In preseason interviews, Tyra has promised that cycle nineteen (for the record, that’s as many seasons as Friends and Seinfeld combined) would be very different, and she was certainly right. Some changes seem promising: The premise of a “college edition” could be interesting if it's not approached halfheartedly; the new judges and creative director have potential; and the show is returning to the simpler feel of its earliest seasons. The most overhyped change of all is that we, the audience, will be the fourth judge on the panel this cycle! Frustratingly, this change is so ill-conceived that it leaves me wondering whether the show will ever manage to be “on top" again. (More about this soon, but let's break down the episode first.)
The show opens with the clip of Tyra and P'Trique that's been inescapable online lately, and Tyra gets some credit for taking a step away from self-aggrandizement. She doesn't come swooping in as the Goddess of Fierce; instead, she's dressed simply (she gets goddess-caliber screams anyway), and goes right into introducing this season's judges. First up is my beloved Kelly Cutrone (any friend of Lauren Conrad's is a friend of mine), back for another season. Johnny Wujek (Katy Perry's longtime stylist) takes Jay Manuel's place as creative director, and his emphasis on building the girls' confidence is encouraging.
Model/boxer Rob Evans is taking Nigel Barker's place as a judge, and if Tyra's instagram and the show's promotional pictures are any indication, his presence means this season will feature female AND male objectification! Some of the things Rob brings to the table are immediately clear (accent, jawline), but he's only been modeling for two years, so it's not clear what else he may have to offer in terms of experience, aside from teaching the girls that being on time is important. Tyra also mentions Bryanboy's role on the panel; he'll convey social media's response to the show, which seems to consist of reading tweets aloud.
To determine which of the 30 finalists will make it to the competition, the girls have a walk-off on a runway that stretches over a pool in the backyard of a frat house (it's more wholesome-looking than it sounds, mainly because of the fancy landscaping and decidedly non-fratty looking pool), and then do a simple photo shoot against a white backdrop in swimsuit bottoms and their college T-shirts. Once the shoot is complete, the girls are taken to a lounge filled with couches and computers where they see their pictures posted to Facebook and begin cattily comparing them. So really, it is just like college.
The judges evaluate the girls individually, and first up is Laura. Johnny says she's dressed like a publicist. It's treated as a massive insult, which seems odd — most publicists are snappy dressers, for the most part. Tyra's solution is to dump a glass of water on the girl's head, so apparently it's better to look like you fell into a pool than to look like a publicist. MESSAGE RECEIVED, TYRA.
Other high points: There's Destiny, a compelling contestant who's broke enough to dumpster dive. A girl named Ivory (who doesn't make the final cut) pulls out her retainer to show off her fake tooth and then shoves her entire fist in her mouth. Jasmine meows — a lot. Kristin calls herself a "reformed mean girl," but then listens to Kelly's feedback with murder in her eyes. What's the smize equivalent of a death glare? And then there's Victoria, who takes online classes at the college founded by Jerry Falwell (students there can't even watch ANTM) and has never been around groups of girls. She'll probably be this season's go-to Confessional Weeper.
Over half of the initial 30 contestants are eliminated after the pool-walk, leaving thirteen behind. But more important, if you’re wondering how the much-vaunted audience participation portion of the show would work, since production wrapped in early July, you’re not alone. Apparently every girl in the season — even the eliminated ones — took part in each shoot, so that voting could happen over the summer without the winner being spoiled. Bryanboy will host webisodes featuring the eliminated girls, and one girl (possibly the one with the most audience votes?) will reenter the competition. This is massively confusing, and it’s weird to watch the show knowing that the “voter” audience saw the whole show months beforehand.
It's no secret that ANTM has struggled in the ratings lately, and, generally, it's easier to hold on to longtime viewers than it is to entice people who've never seen the show to watch. Facebook and Twitter were flooded last night with questions from fans about how they could vote for their favorites, complete with caps lock and excessive punctuation to demonstrate how excited they were to be the fourth judge. It seems like many of those fans could be alienated when they realize their chance to participate has passed. What's been hyped as the “new” twist that could save the show seems just as likely to destroy it. Who wants to watch other people's snarky webcam commentary when they can't submit their own? And since the pictures of every shoot all season are already available to view online, is it worth watching the show solely for the drama?