On ''America's Next Top Model,'' the girls dress like fellas for their photo shoot, Natasha has a breakdown, and the competition gets a lot less voluptuous

By Nina Hammerling Smith
Updated March 29, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: De Yonker

”America’s Next Top Model”: Bending genders

For the past two weeks, the girls have had to make the most of un-”pretty” shoots — dressing like a fella and playing dead aren’t exactly my idea of high fashion. But it’s actually helped them grow, making them think about how to use their bodies — not just their faces — to really express themselves. As much as I enjoyed the shoot this week (and I did, for the comedy factor if nothing else), it would be nice to see the girls looking…well, like girls again. And alive. Is that too much to ask? (By the way, your usual TV Watcher, Vanessa Juarez, suffered a brief cable breakdown but is fine and will be back next week.)

Apparently it is too much to ask that we get two plus-size models who are real contenders. Both Diana and Whitney are gorgeous, but sadly, neither of them is really Top Model material. Maybe it’s because they lacked experience coming in, or maybe they just don’t have that indefinable, special thing that makes the camera love them. It’s clearly not a lack of looks, or a lack of intelligence. Whitney goes to Dartmouth, for goodness’ sake, so she should be able to grasp the idea of playing a frat boy (even if it is one in need of a mansiere). Her problem could be that she overthinks everything and ends up looking indecisive on film. Whatever the reason, she better get it together quick, or we’ll go from having two full-figured models to having zero in short order. With Diana exiting this week, Whitney knows the pressure is on.

Poor Natasha. She has never really found her place in the house and hasn’t made any friends. It must be lonely for her. And it doesn’t help that Miss Whitney is talking trash about her every other minute. So what if Natasha was 18 and her husband was 40 when they got married, and she didn’t speak English at the time, and maybe she just did it for the green card? Does that make her a mail-order bride? Okay, well, it does sound sort of like that, but if she’s happy with him — and we have no reason to believe she isn’t — who are we to judge?

Don’t get me wrong. She does grate on me. I find myself cringing at her shrieks of excitement every time her name is called and feel like smacking the unabated egotism right out of her. But after this episode, I actually have to agree with Nigel that no one makes self-aggrandizement look more charming. (Of course, he also said, ”Natasha is the weirdest girl; she takes criticism as a positive.”) The thing is, it seems like she’s really trying. How sweet was she, flipping through her little stash of fashion mags, studying them for ideas? She complained about being picked on in the house, and from what I can tell, she has a point. And when she had her breakdown on the phone with her husband — well, to be honest, I thought he sounded a bit more understanding and supportive than Renee’s did on the phone last week.

What really changed my opinion of Natasha was the photo shoot. Where did that B-boy come from? I mean, does Natasha have a secret double life as a hip-hopper that none of us knows about? She really inhabited her role, entertained everyone in the room, and got a surprisingly cool pic for her effort.

At the challenge, where the girls teamed up to create a display for Sears, Sarah lucked into a cool reward, an extra set of frames at the shoot the next day, plus a sit-down analysis with Jay. And I do mean that she lucked into it — she was praised for her color palette and her ability to accessorize, even though her teammates helped her put her look together. Dionne (who had made remarkable improvement since the previous week) was shooting lasers from her eyes as Sarah chirpily accepted all the praise. If only Whitney had listened to Natasha and gotten up onto the podium, their display would’ve won, and Whitney would have had her second reward in two weeks. Girl was robbed!

Jael was kind of just there this week. Maybe she’s still in mourning for her friend, I dunno, but she seemed to lack that always-everywhere thing she usually owns. Even though she said, ”When I allow my soul to be captured in the photograph, I’m actually, like, opening myself inside out,” her picture was just meh. I was surprised that she didn’t get more into playing a guy; it seems like the kind of wackiness she embraces.

We obviously know by now that Jaslene takes a fairly amazing picture. But who would’ve guessed that she’d look so convincing as a guy? Actually, now that I think about it, of all the girls, she has the most masculine features — strong jawbone, deep-set eyes — plus that curveless figure. No worries about her boobs getting in the way.

In my opinion, Jaslene’s biggest competition is Brittany. She’s taken consistently good pictures every week, she presents herself well, and she has a bubbly personality. Plus she has a certain X factor — charisma, sparkle, whatever you want to call it — that will carry her far. Her picture this week kinda reminded me of a guy I knew in college. Only she looked better in plaid.

Ah, Renee. Renee, Renee, Renee. She can’t keep her mouth shut for five minutes. Even when she’s not intentionally stirring up trouble, she’s pissing people off. What kind of reaction did she expect, telling Whitney and Diana that there would never be a plus-size model on the cover of Vogue? A wholehearted agreement that they’ll never be as happy or as successful or as whatever because they’re voluptuous? Please.

As for Diana, she never seemed to reach her potential — beautiful as she is, it never translated in her photo shoots. Oddly enough, the picture in which her face seemed most alive was last week’s, when she was playing dead. As I said, it’s odd.

Make of this what you will, but The CW seems to have removed last week’s photos from their Model Portfolio. Is it just a glitch, or do you think too many people objected to the collection of dead-model images?

Until next week, here are some things to ponder: What kind of shoot would you like to see? Will Whitney step it up, or will the dream of a plus-size Top Model be dashed? And will Renee manage to make everyone so mad that they actually poison her?

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America's Next Top Model

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