PopWatchers, it’s a magical, Tyra-filled night, so brace yourselves for made-up words, outrageous self-absorption, baffling contradictions, and whole lotta crazy: That’s right, kids. It’s the season premiere of the new America’s Next Top Model. And despite the claims — the repeated, and repeated claims — that this is a “petite” season, where all the contenders are 5’7 and under, this feels a whole lot like every other season. It’s deja vu all over again, times 14, plus screaming. The next name that I’m going to call is…casting hour. Let’s do this!

Yeah, if you’ve ever been to the Internet, you know that this 13th cycle — someday that term will shed its menstrual connotations, but today is not that day — is for the shorties, the models who would never be tall enough to break through into high fashion any other way. For the record, though, I’m not sure that 5’7 really counts as “petite.” Nonetheless, Tyra swears in her intro voice-over that “I always strive to push the boundaries of what people consider to be beautiful,” and that this season will “change the standards of the modeling industry.” There are no plus-sized contestants this season, nor is anyone over 23 as far as I can tell, nor is anyone’s physique anything other than totally normative. But push, push, push those boundaries, Tyra!

Anyway, the contestants! They started filing in and were met by Madame T herself, who tried to speak in a French accent. I think it was French? I mean, in the sense that the Coneheads are from France maybe? Ashley told the camera, very seriously, that Tyra’s “presence is very strong.” Well, fair enough.

Then we got our first truly perfect reality line of the night, courtesy of the red-headed Nicole: “I just feel more mature than the rest of them,” she sighs. In my notes for this episode, I wrote down “yikes,” and I’m not sure how to elaborate on that. Nicole, you get a big ole YIKES sticker.

And then the fun started! And her name is Amber, and lo, she is crazy. She was crying just minutes past the opening credits. Has she told you yet about how much she loves Jesus, and how she’s going to use modeling as a platform for said love?

Miss Jay, Mr. Jay, and Tyra started screening the contestants, and Amber, here’s a tip: If Mr. Jay — he of white hair that looks like a Storm from X-Men reject — tells you you’re “affected,” you have some serious problems. (Spoiler! I think she does.)

Kara, the “free spirit,” used to castrate sheep on an organic farm in Fiji, and if you think that’s the only castration reference we’ll get tonight, well, I envy your naivete. Lulu has a giganto tattoo of her girlfriend’s name. Miss Maturity Nicole explained to the other girls that her nickname growing up was “Bloody Eyeball,” which…no. Sorry, no. Mature Nicole said that she was born with a bloody eyeball, hence the nickname, but unless your whole kindergarten class was both present for and sentient during your infancy, that means you bragged about this fact. And that nickname sounds like one of the made-up teen-girl-magazine embarrassing story nicknames, like “From then on, everyone called me diarrhea-tampon-fart-in-front-of-her-crush.” We are on to you, Nicole. She also paints a lot of self-portraits and says she pushed a wheel barrow to school, where she was cruelly ostracized. I am the freaking queen of “march to your own drummer,” etc etc, but seriously, Nicole. Come on.

Castration reference numero dos came courtesy of “country girl” Laura, who said that the cows don’t really mind having their balls cut off.

Then we met Rae, and Tyra consulted her index cards of trauma, where she’s written down what to ask the contestants about their traumatic pasts — foster care! an abusive relationship! uh, insomnia! In Rae’s case, it’s that she was abducted and assaulted. If you can explain what this has to do with modeling, please, be my guest. From where I sit (a.k.a., my BFF’s couch), it looks like exploitation of someone’s agony. To Rae’s credit, though, she sounded incredibly healthy. “I don’t want to put it behind me” because it’s part of who she is, she said. But she wants to find meaning in it. Rae, you’re what we call an early favorite.

Rachel has “Bambi eyes” like whoa. Tyra made a joke about Howard University. Raven is wearing an unfortunate leotard/suspenders ensemble. This goes on for ever.

Finally, an elimination! Of the 32 girls present, 12 were about to get the boot; the remaining 20 will be narrowed down to 14 for the season. The contestants each had a garment bag, and if there’s a garment in it, they’re in; if not, smell you later. The garmented ladies then had an impromptu runway show, where they had to strike four poses at the end of the catwalk. Oh, it is on like Donkey Kong!

Tyra and the Jays go through the women’s photos, and nothing is terrifying alien abortion-level bad — but nothing’s “you are my new Linda Evangelista,” either. The best Miss Jay can muster about one shot? “I’m not mad at it.” And that’s going to be our watchterm of the season, PW nation.

Cuts! Cuts, cuts, cuts! Our models for the season are, in order of how Ty Ty called them: Jennifer, Erin, Rachel, Kara, Lulu, Ray, Ashley, Britney, Bianca, Courtney, Nicole, Amber, Laura, and Sundai. Cut to the iconic(ish) photo montage of all of them in their metallic bathing suits! Except… uh, spoiler, CW? The last girl to get faded in to the photo? She’s not one of the 14 we just listed.

