America’s Next Top Model 19.01 “The Girl Who Makes the Grade” Recap

top modelY’all, the casting episode of Top Model has made its triumphant return to the runway.

In recent times, the show had been trying to evolve into Top Model 2.0, a bigger, better, and battier version of itself that tossed out certain elements of formula and replaced them with…chaos and a whole lot of ridiculous. Like, even more than before and that’s saying a lot. But following a ratings collapse and viewer revolt once the cycle 17 finale ended in the wonkiest way imaginable, leaving a promising British Invasion cycle on an island by its lonesome, a little bit of old Top Model has returned. Case in point: the resurrection of the casting episode, where Miss Tyra herds a group of ladies together and lets them be silly, talk about one another behind their backs, and ultimately get their stomp on down the catwalk.

It marks a cycle of change for Top Model, which opened up its premiere, “The Girl Who Makes the Grade” (get it? of course you do), by explaining everything that had went down since Sophie crushed Laura to win the Revolutionary War again or something. Not only does the show have a new judge for panel (former undefeated boxer and current hot male model Rob Evans), a new creative consultant for photo shoots (Johnny Wujek, who’s worked with Katy Perry and doesn’t prefer a sleeve), and a new cycle-long theme (college co-eds! in bikinis!), it has implemented a social media element to have the fans become the fourth judge. Earlier in the year when the cycle was taping, Top Model uploaded every photo shoot to its website and challenged fans to vote for their favorite ladies and sound-off in video commentary with anything on their mind about the competition. The feedback will carry equal weight to the thoughts of Kelly, Tyra, and Rob and have a hand in deciding on America’s Next Top Pretty College Girl Who Can Kinda Model, I Guess.

Got it?

Me neither, but until the day comes when we have to do math on Top Model (isn’t that illegal?), we’ll have to to narrow down this group of 30 girls. After melodramatic introductions of each of the other three judges from Tyra, where we learn that Allyssa’s (rightfully) terrified of Kelly, everybody wants to do Rob, and Johnny’s all about making them feel confident.

Runway
Tyra and company bring the group of semi-finalists to the Top Model Sorority House (didn’t I rent that?), a very nice-looking brick home with a palatial pool in the backyard…a pool that includes a runway. Like the Good Lord intended. It’s the first event in the Top Model triathlon – to be able to move into the house that stands before them, the girls have to complete three different events to show off their personality and modeling potential. In the runway portion of tonight’s program, the finalists were paired into groups of two and made to try and stand out, wearing only bikini bottoms and a shirt from the current college they’re attending. With actress Taryn Manning acting as both DJ and announcer, because why not? During all this chaos, the audience by the pool text their thoughts, which pop up on the screen every so often and underline the shifted focus that cycle 19 will have.

Receiving focus early on are Kristin, a sweet-faced blonde that claims to be a former mean girl; Kiara, a basketball player from California that is giving all types of flava; Jessie, a bespectacled grad student who never modeled before (and can’t keep her bikini from riding up); Briana, who revels in her ADD (really); Destiny, a rock-y girl with a star under her eye and a hell of a life story; and Leila, an awkward Kristen Stewart look-a-like that gets high marks for her distinctive, unconventional beauty.

Photo shoot
Immediately after the last sashay, it’s time for part 2 – the photo shoot. Rather than give us something complicated and overly kooky, Top Model makes the remaining girls put on black Top Model t-shirts (I see you, self-promotion) and puts them in front of a white background. It’s a really good idea, honestly, as you get a pretty unfiltered look at the type of model each of the girls is right now. They can’t hide behind costuming or makeup here, not when they have Johnny and Kelly in the background alternating between yelling out comments/pointers and talking in hushed tones about who might be in the running. You don’t get that much of a sense about the type of judge/”faculty member” that Johnny will be here, but he seems helpful and vocal enough to be an asset later on in the cycle.

The episode doesn’t give much time to the shoot, aside from highlighting how each of the girls handled their nerves (for example, Destiny served a whole lot of attitude, Leila stumbled to gain confidence, Nastasia worked her gorgeous hair and intricate body movements); once they managed to recover, they made it to the Top Model social media room. A room of computers and purple curtains, we got to see them discovering how deep the media integration is this cycle through Facebook browsing and Skype conversations with their family.

Panel
And now, my favorite part of any Top Model casting episode – the panel. The contestants get time alone with the judges to make whatever kind of impression they want. At times, it can be your best friend, particularly if you’re not an excessively loud personality, but if you go into it trying to be too different and too over-the-top, you might be heading home sooner than you expected.

