The Biggest Scandals In America’s Next Top Model History
You wanna be on top? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. With over 20 seasons (or “cycles”) under its belt and over 40 international spin-offs, “America’s Next Top Model” remains one of the most successful reality shows to date.
The modeling competition, dubbed “ANTM,” aired in 2003 on the UPN network and, though it was unceremoniously canceled in 2018 after a brief stint on the VH1 network, the series sparked an entire formula for competition reality television including: photo shoots, challenges and weekly (some would say iconic) eliminations by host and creator, Tyra Banks alongside a panel of judges.
It’s even argued that “ANTM” was the catalyst for all of meme and GIF culture. And where would “RuPaul’s Drag Race” be if it hadn’t been for “America’s Next Top Model” laying the groundwork for conversations about identity and race amid walking down a runway? However, the show wasn’t all makeovers and runway lessons. As the first black woman to grace the cover of “Sports Illustrated” (as she continues to remind us time and time again), Banks was committed to giving her contestants a taste of the real world of modeling. No matter how problematic the examples were.
ANTM did blackface three separate times
You can’t talk about “America’s Next Top Model” photo shoots without discussing the three times the show chose to do blackface. In Cycle 4, the models were assigned a “Got Milk?” photoshoot, (via Jezebel). The brief called on the models to pose as different ethnicities including “African-American, Biracial and traditional African woman.” But while that concept may make your skin crawl, it wasn’t the last time “ANTM” chose to darken its contestants’ complexions.
In Cycle 13, Tyra Banks greeted her shorter, (well, vertically-challenged) contestants in Hawaii with a new photoshoot concept: biracial identities. “What happens when men and women from different places come together? Babies!” Banks begins, “Lots of babies that are from different cultures. A mix.” She assigned each model two different ethnicities to portray, for example Botswanan and Polynesian, and finished the look with an array of culturally appropriating garbs, (via HuffPost.) The third, and often looked over, blackface sighting was at the start of the series. In Cycle 2, Banks called upon contestant Xiomara Frans to darken her skin tone in order to portray Jamaican-American icon, Grace Jones, (via Vox).
After “ANTM” saw a resurgence from streaming during the pandemic, Banks finally took accountability for her actions via Twitter stating, “Been seeing the posts about the insensitivity of some past ANTM moments and I agree with you. Looking back, those were some really off choices. Appreciate your honest feedback and am sending so much love and virtual hugs.”
Tyra's infamous meltdown is still a classic moment
The phrase “I’m rooting for you! We were all rooting for you!” has been recycled into countless GIFS with a Tyra Banks shouting angrily. Though entertaining years later, we’re guessing being in the room during that elimination was more terrifying.
In Cycle 4 of “Top Model”, Banks was frustrated with contestant Tiffany Richardson’s efforts and felt she was throwing away an opportunity. In the iconic elimination ceremony, Banks went forward with a double elimination, sending home both Richardson and Rebecca Epley, which prompted extreme reactions from both contestants. While Epley broke down in tears, Richardson laughed off the decision, choosing to cope with humor, which led Banks to reprimand her in front of the other contestants.
In a 2017 interview with Buzzfeed, Richardson explained the turn of events from her perspective. “It was just, like, bulls**t. It was so over-the-top for no reason.” Throughout the rest of the judging ceremony, Banks went on to yell personal information about Richardson, such as disclosing her anger management sessions and her “grandmother getting her lights turned off” in order to afford buying Richardson a swimsuit, unfortunately, there was a lot of footage left on the cutting room floor. Richardson revealed the speech was “1,000 times worse” in person and recalls Banks yelling, “You can go back to your house and sleep on your mattress on the floor with your baby.” Fellow departing contestant Epley agreed that Banks “went above and beyond to break Tiffany down.”
Top Model's life-threatening challenges
While “Top Model” was known for pushing the boundaries, the show also regularly asked its contestants to “prove” how badly they wanted to win by assigning them treacherous challenges and photoshoots to complete. Although no contestants died while on the series, many models still came away with serious injuries, both emotionally and physically. For example, in a Cycle 6’s judging challenge, the models were given ten-inch platform heels to walk in, resulting in models tumbling off the runway and contestant Danielle Evans spraining her ankle, (via Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV).
Another unsettling moment came in Cycle 7 when the models were asked to pose in a pool filled with freezing cold water. All the models suffered, but contestant CariDee English was unlucky enough to develop hypothermia and later be chastised by Tyra Banks for not speaking up sooner. Banks’ reaction was especially disturbing seeing as she was on set for the entirety of the shoot and had made it clear that complaining was not an option. “CariDee, you’re from Fargo! Come on! This is real, real modeling, guys, being cold as heck!” she exclaimed during the episode, (via Jezebel).
Unfortunately, this trend of impossible tasks only grew with the series, calling on contestants to scale the Macau tower, suspend over a bottomless pit and dodge a swinging pendulum.
Fans apparently hate these ANTM winners
“America’s Next Top Model” has over 20 winners and unfortunately for them, they can’t all be crowd favorites. One of the most hated winners in the entire franchise is Cycle 9’s Saleisha Stowers. The fan base’s rejection of Stowers is due to her being allegedly chosen to win before the cycle began. This theory was born from Stowers attending Tyra Banks’ T-Zone Camp for underprivileged girls when she was fourteen years old. While Stowers remains adamant “The camp wasn’t a modeling camp … It had nothing to do with modeling,” (via Reality TV World), fans continue to view her season as “rigged.”
Another widely hated contestant is Cycle 10’s Whitney Thompson. While fans applauded Tyra for choosing a plus-sized winner, they couldn’t help but wish it had been anyone else (like Cycle 3’s Toccara Jones). Thompson was widely hated due to multiple ignorant remarks made throughout her season like, “I’m not racist, my best friend is Black!”
While Banks and her panel of judges continued to get it wrong many, many times, they still created a reality show with longevity and watchability and for that, we commend them.
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