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‘America’s Next Top Model’ recap: Posin’ for Posen

October 27, 2010 | 10:07 pm


"America’s Next Top Model" isn’t usually a tear-jerker. The drama between housemates reeks of reality television setup, the challenges may be grueling but they’re rarely worth the tears contestants shed over them, and the models seem to exploit every detail of family turmoil and personal conflict to sway the sympathies of the judges. But this week, I felt a real sinking in the pit of my stomach — twice. 

First, there were the mean girls. The ever-adorable Zac Posen — who looks like either an extremely dapper Elijah Wood or far-less-sinister Chuck Bass — showed up at the Venice Beach condo to inform the models that they would be doing a runway show for his new line. Chelsey blushed, Kayla squealed, Ann looked really nervous. Not to mention that they were going to be working with a crop of professional models. And the kicker: Ms. Jay encouraged the pros to work their mean-girl nastiness at the wannabes to test their “endurance.” That’s when the women of ANTM started to crumble: Liz responded to the taunting by making faces, Chelsey ignored it, Chris sassed right back. And Ann collapsed in on herself like a failed soufflé.

Self-confidence has never been Ann’s strong suit, so the merest suggestion of failure from her colleagues made her tear up almost instantly. On the runway, she stumbled and stared ahead, transfixed. You could almost see her tiny inner reserves of self-esteem leak out.  Chelsey won by a hair, and the catty remarks were revealed as part of the challenge, but the damage was already done. 

Instead of a photo shoot, this week’s elimination challenge was a commercial shoot — which, again, boded ill for Ann, who’s photogenic as all get-out but pretty awful on the spokeswoman front. The women had to promote a fake energy drink while rollerskating and then kissing a guy — which sounds pretty much exactly like a recurring nightmare I had in third grade. Ann stuttered through her lines and tottered back and forth on the skates. Usually she recovers during the main challenge, but this week she was all knees, elbows and insecurity. Her eyes glistened while she tried to force a smile; Jay Manuel winced. Ann’s anxiety was almost painful to see. It was like watching Bambi try to walk on stilts.

And that wasn’t the only gut-wrencher: Kayla, who objected vehemently to the whole homo-normative segment of the commercial, had a heart-to-heart with Jay in which she revealed that she had been sexually abused as a child. It was a moment of real compassion from Jay and a genuine, end-of-a-sports-movie triumph when Kayla beat back her fears to skate out there and let a male model nuzzle her cheek. 

Jane and Chelsey were both unsteady on their skates, but made it through the commercial with a modicum of grace. Esther’s performance was lackluster, almost robotic, and Liz giggled nervously throughout the whole ordeal, annoying Nigel to no end. Chris — who had obviously been just waiting for the right moment to show off some serious skating skills — knocked the shoot out of the park, hammy infomercial style. 

So it was no surprise when Tyra awarded Chris the best photo of the week. Posen even proclaimed that he loved her buoyant energy (take that to the bank, Chris!). But is Chris really the new face of Vogus Italia? She seems more old-school "Top Model" than haute couture "Top Model" to me. In the end, Liz got a pass for her insubordination, but Ann’s paralysis and Esther’s underwhelming performance left them in the last two. It was a real shock for Ann, who heretofore hadn’t been chosen in the bottom half, let alone the bottom two. But predictably, it was Esther who got chopped. Next week begins the international portion of the cycle: Italy, bellisimas! Just imagine what Andre Leon Talley will wear in Milan. 

Tyra fashion watch: I liked her green number in the judging, but I’m really beginning to wonder if there’s a secret "Flashdance" tribute going on. Plus, Andre Leon Talley’s capes have begun to grow on me, though the one this week looked like a crumpled paper bag/Jedi high counselor's garb. 

Best quotes: 

“I felt nerves of steel; I should have felt nerves of chiffon” –- Andre Leon Talley, on Kayla

“Where’s the invisible string, Ann?” –- Zac Posen, willing Ann to up her reserves of self-regard

“Oh, fashion loves versatility. What fashion doesn’t like is blah.” -- Tyra

-- Margaret Eby

Photo: From left to right,  Kayla, Jane, Chris, Liz, Esther, Chelsey and Ann

Credit: Mathieu Young /The CW