Who Is Rita Ora, And Why Is She Sitting In Tyra's America's Next Top Model Chair?

And other not-so-burning questions from the premiere of VH1's revamped Top Model.

Was it a smart decision to leave the male models back at The CW?

In short: yes. And not only because last cycle's winner, the disgustingly gorgeous Nyle Dimarco, will never be topped (except by me, in my dreams). Adding gorgeous, male dummies to the mix had its benefits -- in addition to the eye candy, there was a degree of schadenfreude that came with watching arrogant men fail that I never got from the ladies -- but disrupting the all-female dynamic of the models' living quarters tainted what made the show special in the first place.

It's way too soon to conclude whether the surgical removal of Top Model's Y-chromosomes signals a return to form, but I did get an unmistakable pang of nostalgia seeing fourteen women packed into a Hummer limo.

Seriously. Who IS Rita Ora???

Ignorance of Rita Ora is a sign of authenticity for my generation, the way not owning a TV was for our parents. I don't go around bragging about my ignorance of her work, but I can't lie: internally, I've been a tad smarmy about the fact that, while I've heard and read her name fairly regularly, the context surrounding it was all buzzes and pops. Is she a model? An entertainer? A social media phenomenon?

After exhaustive research, I'm only marginally closer to understanding her celebrity. She's got a handful of club bangers, remixes of which I'm sure I've unwittingly danced to during $4 Long Island Iced Tea Night at a local homosexual drinking establishment, and she waved a flag in one of the Fast & Furiouses. Oh, and she's a self-described feminist...who released a track with Chris Brown...THIS YEAR. I'm gonna have to let that last fact slide, simply because I do not have the energy nor mental capacity to hold as many grudges as I already currently am in this Trump's America, but C'MON, LADY.

As for her showing during panel, she seems enthusiastic enough in her role as the ringleader of this circus -- but that's literally the best thing I have to say about her. She offers zero feedback to the models, sticking to bland pleasantries and leaving the criticism to fellow judges Ashley Graham and Drew Elliott. I'm not saying that, in order to be successful, she has to be the black of hole of attention Tyra was (literally impossible), but she should still demonstrate some semblance of authority. My advice: send away for the Padma Lakshmi Correspondence Course for Above-Average Reality Show Hosts, stat.

Why isn't Ashley Graham hosting instead?

Unlike Miss Ora, Ashley -- the only actual top model on the panel -- is immediately present and charming. Just compare her spontaneous cackle after stating, "I don't even remember how many covers I've been on now," to Rita's limp-noodle scream during their respective introductions. And her carriage behind the judges' table is so commanding that, in isolated shots, she already looks like the HBIC.



Tragically, Ashley was not flipping off one of the contestants here, but rather a modeling agency that once advised she lose weight if she ever planned on making it in the industry. Speaking of...

You're really going to put one of the most famous plus-size models in the world on the panel and not a single big (or even big-ish) girl in the cast?

Not even as a semi-finalist? What gives?

Are two tell-it-like-it-is gay judges better than one?

Not when the departed one in question is Sass Master General, the endlessly delightful, idiosyncratic Miss J. But, by all means, let the gay-dude half of the new panel, Law Roach and Drew Elliott, try to come for J's legacy. Law, Celine Dion's stylist (the most prestigious credential I've ever heard), doesn't make much of an impression, matching Rita in nonexistent critiques. The one piece of style advice handed out -- removing a gaudy necklace to better show off one girl's stately clavicle -- comes from Ashley, not Law. His pigtails are cute, though.



I have much higher hopes for Drew Elliot, CCO of Paper (a.k.a. the vessel in which Kim K broke the internet with her booty-shelf). Both Law and Drew are sold as "real-talkers," but when Drew spits, "I am not here to be your best friend," I actually believe him. Or, at least, I believe he's a student of trash culture and relishes the opportunity to play the villainous judge. He certainly looks ready to play the part, what with his jailhouse-stripe suit and overall mad scientist/club kid vibe.



Is the new Top Model afraid of queer models?

Say what you want about its contribution to the decidedly anti-feminist "women screaming at each other over perceived slights" subgenre of reality TV, but Tyra's Top Model at least pretended to aspire to a more progressive portrait of America. So I was pretty disappointed that the Cycle 23 premiere scuttles the show's first-ever gay showmance by cutting Kyle's crush during the semi-finals. Though it did result in my favorite moment of the episode: girlfriend's hilariously melodramatic bawling, "WE SHOULD BE IN THERE TOGETHER!" You have literally known this person for one day. Such is the strength of Kyle's fem-stud powers.



Quei, the cast's only trans model, also fails to move on to the Top 14, but her elimination is more understandable. Her photoshoot resulted in nothing particularly impressive, and her thirst for drama -- repeating an attack on one girl's "Chia Pet eyebrows" three times in case someone on the other end of the limo didn't hear it the first two -- was way too strong, way too early on. Still, it would have been nice had the new Top Model upped its representation game up a tad.

Aren't the "Three Bs" all essentially the same B?

Tyra was talking about Top Model being more than just a search for a pretty face even before she got her fake business degree from Harvard. (Remember when she made everyone adopt more marketable monikers? Wholahay does.) So it rings falser than Rita's [FILL IN THE BLANK] whenever anyone mentions how this season they're looking for a Top Model who can embody the three Bs: Brand, Business, and Boss. This means absolutely nothing. It's also a far squishier theme than the one Tyra herself offers in her not-quite-a-farewell speech at the beginning of the episode: the intersection between professional and social media modeling. Sure, the integration of Instagram voting from the last few seasons was an undeniable creative failure, but with some tweaks to the system (incognito accounts; the elimination of numerical scoring) there's no reason the models shouldn't be able to demonstrate their skills in bringing the Likes.

Again, it's still too early to see how this non-theme will manifest, but here's hoping the focus on creating a bossy business brand is executed with a smidge more polish than last season's middle-school economics-class poster-board presentations.

Was Tyra forced out of her role as host or did she leave on her own accord?

I suppose it's possible she willingly gave up hosting duties to focus on her other, real baby, but I have my doubts. The more likely scenario is that VH1 picked up the show on the condition that Tyra step down. If so, it was a smart decision on the network execs' part, as ditching Tyra was really the only feasible way to rebrand the fifteen-year-old show. Still, it was nice of them to allow her a ceremonial hand-off before Rita and the other new panelists arrived via helicopter.

After receiving VH1's offer, did Tyra spend a week holed up in her house, sustaining herself on nothing but yogurt-covered pretzels, painstakingly assembling a 700-slide PowerPoint presentation explaining why VH1 should keep her on as host?


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