The tenth cycle begins, and Queen Tyra cuts her 35 ''pretty b----es'' down to 14 preening, posing, squabbling wannabes

By Mandi Bierly
Updated February 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM EST
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Question: Were any of you worried that you might’ve OD’d on America’s Next Top Modelmarathons and rendered yourself numb to the pleasures of cycle 10? I was concerned myself after the premiere started with a countdown of the show’s greatest hits and none of the nine catfights moved me. But when the 35 newest hopefuls squealed their pretty little heads off at the sight of Miss J. and Mr. Jay, I realized I was still in it to win it.

So let’s start with an overview before we grade our finalists. The girls — and I feel fine using that term, since they squealed louder than I would’ve at a Hanson concert in 1997 — arrived at Top Model Prep ready to impress. Upon taking their school ID photos in miniskirted uniforms, they moved on to their first and only class: Runway 101. I’d like to think that Miss J. actually showed them how to improve their walks, but the only footage we saw was of him mimicking the horror. (But more on Lauren later.) Next came a bonfire in a football stadium, which featured five former Top Modelcontestants — Furonda, Jael, Joanie, and twins Amanda and Michelle — dressed as cheerleaders and doing a cheer that I have too much dignity to repeat. (Considering that sentence above should’ve read ”squealed louder than I would’ve at a Hanson concert in 2007,” that’s saying something. Joanie, you’re better than that!) Raising the level of discomfort further, Jay-J. announced they were going to crown a homecoming queen — Tyra, who came bursting through a paper wall ”in character.” Her ”pretty b—es” then moved onto the swimwear portion of the preliminary round, and following an elimination, posed for a classic tube-top-and-stole senior class portrait that would help determine who would still be in the running toward becoming America’s…Next…Top…Model.

And those women are…

ALLISON

Strengths: Apparently the 18-year-old from Waunakee, Wis., can be in two places at once; she said both that her hick town had no opportunities for modeling and that she had more experience than the other girls. (She also vowed never to return there, which is fine because I’m pretty sure they just canceled her parade.) Her sound-bite potential is promising — ”I am ready to annihilate the competition. I am a silent predator. They won’t know what [claw motion] hit them” — and I shall now be referring to her as the Annihilator. Weaknesses: Her overconfidence will result in hits (removing her jacket during the ID shoot) and misses (applying makeup for Asian-runway tears, the fake cry when her name was called, the testing of Tyra’s improv skills at the bonfire).

FATIMA

Strengths: The 21-year-old Somalian — and Iman look-alike — is the season’s most exotic beauty. She’s articulate, and the judges appreciate her cause: to end female circumcision, a rite of passage in her native land that involves removing the clitoris and sewing together the labia, which she underwent when she was 7. Weaknesses: The perfectionist runs the risk of thinking too much about her photos. She knows she’s got a winning look and thinks the other girls are intimidated by her. (Maybe they would be if she fixed her walk, which was at first too dainty, then more horselike than Natasha’s.) For someone with ”manners, education, and class,” she could’ve thought of a smoother way to raise her point with booty-shakin’ Shaya, Muhammad Ali’s niece, than saying, ”You guys are way too ghetto, like….You can be black and smart and beautiful.” What do you think of the argument that erupted? I took it as Fatima saying that you might not want to do or say things that some people could use to reinforce negative stereotypes (like eight-time Top Model reject Shalynda referring to herself as a bitch). But Shaya and Shalynda were saying that if you know why you’re doing or saying something, and it’s not negative to you, you don’t need to worry about how other people might interpret it.

NEXT: ”Sex on sticks”

KATARZYNA

Strengths: The 22-year-old from Roslyn, N.Y., was born in Poland and resembles new judge Paulina Porizkova. Miss J. referred to her as ”sex on sticks” and said he looks forward to breaking her down. Her exotic name probably delights ew.com’s own Michael Slezak no end.Weaknesses: This season’s thinking woman is a Cornell grad who believes her Ivy League diploma gives her an edge over the competition — she just needs to be careful not to make the judges feel that she thinks she smarter than they are. And to grow a personality.

