn’t the most pleasant sensation in the world but the drama over the pain was a little much. If it were me I would be more upset about the camera catching me with panties off, legs in the air as total strangers smeared hot wax over my nether region. Robin and Giselle are the most upset. Giselle has always told everyone she would never get a bikini wax. She states it emphatically like it is a campaign promise she is forced to break. Robin says no one has ever been “down there” except herself and her gynecologist and she gives him a hard time. Well, how dare he try to examine her there even though that’s what she pays him for. In the end everyone complies. What brave little soldiers.
They get Tyra-mail (how precious is that?) and are told they have a swimsuit photo shoot in the morning. They are to meet in the lobby at 7 am but some of the girls don’t make it in time and are upset the others didn’t wait for them. Why would they wait? The worse others look the more points you get by default. Also, as we soon learn, the girls who aren’t late get into hair and make-up first. Tyra lectures Robin, Kesse, Shannon, and Ebony on their tardiness, explaining that photo shoots cost thousands of dollars and time is money. She looks as stern as a supermodel/executive producer can look.
The photographer is Douglas Bizarro and his assistant is Elizabeth Moss. He explains to the women that swimwear is shot the season before so this is the time to do it. He doesn’t explain why they have to shoot outside in a New York winter rather than indoors with heat, but we can’t be privy to everything.
Tyra gives a little modeling lesson and this is what we learn. People think the more they move the sexier they will come off but it is really all about the face. You don’t want to give “dead eye” you always want to be thinking about something. Modeling is like acting in a silent movie. And award for lamest analogy goes to... Miss Banks.
We are told it is 8 degrees with the wind-chill. They are up on a rooftop in bikinis and it’s 8 degrees. I laughed, I couldn’t help it. The photographer and his assistant give us a play-by-play on how the girls are doing and the girls are not shy about opining on each other as well. Nicole is a good listener and follows direction well, Tessa was taught to model the wrong way, Robin is more modest due to being the only plus sized model and of course her age is a factor since she’s 26 or (gasp!) 27. Ah, the things that can come out of an 18-year-old’s mouth. Elyse has no body fat at all and can’t handle the cold. She is trying to follow directions while sucking back snot (now that’s sexy!) but can’t handle it and started to cry. Giselle does a great job, Ebony doesn’t even look cold. She is beautiful but doesn’t do anything spectacular. Who wants a job where you can be criticized for not being spectacular? Katie was one of the most difficult ones, she was trying too hard, like she was posing for Playboy and not a fashion shoot. She thinks it went great, however. Shannon quotes the bible and tells us through Jesus all things are possible. I am learning so much about Jesus tonight. I, too, know that verse and it actually gave me quite a bit of comfort during some difficult times in my life. I just always thought it was intended to provide strength through life’s real trials and not to help you stand on a roof in a bikini in 8-degree temps. In addition, there is an old saying that the Lord helps those who help themselves, and I think Jesus would have wanted one of you to pipe up and refuse until it was moved inside. The photographer says he doesn’t have time to teach a model how to model. Kesse is nice and easy to shoot, Giselle does a great job and you can tell she has practiced before the mirror.
We next find the women thawed out, dressed, and at dinner. Conversation turns to Elyse being an atheist and the shock with which the Christian coalition greets this news is surprising. Surely they couldn’t have made it to adulthood without being aware that other people in this world will have different belief systems? And that differences of opinion don’t negate what you hold to be true? Or maybe they could. Robin says she now has reservations about Elyse and Elyse feels judged. Which is because she is being judged. Told you this one was a smart cookie. She says she won’t pretend she doesn’t believe in evolution to make others happy. I hope that was taken from a specific conversation we didn’t see. She couldn’t possibly believe that faith in God and believing in the scientific truth of evolution are mutually exclusive. Many, many people hold both of those things to be true.
Breaking this up they get more Tyra-mail and learn that tomorrow nine will go on and one will be eliminated. They all looks so surprised I wonder if perhaps they are hearing the rules as we go along. The girls muse about whether or not they will go and Adrienne is slurring badly as she tells us how she needs this or she will “keep slipping further and further into the hole.” and she looks like she’s channeling Jim Morrison. Is this a concern to anyone but me?
Tyra is talking again so cue the women to gaze with rapt attention. She tells them they will be judged on natural talent, potential, personality, and what happened at the photo shoot. The judges are:
The contestants come in one by one for their personal evaluations.
Katie is asked what she was thinking, hooking her fingers into her swimsuit like that, while Tyra takes offense since she was on a Sports Illustrated cover with her fingers hooked and Janice snaps back that Katie has a long way to go until she’s Tyra. Meow!
Kesse is told she is so beautiful.
Adrienne is asked her shoe size and she whines it’s eleven. Big women need a big base. Yep, that’s physics but she is told by Janice that she has “face good, feet bad.” Better that than the other way around.
Nicole tried the hardest.
Ebony is told to work on her thighs and her bootie and she can’t coast on her gorgeous face. I hate the word booty, can we prohibit that along with diva?
Giselle wasn’t the favorite in person but she came off the best on film.
Shannon is told she is very thin and a waif. Her personality glows but that they can tell she tans a lot and the skin on her face is already starting to look leathery.
Tessa complains that she was shy in a bikini since she doesn’t like to wear revealing clothes and likes to cover up. They question the supermodel career path in light of this.
Robin is plus size on the bottom but not on the top and is starting very late at 26. No wonder our society is so screwed up when 26 is considered too old to be truly beautiful.
Elyse is told she is too thin.
So who stays and who gets the ax? The judges deliberate and this little insight into the ugly underbelly of the beauty industry is hard to watch. I understand they are looking for specific attributes but their dismissive aspect and how superficial it is... it just made me glad I live in the real world.
Tyra stands before the women in a very serious manner and tells them she is holding nine pictures. The woman whose picture she isn’t holding will be eliminated immediately. Jeff Probst makes it look so easy, Tyra isn’t having as much luck. She reads the names of those who are staying in a painfully drawn-out fashion until we get to two remaining woman, Tessa and Shannon. She says the woman whose name she calls will go on and the woman whose name she doesn’t read will be eliminated. Is that that complicated a process that it requires this level of over-explanation? Apparently. Shannon will stay Tessa will be going home.
Tessa hugs the other women goodbye while Simon and Garfunkle’s “Heart Of New York” swells. But it’s a really bad, slow version that just infuriates me that people can’t leave a great song alone. She says she tried and that everything happens for a reason. Bye Tessa, we hardly knew ya.
Next week they learn the runway ropes and do a photo shoot for Stuff magazine. There is conflict between Ebony and her housemates while Elyse wants to go home and asks to be eliminated, which as we all know in the world of reality TV means she won’t be going anywhere. See you then.
Jamie can be reached at JRS5150@aol.com.
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