Judge Brett Cullum is too sexy for his shirt—so sexy, it hurts...
"Walk like you're selling it, and the rent is due
This week, my embarrassing admission is that I love America's Next Top Model, and have been watching every episode since Season One. (Currently, it is in its fourth season.) America's Next Top Model Cycle One was inevitably going to end up in my collection no matter what. I will try and contain my enthusiasm for this aspirational reality show starring Tyra Banks (Halloween: Resurrection) long enough to give you a fair peek at UPN's reality phenomenon. So let's go "behind the seams" and see if Paramount gives you something to strut your stuff about. Strike a pose, y'all!
Facts of the Case
The first season of America's Next Top Model was a nine-episode summer series UPN rushed onto the air. The show was thrown together rapidly, and it often shows in the end result (check out all the obvious re-recorded voice-overs and "much later" interviews with the girls inserted here and there). Only eight girls were chosen at the final casting call (in Los Angeles) shown in the first episode, and two more were added to the contest by Tyra Banks herself at the last minute. (She rationalizes it by saying "I like round numbers!" Um…okay.) So the set-up is ten girls all competing for the title of America's Next Top Model. Over eight weeks, they will be challenged by many photo shoots, lots of training, and other model-related activities designed to develop them from "the girl next door" to "the girl on the cover of every magazine." The original ten contestants for the first season were all strong personalities, including:
Elyse—the waif. She's a smart aspiring medical student who proudly announces she is an atheist, and openly begs to be eliminated from the show almost every other episode. Can she dumb herself down long enough to take the title?
Robin—the plus size diva from Memphis, TN, who is also a devoted Christian. She effectively divides the house with her constant Bible references and nagging about how all the other girls are "sinners." Can she stop judging others long enough to realize she's the oldest and heaviest one there?
Ebony—the bald, black lesbian who becomes dangerously addicted to moisturizer. Apart from always being greasy, she's also about two seconds away from exploding at any given moment. Can she find a way to stop being so damn edgy all the time?
Shannon—the young Christian virgin who looks like the stereotypical California girl, with about eighty-six teeth always showing when she smiles. Can she find a way to be a little more mysterious and a little less obvious?
Giselle—a young Latina who seriously lacks confidence. Can she find the courage to finally admit that she is top model material?
Katie—another young Latina, but one who looks too sexy to make it in high fashion. Will she be doomed to a life of Maxim bikini shoots?
Adrianne—the sleepy-eyed tomboyish rocker chick who digs Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and The Doors. Will her Chicago accent impede her chance to be a spokesmodel? Can the other girls avoid Adrianne when she tries to grab their breasts?
Tessa—A Hilary Swank look-alike who smokes like a chimney. Can she overcome her utter lack of health-sense, or will she end up always looking like a pretzel wearing a bikini?
Nicole—The one girl who is 100% convinced she is America's Next Top Model from day one. Can she pry herself away from the phone (she's constantly calling her BMX-racer boyfriend) long enough to actually compete?
Kesse—The sweet young black girl who looks like Tyra's little sister. Will her love of shopping successfully translate to being a model, or will she be eternally stuck as a consumer?
America's Next Top Model definitely had a brilliant cast—but the judging panel and advisors were equally entertaining. Unlike American Idol, they needed a whole panel of fashion experts to judge and coach the girls on their way to becoming real-life models. It was amazing to watch the judges go at each other in deliberations; sometimes, they made the show funnier than it ever had a right to be. The judging panel in America's Next Top Model Cycle One included:
Tyra Banks—A thirty-two year old supermodel of the '90s, and sometime singer and actress. She's the person who thought up this whole concept. She plays both mom and mentor with the girls all week, until the elimination ceremonies, where she gets to be the evil den mother who sends people packing with their dreams in a duffle bag.
Janice Dickinson—A fifty-two year old ex-model who claims she was the original "supermodel" back in the '70s. (As if she could remember after all those drugs at Studio 54…) Janice is definitely a good reason to watch the show, because she says what most people only think. She has no frontal lobe, and will dis anyone to their face at the drop of a hat. She's the Simon Cowell of the show, but looks a lot better insulting people than he does.
