The models struggle with a regal makeup commercial, and Tyra sends a tear-stained Lisa home from China

By Michael Slezak
November 22, 2007 at 08:22 PM EST
Jim DeYonker
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And now for another episode of Sad but True: Every Wednesday afternoon I distract my coworkers Dawnie Walton and Annie Barrett by marching up to their desks, putting on my very best Tyra voice, and posing the Dramatic Question: ”Who? Will be eliminated tonight?” This ritual is a source of great amusement, or at least great procrastination, resulting in heated conversations about the relative merits of the remaining contestants on America’s Next Top Model. (Last week we all correctly guessed Ambreal, but then again, everyone but her parents saw that one coming.)

Anyhow, wouldn’t you know that after a season’s worth of completely predictable ousters, we’d end up getting a nail-biter of an episode smack dab on Thanksgiving Eve? Making matters worse — and in the interest of full disclosure — I was already scheduled to travel to my mom’s house Wednesday night, so I had to beg the folks at The CW to send me an advance copy of this week’s show in order to file my column early, and not miss the Thursday-afternoon tryptophanfest going down at my sister Debby’s. The only problem is, those paranoid CW publicists cut off the last five minutes! So now I’m writing this TV Watch without knowing the answer to my all-important weekly question. (That said, if my mother figures out how to work her VCR, I’ll log back on in the wee hours and weigh in with a PS about this week’s results.)

On the other hand, it’s kind of freeing to write this column without knowing which contestants will cause Miss J.’s afro to grow another inch next week. Unencumbered by the judges’ final verdict, here’s my take on the performance of the six remaining ladies, ranked from best to worst:

SALEISHA

Positives Unlike most of her competitors, Saleisha doesn’t need subtitles to be understood — maybe they taught enunciation at Camp Tyra? — and that’s a huge advantage, especially in light of the way Jaslene’s been lisping and stammering and trying to mute her accent during those unspeakable ”My Life as a Cover Girl” ads. (Side note: After last week’s Wal-Mart debacle, I’m pretending these spots simply do not exist.) Indeed, Saleisha’s CoverGirl spot was the only one that seemed remotely ready for prime time.

Negatives Setting aside the heinous mushroom Ken Paves sewed to her head, Saleisha’s photos always seem to warrant a B plus more than an A. I can’t believe I’m going to pull a Tyra here, but this week’s grinning, squinty-eyed photo said ”pretty girl” to me, and not ”model.”

Bottom line Saleisha’s got a sweet-but-no-pushover personality — remember her shouting match with Bianca earlier this season? — that the judges are likely to reward. And without any glaring flaws, she’s edging her way closer to the final three.

JENAH

Positives This week’s print-ad shot — head thrown back with abandon, eyes closed, arms reaching skyward — had the potential to be a hot mess, but it turned out gloriously. Indeed, Jenah uses her peculiar features to deliver top-notch photographs with such consistency that you can’t write her off as a fluke. The girl knows what she’s doing in front of the camera.

Negatives Granted, she’s been saddled with a weave so heinous it makes Saleisha’s look like it came from the pages of Vogue, but there’s really no excuse for Jenah to show open disdain for the judges. They were right, her TV commercial contained all the joy and energy of a prison laborer breaking up boulders in the sun. I loved how Nigel dismissed her with that ”okay, well, I won’t tell you again, then,” when Jenah lethargically shrugged that she understood his critique.

Bottom line Based on photos alone, Jenah has to be considered the front-runner, but it’s hard to ignore Tyra’s use of phrases like ”not sure she’s so invested in this competition.” Plus, as a reality-TV character, Jenah has all the freshness of month-old salad greens.

HEATHER

Positives After seeing Heather’s gorgeous, smiling, front-view shot, it finally struck me who she looks like: Once and Again star Ever Carradine. Not only does Heather take a fierce photograph, it’s hard to root against the season’s awkward beauty when she dorks out with ”hell, yeah!” excitement over things like this week’s martial-arts challenge.

Negatives It pained me to watch Heather struggle with her CoverGirl Queen Collection commercial because, when she’s not trying to memorize her lines, she’s actually pretty articulate.

