After the runway: an “America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 24” review

Tyra Banks returns to host the classic modeling competition that defined the 2000s, but transparent editing leaves the girls as one-dimensional as the show’s attempted new message.

VH1’s official logo for “America’s Next Top Model.” (VH1)

There was a period of time where I was obsessed with “America’s Next Top Model.” Back when it aired on The CW, you’d find me and my brother in front of the TV every Wednesday night watching the newest episode. Although that enjoyment faded once fan voting got thrown into the mix, part of me was always fascinated by this reality show. Girls entering a cutthroat world with cutthroat girls at their side? Talk about drama!

Although The CW ended its run of the show, “ANTM” could never stay done for long. VH1 picked it up for another cycle in 2016, although the legendary Tyra Banks and her team of panelists didn’t return. Paper Magazine editor-in-chief Drew Elliott, stylist Law Roach and plus-size supermodel Ashley Graham created a new panel with singer Rita Ora for Cycle 23. I didn’t watch that season as it aired, but from the looks of it, it seems to be simpler than the dramatic stakes Banks’ grand return establishes right at the get-go.

The panel for “America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 24” from left to right: Law Roach, Tyra Banks, Ashley Graham and Drew Elliott. (VH1)

Cycle 24 starts with a bold declaration of “The Boss Is Back” and Banks announcing “Ty-Ty is ready for you.” From there, more information gets revealed: this ensemble is the most diverse “ANTM” has ever seen, including different body sizes and skin colors The age limit has also been removed, meaning women in their 30s and 40s have a shot at the crown. As the cast of hopefuls get whittled down to 15 finalists (originally announced as 14, so there’s finally an element of surprise in a casting episode), “true colors” get exposed and cutthroat competition begins. Drama starts escalating and tension rises as one by one, a contestant must pack their bags and leave behind the opportunity of a lifetime. Who will come out on top and be “next level fierce”?

The fifteen finalists from “America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 24” from left to right: Liz Harlan, Sandra Shehab, Kyla Coleman, Maggie Keating, Erin Green, Rio Summers, Coura Fall, Ivana Thomas, Shanice Carroll, Christina Anderson McDonald, Rhiyan Carreker, Jeana Turner, Liberty Netuschil, Khrystyana Kazakova and Brendi K Seiner. (VH1)

Coming back to “ANTM” after several years is an adjustment, to put it mildly. Although some of the original staff has returned for the VH1 reboot, things can’t help but feel different despite the show’s core formula. For starters, the editing feels a lot choppier than it used to be. Sound bites of various quality are spliced together from confessional interviews. This causes sentences to feel even more crafted and put together. This sloppiness additionally applies to the confessional video footage itself. Even though the models wear the same clothes for all of them, they get placed randomly throughout the run. Subtle changes in styling are noticeable, but they get even more distracting when a girl’s lipstick or choker color changes mid-shot. Production must have felt like they could pull things together from a variety of clips, yet I feel like it leads to confusion as to why a girl looks suddenly different than she did, adding a sense of fabrication.

Speaking of fabrication, that’s a word I could use to describe this cycle. Yes, I recognize this is probably a feature of all the cycles since this is a reality TV show. Nothing is real here. But here, this feels even more so. It even goes outside the confessional room. Instead of feeling like fleshed-out humans, most of the girls are reduced to unflattering archetypes that at points are painful to watch. Liz becomes the crazy one. Jeana is the mean one by the time the series ends. Kyla’s the activist. Christina’s the snotty one.

That’s not even touching conversations that are overdramatized or are cut so they escalate rather quickly. It makes situations morbidly entertaining but leaves me wondering what’s cut out to create these scenarios. That’s why a rivalry with a girl who’s naturally pretty and an insensitive comment about someone’s family ring hollow. Although they happened, the context doesn’t feel whole, and I’m left wanting to know more about why these things occurred.

Because of this editing, some contestants have been fighting back. Liz shared an Instagram story that exposed the real details behind her “leaving” the competition, Jeana has lambasted her treatment by producers and a later conflict between her and fan favorite Khrystyana has been called out for set-up. Several other girls have let loose grievances about their portrayals on the show, and the producers got so overwhelmed they pulled their streaming links. If that’s not telling of how far this show will go to get good drama, I’m not sure what does.

“ANTM” isn’t like it once was…. It attempts to recreate [nostalgic] moments, but by sacrificing what makes the girls human and going against its message, it officially descends into trashy reality TV.”

— Luke Reynolds

Regardless, Cycle 24 of “America’s Next Top Model” is still a fun watch, albeit not as entertaining or as genuine as it once seemed to my 10-year-old self. How can the show pit the girls against each other while preaching a message about supporting women and lifting each other up? I guess that’s one of the contradictions you embrace when reality TV is in the ring. And how can a show about accepting all kinds of beauty lead to a winner that, according to some people, fits the stereotypical model mold? I’m personally happy with the winner because she was endearing, but I can understand people’s frustrations. “ANTM” isn’t like it once was back in the old days. It attempts to recreate those moments, but by sacrificing what makes the girls human and going against its message, it officially descends into trashy reality TV. I’ll keep coming back, but I’m not as happy of a fan.