Beau Quillian—The fashion editor of Marie Claire magazine. He's a sweet guy who knows fashion, but he's trapped at the table with loud women and flaming queens. He didn't have a chance, and disappeared by the second season.
Kimora Lee Simmons—The owner/creative director of Baby Phat fashions. She too was only on this season, since she basically wasn't evil enough to go up against Janice every week.
Miss Jay Alexander—The flamboyant diva coach of the catwalk. He's a man who teaches women how to walk in heels, and looks like he's in drag even with no wig or make-up. He's easily the funniest thing on the show, thanks to his lightning-fast tongue and tendency to vogue incessantly. He rocks!
Mr. Jay Manuel—The highly skilled sexy make-up artist, who flames just as hard as Miss Jay. This Jay teaches the girls how to apply make-up, then throws live snakes at them during a photo shoot and asks them to deal with it. He also rocks!
Nole Marin—An exotic, rotund art director who often appears on the judging panel with a tiny Pomeranian he insists everyone call "Empress." I think the dog helps him judge. I'm scared of that bitch. Oh, and I'm a bit unnerved by the dog, too.
John Silverman—The trainer who weighs the girls immediately in the first episode, and gets everyone's sympathy vote as the straightest man within fifty miles of this whole mess. He can usually be seen running on and off the show as quickly as possible. Must be how he stays in shape!
America's Next Top Model Cycle One includes all nine of the episodes that aired back in the summer of 2003. Only eight episodes really propel the contest forward; we also get the recap special "How the Girls Got Here," which seems odd on a set of discs I can play anytime I need a reminder of what happened when. Ah, the joys of reality television on DVD.
So why is the show so damn addictive? I like to think America's Next Top Model is a notch above other reality shows. Here are ten girls who have to learn something to advance to the next stage. They are all working towards the same dream, with Tyra and the judges helping to reshape them and teach them a profession. It was all executed by Ken Mok, who seems to specialize in these shows where a career is made for someone. (He also produced Making the Band.) It doesn't hurt that this particular profession is fun to watch as well. The photo shoots are full of drama, as the girls must deal with posing in bikinis in the dead of winter, draping live snakes around their neck for a beauty shot, and stripping down to nothing for a final session completely nude. America's Next Top Model is always tasteful in how it presents the situations, but it does seem designed to emotionally wreck each of the contestants by playing on their fears and moral issues constantly. It's like Survivor in heels.
Then there's the Real World angle of the show. All the contestants have to live in a posh-yet-cramped flat in the center of New York City. The cameras follow them everywhere (even to the bathroom). The living situation is as taxing as any of the challenges they face, and in many ways, that's where the real competition takes place. Season One of the show was rife with drama, as we came to know each girl intimately and watched them fight constantly with each other over their separate individual lifestyles and beliefs. Things really heat up once five girls have to truck off to Paris and share one hotel room with one bathroom. People stop being nice, and quickly get real.
Modeling is a harder job than one would ever imagine. It's not brain surgery or anything technical, but it is an art. It takes a modicum of talent to present yourself in the best light under some decidedly unglamorous conditions. And feminists beware, because this is one arena where looks are everything. The girls are criticized on every aspect of their physical being, which wears on them even more. You walk away from America's Next Top Model with a new appreciation for the amount of work it takes for a woman to go through all of this. They suffer harsh conditions, endless criticism, and an unhealthy obsession with weight and physical qualities. In the end, that's the most compelling thing about the show. It's a look inside an ugly business that peddles the beauty of the young and genetically gifted, all the while treating them horribly. Who knew modeling was so rough? Hell, who knew being a woman was so rough?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
America's Next Top Model Cycle One is a Paramount release. Typical for the studio, they deliver the series with little in the way of special features, and troubling technical problems. The transfers are full screen affairs that show a lot of edge enhancement, and some outright horrible looking sequences. Colors are vibrant, but they bleed all over the place uncontrollably. Sometimes the image is nowhere near as sharp as it should be. The opening sequences are so unclear that at one point I was convinced Tyra Banks had three eyes. God help any girl that enters the "confessional" on the show, because the burgundy drapes bleed all over them so that their skin looks pink and purple. There are some faux-widescreen shots in the series, and it's here we see the edge enhancement begin to shimmer off the television. No favors were done for a series that was already in rough shape due to the tight production deadlines. We get a standard stereo mix that doesn't enhance anything.
