If you’ve watched America’s Next Top Model for any amount of time, you know what to expect from a finale. You’ll have a commercial, a photo shoot, plenty of talk of nerves, a final runway centered on some big gimmick, some cattiness and/or last-minute bonding, final panel, and a tearful declaration of who the next top model of this fine country will be. It’s a steady formula that has received a tweak or two in recent cycles, but for the most part, a Top Model finale is a Top Model finale is a Top Model finale and the only things that change are the contestants’ faces and Tyra’s weave.
But cycle 19 of America’s Next Top Model managed to alter the structure of its finale now that it’s free of the obligatory Covergirl product placement and reinvent what we’ve come to expect from the coronation of a fashion queen. The episode begins with Tyra addressing the camera while on the balcony of haunted Rose Hall in Montego Bay, where a former mistress of the manor (played by cycle 18 champion Sophie, complete with ghostly effects and all-white ensemble) killed boyfriends, lovers, and anyone that could smize better than she could. Cut to POT LEDOM being written across the mirror in red (!!!!!) a’la this and BOOM, welcome to the Top Model finale. Be afraid, y’all. Be very afraid.
Most of the finale is centered at the final runway show at Rose Hall, where we get a peek backstage at the girls getting ready in their harsh make-up and powered hair; Tyra decides to, rather than show the natural flow of events, introduce an abbreviated take on the key photo shoots that had happened earlier. After shouting out the DJ and breaking out a dance hall troupe (because why not), she throws to the Nine West shoot, which brought the models to a brightly colored marketplace on an even brighter day. It’s all very vibrant and quintessential Jamaica, except that Kelly will be on the shoot with them and almost immediately clashes with photographer Jez Smith over creative control. Kelly wants to impress her client and tries to get Laura, the first girl up, to stand rather than lean/sit, but that messes with the light and, therefore, the shot. Clad in a body-hugging yellow ensemble, Laura only gets a few minutes into her shoot before it gets interrupted and while cooler heads eventually prevailed once everyone was told they were equally pretty, she didn’t get all of her allotted time.
Leila and Kiara are both wearing striking red dresses, Leila’s a bit more traditional and printed while Kiara’s was bolder and more color-blocked, and each has difficulties of her own during the shoot. Leila is giving accessible high fashion from the waist up, but her footwork is awkward; Kiara, on the other hand, seems to be overwhelmed by the occasion and retreats into herself due to nerves. Her lack of energy is a bit disconcerting and Kelly makes a point to tell her to wake up before she loses her chance at becoming Top Model.
Following a quick bounce back to the present at the shoot and our first real preview of the designs, we head to the multi-set Nylon shoot that’s fun, flirty, and feminine. Rather than the sensuality of the Nine West shoot, the Nylon shoot is playful and more concerned with getting personality captured on film. Laura leaned a bit too much on her commercial modeling tendencies and, while she looked pretty, you didn’t get “top model” from watching her work; Kiara, however, thrived in an environment where she could be herself and exuded a natural confidence that has only appeared sporadically for her this cycle; Leila impressed the photographer most with her unique beauty and poise in front of the camera, fitting in the most with the Nylon brand out of three. A later beach shoot found the models being surprised by their family members, resulting in tears, joy, and a lack of focus on anything fashion for arguably the first time the entire cycle.
Backstage at the runway show, Tyra talks to the family of each of the models, telling Leila’s mother that she “birthed a giant”, speaking Spanish with Kiara’s grandmother, and telling Laura’s mother that she could be on the runway today if she wanted to. Cut to Tyra on the balcony again…with a bunch of silent white-masked figures behind her for no reason whatsoever. Is this Eyes Wide Shut and are things about to get really weird?
And then there’s the short film (?) that isn’t even introduced. It’s Rob and the final three roaming around Rose Hall, all unsteady camera work, lightning, and faint whispers of “come to me”…from the ghost of the mistress that continues to haunt the halls. Rob goes to sleep (naturally) and the ghost begins petting on him, claiming him as her own and setting her sights on the triflin’ heffas in the other room that are coming after her man. When Rob wakes up, he sees that Kiara, Leila, and Laura have all been pushed over the balcony’s edge and died, pleasing the ghost who doesn’t have to worry about anyone else taking her new lover. Before the runway begins, Tyra informs the audience that if they don’t put on the masks below their chair, they’ll end up in the same place as the models or something, so this continues getting more ridiculous, creepy, and awesome.
The runway show is set up with a lot of stairs and outfits that, while serving Hannibal Lecter-meets-Lady Gaga-meets-Victoria’s Secret realness, don’t offer a lot in the way of peripheral vision, so it should come as no shock that Leila falls not once but twice during her first pass down the catwalk. Granted, she was already tense and obviously nervous, but the set-up did her no favors. The second time through, she made it out unscathed, but she had to deliberately take her time in order to stay on her feet. Laura had no confidence during her two strolls down the catwalk, looking more present than Leila but continuing to ball her hand up and not show off the clothes at all. Kiara brought it on the runway, not needing to look at the stairs once and sashaying like a spot in the playoffs was on the line. Her swagger was contained enough to not overtake her performance, while it was present enough to make her stand out. Also, every time a girl came out of the
hellmouth tunnel that began their descent into fashion thunderdome, there was the runny/spooky lettering that brought the episode quality up immensely for me. Yay for thematically appropriate typography.
