America’s Next Top Model Photoshoots That Keep Me Awake At Night
America’s Next Top Model is my comfort viewing. Honestly, I’ve been watching this reality TV show long enough to know that it’s high-art media and I’ve fried my brain on enough reality TV modelling competition to keep me stocked for life. It only seems right I should share some of that deep ANTM insight here – again – and explore the photoshoot concepts that make it hardest for me to sleep at night. This one is for the deep-divers like myself, the radical thinkers, the sigma females of the world (and anyone who’s got a weird soft spot for crappy 2000s reality TV like me). To the list!
- The Dead Bodies Shoot
Look, let’s start with something from my favourite season here, cycle eight. The home of perhaps the show’s best-ever villain-redemption arc in Renee (a legitimate example of antihero archetype I would reference if I made lectures on writing), Natasha Galkina, who yanked me out of the closet as a young teenager, and the impossibly iconic some people have wars in their country, it’s also got some really stupid shoots. This one, though? This one goes above and beyond. Getting the gals to pose as sexy victims of murder is just in such obvious fucking bad taste that the whole thing feels like astonishingly high-level performance art – sexualizing depictions of violence against women, nobody would be stupid enough to do that and mean it, right? . One of the models announces in a confessional that she’s “trying to bring as much as possible today”, and then it cuts to a shot of her literally dead-weighting like a ragdoll on to a couch. The shoot director looks earnestly into camera, nods, and says “really beautiful” after taking some pictures of a woman’s body feigning being smashed on to concrete. I know I compare a lot of stupid things to Twin Peaks: The Return, but actually, really, this time.
2. The Hot Dogs Shoot
The ANTM All-Stars season is a particular favourite of mine, not least for the return of my close personal favourite Laura Kirkpatrick, but also because of the unhinged way it brought together branding and modelling into one nightmarish and unnavigable hellscape for returning favourites. The branded hot dogs shoot involved Tyra Bank’s Top Model: Some Stars demands the models to eat a messy hotdog while also delivering on a single word that they’ve decided to turn into their “brand”. Convey the abstract concept of “girlfriend” while slurping relish off the top of your wrist! No, Kayla, your hotdog-chomping wasn’t LGBTQ enough! Sorry, Sheena, but you’re going home, because you couldn’t eat your hotdog in an unexpected way. I feel like I could rip apart a phone book with my hands thinking about this episode.
Anyway, read Angelea Preston’s recent interview about her ANTM experiences instead of thinking about that.
3. The Trampoline Shoot
I’m going to descend quite quickly into straight-up exasperation here. The trampoline shoot was designed to create an absurdist reality TV parody of modelling and it literally cannot be explained any other way. I don’t believe for one actual instant that this was meant to turn out good pictures, rather than just humiliate the contestants for not being able to pose as significant characters from history while bouncing on a fucking mini trampoline, while competing against someone else playing a different character on an adjacent mini trampoline. One of the girls is picked up for not delivering on Princess Diana’s stateliness mid-bounce, while the one First Nations contestant these season is accused of “not really trying” in her role as, obviously Pocahontas. I need a level of plausible deniability when it comes to ANTM, the pretense that it is about modelling before drama, and this broke the fourth wall in an uncomfortable way, as if Nigel Barker himself were reaching through my TV screen and into my living room from behind the judge’s desk. Disconcerting.
No, you think I’m overstating it. You do. You think “it’s not a shoot where they put the models in literal blackface, because this was TV in the 2010s and there’s no way someone would have signed off on that”. And you’d be right. Because it’s not just blackface – no, it’s race-bending a bunch of different races and cultures as well as straight-up blackface. Watch in wonder as Tyra, who is shooting this one because presumably no other photographer would want this anywhere in spitting distance of their professional reputation, tells the palest white girl you’ve ever seen caked in skin-darkening make-up to portray a Tibetan-Egyptian character “think about the people, what they’ve been through”. This is absolutely show-Tyra at the height of her mad-with-power phase, unstoppable in the face of obviously bad ideas, the hubristic Citizen Kane’s Madison Square Garden speech part of her ANTM rise and fall.
5. Kris Jenner’s Babies Shoot
As ANTM was on its way out of the biggest period of success it would have in a long time, the Kardashians were on the rise as the next great reality star, and their parallel trajectories brought them together for a mere moment in time. And that tiny flash in the cosmic enormity of the universe created this: the shoot where the models had to pose as Kris Jenner’s infant babies, dressed in what can only be described as “unfortunately-proportioned fetish gear”, alongside two smaller, younger Jenners posed as Wednesday Addams knock-offs in the background. Watching Kris Jenner spooning baby food into a kneeling adult woman’s beaming mouth genuinely feels like most unfathomably bleak cigarette end of the internet you could only ever hope to avoid.
I am all ears to hear what your favourite or most hated ANTM shoots are, so drop them in the comments or shout it through my letterbox! If you’d, for some reason, like to see more nonsense like this, you can check out my horrible short story collection, o consider supporting me on Patreon!
(header image via Reddit)