In the season finale, ''full-figured'' Whitney's earthy appeal beats Anya's airy beauty

By Mandi Bierly
Updated May 15, 2008 at 11:56 PM EDT

You’ve got to hand it to the judges: After they spent 12 television hours touting her onAmerica’s Next Top Model as a plus-size model, Tyra finally decided last night to inform us that the correct term is ”full figured,” while Paulina insisted that the only label that size-10 Whitney should ever bear is ”beautiful.” Better late than never? Here’s what I’ll say: For the first time, I’m actually looking forward to the winner’s weekly ”My Life as a CoverGirl” spots next season. Will labels be as supportive of the average-size woman when there’s not a guaranteed audience? We’ll find out.

In my opinion, Whitney owes her win to a truly stunning CoverGirl beauty shot — the second part of a TV-commercial and print-ad challenge. Why? Whichever girl was crowned ”top model” was clearly gonna have to reshoot her CoverGirl commercial (no one, as shown at panel, had a single flawless take). What was locked in stone was that one winning beauty shot — which will be used in a national print ad, displays in Wal-Mart, and a Times Square billboard. Whitney’s was the only one to receive universal praise, and as Paulina said, it was her ”first flash of brilliance, and very timely.” (I’m winking at you, Paulina.) Even though Tyra liked Anya’s photo, which somehow made her unrecognizable to me, Miss J. definitely did not: ”You take great pictures, but sometimes there’s just no personality and no character there.” Neither did Paulina, who made an uncharacteristic attempt to soften her dream-crushing blow: ”Even though you’re beautiful, and I love the way you look, and I’ve gotten to know you a little bit more as a person, too…here, you look stupid.” They’ve got to have Paulina back as a judge next season because she is gold, as was her response to Tyra’s request for clarification on her use of the word ”stupid”: ”She looks like she’s dreaming about fields and pastures.” (Tyra’s retort, I’ll admit, also made me laugh: ”I wasn’t thinking about a damn thing when I was modeling. I was just like, I’m hungry. Is Houston’s open? Did my boyfriend call me? No, he didn’t.”) Paulina wasn’t any kinder critiquing Fatima’s pretty shot, where she looked into the light, and you know Paulina hates that: ”It’s a little bit like ‘I’ve sighted God, and I’m happy to see him.’ ” Tyra, meanwhile, broke out the old ”you have to learn to smile with your eyes” chestnut, complete with a quick tutorial. Not to cry conspiracy, but didn’t we hear the photographer tell Fatima she needed to move her line of vision to different heights? Perhaps, in classic Fatima mode, she didn’t listen to him, and that’s why she got stuck with the amateur-hour photo. Anya, on the other hand, appeared to give the photographer a variety of poses, so I’m not sure why she got saddled with her eyes-to-heaven clunker.

NEXT: Baddest Chicks Club

Judging the CoverGirl print and commercial shoots together, Anya and Whitney rightfully earned their Tyra-given spots in the final two. In her LashBlast commercial, Fatima looked easy and breezy, but spoke too fast. (”Her lookin’ so perfect, coupled with her being robotic,” Mr. Jay had said, ”made her look a little not human.” ”If that was a toothpaste ad,” said Nigel, ”it would be fantastic.”) Anya was so nervous and overwhelmed by being in Tyra’s ”Top Three Baddest Chicks Club” that she broke down in tears in the makeup chair. She couldn’t pronounce arrivederci, but damn if she wasn’t saved by her natural charm and a well-timed gust of wind through her hair. (Paulina said it best: ”She has moments where it’s convincing and where it’s honest. All together, yeah, it’s a total wreck. But in little installments…”) Whitney’s take was well-received on set, but I have to agree with Paulina that it was still a little too Miss America: ”And yes, I will feed poor orphans right after I have done this lash.” Still, a larger-than-life presence is better than an artificial one. (Though seriously, who would sound natural telling someone she’s ”on a get-noticed lash blast”?)