KIM

Strengths: I’ve got nothing….Okay, maybe this: The 20-year-old bank teller from Worcester, Mass., claims to be good at reading people — she said a lot of them think she’s a dumb blonde. (Only you didn’t get that Tyra was asking you if you had ever stolen money, honey.) Weaknesses: She’s a Barbie girl in a non-Barbie world and somehow managed to not take one cute photo at Top Model Prep. (Though her picture in the show’s traditional episode-ending group glam shot was pretty.) She also has a horrible walk and an offensively wimpy growl.

STACY-ANN

Strengths: She’s a fun and spunky 22-year-old from Miami who’s allegedly liked by everyone. She’s been married since she was 17, which means producers will want to have her stick around until they can get her in a compromising position with a male model. Weaknesses: Her walk was nothing special, and neither is her look or her ambition. She wants to know what it’s like to give a lap dance while providing your own embarrassing soundtrack. (Doo-doo-doo. Doo-doo-doo.) Why hasn’t her husband been her guinea pig? And anyone else find themselves rewinding to see if Jay was actually that hot sitting there, legs all relaxed, on that chair? I was about to get my white-girl freestyle on.

AMY

Strengths: The 20-year-old from Bartlesville, Okla., says she’d rather be weird and crazy than boring, and she seems genuine — and only occasionally misguided, like when she thought it’d be fun to ask the other girls, ”You guys wanna check out my pubic hair?” Weaknesses: Miss J. thinks she’s a little too ’80s (which personally I dug), and her clown act could be hiding some self-esteem issues. ”I look at all these beautiful, interesting girls around me, and it makes me feel like what the heck am I doing here?” (You’re the slightly saner and more likable version of Lisa D’Amato.) Posing needs major work.

AIMEE

Strengths: The 18-year-old from Spanaway, Wash., has the season’s religion backstory. Her 36-year-old mother is still ”very heavily Mormon” and doesn’t approve of her modeling skimpy clothes — which means the judges will probably keep her around until at least the nude shoot. During the tragic Stacy-Ann dance montage, we got a shot of Aimee’s double- (triple-? quadruple-?) jointed arms, which could give her a serious edge on those high-fashion poses the judges like so much. Weaknesses: She looks like a model but doesn’t know how to act like one. Which means she’ll need help finding those angles.

CLAIRE

Strengths: For me, the 24-year-old wife and mother from Brooklyn, N.Y., had the most memorable walk. Good speed and confidence, yet with an air of grace and elegance rarely seen on this show. Her washed-out features should pop with the right makeup but still allow the focus to be on the clothes. She seems to know when to be wacky — I know you caught her ”I need a little suckle” line when Tyra and the boys pretended to taste her breast milk (ewww), but did you catch the cheerleader leg kick when she first arrived at Top Model Prep? Weaknesses: Just because she said she wants to be a ”global warrior for the environment,” Mr. Jay is worried that she’ll wake up and realize modeling is beneath her. I’m curious to see how they handle the shaved left side of her head in the makeover episode.

WHITNEY

Strengths: The 20-year-old from Atlantic Beach, Fla., seems more confident in her skin than any of the show’s ”plus-size” contestants since Toccara. And she should be: She was seriously smokin’ in that bikini. She also showed up to panel dressed like a model — black tank top and jeans. Weaknesses:Though she’s got an expressive face and stole the senior-portrait shoot, she can skew a little too preppy. She’ll need not to sound rehearsed in front of the judges, who already think she speaks like she’s in a pageant. She really should have said, ”You can suck it,” instead of ”You can go suck an egg.”

