The three remaining girls who aren't still in the running to become America's Next Top Model? Tyra isn't saying, but we are

By Michael Slezak
Updated October 18, 2007 at 06:54 PM EDT

America's Next Top Model

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”America’s Next Top Model” recap: On the brink

There are nine beautiful(ish) girls standing before us. But only one of them will be named America’s Next Top Model. And just five weeks into the season, I’d bet the price of a busted Ken Paves wig that her name isn’t Sarah, Ambreal, or Ebony. If you really turned up the pressure — say, threatened to lock me in an Old Navy dressing room for three days with Benny Ninja until I took a stand — I’d guess Bianca, Chantal, and Saleisha don’t stand much chance of cracking the final two, either.

Wait a minute. Did I just make a premature prediction that Jenah, Lisa, and Heather will be the last three women duking it out for the cycle 9 crown? You betcha. But before you call me out on my hubris, consider this: Everything I needed to know to make my forecast I learned on last night’s episode. So without further ado, in the wake of Janet’s ouster, here’s how I evaluate the remaining contestants’ chances:

The Long Shots

Rule No. 1 on Top Model: The plus-size girl never wins. (Actually, maybe that’s Rule No. 2 — right behind ”Tyra will utilize a variety of dramatic pauses at panel.”) So Sarah’s Top Model fate is looking as depressing as the bulky houndstooth cape she was forced to work during last night’s rooftop photo shoot. Not even if the producers had tossed a mustard-and-black duvet over the woman’s head could they have better signaled their eagerness to see her fail.

Still, Sarah (who reminds me of a younger, less spunky Marg Helgenberger) did herself no favors with her lethargic posing. Mr. Jay’s horrified response to the way Sarah stood around imitating a carhop waitress – ”Is she serving hamburgers?” — was a comic highlight. Then again, how can we be sure if Sarah, or any of the contestants, knew the meaning of the term ”high-fashion gargoyle”? I’d bet there’s footage on theTop Model cutting-room floor of Chantal, Ebony, and Jenah, dazed and confused, asking each other, ”Garaga-who? Garga-what?”

Even though I’m pretty sure that musical-theater major Ambreal had no such vocabulary issues, it didn’t help at the photo shoot. Her face, as usual, froze into a slightly blank expression the minute she got on set, making me wish she’d succumbed to her fear of heights and continued sobbing the way she did when she arrived on the high-rise roof. (At least her film would’ve been different!) And what happened to the gracefulness that captivated Benny Ninja during the trampoline exercise? I’ve never seen a gargoyle walk like an Egyptian before, yet that’s precisely the gawky pose Ambreal struck in her best shot. After four different shoots, there’s no way anyone will ever convince me Ambreal is model material. I mean, given the head wrap and extensions she sported this week, she can’t even blame Tyra & Co. for saddling her with Barney Rubble hair at last week’s makeover session.

Ebony, on the other hand, delivered a fierce rooftop shot last night, though upon closer inspection, I’d say she’s lucky her black organza cape flew upward in the wind behind her; otherwise, the judges might have questioned whether a gargoyle would leave her left arm hanging lifelessly in the center of the frame. Yet even if she keeps delivering saucy photos, I suspect Ebony’s off-set demeanor will lead to her dismissal within the next few weeks. There’s one question I keep grappling with when it comes to Ebony: Is this girl really cheeky or simply dim-witted? Every time Tyra offers her some advice, Ebony reacts the same way: with a dismissive smile and a ”thank you” that borders on disdainful. Or then again, does it?

Watching Ebony bounce around like a crazy kid during the trampoline exercise last night, or pout like a fourth grader while attempting to express sorrow during the ice-rink competition, it’s clear she possesses an innate sweetness that’s occasionally mixed with embarrassment and insecurity. I actually felt bad for Ebony when Tyra encouraged her to smile openly and show her gums, then condescendingly lauded her with a ”There you go!” that seemed to translate as ”Ohhhh! Your gums are too big!” And big gums plus on-camera awkwardness equals early dismissal. Indeed, I’d be surprised if Ebony outlasts any of the…

Middle of the Pack

Indeed, Saleisha, Chantal, and Bianca all have their strengths, and maybe one of them could surprise me and crack the final three, but each one has what I think is a fatal flaw that will prevent her from taking home the top prize.

There’s no arguing that Saleisha’s a beautiful woman, but on the flip side, she has yet to take a truly memorable photo, and she’s been saddled with a weave so heavy and ornery she might as well be dragging an anvil to every shoot. Plus, other than being the recipient of Bianca’s ”Check your thighs in the mirror — and I’m done!” insult, Saleisha hasn’t made much of an impression from a personality standpoint. (Then again, that didn’t prevent the judges from giving Naima and Nicole the crown in previous seasons.)

