'America's Next Top Model' gets a facelift

2012-08-24T00:00:00Z 'America's Next Top Model' gets a faceliftBY GAIL PENNINGTON • Post-Dispatch Television Critic • gpennington@post-dispatch.com stltoday.com

The CW network is only 6 years old. So how in the world is "America's Next Top Model" going on 19?

For one thing, "Top Model" got a head start, launching in 2003 on UPN, which joined the WB to become the new CW in 2006. But also, the show ages in "cycles," which (like dog years) require mathematical conversion. So the new season, arriving tonight, is Cycle 19.

Most important of all in its longevity is the fact that "Top Model," although low rated in the grand scheme of TV, is one of the CW's most-watched shows, trailing only "The Vampire Diaires" during the 2011-12 season. The modeling competition is also much-watched online and attracts many heavily invested fans, with 6.2 million "likes" on Facebook.

The new cycle is dubbed "College Edition," but a more accurate subtitle might be "Facelift Edition." Series mastermind Tyra Banks (who has more than 7 million Twitter followers) has nipped and tucked and nipped again, dumping her whole team, including judge-photographer Nigel Barker, photo-shoot consultant Jay Manuel and runway trainer J. Alexander (who'd previously been bumped from the judging panel).

The newest and sharpest-tongued judge, fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone, remains, joined by boxer/model Rob Evans — and of course Banks herself. Stylist Johnny Wujek is billed as the show's new creative consultant, and dancer-choreographer Jonte is the "movement mentor," who'll help the models with such details as charisma.

The season's theme is also all about Banks. Honoring herself for graduating from Harvard Business School, she declares it a "College Edition," although the 13 contestants don't have to have attended traditional college. (Beauty school qualifies.)

In a change aimed at bringing "Top Model" in line with other reality-competition, audience voting was instituted this season.

Banks calls the home audience "the fourth judge" for the new season, but if you're in the audience at home, you can't vote, because the entire season has wrapped. And many viewers might not have known about the voting at all; fans were targeted, rather than the public in general, to avoid turning the competition into a popularity contest, she said.

The timeline regarding the voting is more complicated than NBC's time-shifted Olympics. Starting in May, fans were asked to vote online, via Twitter and Facebook and the show's website, based on the contestants' performance in posted photo shoots. The judges supposedly used the scores to decide who stayed and who went.

Also based on the voting, women who were eliminated had a chance to re-enter the competition. None of this will be completely clear until the season gets under way.

As usual, the winner gets the big prize: $100,000, a contract with LA/NY models and a guaranteed spot in two advertising campaigns.

But this season, winning challenges along the way could also pay off. “Every time they win a challenge, they get $10,000 in scholarship money," Banks said last month at a CBS-CW-Showtime party in Los Angeles. Don't get too excited yet, ladies; only the ultimate winner gets that extra money, which could add up to an additional $120,000, Banks explained.

As for the loss of Barker — one reason some viewers still watched after all these cycles — Banks acted as if she hadn't fired him, saying she was happy he'd moved on to "The Face," a new show on Oxygen, and wishing him success.

At the CW party, Banks credited the overhaul to her new education.

"I look at the show how my curriculum was at Harvard," she told "Access Hollywood" on the red carpet. "So I break down everything. ... It's not just like, 'Oh! What can we do?' It's like, 'What is our true strategy for this?' Harvard totally changed 'Top Model' upside down."


'AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODEL: COLLEGE EDITION'

When 8 p.m. Friday • Where The CW • More info cwtv.com/shows/americas-next-top-model

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Gail Pennington

Gail Pennington

Post-Dispatch television critic Gail Pennington watches bad TV so you don't have to. Visit Tube Talk for news, schmooze and occasional rants about everything television.

Every Monday, watch for Gail's Tube Talk video report. And find more news from Gail at facebook.com/tubetalkpd and twitter.com/gailpennington.

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