The final disc in the three-disc set includes three brief features. First up is a look at casting the show, which reveals how the contestants were selected. Then there is a ten-minute look at the show's production. Finally, we get about three minutes describing the "Two Jays" on the show by repeating clips we just watched in the show. No commentaries, no deleted scenes, nothing really insightful. I would have killed for a commentary from Tyra or the girls on any show. Janice Dickinson? That would be a scream of a track. But no such luck. You just get the nine episodes, and brief features.
Reality television may be the flavor of the month on all the networks and most cable channels out there, but it makes for a lousy experience on DVD. If you watched the show as it aired you know the winner, and there's no real compelling reason to sit down and watch again. America's Next Top Model would be a good purchase for people interested in the fashion industry who want to learn all the tricks of the trade Tyra shares, but why would anyone else want America's Next Top Model Cycle One? I enjoyed revisiting the season, and it was wholly entertaining the second time around. Still, I can't see how I would force myself to watch this set again and again. Especially considering that no extras are there to hold my interest in a repeat viewing. The studios need to find a way to re-invent reality television for DVD. Just giving us the shows will never cut it. That makes me want to say this is a good rental for those who have never seen it, or for fans, but I'm hard pressed to come up with why you'd actually buy it.
One really nagging problem is that there is absolutely no feature to tell us what these girls are up to now their season of the show is over. That really hurts this package, especially since this season's winner seems to have disappeared from fashion magazines. She's not even featured in the current season four credits of America's Next Top Model! I did some research on where they are now, so here you go. I can't claim this is all true, since I relied on Internet sources for the scoop, but here's what I know to the best of my knowledge: Elyse did finish school, and is working as a clinical researcher. She gets modeling jobs in Asia, and is probably Asia's Next Top Model if they can get her out of the lab long enough. Robin went back to Memphis, and continued working as a day care assistant who occasionally models for plus-size catalogs. Ebony is still a make-up artist in New York, and has a life partner. Shannon has been working the pageant circuit, and was a runner-up for Miss Ohio in the Miss USA Pageant. Kesse finished her degree in accounting, and is going to be one sexy number-cruncher. Adrianne went on The Surreal Life on VH-1, and began dating Christopher Knight (Peter Brady from The Brady Bunch). I couldn't find anything else out about the other contestants, but I'm sure they are all okay and doing fine.
America's Next Top Model Cycle One should win over some new fans to the show. It is a nice way to look inside the secrets of making beautiful women models. It's a reality show about dreams, and working to achieve them. It's great stuff that you should watch once. That said, Paramount gives us little reason to buy the set. The transfers are ugly, and the extras are brief and not too insightful. Fans will be glad to have all nine episodes, but that's all they get out of the deal. Reality television on DVD needs something to up the stakes for those of us who know the outcome. It's a genre that produces days of deleted footage, and constantly begs to include a "Where are they now?" feature as well. Pity that such a great show gets short shrift on the format. I'd say rent it unless you're an aspiring model yourself. I stand behind the show, but found the set itself lacking. Make it a Blockbuster or Netflix night for this one.
America's Next Top Model Cycle One deserves a split decision. The show is great, and Miss Tyra and the girls should go on showing us dreams of fashion glory coming true. This release, though is lackluster, so Paramount needs to be locked in a crowded flat with Miss Jay screaming "Produce features that sell the DVD and the rent's due tonight!" You'd better work, studio bitches.
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