When “America’s Next Top Model” first premiered in May of 2003, my friends and I were perched in front of the television screen, eyes glued to every entertaining moment. The premise was smart. ANTM, as it’s affectionately dubbed, helped model hopefuls penetrate a fashion industry that’s notoriously hard to break into. It gave beautiful, everyday girls the chance to be supermodels.
The promise of the American dream, played out in the fashion arena, was thrilling to watch. Tyra Banks proved to be a worthy host and judge. She came off as endearing, wise, loving, tough, emotional (who can forget Tyra yelling at contestant Tiffany in Season 4: “I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you!”) and above all, honest. Honest about the pitfalls of the industry, the challenges, the closed doors and the persistence it takes to get ahead.
ANTM fed ravenous reality TV fans with its share of drama, quirky challenges, rags-to-riches stories and sharp criticism from no-nonsense judges. It helped set the precedent for fashion reality competition shows of today which now span from modeling to designing to styling. But somewhere along its impressive seven year-run, the show lost its luster.
The disenchantment started for me when I realized the prize (a contract with a top modeling agency, photo shoot by a noted fashion photographer and major cosmetic company campaign) did not translate into a successful, lasting career. As much as we fell in love with winners like Cycle 1′s Adrianne Curry, Cycle 2′s Yoanna House and Cycle 4′s Naima Mora, after the cameras stopped filming and credits rolled, they fell into relative obscurity.
There are contestants on the show who have went on to become household names. Cycle 3′s winner, Eva Marcille, now has her own reality show, “Girlfriend Confidential: LA,” on the Oxygen network. But she’s more of a personality than a model thanks to her quick wit, sassy attitude, bold outfits, highly-publicized relationships and beautiful cropped cut.
But there’s also Toccara, who spun her reality TV fame into more TV appearances, including awards show red carpet hosting gigs. Most notably, she appeared in a beautiful spread in Vogue Italia’s groundbreaking “All Black Issue” shot by famed photog Steven Miesel.
Fatima Siad, who ironically wasn’t a winner when she appeared on the show in Cycle 10, has enjoyed great success in the fashion industry, appearing in a campaign for Herve Leger by Max Azria and has appeared in numerous publications, including Elle, Arise, Women’s Wear Daily, Essence magazine and Marie Claire magazine.
And finally, Yaya DaCosta has enjoyed great success in the acting industry. She has appeared in several television shows and movies including “Take The Lead,” “All My Children,” “Ugly Betty,” “The Kids Are All Right,” and “Tron: Legacy.” She made her Off-Broadway debut in “The First Breeze of Summer,” for which she won the Vivian Robinson/AUDELCO Recognition Award for Excellence in Black Theater. For her Hollywood “It Girl” status, DaCosta landed a highly-coveted spot on W Magazine’s September 2010 cover.
But what of the many contestants and winners from Cycles 1-19? You’re hard-pressed to find any of them on a New York Fashion Week runway or in a major advertising campaign. And wasn’t that the point of the show?
Furthermore, the novelty has worn off. Reality TV shows don’t have a long shelf life as the formula of competition, drama and the allure of mainstream success gets stale quickly. ANTM is 19 seasons in. I find myself so bored by the same cat fights, therapy sessions and odd competitions that I don’t even watch the marathon reruns.
To her credit, Tyra has tried to reinvent the show by signing on a new crop of judges and giving each season a theme, including the most recent iteration, the “college edition.” But is it enough to revive a franchise audiences have overwhelmingly fallen out of love with?