America's Next Top Model
ended “ended” in 2014 after 22 cycles of Tyra's inimitable smizing and the time-honored tradition of girls with new pixie cuts hysterically crying into the camera about the gorgeous head of hair they just lost. While it should be noted that ANTM fostered exactly zero top models, it did manage to create a compulsively watchable TV show, with a near 1:1 ratio of catwalks to cat fights as its cast clawed for the top spot. The series started strong, but — while we won't go into a total post-mortem here — we can all agree that ANTM started going downhill around cycle nine or ten. (Too many reality TV gimmicks; too little actual modeling.)
Now, two years after its fakeout-finale and 13 years after its series premiere, ANTM is back. Tyra, staying on as executive producer, has promised a return to the show's glory days — with a twist. True to ANTM’s roots, cycle 23 is set in New York City with an all-female cast. And judging by the entertaining premiere episode and season sneak peeks, we're going to be getting some good old fashioned ANTM, from the creative photo shoots to the apartment drama. However, we've also got a fabulous crew of fresh faces, beginning with Rita Ora as Tyra's replacement. And there's the new judging panel— supermodel Ashley Graham, Paper Magazine Chief Creative Officer Drew Elliott, and celebrity stylist and “image architect” Law Roach.
The appointment of Ora is supposed to represent the recent seismic shift in the modeling landscape, one that ANTM 2.0 wants to reflect. It's 2016, and the new supermodel is not the icy, one-dimensional, stick-figure on a pedestal of years past. She is warm and accessible, with a personality, a squad of young Hollywood friends, and maybe a boyfriend in One Direction. People outside the fashion world know her name; they have opinions on her love life. In short, she's a social media maven and pop culture player as much as a model: Think Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner. As Ora puts it on Monday night's premiere, it’s about being “the triple B”: Business, Boss, and Brand. (The fact that I can’t tell you what Rita Ora’s brand is, exactly, doesn’t bode well for the new host, but that's neither here nor there.
“It’s not just about a pretty face anymore,” Graham explains to the girls in the premiere. But it is, apparently, still very much about a slim body. All of the 20-odd contenders we meet and the 14 final girls selected are extremely thin. Of course, this casting is tired and grating after over 20 seasons (in which there have been a handful of plus-size contenders). But the real scandal here? The lack of body diversity completely undermines the intended “reinvention” of the show.
See, if ANTM truly sought to remake itself in 2016’s image — to be relevant and truthful to the young women who've helped usher models from the narrow fashion world to the broader one of pop culture — then it needed to do more. Adding the world's only plus-size supermodel to the judging panel is great, but without the casting to back it up, it doesn't feel like ANTM is actually interested in joining the conversation about representation and body positivity. And that's a shame — for viewers, and for the quality of the show itself. In other words, this is one element of ANTM's roots that we would've loved to leave in 2003.