As dozens of models battle it out to be one of the 14 finalists, one also has to battle fears and prejudices

‘America’s Next Top Model’ recap: That other fashion institute

How do you know it’s time for another cycle of America’s Next Top Model? When you’ve almost forgotten the name of the previous winner. (Whitney, people, her name was Whitney.)

Before we grade the “14 lucky bitches in Los Angeles” who will compete for this season’s title, let’s briefly discuss the Top Model Institute of Technology — a.k.a. Tyra’s latest inane theme for whittling down her 33 semifinalists. After a fun-filled ride on an eco-friendly party bus, the squealers arrived at a top secret San Fernando Valley training facility that only they and bad special effects could find. Upon seeing “Alpha J.” and “Beta Jay” in their futuristic metallic-white getups, I jotted down two words: “Holy f—balls.” It is a testament to the show that 11 seasons in, it still manages to surprise me with how awesomely bad it can be. (Also surprising, that I found Alpha J.’s white bowl-cut wig more attractive than some looks he’s sported in the past…) The bad effects continued in the “body scanning station” but peaked in the “data analyzing runway,” where our catsuited contestants had to pretend that the “Glaminator 11.0” overloaded when it produced the boobylicious TyraBot. Say what you want about her acting (“I’m having a little bit of a technical difficulty. I didn’t?hear yooouu”) and her claim that she’s looking for a model who is “technologically bankable” (huh?), but her hair looked sleek and sexy.

Once beamed, fiercely, to another room, the all-powerful trio got to know the girls better in the embarrass-yourself-then-model-a-swimsuit portion of the preliminary competition. You know it’s gonna be a good season when the Mormon girl whose parents sent her to a lockdown facility for three months after she had premarital sex can’t even make it into the group of 20. After the ladies changed into metallic cobalt catsuits — because they’d thrown away all of the technology and brought the reality? — we had our 14 lucky bitches. And they are?

Strengths The 22-year-old from Prince George’s County, Md., stole more than one photo as an extra in cycle 10’s homeless shoot. That fact makes it easier to believe that she’s there for her promise and not for the publicity that having a pre-op transgender contestant will get the show. She’s already impressed the judges with her agenda-free presence, couture poses, ability to find the light (even when sitting at the Magic Castle opposite a leering Nigel), and depth (she understands that a photo needs a back story). She impressed me with the way she handled being heckled by Brittney B. — excuse me, Sharaun — during her make-voting-sexy photo shoot. (I’m amazed that none of the other girls told Sharaun that her jokes about Isis sweating and needing to shave weren’t funny.) Also praiseworthy: Isis’ mastery of tape.

Weaknesses Her presentation at the judges’ panel must be flawless. If Tyra’s serious about wanting a Top Model winner who can make money modeling, she’ll have to ask herself if designers and advertisers are ready to bank on a transgender model. I hope Isis makes it to the go-sees round so we find out.

NEXT: Clark, Nikeysha, Sharaun, and Analeigh

Strengths You could call her “pretty-pretty” natural beauty a weakness, but I’m labeling it a positive because Alpha J. has a hard-on to turn her into “pretty-ugly,” so he’ll keep her around awhile. Also, because I need something nice to say about the 19-year-old from Pawleys Island, S.C.

Weaknesses Let’s just forget for a moment that she stunk up the Soul Train line by just walking, that she mixes metaphors (she’s a shark who wants little fish that she can “completely tromp over”), and that she can’t smile with her eyes. This girl enjoys being manipulative, though she calls it “competitive.” Tyra already wants to smack her. And so do I after her comment to Hannah about Isis. I can see how someone wouldn’t be 100 percent comfortable around Isis at first — it’s an uncommon situation and you’re afraid you’ll say the wrong thing. That’s if you actually accept her. Being from a small town isn’t an excuse not to. “You walk around like that in a small town, you’ll get shot,” Clark said. “And it’s not so much a close-minded view, it’s just more traditional.” Yes, if the tradition is close-mindedness.

Strengths The 19-year-old exhibitionist from the Bronx isn’t afraid to flash the judges — Heeeeeeey! — so she should have no problem with quick changes at runway shows.

