America’s Next Top Flop

March 6, 2014 • Fashion

Later this year, Tyra Banks will present her 21st cycle of America’s Next Top Model, or, more specifically, her 21st attempt at finding a top model. The show carried some legitimacy in its first few seasons, but after more than ten years on the air without a single success story, it looks as though America’s Next Top Model has well and truly passed its expiration date. If we refer to the CFDA’s guidelines regarding 16 as the appropriate starting age for aspiring models, together with the fact that very few working models were older than 26 when they ascended to “top model” status, it seems that a decade is just enough time for a model to establish herself. But it hasn’t happened for any of the Top Model girls. I’m trying to figure out why.

Tyra Banks has endured much criticism since Top Model premiered in 2003. As a TV program that relies on ratings and advertising to stay afloat, it is only in the interest of business to showcase the most “dramatic” behavior to keep the show as entertaining as possible. Tantrums, catfights, “lesbian” kisses and on-set fainting spells have all been used to propel otherwise tedious episodes. Others have criticized Banks for her perfunctory inclusion of transgender contestants—namely Isis, who first appeared in cycle 11, and Virgg, who made a brief appearance last season before quitting—and “plus size” or “fiercely real” models, simply for brownie points and a boost in ratings.

Transgender model Isis King, who first appeared in cycle 11. Photo courtesy of The Tyra Banks Company.

Transgender model Isis King, who first appeared in cycle 11. Photo courtesy of The Tyra Banks Company.

The main concern, however, is that the models are so ill-equipped to enter the real world of modelling that Tyra Banks is ultimately doing a disservice to her contestants. This sentiment was shared by Kirstie Clements, the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Australia, who made a number of appearances on the Australian edition of the show. In her tell-all book, The Vogue Factor, Clements decried the activities that were involved, including an “imbecilic” round of trivia in which the contestants were asked to match the magazine cover to the supermodel. “Of course any exercise on the show is completely irrelevant to the real world of modelling,” she wrote. “Models don’t need to know anything about anything. They don’t even need to speak. They just need to be beautiful and show up on time.”

Is Tyra Banks performing a disservice to her models by airing their dirty laundry on national television? It has been said over and over that a good model should be able to walk into a room and command your attention without even speaking. They should glow. Sadly, taciturnity does not exist in the Top Model house, and the contestants are really only interesting because they are so loud and obnoxious, two traits that complement their increasingly large egos. The competition would be utterly boring if it weren’t for the drama, and the producers know that. It’s good for ratings, but a person who can’t control their mouth in front of an audience is not model material, if we’re looking through the casting directors’ eyes. Acting like a fool on television is akin to picking your nose on the runway: it seems like a good idea, and it may give you instant satisfaction, but there are cameras everywhere and you will be caught. And it will haunt you.

Ralph Lauren Spring Summer 2014 Print Campaign, featuring Fatima Siad

Ralph Lauren Spring Summer 2014 Print Campaign, featuring Fatima Siad

Speaking to some model scouts, who have requested to have their name and agency withheld, has given me some insight into the industry. One scout, who is based in London, agrees that appearing on Top Model can generate exposure—for better or for worse—but there is a stigma surrounding reality television as a means to propel fame. Most of the Top Model winners have moved on to other projects, including acting or television hosting, while others have gone back to school and their regular lives. The only real “success” story to come out of Top Model has been Fatima Siad, a gorgeous Somali-Ethiopian model whose first major runway jobs were for Dries Van Noten and Hermès. Since then, she has worked sporadically, most recently appearing in advertising campaigns for Hervé Léger and Ralph Lauren. But for this model scout, it’s the thrill of discovering silent, anonymous faces that is like striking genetic gold: “I once scouted a guy without even seeing his face. He had shoulder-length hair over his face when I noticed him, and when he shifted his hair I was, like, Oh my god! That is the best feeling.”

At this very moment, Tyra Banks and her team are putting together the latest cycle of Top Model; cycle, rather than season, to reflect the tediousness and monotony of what this show has become. Elsewhere, Naomi Campbell and her team are launching the latest season of The Face in America, with The Face Australia launching later in the month.

Marketing slogans and model mantras aside (“I know what it takes to find a great model”), these shows are about discovering what it takes to make great television, not great talent.

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  • Antonio Spears

    Have even looked up which girls from top model are working as models? Beacause if you did you would find out that a LOT of the girls are working and have been on magazine covers. Fatima is not the only one who has done well, So has Leila, Mollie Sue, Elyse, Nicole L, Whitney, Katarzyna, Erin Wagner, Raina, Allisson, Jaslene, Ann Markley, Eva and many more. They may be not supermodels but they are working models so do your homework or shut up.

    • Swapd

      Getting some commercial modeling job every 6 months like a Sears catalog does not make you a model. Having a consistent portfolio with a variety of top clients, magazine editorials and doing runway makes you a working model.

      • Antonio Spears

        Leila from cycle 19 had also campaigns for Hervé Léger and you would know that if you had looked it up. So having a spread in Vogue Russia and many more like Mollie Sue has done is not good to you? I can go on and name you a lot of things that the girls have done but it’s better if you look it up yourself.

  • samiyac

    Hasn’t Karl Lagerfeld also said that Top Model contestants would never become real working (top)models? I have to admit, the show is really entertaining but just sooo overhyped! And isn’t it bad that after 20/21 cycles the only (dunno if there are more) successful working model is Fatima Siad?

    Btw, I think The Face is so much better than ANTM! I watched the first US and UK seasons and was kind of pleased.. And I know that it’s all about making great television, which is too bad because i get annoyed of all these obnoxious and ego contestants. And also, in The Netherlands they just released this show called I Can Make You a Supermodel, this time it’s the scout himself who is loud and all that, but the show is quite interesting because they just scout models, and he gets some days the time to make her a supermodel and one of those models, Julia Bergshoeff has become a real working model, I mean her first show was for Prada!

    Great post, always love your articles!!
    x

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