To anyone even remotely web savvy, it was obvious who was going to win this cycle of America’s Next Top Model long before New Oprah’s forehead hove into view for the finale. Little Rock’s Danielle was the only one of the 13 contestants who didn’t have her own MySpace site, in an effort to extend her brief brush with celebrity status, so clearly she was going to win.
So it was written. So it would be. And so I won a skinful of drinks from my web-challenged friends and relations.
MySpace aside, New Oprah had to make Danielle the Next Top Model. Unfortunately for the losing finalist Joanie, who was probably a better model and a better candidate for CoverGirl, the New Oprah had been so cruel so often to poor Danielle that the South would have risen up against the show, its star, and its single biggest sponsor if Danielle had not been rewarded for her world-class patience and admirable perseverance.
First, New Oprah repeatedly disparaged Danielle’s country accent, as if she’d somehow completely missed it during the auditions and the selection process. And then during the dental cosmetic episode, she targeted the gap in Danielle’s teeth with a virulence that seemed downright personal. Danielle was more than just comfortable with her gap, she felt it was her signature. Getting her teeth “fixed” would be a compromise too far. So while Joanie happily signed up to get her slight snaggletooth fixed at the New Oprah’s expense, Danielle dug in her heels.
Joanie spent 12 hours in the dentist’s chair (with Danielle holding her hand throughout), went back the next morning for more work, and ended up with a brand new mouth. It may have been to her competitive advantage that her mouth was so sore and unfamiliar she could barely eat, but Joanie also needed to learn how to smile all over again. Her immediate reward was the blessing of New Oprah, and a first place in the week’s judging.
Refusenik Danielle, however, was put on notice. Fix your gap, New Oprah snarled, or you’re on the next Greyhound back to Obscurity, Arkansas. The New Oprah Posse concurred, confirming for once and for all that this show has absolutely no interest in identifying a “true” top model. The Tyra Banks’ CoverGirl Crapshoot is only in it for the reality drama and T&A ratings, the sponsorship deals, and the opportunity to raise New Oprah’s profile as high as her forehead.
The occasional flaw has never been a barrier to Top Model status. In fact, flaws are generally hot (think: Lauren Hutton’s gap, or Cindy Crawford’s mole). Still, after a talk with her mother, Danielle caved. She got her teeth “fixed”, but left a little gap just to spite New Oprah, who reverted to picking on D’s accent. Over and over again, with frightening brutality. No way, she said, can a CoverGirl spokesmodel ever talk like that. Lawdy Miss Baldy. If only she’d gone after Twiggy’s persistent abuse of the word “photogenic” with such vehemence.
I’m not sure what New Oprah’s relationship with Danielle’s teeth and accent said about the Great Bankable One, but it certainly made for some classically uncomfortable reality TV moments. Danielle deserved her victory, if only for restraining her urge to kick New Oprah’s ass. You could tell Danielle felt like she was humiliating herself by accepting all the criticism so submissively, but in truth, this showed maturity and wisdom far beyond her years or her chosen profession. Joanie clearly recognised Danielle’s qualities and congratulated her most gracefully, saying, “The best girl won”. And that’s about right: not the best model, but the best girl.
The other girls provided predictable hostility and drama. The arrogant self-anointed African Queen Nnenna supplied much of it, and the crazy-scary Ja’de delivered the rest by the truckload. ANTM‘s oldest contestant ever at 26 years old, Ja’de also delivered or inspired most of the humour. Her own inadvertent contributions included the announcement that the elephant was a member of the dinosaur family, talking about herself in the third person, and informing the judges that “With Ja’de what you what see is what you get”. She explained to Joanie that when she called her “two-faced,” she meant it as a compliment, and told the cameras, “I’m not worried about Joanie. She’s not on my level”, adding as an afterthought, “I don’t have an ounce of arrogance in my body”. And yet, in wit as in modeling, Joanie was more than a match for Ja’de: “She’s not very mature for being so close to 30,” she said, “When I sit next to her, all I smell is bitch”.
With all this action, MySpace proved useful for measuring the ANTM judging process against the sentiments of the most populous community on the web. And when I surveyed the contestants’ pages the night before the finale, I realised the unofficial global jury had confirmed my belief that New Oprah Inc. had erred in its early dismissal of the lovely Mollie Sue Gondi.
Roughly speaking, the number of MySpace friends each of the ANTM losers can boast correlates to the order in which they were sent home. Ja’de preferred not to disclose her friendship numbers, but the number of comments on her page was stunningly low. Nnenna, the eighth model to be dismissed, had only 500 MySpace friends, which compared rather badly to Kathy, the first to feel New Oprah’s boot upon her perfectly formed backside, who had almost 700.
While second place Joanie had a very creditable 2,000 friends in the run-up to the season finale, Mollie Sue, eliminated six shows earlier, had more than 3,600. Mollie Sue, who’s so cool and has such good taste that she probably reads PopMatters, rocked a lovely, modern Mary Quant look throughout ANTM, and consistently delivered beautiful Pictures. Consequently, she’s been signed by Elite Models, who probably keep an eye on MySpace too.
While Ja’de has probably rendered herself unemployable in the modeling game, I can see a future for her in professional wrestling. If you smell what The Ja’de is cooking.