Any dedicated America’s Next Top Model watcher can tell you: The finale is not about the models. You may have allegiances to a favorite contestant, you may actually be invested in who lands that magazine spread, but more likely than not, you’re tuning in to watch the semi-annual Tyra-palooza. Here, Tyra can demonstrate her wisdom, empathy, and edginess, all in the space of a bizarrely concocted runway show. Here, Tyra can once again exercise her power as tween-set tastemaker, lording over the fates of several nervous, lanky, hopeful young ladies.
Cycle 19 was the college edition of ANTM, which meant, mostly, that the models were al starting out far too late to have any real shot at the industry. The finale had absolutely nothing to do with the theme of the cycle. The final three competed in Montego Bay’s spookiest tourist trap in a bizarre lace-encrusted hologram-spangled runway show. It’s as if Tyra and her cohorts got the timing of a Halloween finale radically wrong. But perhaps Tyra had just watched too many Saw movies before thinking of the concept.
The three remaining hopefuls in competition for the crown are the quirky, gap-toothed New Englander Leila, the tanned blonde Laura, and the hyper-athletic, poised Kiara. Their final challenges—a photo shoot for Nine West and another for Nylon, the new sponsors of this season—were shown in flashback snippets intercut with footage from the runway show, a refreshing change of pace from the usual finale slog. Biggest challenges included Kelly Cutrone sniping at the photographer during the Nine West shoot and the ladies trying to subtlety direct attention to their feet. Leila, with her off-kilter looks and crooked grin, was a shoe-in for Nylon, but the other ladies struggled.
Unfortunately for Leila, her walk was a major weakness. In the runway show, she stumbled down the steep haunted house steps, and slipped again at the end of the runway. It’s the kind of ultimate schadenfreude that this kind of finale thrives on, but it also pretty much seals her fate. Not that you could really tell the difference between any of the models. Each of the was wearing an outfit that looked like a chicken coop turtleneck bedecked with silly string. The audience wore masks, in what I hope and fear was a tribute to Eyes Wide Shut. Each fought for “their mortal smize,” whatever that means.
Back in the judging room, the weaknesses of this cycle’s judge changeover become immediately clear. This is Tyra’s game. Giving voice to the randos that send in video messages doesn’t really jive with the Tyra power trip aspect of the show. Nor did it make the judging process any clearer. Bryanboy, who always dresses as if attending a 1940s funeral, parsed the relative buzzworthiness of each model. Kelly Cutrone yelled and looked upset. Rob Evans sighed and concentrated on looking attractive. Leila was eliminated first, and then it was between the taught Kiara and Laura, who sobbed that she was afraid of looking too sexy. The numbers came in: nondescript Laura is your new queen America. Don’t forget to bow, and to audition for next season.