I was more than ready for Fatima’s tearful goodbye — I didn’t need to be told again how much I should relate to her. (But of course, I’m happy she’s been so empowered by the experience and hope she inspires others.) So, on to the final two segments of the competition. First came Whitney’s and Anya’s blink-and-you-missed-them Seventeen magazine cover shoots, photographed by Nigel, in front of the largest American flag I’ve seen since I went to a PBR (Professional Bull Riders) event at Madison Square Garden and they dropped one from the ceiling to the dirt floor. They flashed three mock covers for each model (for the July issue of Seventeen), and after hitting the pause button, I’d have to give this round to Whitney. When she’s on, she has such a beautiful, expressive face. Again, she picked the right time to shine.

NEXT: Stomp it to death

The next round was billed as one of the most extravagant fashion shows in Top Model history. Whitney and Anya joined other models, including cycle 9 winner Saleisha, in a Versace runway show. The two wore gowns handpicked for them by Donatella herself. It felt as if it had been forever since we saw them walk, didn’t it? I don’t know if Anya was rusty, or scared, or simply unable to ”stomp it to death” wearing the sartorial equivalent of Saran Wrap — probably all three — but she was a major disappointment. Her first look was a long chocolate gown with a train that I thought for sure she’d trip on when she turned. But she didn’t. Her second gown was an even tighter, silver-sequined number inexplicably paired with white shoes. I’ll second Miss J.’s performance review: ”You didn’t bring it as strong as you could have. You didn’t bring it as strong as you should have.” But unlike him, I do believe he should have twisted his ”little black ass” off and showed us how you walk elegantly in a narrow-bottom dress. In fact, I think that’s something Anya should’ve been taught before she ever walked out onto a runway in one. Then maybe she wouldn’t have moved like a windup toy.

Whitney’s walk also seemed a bit worse for no wear. She was a mediocre 6.5 on my hip-shake Richter scale — and that’s too high for a fashion show but not high enough to be compared to an early Tyra, who made her mark by swaying a little too much. (That clip they showed of her from 1992 was a perfect 10.) In Whitney’s first look, the ”first-ever juicy booty” to make it onto the finale runway wore a form-fitting nude (or pink or peach, you tell me) gown. One of her straps fell off her shoulder, which in my mind, equals shoddy production values. Her second look was a sweet pink dress, short in front and long and flowy in back. Kinda the sartorial equivalent of a mullet, only supercute. The gown kept getting caught in her shoes, which produced a sassy, albeit unsuccessful, kick following a turn. You could tell Whitney felt good in the gown because she was flashing some serious ”f— me” eyes. Miss J. said she delivered, but Tyra noted that Whitney didn’t pose at the end of the catwalk to give the photographers their money shot.

NEXT: Bedroom or showroom

After we took the requisite look back at a few noteworthy photos from the season — I see homeless and grunge Whitney! paparazzi-stalked Anya! crazy Tyra pretending to birth a fetus! — the judges deliberated for the final time. It came down to luminescent Anya’s high-fashion angles versus Whitney’s powerful and energetic presence, which could translate into any medium if her tough-skinned facade softens enough to allow her to genuinely connect with other people and the characters she’s asked to embody. Paulina made an excellent observation: ”I think Whitney’s the one that a man would want to have in his bedroom, but Anya is the one that you will buy the dress from.” That sounds like an endorsement for Anya, but as much as this show says it’s looking for the next high-fashion model, it’s partnered with CoverGirl and Seventeen, which are not high fashion. And Whitney rocked their shoots. She also proved that she could rally back from that confusing psychobabble that Tyra spewed at her in the penultimate panel. And she’s hot. So, I congratulate her on her win, and I hope she’s able to be the role model she’s setting out to be. I also congratulate Anya for going out with the same grace and kind heart she’s shown throughout the competition. I hope the success she deserves finds her.

So do you think Whitney deserved to win cycle 10, and can she help stretch America’s narrow views on beauty? Isn’t it kind of weird to do a beauty shot in black and white? (Or was that ad just for mascara, in which case, well done.) Why did all the models have to clap during the finale of the Versace runway show? Is it possible we’ve found a body part that Miss J. doesn’t like to see looking ”busted”? (Anya’s nose) And how subtle was Tyra’s jab at CoverGirl for hiring actresses to model in its commercials? (I still love you, Drew Barrymore, even if you pose in a way that loses your neck.)

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