Chantal, meanwhile, has a different problem. She knows how to bring a photograph to life — though this week’s shot was more Swedish dominatrix than gargoyle — but every time she opens her mouth and offers some banal sound bite, I die a little bit on the inside. Plus, the way girlfriend expressed joy during the ice challenge reminded me of an overeager kid baring her teeth for a third-grade class photo.

Oh, and speaking of bared teeth, ain’t no way a hardened she-beast like Bianca is going to win this competition. Yeah, they might let her sneak into the top three if she learns to consistently deliver photos like this week’s, where her ethereal expression and endless gams made for a killer combination, but as with cycle 5’s Bre, I don’t think Bianca is capable of fighting back the crazy for another seven or eight weeks.

The way Bianca tried to rain on Lisa’s post-fashion-shoot parade by asking, ”Is that makeup making you break out?” was a showcase for her pettiness, ugliness, and insecurity. I always wonder if, as Top Modelis shooting each season, the resident shrew is aware of her role and merely trying to buy a few extra weeks by stirring up drama, or if she’s blissfully ignorant of how she’ll be edited, making vicious remarks but still fully expecting to win the hearts of Tyra, Twiggy, Nigel, and Miss J.

Since that seems unlikely to happen, I think it’s going to come down to…

NEXT: Dissing match

The Front-Runners

Lisa (too insecure), Heather (too awkward), and Jenah (America’s Most Broke-Down Weave) all have their problems to overcome, but we know by now that Tyra likes to view the competition as an emotional journey just as much as a photographic one.

Of the fearsome threesome, Jenah secured her spot as my least favorite by openly dissing Lisa in the eco-van after the ice-skating challenge. Frankly, all the ladies should’ve been toasting each other for (a) not taking face dives into the rink and (b) not submitting to the near mythical sexual magnetism of pro skater Lloyd Eisler and his magical chin patch. Seriously! The last time this dude appeared on a reality TV show (Fox’s Skating With Celebrities, a D-list romantic imbroglio ensued. With all his talk of ”The boy is the frame, you are the picture,” Twiggy had better watch herself!

In all seriousness, though — actually, no, scratch that. One should never be too serious when discussingTop Model — or the thing that Tyra decided should be sewn to Jenah’s head. It looks like the dirty old mop you sometimes see sitting abandoned in the back corner of a diner, right next to one of those rolling buckets of stank, gray water. And you just wish the nice waitress or the busboy or anyone really would take it out of your line of vision and tuck it away in the dank closet where it belongs. Or better still, toss it out in the Dumpster in the back alley, then head to Target to buy a new one. Because it’s really, truly revolting, and it’s making you not want to finish your fries. And you love diner fries.

That about sums up Jenah’s hair. I loved how Tyra admitted last week that the weave needed help, then this week accused poor Jenah of coming to panel looking raggedy. Still, in spite of her tresses, and a bulky black jacket that left her looking a little linebacker-y, Jenah managed to take a decent photo, even if she looked a lot like Sarah’s long-lost twin.

That said, she couldn’t touch Lisa’s dramatic shot this week, which was a triumph of wide stance, facial ferocity, and ugly-beautiful. Truly, Lisa’s was the only photo that in any way evoked ”gal-goyle,” and combined with her performance at the skating competition, it put my early favorite back at the head of the pack. I just wish there had been a photographer in the room when Lisa vented to Saleisha about their fellow contestants’ cattiness. The look on her face when she snapped, ”Don’t say bye to me either, ’cause I’ll be like, ‘Psst! Bye!”’ was the stuff that Vogue covers are made of. At least in my dreams.

Lisa’s only misstep this week was her thoroughly unconvincing expression of surprise when Tyra called her name first at panel. Well, that, plus her tearful ”A lot of girls wish I wasn’t here” meltdown to the judges. C’mon, Lisa! You made your living as a bikini dancer! I know you have only one percent body fat, but toughen up!

Who’d a thunk she could get self-confidence lessons from Heather, who’s suddenly kicking back on the deck, offering public evaluations of the other girls’ weaknesses, and once again delivering a memorable (profile) shot? If Heather wants to remain an ”interesting character” (to the producers), she’ll need at least one more emotional setback between now and the final three, but at this point, I’m not seeing an early exit for her — at least not based on her modeling skills.

Episode Recaps

Which three ladies are you envisioning in the final three? Were the rest of you as alarmed as me by leotards-over-bones visuals during the trampoline excursion? Were you howling at Tyra’s all-too-serious imitation of Bianca’s ”open squint”? And what about adorable but not terribly model-esque Janet, whoseTop Model high point, an Akademiks shoot alongside the still fabulous Dani, was sullied by that bolero-hooker getup they forced her to wear?

America's Next Top Model

Tyra Banks searches for the next great supermodel
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