In what might be the most embarrassing confession of my career, I will admit that "America's Next Top Model" is my guilty pleasure. I've watched it since the early days of Adrianne Curry, the first-ever winner; I've seen Tyra Banks' hair morph from sleek bob to red weave to waist-length 'do; and I've witnessed the endless cycle of judges come and go. None of these changes have been particularly shocking. But when Tyra announced last week that she was firing long-time "Top Model" personalities Nigel Barker, Jay Manuel and Jay Alexander, I was floored.
Aside from the contestants' shifting attitudes and characteristics from season to season, that fired triad was the meat of the show. Now gutted, whatever poses as "America's Next Top Model" will be nothing of the sort. Nigel and "The Jays" are as much a part of the identity of "ANTM" as Tyra herself -- in fact, most of their "celebrity" and popularity came from their roles on the show.
In recent seasons, Tyra has been getting some pretty big-name fashion talent, like Donatella Versace, Franca Sozzani, Diane von Furstenberg and Rachel Zoe, but most of those are one-offs. Former Vogue Editor-in-Chief Andre Leon Talley was a judge for four cycles on "ANTM," but he was out of there quickly, without making much of an impact. Straight up, these overtly famous fashion folk don't mesh with the -- pardon me -- bargain-basement air of "ANTM." It's like a French chef judging 6th grade students' oatmeal cookies. What is "ANTM" without Miss Jay's sashays, Mr. Jay's silver hair and Barker's self-entitled British snarkiness? Not much. It's as if we need the vacuousness to fill the vacuum, if that makes any sense.
As an "ANTM" fan, I feel like I have special access to the inner workings of Tyra's brain. (Let's be honest: At the best of times, it's nearly impossible to understand her.) I understand what she's trying to do, but I'm afraid it won't work. Currently in its 18th season, "ANTM" has grown hopelessly stale. While still enjoyable to watch for all the core reasons -- making fun of and judging others, watching people fall on the runway, bad makeovers, and yes, mocking Tyra's insanity -- the formula has become predictable and tired. Tyra is looking for something, anything, to revive this franchise, and this is the queen of last-ditch efforts.
Tyra and her producers probably witnessed the major press given to shows like "American Idol" and "X Factor" as they retool(ed) their judging panels, and thought, "Hey, why can't I get a piece of that?" The major difference here is, on "Idol" for example, the judges chose to leave for the most part, or there were extenuating circumstances. "Idol" also has mainstay Ryan Seacrest, who, if he left, would totally alter the show and probably signal its death. That's what will happen to "Top Model." There will be no continuous thread to pull it all together. Tyra's occasional step-ins just aren't enough.
And this is her last attempt, I bet. What scandal/cheap viewer grabs have we not seen on "ANTM"? We've had a short-girls-only cycle, a plus-sized winner (this was epic for "ANTM"), fainting at the judging panel, mysterious oustings, random departures, disqualifications, Tyra eruptions, underage drinking and smoking, cheating with male models, countless ridiculous runway shows and now, Brits vs. Americans. Clearly a judges panel shake-up, a major one, was the only thing left to do.
But it won't work. The show is just too old. Tyra has promised a brand new format, and is excited for the future of the show. But this is the equivalent of putting new tires, paint and some decals on an old jalopy. If it's broken underneath, it's broken. It's time to sell it for whatever you can and buy a new one. Lord knows Tyra has the money.
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