America’s Next Top Tyra
September 17, 2011 § 2 Comments
The Wikipedia entry for Tyra Banks begins as such: “Tyra Lynne Banks (born December 4, 1973) is an American model, media personality, actress, occasional singer, authoress and businesswoman.”
For this 17th “All Stars” cycle of America’s Next Top Model, the contestants will do their best to fill each of Tyra’s vast pumps. They will not just be modeling, but recording a single and choosing a fragrance for a perfume line. In addition to the Cover Girl contract, Vogue Italia spreads, and Express campaign, the winner will also receive a spot as a guest correspondent on Extra.”It’s not just about modeling,” announces Tyra, “It’s about star power!” This is a point that Tyra has tried to establish with varying degrees of regularity each season: you aren’t just a model; you’re a spokeswoman, an actress, and a host. You are selling a brand, she would say. This season, you are the brand.
After all, where else could ANTM have gone? Unlike Project Runway or Top Chef where contestants are judged on their craft and what they produce, for the women of ANTM their product has always been themselves – their bodies, their faces, and their “personalities.”
For their first photo shoot, Mr. Jay returns to give each of the women their “persona” from their respective cycle. For the most part, the women step up gamely to sell their characters, save for Bianca, now a working model signed with Ford, who balks at the idea of having to sell “loud and sassy” while sporting garish tracks of red hair. The rest of the women of color must similarly sell their race and class. Angelea, Bre, Camille, and Sheena are all variations on “hood” and “loud black diva.” Meanwhile Kayla sells her lesbian pride. The other (heterosexual) white contestants, on the other hand, receive personas like “angelic” (Shannon), “tough, California girl” (Alexandria), and “quirky doll” (Allison). Isis, the transgender contestant, gets “confidence” – an abstract idea rather than a persona, a sidestep from any identity.
The judging panel, replete with Ms. Multiple Personas herself, Nicki Minaj, sits on a stage in a public plaza in LA. The contestants must be subject not only to the panel, but more importantly, to a live audience. They are to walk down a runway, lined with spectators armed with digital cameras, as the judges critique their photos. Tyra tells them, “We’re looking for something extra special… Your personalities are also being judged. How you worked this crowd. How this crowd responded to you.” The women themselves continually reference their “fans” as though raised hands constitute a fan base.
Alexandria, fresh off her villainous turn from the previous cycle, is apparently still in people’s minds. The catwalk becomes her gauntlet as the crowd boos and shouts curses at her. She trembles as she approaches the mic stand, awaiting judgment. We, the people, are cruel.
The photos matter little. They look cheap, with the models meaninglessly Photoshopped onto the surface of the pool (is this a reference to Jesus?). Instead the judges discuss, with flagging levels of interest, the women’s potential to be “more” than just models, but also entrepreneurs, talk show hosts, singers, and actresses. Just like Tyra.