Let the games begin. Our modeltestants wandered the streets of Los Angeles and spout nonsense. Bianca won a booby prize for being the first person to play the “I’m not here to make friends” card, and then everyone noticed that Crazy Amber isn’t there. This is the moment I knew this season was going to make me lose it. I was surprised they “cast” her in the first place — she seemed unstable, what with the screaming and crying, and the weird dancing, and the shrieking, and the unprompted proselytizing — but she was far and away the most interesting contestant in years. Oh, well. Apparently due to “personal issues,” she couldn’t make it, and in her stead, we got Lisa. Hi, Lisa! (Bye…Lisa…)

In what should have been an exciting turn of events, the very first episode was the makeover episode, which is often the best hour of the season. Tears! Anxiety! Insecurity! Except… not that much this go-round, despite or maybe because of Sally Hershberger’s presence. The A-list hair whiz — famous for $800 haircuts — and her staff gave everyone really normal-looking make-overs. Talk about a let down! Most of the blondes went blonder, several meh weaves got woven, the on-crutches Courtney got a spikier do, but all in all, none of the makeovers wowed me.

Bianca’s sure did wow her, though. Given that she has a shaved head, it’d be tough to do a non-wig hair switcheroo for her, so Tyra instead opted to dye Bianca’s eyebrows. The show didn’t mention it, but bleached or totally absent eyebrows are “in” right now, so Bianca’s moaning and groaning about not liking the change — which I barely noticed at all — is even more out-of-touch. Check it. And you thought threading was serious! (It’s not serious.) Courtney’s red faux-hawky do wins for me — and is a little reminiscent of cycle 5’s Kim — but really, everyone just looks…pretty.

And that’s kind of a weird facet of this season: Everyone’s really pretty. Like, face-pretty. In other seasons, I felt like there was a different range of looks, but this go-round has a lot of very thin, moderately above-average-height women who have lovely features.

Speaking of those lovely features, it was time for the first photo shoot, which was up there with the most inspired cockamamie Top Model set-ups ever: a reinterpretation of baby photos. Yes, they were all as cute as babies as they are now.

First up was Erin, who Mr. Jay worried might be vacant. Next was Lulu, who looked lu-dorable, then doe-eyed Rachel who was a bit awkward. Rae was recreating a ballet theme, and she had to put on 8-inch high heels, which no one mentioned are uh, fetish-wear, but she struggled through and completely rocked. Favorite! Bianca was grumpy again because she didn”t like her make-up, and apparently thinks modeling is a liking things contest. Britney sexed it up a little too much with the candy, Lisa can’t play the happy clown, Ashley positively melted on the couch (in a good way), Sundai awkwardly clutched what’s basically a frat party cup, Nicole killed in a high-fashion voluminous jumpsuit (shudder), Kara went for the profile while flanked by cabbage, Laura awkwardly dangled a babydoll, and Jennifer sprawled out in the sand. Everyone except Bianca seemed to be in good spirits, and even grumpy gills pulled off a good shot. To the judging!

This week’s guest judge was Chanel Iman, who I really wish we heard more from, but alas, a lack, we lack this lass. (Also, Nigel’s baby picture looked a lot like a girl baby. Aww.) The panel was tragically absent any decent zingers, and all the photos were pretty decent. There was no Jabba the Hutt chin action, which often happens; at worst, Britney was too curled up (which Mr. Jay told her to do, so, not fair), and Kara was too in-profile, but there was nary a dead-eye in the set.

What there was , though, was a boatload of irritating hypocrisy. Every comment the judges made was about how “long” someone looks, or how you can’t even tell that this model’s short, or that she looks tall, etc etc. How exactly is that subverting or changing the standard? If the point was that being shorter — and really, all these contestants are technically above the average height of the American woman — is just as beautiful, why are they being praised or disparaged based on how tall they look? This is like having full-figured models try to look the skinniest: Either being shorter is just as attractive, or it’s not. I think Bianca’s bad mood is rubbing off on me.

Rant over! This week’s best photo is, drumroll, Rae! You go with your bad self! Nicole, Jennifer, Ashley, Courtney, Erin, Lulu, Rachel, Laura, Kara Britney, and Sundai are all safe. Will Lisa and Bianca please step forward?

Lisa’s low-energy personality translates into a boring, almost menacing photo; Bianca’s photo was lovely, but she’s kind of nastypants. (Also she was wearing nasty pants. Seriously, those high-waisted harem disasters were making my eyeballs ache.) But Bianca’s safe, and Lisa — sad, second-chance Lisa, who really really reminded me of Paula Garcés — was sent packing.

Whew. For all the talk about how different this season is going to be, because of all the shortness and all, it’s not different at all. I’m looking forward to it because, you know, it’s Top Model and I love it, but if Tyra et. al can’t come up with a meaningful twist pretty darn soon, this could be my last cycle.

What did you think, PopWatchers? Are you with me on Team Rae, or are you pulling for someone else’s fierceness?

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Trya Banks

America's Next Top Model

Tyra Banks searches for the next great supermodel

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