NEXT: Two left feet in mouths

MARVITA

Strengths: The 23-year-old cycle 9 reject from San Francisco is back and, having gone to therapy every Tuesday, was disarmingly nonchalant talking about why she didn’t make the cut the first time around: ”I think that I was not ready. I was angry, and I was ready to fight because with my past, I went through a lot of crazy stuff. I’ve been molested and raped.” Still, the self-proclaimed stray dog who just needs time to warm up knows how to give a good quote: ”When my pastor saw the show last season, she’s like, ‘You need some more Jesus.’ So, I was like, ‘Maybe I do.’ ” Weaknesses: Like Jay, I was more impressed with her look last time. It’s wonderful that she’s finding herself, but it does seem like she’s trying to be something she’s not for the judges (coy, for example, in that finger-in-mouth senior-portrait shot). She’ll still need to keep an eye on her short fuse. For the record, I don’t think she meant to be insensitive when she asked Fatima if she felt like less of a woman following her circumcision. I get the feeling Marvita knows what it’s like to be stripped of your innocence and wanted to have a genuine conversation about it. That was just not the right time.

LAUREN

Strengths: As Tyra said, ”Most of the girls that are top models, especially right now, are weird, different, and freaky looking.” And the 22-year-old artist and zombie-movie fanatic from Brooklyn, N.Y., fits the bill. You want to see what she’ll look like done up each week. Don’t you love that Tyra told her it pays to be yourself, after she told Amy and Aimee that one of them would have to change her name, because the show didn’t have room for two of them. Weaknesses: Can you imagine if she had to do that cycle 6 high-heel challenge? Eek! Confidence and cluelessness about modeling will be her main problem. (That back-to-the-judges swimsuit stance would’ve been kinda awesome had she meant to do it.) Oh, and the walk. As Miss Jay said, ”You walk as though you don’t have any circulation in your feet….We will have to create a miracle here.”

ATALYA

Strengths: Um, the pretty 18-year-old from Brooklyn, N.Y., has a Dani tooth gap? Weaknesses: When Tyra called her name, I literally was like, Who? I’d totally forgotten that she was the one with the lisp that Miss J. and Tyra made fun of. And that she resents her doctor sister. Tyra saw something in her; I’m not sure anyone else did.

ANYA

Strengths: You won’t forget this girl, the 18-year-old from Honolulu who thinks about modeling 24/7 and has fire in her eyes. (That, I did see, actually.) Weaknesses: Her accent. ”Where are you from?” never sounds as accusatory as it does coming out of Tyra’s mouth, right? Jay is already afraid to send her on any job that would require her to speak — ”I see a model, but when she opens her mouth, I just want to die.” Note: He didn’t even hear her say, ”I do appreciate everything that has been given to me. I mean, just the food alone. Like the food that they’re feeding us, I just love it so much.”

DOMINIQUE

Strengths: Luck. Tyra created a 14th slot for the 23-year-old from Cleveland. Also, breasts. ”She’s entering,” said Tyra. ”With lots of boobs.” She’s a poet. Weaknesses: This is clearly a strong woman (with a jawline to rival cycle 5’s Coryn). But her comment about what she taught her physically and mentally abusive boyfriend totally confused me. ”I showed him that you can’t put a price on all of this.” What’s all of this? ”Pret-ty. Pret-ty.” Is she saying that you can’t buy a beautiful woman — that you need to treat her with respect and not with things your money can buy? Or that she’s priceless because she’s that gorgeous? Either way, it’s telling that the first word she used to describe herself was ”pretty.” Maybe the slice of humble 14th-place pie will do her good.

As for the ladies I’ll miss: Even though I think I might have more fashion sense than her, Shaya would’ve been a quote a minute: ”Shaya is goofy. Shaya is sexy. Shaya is everybody’s fantasy.” (Shaya also shouldn’t be referring to herself in third person.) I think Kristen (boyfriend-in-Iraq girl, who Jay thought had a mysterious European vibe) might’ve gone farther if she’d only worn her bangs down more at Top Model Prep. And also didn’t let her voice go up an octave at panel. But really, I’m mourning the loss of Jenna and her mystical Impala. I think we should all find a way to work ”Rims. Tint. System. Bumpin’. Fly. Flyyyy!” into conversations in her honor. I pity the person who asks me what all I’ve got on my to-do list today….

So now that you know where I stand, who are your early favorites? Who should go soon? And what do you think will happen in next week’s ”most shocking elimination ever”?

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America's Next Top Model

Tyra Banks searches for the next great supermodel
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