Model Madness

Tyra Banks of America's Next Top ModelIt seems like modeling shows are everywhere these days. VH1 has The Agency, Oxygen has The Janice Dickenson Modeling Agency, and America’s Next Top Model has mutated into both another Tyra-centric season and a Australian spin-off, airing on VH1. So which of these shows are actually worth watching for the trashy reality fan?

VH1 seems to be the new home for model shows, airing The Agency, the Australian version of Top Model and marathon block reruns of the original Top Model. Sadly, every day can’t be Christmas and not all of these shows are worth checking out.

The Agency failed to impress me because I completely lost interest in everyone involved after a few minutes. There’s the bitchy lady with an accent, the guy who yells at people, and tons of stick-thin kids trying to break into the business. Still, nothing about that is inherently appealing when you consider what else is on tv. If I wanted to watch a guy tear down someone’s dreams, I have American Idol, who practically invented that formula. If I want to see someone make models cry and tell them they’re too fat to be in the business, I have the deliciously guilty pleasure of flipping over to Oxygen for The Janice Dickenson Modeling Agency.

Nothing on The Agency reinvents the wheel. It’s just another behind-the-scenes show about running a business, something already saturating tv. What The Agency lacks is any sort of major competition to play up the drama for tv. There are no challenges, no elimination segments, no bonus prizes. All we’re left with is some crazy people running around an office saying that the modeling industry is tough and we’re supposed to feel that’s competition enough to captivate us.

Australia’s Next Top Model is like an artificial sweetener that can’t quite match the flavor of real sugar. The pool of contestants lacks any kind of diversity, and I don’t mean just racially. All the girls look very similar, pose the same, walk the same, and act the same. It’s hard to pick a favorite when they all seem to be carbon copies of each other. Even host Erika Henyatz lacks the egomaniacal appeal of Tyra Banks, the H.B.I.C. on the original American version of the show. Henyatz is actually supportive of the girls, giving them advice, sympathizing with them, and not desperately trying every minute to shift the focus of the show from the competition to herself like Banks does every episode. Unfortunately, this makes the show lack the guilty pleasure factor. It loses the trashy reality title and just becomes another reality show about the modeling industry.

Oxygen’s The Janice Dickenson Modeling Agency, on the other hand, gives Top Model a run for it’s money in the guilty pleasure department. The show chronicles Janice Dickenson, self-proclaimed World’s First Supermodel, as she starts her own agency in California. It follows Dickenson as she recruits new models, brings in new clients, struggles to balance her more commercial models and her high-fashion division, gets into fights with her business partner, and tries to keep the agency’s head above water.

The show made the right move in focusing on the same set of models again and again because it establishes characters and favorites. You’re never staring at a line up of all new faces trying to decide whether you even care if these people land the job. Instead, you’re rooting for Stina, an exotic beauty who Dickenson has exceptionally high expectations for and constantly tears down. You’re feeling bad for Andrew when, despite his efforts, his best friend Chris keeps booking all the jobs instead. You’re even getting into the tension between the first season models and the new crop of pretty faces from season two.

While there’s no set competition, the show manages to succeed where The Agency fails because there is enough drama with Dickenson and the moody crop of models to carry the program through it’s seasons.

While Dickenson knocks it out of the park in the diva host department, there’s one guilty pleasure show that raises the bar for bitchiness. America’s Next Top Model is the OG of modeling shows.

When I think about all the modeling shows out there and what makes them succeed or stumble, the main factor is the people involved. Most of the shows follow the same formula. Hell, Australia’s Next Top Model is an exact clone, yet without the insane cast of characters, it just doesn’t hold a candle to the original. There is so much two-faced back stabbing, so much behind-the-back bitchiness, and so much drama in the house that there’s rarely a dull moment.

Especially interesting is the way the show shapes and develops it’s “characters”. In the beginning, the girls usually start out the same and Banks rules the roost with her all-about-me attitude. After a few more episodes, the claws come out and the girls start fighting in the house, tearing each other to shreds in their confessional interviews, and sabotaging each other during shoots.

This year bitchy torch has been passed to Renee, a 20-year-old stay-at-home mom from Maui. She put it best herself when asked by shoot director Jay Manuel why none of the other girls like her saying, “Because I’m a bitch.” Renee conducts herself with a bipolar demeanor that’s fascinating to watch. One minute, she’ll say that she wants to shed her bitchy image and start getting along with the other models. Then the next she’ll tell plus-sized contestant Whitney that there will never be a fat girl as the next top model or criticize Latina beauty Jaslene for being too perfect. The best part about Renee’s psychotic mood swings is the way they do nothing but reveal how jealous and insecure she truly is. It’s more transparent then when a five-year-old tells you they don’t know who drew in crayon all over the wall.

Still, even though contestants like Renee and Jael, a quirky punk rock girl, are fun to watch, the real reason Top Model is so much fun is because of Banks herself. As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t know that I’ll ever get tired of watching her spin every single subject into a Trya-centric rant about how fantastic she is or how much she has done for black women, modeling, the world, etc. She seems to think of herself as some kind of modeling Martin Luther King Jr.

The “inspiration” she offers to the girls consists of stories about herself and how she “overcame” her own struggles. All her tips involve striking a pose herself and then instructing, “Do it like me.” Even on episodes where she’s supposed to meet with the girls one-on-one for a cry-fest, she manages to turn their personal troubles into a story about how great she thinks she is. Witnessing her ego growing to epic proportions is absolutely astounding, and it’s hard to look away. It’s made especially fun because I keep wondering when one of the models will snap and say, “Could you stop talking about yourself for five minutes?!”

Top Model is the top of the line in guilty pleasure reality shows. It’s completely addictive, but you don’t want anyone to know you watch it. The very idea of tuning in and supporting Banks’ shrine to herself could turn anyone’s stomach, but the models, the photo shoots, and the tension of the competition are enough to keep anyone watching. It may only fuel her gargantuan ego, but Banks’ Top Model is definitely the best model show on tv.

Alexis Gentry

Alexis Gentry is the creator and editor of She has been called a “dynamic, talented and unique voice in pop culture” by Ben Lyons of E! and, with her strong fascination with entertainment and penchant for writing, it’s not hard to see why.

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