VH1

Reinstalling Tyra Banks As The Host Of America's Next Top Model Is A Big Mistake

Sarah D. Bunting isn't a crackpot. Tyra's a legend. But nobody believes that more strongly than Tyra, and the 23rd season worked better without her.

America's Next Top Model's twenty-third "cycle" (...w/e) wasn't perfect, by any means. It manufactured drama, between the twins and elsewhere; it shoehorned a superfluous "theme" about branding and "boss"-ness into the proceedings, then applied it inconsistently to justify keeping an also-ran in the final three; it criminally underused Stacey McKenzie, who has both relevant experience lucidly expressed (i.e., no bullshitty words like "smize") and zero time for little girls' sulking or backtalk. New host Rita Ora's rendition of the word "photo" as "pho'o" began at "annoying," came around to "endearing," and then wound around to "annoying" again, not least because she didn't pronounce it that way every time, so it seemed like an affectation. And occasionally shit ground to a halt so all the participants could pay homage to the great goddess Tyra Banks.

But then, having powered up on obeisances, Tyra would eventually go on her way and let the grownups get on with the work of assessing prospective models, and Top Model was a great deal the better for it, because yes, Tyra is a legend, and she deserves credit for leveraging her supermodel status into a reality-TV franchise whose concept is evergreen. Alas, Tyra's conception of herself as the heir to Oprah's throne -- a powerful multi-hyphenate who need only go by a single name, like Cher, and Yahweh -- long ago ossified into a stiff, unrelatable graaaaandness and do-you-know-who-I-ammy unwillingness to be challenged. And that isn't good TV.

Smart, then, of VH1 to give the franchise a minute off, then reboot it with a new host and new panel while still paying lip service to its creator...and that's where the creator's involvement should have ended, in my opinion, but Tyra's ego wouldn't allow that, and after kicking off the season, she returned near the end to "help" the panel with their decision-making (read: talk over Law Roach and Ashley Graham in classic Tyra style, pretending she's joking about clocking them for disagreeing with Herself, but really not joking at all). The panel I'd gotten used to in S23, snarky, free, occasionally snappish but always pertinent in their critiques, seized up immediately, unable to have a real discussion until Grandpa finished yelling at a cloud Tyra had completed her inarguable pronouncements. Drew Elliott's "...awkward." faces summed it up for me, in that it's not that Tyra's opinion doesn't matter or that nobody cares? Except that it...didn't, and Drew...didn't, and neither did I, because Tyra 1) hadn't spent any time with these contestants as far as we knew, and 2) in recent seasons had fallen prey to a tone-deafness that did her own attempts to brand it and herself as vanguards zero favors (see: her chirping "LGBT, holla holla holla: hero" upon eliminating Cory in Cycle 20, and I remind you again that that is a direct quote).

In short, Tyra's show concept remains strong, and benefited from a return to basics (no dudes; no social-media polls), but Tyra as host was holding it back. Top Model lavished her with praise, but didn't need her to function. Rita Ora is not the greatest host, but she was fine, and she cared about the job and tried to do it well. Ashley and Law were mensches. Drew Elliott is an eminently worthy successor to Mr. Jay, whom I loved and whose shoes I didn't expect to see filled. Everything was running, if not perfectly, then perfectly smoothly without Tyra.

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And Mama saw that. And she did not like it. And it would not stand. Tyra's back as the host next season, "[a]dditional panelists to be announced at a later date."

Fun's over, kids.

...Again, I have a lot of respect for Tyra as a mogul and a savvy brand brain, I really do. I can empathize to a point with how she may have felt having to watch what others chose to do with a property she created, and not agreeing 100 with it. But as a host, she got so so off-puttingly self-satisfied and condescending that the show, for me, had become unwatchable; I only came back to it because she left, not really caring about Rita one way or the other. And her lofty statement about her return does not fill me with hope: "I'm overwhelmed and humbled by the intensity of the 'ANTM' fan base whose deep affection for the show led me to have a change of heart. After giving it a lot of thought, I realized that remaining behind the camera wasn't enough because 'ANTM' is woven into my DNA."

Riiiiiight. Translation: "I resent the positive attention the new host and panel have received, and will exercise the clause in my contract that allows me to return, because also I'm kind of bored out of the spotlight/other behind-the-scenes projects I'm developing may not be working out." I highly doubt La Banks will keep Drew or Ashley around, since they seem likely to try to disagree with her now and then. Certainly Stacey McKenzie's services will no longer be required, since ditto.

This is, I think, a minority opinion, but all of that is bad for the show. Tyra was a great model and used to have a lot to teach the girls, but after over a decade of buying into her own hype, she's not just a self-regarding bore; she's just not as relevant as model-hyphenates like Rita or Amber Rose -- or Ashley -- who came up behind her and are more organically plugged into the culture. And, not for nothing, able to spit out each episode's results in a timelier fashion.

It can't be undone, but if Tyra doesn't want to see another ratings slide like the one that did the show in the last time, she should seriously consider getting over herself -- and behind current panelists like Ashley and Drew, who edge up the proceedings in a way she simply can't anymore. I am NOT a crackpot.

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