Tyra’s unfortunately not wearing a costume or anything horror-related, but the models are in outfits from the runway, all sea-foam green and sparkles. The final judging will go a little bit differently, as the judges will give a final “body of work” score which will be added to the average of their social media and challenge scores to give us a champion.
Laura gets called out for her weird hand at the show and then cries (again) over how bad she wants this, her fear of being too sexy, dropping her donut right after it got out of the microwave - something, I don’t know. Higher marks are had for her Nine West shoot, which is just sexy enough to be appealing, features some primo hair motion, and shows off the shoes wonderfully. And then the word shoeching (i.e. shoe-y tooching) was created and a part of my soul died.
Kiara gets props for her attitude and confidence on the runway, particularly in using her athletic background to avoid creating a catastrophe on the steps, but her Nine West photo is bad. Like, pre-Jamaica bad. Whether it be her “pea head” (hee), her inability to show the shoe in an appealing way, the lack of comfort (or anything remotely model-esque), or the bland face, it was bad. Tyra then goes for the metaphor about modeling being a dance between the model and the photographer – the one that makes you want to tune out but actually makes a lot of sense. Yeah, that one.
Leila gets raked over the coals for her performance on the catwalk, with Kelly creating a scene not wanting her to give an excuse, but her photo is the perfect hybrid of high fashion and commercial modeling. A little sweet, a little sexy, very appealing, and it looks like a shoe ad that you’d see around town or in the paper. Laura had been wondering recently if Leila could bring any type of (believable) commercial modeling and well, it looks like she can. So.
The judges then duck into their cave to talk about each girl’s performance during the cycle. Leila can work a photo better than the other two, though her runway walk (and lack of a big personality) puts her at a distinct disadvantage. Kiara’s gorgeous on the catwalk and lights up like no other on the cycle; it’s just that her portfolio is weak, minus a couple shots from Jamaica. And there’s the whole “social media hates her guts” thing, but whatever. Laura might not fit into the industry’s standard of beauty and her performance once the show hit overseas has kind of been the pits, however her highs have been pretty darn high. High enough to become top model?
The first person that’s not America’s Next Top Model is…
Leila. Her inability to walk on the runway without causing a 12-car pile-up did her in and Tyra tells her that if her runway had been remotely better, she could have won the thing. NOW YOU TELL HER.
And then we have Kiara and Laura – the former was a poor model before Jamaica and lucky to make it to the final six, but she’s turned on the afterburners and gotten great shots recently. The latter had the competition in a chokehold for much of the cycle, but once Leila came back, she became a shrinking violet. Who wins?
Laura. Nailed it.
Final America’s Next Top Model Cycle 19 Leaderboard
3. Leila – 35.2
2. Kiara – 36.6
1. Laura – 41.1
Additional thoughts and observations:
-According to my scientific poll, the public wanted Leila to win, proving that Top Model fans have much better taste than anyone associated with the show in any official capacity.
-Overall, I don’t mind a Laura win - she’s fairly talented and I’m all for more positive/realistic body images being portrayed to young girls. But, okay – the judges could not have set it up for her more. Rob gave Leila a 7 for her body of work (the lowest of the night) and Laura a 10 (when they just got through admitting that she had been flailing about for 4-5 weeks), while Leila got hacked for being a bad walker when they deliberately told Laura that not all models end up doing runway. Am I on glue or is the judging just heinous?
-In all seriousness, I really did enjoy the different structure to the finale and the runway show, while biting from cycle 7, was extremely entertaining.
-The continual weird camera work, lightning, ghostly figures in the window, etc. were everything ever. I love when Top Model just says “screw it” and does whatever.
-The beach shoot – why didn’t we see the final product?
-I have to admit, I HOWLED with laughter when they showed Tyra in the gray bird-like outfit that covered much of her face, as well as when Sophie emerged from the dungeon with a Gregorian chant playing in the background.
-Can we talk about what a punk move Kelly pulled at the shoot and how much this says about her character? She can preen and growl and intimidate the amateur 20-something models on a weekly basis, but when someone of stature stands up to her, she wilts, cries, and then goes to tattle on him. Janice would never.
-There’s a Smize Yourself iPhone app that will make you smize in your photos. Really.
-As always, thank you guys for reading, commenting, and sharing everything Top Model this cycle. We won’t be able to reconvene until the summer for the co-ed 20th cycle, but you’re always welcome to talk about anything Top Model (past, present, or future) on the TVOvermind America’s Next Top Model discussion forum.