Here’s how the girls ended up breaking their time down, categorized by level of insanity:
The Crazies:
-Jasmine aka “Kitty” – Cannot complete a sentence without making a horrid cat pun or meowing at Tyra. Tyra, of course, meows back.
-Victoria – I feel for “old soul” Victoria because her home schooling left her unable to make social connections and unsure of how to navigate something like this. But invoking the Trail of Tears and the Holocaust (!!!) over a negative Facebook comment from a fan? If she was joking, she’s brilliant. If there was a hint of seriousness, oh my. Also, she reminds me of Yale-girl Victoria from a few cycles ago that clashed with Twiggy.
-Kristin – Arrogant, keeps going back to her temper. Already doesn’t care for Kelly, but oddly, the most liked on Facebook. A pretty blonde, but not much else.
-Brittany – Adorable, but pretty much a cartoon character. Her energy was nice and I’d rather have enthusiasm vs. apathy/insecurity, but she seems like someone that’d be lovely in small doses and irritating otherwise.

The Sob Stories:
Destiny – Dumpster diver/former runaway that had to pool together money to make it to the audition and lives off the kindness of her friends. And she’s a cosmetology student that reads much older than 18 but will be one to root for regardless.
Kiara –  A teenage runaway turned basketball player from UC-Irvine that wants girls to know that they can be broken, beaten, and abused, and still make it to the top. Her photo was one of my favorites, though, and I liked having someone be excited for the experience.
-Kaci – Dead grandma inspired her to model. Inept posing.

The Bland:
-Laura from Lake Placid – cute, famous lineage (her mother was Miss Australia, her father was on Dynasty), alright photo. Tyra ripped her clothes off her shoulder and poured water on her hair, partially for a makeover and partially to give her energy.
-Yvonne – The beauty queen of the cycle with no chance to do much. Rob’s already commenting on her confidence level and that’s never good. Fierce photo and I love her curves, though.
-Maria – In a nutshell, “smart girls can be pretty, too!”

My Favorites:
-Nastasia – My favorite panel moment of the night with her pop-locking ability leading to a brief mention of how that can be a positive in her modeling (i.e. body isolation and control). Plus, again, her hair is everything.
-Allyssa – Awful tattoo on the inside of her lip, but pretty good personality and even better energy. I don’t think she’d be a contender, but I like her as a person.
-Darian – Very, very cool girl. Got to “model” with Rob, infectious personality that will make for good TV. Reminds me a tiny bit of Chris from cycle 15.
-Leila – Her fashion knowledge will come in handy and I like that even though she’s not the most conventionally pretty girl auditioning, she doesn’t look like she’ll be falling apart at the seams anytime soon. Plus, booking modeling jobs for herself in her regular life will stick with the judges and remind them of how much drive can play a part in a successful model.

The Rest:
Christin – Cheerleader.
-Amber – Dorky white girl, can’t dance.
-Briana – Singer. Looked like a court jester in a puffy, Renaissance-y shirt.
-Ivory – Takes out her retainer with a fake tooth. I know.

Who made it into the house?
Another new thing about the cycle is the admittedly impressive prize pack. Gone are Covergirl and Vogue Italia, replaced by a spread in Nylon Magazine, campaigns with Nine West and Smashbox Cosmetics, and $100,000, which will be combined with the Dream Come True perfume campaign and a deal with LA Models and New York Model Management. It’s the most lucrative incentive that the show has put together and while this may signal a veer away from high fashion, it might be the right combination to jump start the career of a pretty strong commercial model. Or not, whatever.

Your 13 girls this season on Top Model are arrogant former mean girl Kristin; pop-locker Nastasia; Audrina Patridge-ish Laura; Allyssa with the lip tattoo; dumpster diving Destiny; ballin’ Kiara; gap-toothed Leila; Darian, who is a total firecracker; Harvard Maria; Jessie (and Jessie’s donk); bundle of energy Brittany; beauty queen (and the only remotely “plus” girl) Yvonne; and home schooled Victoria, who was the topic of conversation backstage at panel. They’ll be staying in a house divided (room-wise) into three very different scenes – you have the sporty fierce room (where people like Darian, who bikes, and Kiara will stay), the smarty pants room (home to ladies like Jessie and Maria), and the girly girl room (where Kristin will harvest a pig and pour its blood on her cheeks to make her blush).

I guess poor Kitty will have to go back to the litterbox. Mee-ouch.

If you guys want to continue the conversation, you can head over to the TVOvermind America’s Next Top Model discussion forum.

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