Weaknesses Her inability to handle criticism almost sent her packing. I get what she was trying to do at panel — make sure the judges other than Tyra, who presumably hadn’t seen all her film, know she had poses that didn’t make her look like she had an amputated leg. But when Tyra shushes you, you shush.

Strengths The 18-year-old from Chicago had a lot of energy. Sadly, it was channeled into all the wrong personality traits, which is why I think she was the first model eliminated.

Weaknesses Besides her mean-spirited humor, there was her inability to realize that her hellaconfident nature was, in fact, the very definition of cocky. Also, she was way too attached to those lucky underpants. (I know they were clean, but I still don’t want to see them anywhere near her face.)

Strengths The 19-year-old former competitive figure skater from Sacramento, Calif., should be, you know, competitive. She should also have an awareness of her body positions and know what looks pretty. We’ve already seen that she has that “natural wind in the hair” thing when she walks.

Weaknesses Hmmm?her story about almost being sold to a Saudi Arabian prince makes me think she’s naive and a teensy bit gullible. She looks more like a TV star than a model (until she speaks, anyway). The judges found her health-care posing uninspiring.

NEXT: Hannah, Marjorie, and Lauren

Strengths Her no electricity, no water, no billboards (!) story line could encourage producers to keep the 18-year-old from Fairbanks, Alaska, around awhile. (As could her references to Gossip Girl.) Plus, she’s willing to visit Tyra in Crazytown: I can’t wait to see what Joel McHale does with that clip of Tyra and Hannah reenacting the moose attack that Hannah lived through as a paper girl. (“I want you to run from me, fiercely. [Whinny]”)

Weaknesses Her face is kinda, well, rat-like. She appears to be a minion of Clark, who will eat her alive. She’s clueless when it comes to posing — and not just when she doesn’t know her position on nuclear weapons. Also, she has problems expressing herself. Asked by Beta Jay what she would do to make sure the judges always remember her, she responded, “Be memorable!!!” Asked by some of the girls next week if she’s prejudiced, she answers “Am I a racist?” then turns around with an inappropriately goofy smile on her face. (If she actually answered no, and The CW cut it for promo purposes, she should sue them.)

Strengths The 19-year-old French immigrant, who feels even more foreign because she was home schooled in San Francisco, is an insecure mess when she’s speaking (that Magic Castle interview with Nigel was painful!), but damn, if she didn’t harness her nervous energy in front of the camera, giving Beta Jay great variety and concave angles. She took the best voting-is-sexy photo, which means her picture will hang as “digital art” in the girls’ house all week. That should help boost her confidence. She reminds me of Claire from last season, only I don’t foresee her ever turning into a Mean Girl.

Weaknesses She cares what other people think — which means the judges will wonder if she’s too soft for the modeling biz. (Never let them hear you utter words like fear and scared.) Not that this is a “weakness,” but I fear what Tyra will do to Marjorie come makeover time so that Beta Jay can picture her modeling in non-European shows.

Strengths The 20-year-old daughter of a police chief from Charlottesville, Va., rendered Tyra speechless, or rather, stupid: “Her beautiful blue doe eyes are…beautiful” and “Her face is like an angel…kinda.” She also produced my favorite quote of the night, from Beta Jay to Tyra: “I can see what you’re doing. You’re doing that X-ray vision. You see it through all the ugliness, because you’re right, she is a beautiful girl.”

Weaknesses To me, she’s as forgettable as her voting-is-sexy photo, in which she allegedly represented a frustrated teacher. She could be in the bottom two next week.

NEXT: Sheena, Elina, Josyln, and McKey

Strengths The 21-year-old from Harlem could be a half-Japanese, half-Korean Kimora Lee Simmons doppelgänger (depending on how you feel about Kimora, feel free to move this to weaknesses). While at first her personality seemed to be as oversize (read: annoying) as her earrings, she’s actually turning out to be a likable sweetheart, having shown support for both Isis and Marjorie. (She clearly wants the best person to win.) Also, Paulina thinks her body’s bangin’, and she’s a walking sound bite. “I’m gonna show you, America, you ain’t ready for this yellow fever. Fun time for the Asiaaaaaaans!”

