I conducted an informal poll of trusted homies about the state of America’s Next Top Model by asking one simple question: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I mention Top Model? Most answered “Tyra Banks,” while a few mentioned infamous phrases from the show, like, “We were rooting for you! We were all rooting for you!!” However, there was another response that was as astute as the first: “Is that still on?”
For those who missed the news, after a 12-year, 22-season run on the CW, the show was relaunched on VH1 with a new host in Rita Ora. Although many struggled to understand how Ora, a singer-actress person with a solid stylist, became the host of a modeling competition, America’s New Top Model opened season 23 with 1.7 million viewers—a five-year high for the series—and enjoyed a slight rise in the ratings in the following weeks. By all accounts, minus the matter of a Top Model contestant accusing Ora of bias because she dated Ora’s ex Calvin Harris, Ora was a success.
Still, while the show has been renewed by VH1 for another season, Ora is out and Tyra Banks is back in. In a statement, Banks said:
I’m overwhelmed and humbled by the intensity of the ANTM fan base whose deep affection for the show led me to have a change of heart. After giving it a lot of thought, I realized that remaining behind the camera wasn’t enough because ANTM is woven into my DNA.
Sure, but it also doesn’t hurt that Banks is on a bit of a TV comeback as she takes over for Nick Cannon as host of America’s Got Talent. Couple that with a show that’s now safe to return to, and it’s like FABLife never happened. Although Banks’ return to the show is welcome, it alone doesn’t address all the reasons viewers fled the show in droves to begin with. The show needs its nucleus, but it also might want to two-step back into the basics of what made it a hit in the first place.
When Top Model’s cancellation was announced in October 2015, a number of writers analyzed the show’s longtime success and, subsequently, what variables helped give way to its erosion. Noting that Top Model hadn’t enjoyed a traditional cycle/season since No. 16, Adrienne Raphael wrote at The Atlantic:
In short, ANTM went from an industry competition to a branding pageant—from a more straightforward contest that promised the winner a modeling career to one that promised the winner a large Internet following. The prize still includes a modeling contract with an agency (for Cycle 22, it’s NEXT Model Management) and a spread in a fashion magazine (now Nylon, rather than Vogue Italia). But gone are the camp and self-awareness that once characterized the show—now, it’s a hashtag-heavy, emoji-laden battle of the brands. On the one hand, this departure mirrors a realistic shift that’s taken place in an industry that increasingly rewards familiar faces with built-in fanbases. On the other it detracts from the fun, insular fantasy world ANTM worked so hard to create.
Also make note that by cycle 22, it had been the third time that women and men were competing against each other. Worse, the show had started relying a whole lot more on themes such as “British Invasion.” Some found the over-the-top theatrics of the show still enjoyable, though.
Most recently in Cycle 21—the same cycle as Lacefront McBeard—our impeccably flamboyant host Tyra Banks blessed a female model with a half-black, half-blonde “skunk” hair dye job, thinking it edgy. But the lace front beard, or beard weave as Tyra called it—and what it stands for—is the sole reason I continue to indulge in Tyra’s immaculate circus.
Nothing tops it, and yet the beauty of Top Model is that millions of similar examples exist (Tyra once had the male models dress up in women’s clothing and vice versa for a pointless role reversal challenge). The lace front beard is a symbol of everything magical and horrible about this show. I cannot stop watching or else I’ll die. I’m sure of it.
I’m so glad Hope is alive, but by cycle 21, I, along with other formerly avid Top Model viewers, had long since checked out.
Read the rest at The Root.