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Countdown to 'America's Next Top Model': Four, three, two...

November 12, 2009 |  7:17 am
TM1311a_0241b This is the first time Tyra has ever done an "America's Next Top Model" cycle especially for the shorties. And with the next cycle returning to the 5-foot-8-or-taller requirement, this may be the last. Which gals will make it to the walk-off, and which ones will lose the chance of a lifetime? It’s clear from this week's episode that the contestants knew what’s at stake if they didn't bring the fierceness.

This week’s challenges really tested all the skills they’ve learned so far. The first challenge was all about movement: The contestants had to learn a hula/hip-hop fusion dance routine. They were then tested on their ability to model with multiple distractions: barefoot on jagged volcanic rock with waves crashing behind them. Oh, and, by the way, they also had the added pressure of knowing that this week, two of them would be going home. So how did the women fare this week?

Nicole: Despite the lack of social grace and low self-esteem with which she came into the competition, Nicole has been consistently blowing the judges away. Will this be her first stumble?

If you remember the Benny Ninja challenge, dance is not Nicole’s strong suit. Guess what? She hasn’t gotten any better. Offbeat and unable to remember the dance moves, she looked like a fish out of water, flip-flopping like she was struggling for air. I wanted Miss J to throw her back in and put her out of her misery. Of course, instead of saving the girl from further embarrassment, Miss J proceeded to mimic her by doing the entire routine just as she had. Oh, Miss J, you’re a mean queen.

In the final photo shoot, Nicole made up for botching the dance challenge...

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Nicole has shown she can bounce back from anything. Unlike other girls who let a bad performance throw them off-kilter for the entire episode, Nicole just lets it all go.

Jennifer: She has won our hearts with her infectious personality. In spite of the complications of an illness that weakens the muscles in her left eye, she has rarely shown a soft spot in her armor. Can she keep her eye on the prize?

TM1311b_0143b In the dance challenge, she definitely held her own. The only problem was that she lacked a certain oomph in her performance. At the same time, she remembered to look like a model while doing it. For that, I ain’t mad at her.

The strange thing was that when it came to the actual modeling challenge, her concentration was lost in the multiple elements of the shoot. She was working so hard to extend her legs by standing on her tiptoes and creating movement in her dress while timing her poses to the waves that she forgot to look pretty. In the end, we were left with a picture of a girl who looked like she had too much on her plate, not a model.

Laura: She has had her ups and downs in this cycle. Her country style and farmyard accent has kept her from inspiring the judges at panel, but she invokes supermodel-level beauty in front of the camera. Will she be able to continue delivering under the pressure?

Surprisingly, Laura hit the jackpot with her hula/hip-hop routine. She shook her hips with abandon and really worked her curves in the hip-hop sections. What really made the difference for me was that she decided to get over the difficulties she had in rehearsals and just have fun with it. Each girl had to do a spotlight dance in which they used the language of hula to tell a story. In her spotlight dance, she was the only one who seemed to relay her journey from cowgirl to “cover girl” effectively. She ultimately won the first challenge. Who knew she had all that booty-shake in her?

In the final challenge photo shoot, Laura lost all the momentum of her win. Can I just mention, though, that she looked like a million bucks. I almost didn’t recognize her. As the judging panel later pointed out, Laura looked like supermodel Rachel Hunter (or at least her mini-me). With all that going into the shoot, you’d expect Laura to have the confidence to bring the fierceness as well. Instead, she seemed off-balance on that rock and kept awkwardly lifting her leg. News flash, Laura: Lifting your leg like that isn't cute.

Erin: In the beginning, she was a powerhouse. As the competition progressed, she seemed to have a power outage. Three weeks in a row, Erin has found herself in the bottom two. This week she knew that for some reason, the judges were keeping her around, but even that couldn’t save her if she was in the bottom two again with this week's double elimination.

A former cheerleader, Erin had no problem keeping up with the dance routine. And weren’t you shocked when she (albeit annoyingly) tried to help the other girls learn the routine? As the last “mean girl” standing, she garnered some good karma points for helping them out. The problem with her is that she has a hard time channeling her energy into the challenges. In her spotlight dance, she was trying to tell a story of sadness and fear. Instead, she just looked angry. Erin needs to find a way to put the “cheer” back in “cheerleader,” and quickly.

TM1311_P2_NIC_REV1 I definitely think Erin has been saved from elimination in previous weeks partly because she has won multiple first challenges. I think this leads the judges to believe she must have some “Top Model” potential. This week, though, she didn’t have that win under her belt and she knew that left her especially open to elimination. She approached the photo shoot with the same angry look, though, thinking that would make her appear more like a powerful goddess. The problem was that she was already perfectly styled for the role. Her light hair, pale skin and gorgeous white dress made her look celestial. The snarl she wore on her face did not. After Jay Manuel and the photographer asked her to lighten up her mood, she began singing a pop song in her head. That instantly lifted the anger from her face. That ability to adapt to the circumstances is what makes Nicole the success that she is. It was great that Erin finally grasped the skill, but was it too late?

So, who goes?
I’m pretty sure Seventeen magazine Editor-in-Chief Ann Shoket joined the panel because she wasn’t about to let six pages of her magazine go without squeezing in a bit more camera time and have a say in this week’s double elimination. While I was disappointed with Tyra’s choice of Nicole’s final picture (there were definitely better ones from the shoot), she easily won the first finalist spot. It was now down to Laura, Jennifer and Erin. Out of those three, I think Erin had the best picture this week. I’m not sure, of course, but I think the judges looked at the contestants’ overall performances in making their final decision. In the end, the judges picked Laura to battle it out with Nicole for the title. They felt that despite the way she presents herself in person, Laura had shown a lot of versatility in her pictures week after week.

Between Laura and Nicole, I’m going to have to go with my girl, Nicole, for the ultimate win. She has not only performed well the entire season, but I’ve had a blast watching her awkwardly maneuver through the competition and still stay on top.

Do you think the judges got it right this week? Who do you think is going to be “America’s Next Top Model”?

-- Jethro Nededog (follow me on Twitter @TheRealJethro)

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Updated: Wanna be on ‘Top’? ‘Top Model’ judge Miss J’s new book may tell you how
‘America’s Next Top Model’: Mind over splatter
All ‘America’s Next Top Model’ coverage on Show Tracker

Photos: From top, the final four girls (from left, Jennifer, Erin, Laura and Nicole) learn some hip-hop hula moves on “America's Next Top Model”; Jennifer enjoys a moment of levity before the shoot; Nicole’s winning photo on “America’s Next Top Model.”

Credit: The CW

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