Weaknesses Referred to herself in the third person once, so we’re on orange alert. More importantly, Beta Jay is already on her about the hooch. (Props to Tyra for actually giving her real advice: You act opposite of what you’re wearing to keep it interesting and clean. Ergo, when she was in that little red dress, she should’ve imagined herself in a T-shirt, jeans, and Timberlands.)

Strengths The articulate 19-year-old from Seattle has eyes that draw you in (why, they smile!), and another story line that should keep producers happy: She believes you love who you love despite gender, and considers converting straight girls her “sport.” She’s set her sights on Clark, whom she kisses in a hot tub next week.

Weaknesses You’ve gotta wonder what shoots Tyra has up her sleeves knowing that Elina is a vegan, an animal-liberation activist, and a fool that’s already admitted that she wouldn’t have participated in last season’s raw-meat-wear challenge.

Strengths Persistence! The 23-year-old from Lucky, La., had auditioned for Top Model more than 30 times (that’s in multiple cities for each cycle). She has a personality that the judges love — if Alpha J. is cackling with you, you’re golden. And best of all, she actually took an amazing photo: Long neck, long legs, a face that looked alive. As Beta Jay said, “It’s almost Tyra Banks hot.” One more photo like that, and we’ll forget all about those 30-plus failures.

Weaknesses In person, she looks too nice to be “Tyra Banks hot.” Her busy walk has already caught the attention of Alpha J. and Beta Jay in the wrong way. You’re rooting for her so hard, you’re sure Tyra will crush you.

Strengths The 19-year-old from Lake Forest, Ill., has a beautiful face once you lift those bangs. (And those lips!) She’s a mixed martial artist, who trains with her boyfriend, which means she’s legitimately fierce. Her body has a nice chameleon quality to it: She can be strong without losing that awkward-pretty that the judges seem to prize. She also recognizes how much courage it takes for Isis to be herself, in a swimming pool, in a house full of models — I’m in her corner.

Weaknesses Nigel is already saying that she lucks into shots. She did seem kinda clueless in her voting-is-sexy-and-so-is-the-environment shoot until Beta Jay gave her the idea to fight for Mother Earth. Next week we’ll see if she has non-fight poses in her arsenal. Though I second her answer, I’m not sure if kicking a photographer in the balls and punching him the face is the answer Paulina was looking for when she asked her what she would do if a top photographer proposed sexual relations to her. (God, I missed you, Paulina.)

NEXT: Samantha and Brittany

Strengths Paulina loves the healthy, happy Cheryl Tiegs-Christie Brinkley vibe she gets from the 18-year-old student athlete from Woodland Hills, Calif., who’s missing her prom and graduation to be on the show. I was getting Brooke Hogan myself.

Weaknesses The girl walked into panel wearing a tank top, miniskirt, and accessories straight out of Erin Brockovich. She’ll need to tone that — and her “creativity” — down. Though her ’80s look worked great for her economy photo, you know Tyra is going to F Miss Cute and Commercial up in the makeover.

Strengths The 19-year-old from Henderson, Nev., has exotic looks (her mother is black, her father is Native American), and she has a cover under her belt (Las Vegas Weekly). I was worried when I saw that her issue was the military because I don’t really want to see someone making automatic weapons sexy, but the shot Tyra chose for her was about as tasteful as you could’ve hoped for. Like the judges said, she managed to look strong, powerful, and proud holding a helmet while standing tall in a party dress. It’s almost like this is a recruitment ad, and she’s a soldier who’s returned home.

Weaknesses If I have to find one, I guess it’s that her personality doesn’t stand out in a crowd. But she seems friendly, and personally, I like the idea of the photos doing the talking.

So, who are your early favorites, and who needs to be the next one beamed home fiercely? How many takes do you think it took for all the models to say Paulina’s last name correctly? And don’t you feel kinda screwed that someone who knew what the word bureaucracy meant didn’t get a chance to get all tangled up in red tape for Clark’s photo?

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America's Next Top Model

Tyra Banks searches for the next great supermodel

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