America's Next Top Model (UPN)
2003-present

As the fashion industry is both more fabulous and a lot more fake than the music industry, so America's Next Top Model is more fabulously fake than American Idol.

It's the same basic idea, but instead of producing this year's fake superstar music artist, ANTM takes a group of beautiful, misguided girls through a torrent of pure humilation to become this year's fake supermodel.

Unfortunately for these girls, "America's Next Top Model" has even less credibility as a title than "American Idol." At least you've heard of Kelly Clarkson and Ruben Studdard. Seen Adrienne Curry in any of your fashion zines lately?

The show is eminently watchable, especially for the absolutely grave-serious leadership of Tyra Banks, who dispenses direction and advice as though she could not be doing more important work for the world. Maybe that's true, who knows … maybe 50 years from now, supermodels are ruling the world with a judicious balance of angelic benevolence and fingersnappin' diva-tude. Maybe Tyra Banks is training a generation of future dominatrix overlords who will serve a gigantic hologram of herself projected from an iMac plugged into her preserved brain. I can't say that wouldn't be a better world to live in, actually.

The contestents are infinitely more confident, and desperate, than your typical Idol participant. Yet almost invariably, they all hide a deep unworthiness that causes them to acquiece without a fight when they are eliminated from the competition.

The judges here go well beyond Simon Cowell's more well-known insensitivity. They can be utterly brutal in judging the girls, and their assessments are far more subjective. You don't get the same sense of chaff being weeded out, as on Idol, but rather that the eliminations are calculated for the most possible "drama." You can predict the oustings more consistently, because the logic feels written rather than developed … if there's two black chicks, you know one will be eliminated so there's no confusion to the story. Top Model wants you to have an easy time figuring out who you identify with and want to root for.

So there's no sense of urgency to any of it, nor any sense of righteousness, as when someone lame gets eliminated from Idol. Top Model plays out much more like a Star Trek episode or cop show, when a previously unseen character accompanies the leads into a dangerous situation, solely to allow for bloodshed that won't interrupt the flow of the show.

Yet there's undeniable appeal to watching would-be models being catty with each other, and then getting smacked down by a rotating panel of actual models, fashionistas, and gay guys. It's totally shallow in every way, but for empty calories, it's tasty enough.

The best part of each show is the very end, when they show the group photo of the contestents, and photoshop out the one who got bounced that week. It reminds me that no matter what you do in this life, you can always be photoshopped out.

Review by L'il Big Boi © 2004