Bottom line How can you not fall in love with Heather, who gave ”tough love” to Bianca during the chop-chop challenge? As for the whiny baby who cried when it looked like she might not get her own bed? Maybe Heather needed tough love back at her.

LISA

Positives Perhaps the Kool-Aid I drank five or six weeks ago is still in my system, but every week I get excited about Lisa’s photos in a way that I don’t with most of her competitors’. Look at this week’s CoverGirl photo: Lisa managed to look sweet and playful without losing the odd, angular edge that’s her calling card.

Negatives To paraphrase that ditty from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, sheeeee is the woman of constant sorrow. There hasn’t been a moment in the last two weeks when Lisa didn’t look ready to burst into tears. And while I imagine her years spent working the pole as a bikini dancer took a toll on her self-confidence, it’s time to get it together, or go back to the Shanghai hotel suite, immediately pack her belongings, and go home.

Bottom line I’m praying Lisa’s reached the bottom of a carefully edited ”woe is me” phase, but I’m betting her elimination will be the talk of tuned-in Thanksgiving tables everywhere.

NEXT: Holiday turkey

CHANTAL

Positives As Nigel said, it’s kinda cute when she crinkles her nose. But the same is true for pugs. And these gals aren’t competing for a spot on the cover of Dog Fancy.

Negatives I know, I know, she oozed with shiny, happy princessness during her CoverGirl commercial, but how come the judges didn’t call her on the utter vapidity of her delivery? Honestly, it’s one thing to remember your lines, and quite another to spit them out with all the enthusiasm of a telemarketer who’s reading EW.com in the middle of sales calls. Even worse, she was supposed to show her personal style for the photo shoot and came dressed, as Miss J. noted, like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

Bottom line Every fiber of my being says Chantal is going to finish fifth this season. There’s just not enough emotional heft to her ”OmigodIwannawinsobad [breathe] andIlovewearingdesignerlabelsandpretty [breathe] hair” journey to land in the final three.

BIANCA

Positives I guess her CoverGirl photo was cute, particularly the way she combined girl-next-door pretty with a twist of diva attitude.

Negatives Bianca’s description of her own behavior at the martial-arts event pretty much says it all: ”I wanna stay positive, but, okay, I’m Bianca, y’know. I gotta be me. I’m gonna get sour. And I was sour.” Well, that says it all, except it doesn’t quite touch on her vicious streak, punctuated by her hysterical laughter over Saleisha cruelly denying Heather a bed. Also, there’s Bianca’s brutal rejection of every second vowel. (Flubbermouth!) Oh, did I mention the girl never shuts up? It’s like having the Aflac duck serve as the official Greek chorus of cycle 9. She also looked totally bored during her commercial. Ugh.

Bottom line I’m not sure it’s a good rule, but the producers of this show seem to feel you can’t have Top Model without an attitude-throwing, sound-bite-spouting, drama-courting she-beast. Which means, even though I desperately want her to get the boot, Bianca probably has a couple more weeks left in her.

UPDATE: LATE WEDNESDAY NIGHT

Nooooo! Not Lisa! Okay, yeah, we all knew it was going to be Lisa. She wanted it too badly, and really, no matter what level of the fashion world you’re aiming for — Paris couture shows, Sports Illustratedswimsuit issue, local J.C. Penney circular — the ”I’m about to burst into tears” look isn’t really where it’s at. I guess, in the spirit of the season, I just wanted the sweet, insecure exotic dancer to get one more week of confidence underneath her, a week filled with fabulous go-sees and harsh judgment from Mr. Jay, Tyra, and various Chinese fashion houses. Then again, there’s one upside to not winning the Top Modeltitle: Lisa can gorge herself with holiday turkey, stuffing, and pie without fearing the harsh eye of Tyra. And if that’s not the definition of a happy Thanksgiving, I don’t know what is.

What did you think of this week’s elimination? And how about Heather’s little grin as she said goodbye to Lisa? Who’s your pick to win it all? And what was more screechingly jank: the girls’ made-up lines about being a queen or the awful annual graphic featuring the contestants’ faces slapped on the side of a cartoon plane?

Tyra Banks searches for the next great supermodel
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