I’m as surprised as you are that America’s Next Top Model managed to right the ship (for the most part) in its recently completed 18th cycle, rebounding from pretty low lows in previous seasons. It wasn’t perfect and it didn’t approach the compulsive watchability of the show’s heyday, but between the self-awareness, clearer focus, and improved panel, it seemed like Top Model was having a late-in-life renaissance. At its peak, Top Model was a truly delightful blend of fashion, narcissism, and reality TV tropes, so the prospect of regaining some of that mojo was kind of exciting.
Cycle 19 of Top Model, this time focusing exclusively on college girls, kind of burned everything to the ground, though. Although it’s yet to air, its premiere not until August 24th, it sounds like it’ll be a very different Top Model than what we’re used to. The “faculty” was all shown the door (minus Kelly Cutrone), social media was introduced into the equation, and the show cut ties with longtime sponsors in favor of an updated prize package, all things that could either make Top Model a viable property once more or be the final headshot to what became a dead show walking almost overnight. In the spirit of change, prognostication, and armchair quarterbacking, I’ve come up with four additional changes that the show could make to keep growing and improving.
1. The return of the panel challenges
Somewhere around the time Top Model entered into double digits, it stopped having challenges for the girls to complete in panel. Not having a panel challenge when there’s 13-14 girls trying to get camera time is one thing, but once we hit the international location, it might be a good way to start differentiating the final group. There have been very close cycles where one tiny challenge could have made a difference in who was going home and the more data that panel has, the more informed their decisions would be. And the more informed, the smarter their decisions would be, so it’d only do the show (and its poor reputation) some good to go over the contestants one more time through the challenges. Plus, I’d rather see the contestants actually doing something semi-fun and shows off personality/creativity (making a t-shirt look high fashion, styling an entire look around an article of clothing, etc.) vs., for example, insignificant house drama; you’d think that with the increased focus on marketability/personality in recent cycles, the show would want a forum for the girls to express themselves as often as possible. Top Model has the tools to differentiate itself from the reality TV herd, but it can’t seem to let certain tropes go.
2. Decide on the type of model/cycle you’re going after early
I don’t really have a preference on the type of model or the type of cycle that Top Model chooses to go after. I really don’t. The show can be a silly, mad cap romp through the back alley of fashion and do it very well; it can be a sleek, intelligent how-to guide for aspiring models and do that well, too. I just want there to be a clearly defined goal and focus and to know what they’re looking for from day one, minute one. Past cycles, not as much in the most recent, have been wildly inconsistent in terms of what they say they want vs. who they keep, the type of photo shoots they have vs. the models they put in them. That can make the entire thing feel more pointless than it already does, so it’d be nice for them to not beat around the bush and cast accordingly. Had the judges not wavered in the past and made their criteria very vague, viewers wouldn’t have complained and we might not have the social media component of cycle 19, but I’d rather the power be in the hands of people who know more than I do as long as they make it clear why they’re exercising it in that particular way.
3. Better structure to the cycle/take advantage of your resources
One of the pet peeves I had about cycle 18 was that the episodes didn’t feel properly synced with the guest contributors, so there were lost opportunities for the contestants. For example, runway diva coach extraordinaire Miss J made multiple appearances on the cycle, with an episode even bearing his name, and yet we had no runway coaching. No techniques, no impressions, no tips – nothing. And yet, cycle 18 had three sets of go-sees that weighed heavily on the judges’ minds in terms of elimination and the final order. If you have someone that’s an expert in their field, use them; Top Model’s primary goal is (or should be) to make their contestants better, so not teaching them something and then judging them on it later seemed a little silly to me and doesn’t do anything to prepare them for life on their own. The show prides itself on finding these raw, unusual beauties and turning them into models, but not everyone can stomp a runway or serve mega amounts of face without having someone give them a helping hand.
4. Make Top Model a more fully formed experience
Which leads me to my final suggestion – make the cycle a fuller experience. By that, I mean that Top Model sometimes doesn’t give its models the full crash course in what it means to be a working model. It’s gotten better about the addressing the business side of things, something early cycles didn’t really touch on, but there are still areas that feel a little glossed over. Runway has been de-emphasized for quite a while on Top Model, with aspects of personal styling and networking also getting the short end of the stick. (The increase in paid go-sees is a great sign, but what about challenges like the make-up party from cycle 4 where the girls were unknowingly judged on their networking skills?) Additionally, though the show has become infamous for its outlandish photo shoots, that’s not the norm in the modeling world; it may make for “wild TV”, but the girls should be learning skills (and types of modeling) to make it in the real world, not reality.
Cycle 19 of America’s Next Top Model premieres Friday, August 24th at 8:00 on The CW.
What changes would you suggest for Top Model? How do you think cycle 18 compared to other recent cycles? Will you be watching cycle 19 when it premieres?