America's Previous Top Model

I hope fans of America’s Next Top Model have been sticking around past the end of the most recent “cycle” — the one that crowned blond Midwestern extrovert CariDee — for CW’s choice of time-slot filler on Wednesdays: entire seasons of the runway contest’s U.K. version — called, yes, Britain’s Next Top Model — crammed into two hours. Why don’t we see more of this kind of reality-show compression? No more waiting for an entire hour until one nervous stick figure is sent packing. In digest format, the wannabes start dropping like flies, and in between it’s all brief blasts of the season’s greatest hits — rivalries, crying, nasty rumormongering (did Tashi wet the bed?), hilariously amateurish photo-shoot behavior, untethered sexuality — without the boring “serious” drama of whether dreams might come true or not. But what I wasn’t expecting was for the British version to feel more low-rent than Tyra’s carefully orchestrated but inherently cheesy crazy-fashionista-girl parade. I began to miss the American version as the Brits trotted out dull fashion spreads, laughable costuming, personality-free judges and drab surroundings. (Was that a shower curtain behind the judges’ panel? Are they picking a top model in the conference room of a Ramada Inn? Are the girls being housed in Soviet workers’ quarters?) Tyra’s winning contestants may never go on to hit the pose-queen heights of their reality-show mentor — anyone seen Nicole lately? — but at least ANTM has a giddy pretentiousness about modeling that is at times wildly entertaining. Watching the British version, you’ll wonder how Carnaby Street ever happened.

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