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'America's Next Top Model': Goodbye L.A., aloha controversy

October 29, 2009 |  7:23 am
TM1309A_0241b Before I get into the details of the show, what kind of Show Tracker would I be if I didn’t address the controversy that has been brewing around this week’s “America’s Next Top Model”? In the final photo challenge, Tyra transformed each contestant into some combination of two nationalities and the media have called foul. I know. It’s not even sweeps week, Tyra!

All kidding aside, the media have been buzzing over this all week. From the looks of some of the articles, they hadn’t even seen the show and jumped to calling the shoot “blackface.” What a loaded term!

Unlike our culture here in the States, which still obviously shows major discomfort when it comes to race, even as we currently have a mixed-race president, some cultures actually celebrate the beauty of difference. I’m quite familiar with the term “hapa,” which Tyra used as her inspiration for this week’s final photo shoot. My mother is half Italian American and half Filipino while my father is from Guam, a Pacific Island and American territory.  We actually lived for some years in Hawaii where the term, as Ms. Tyra explained, is used frequently to describe people of mixed race. In the Pacific Islands, the term doesn’t carry anywhere near the kind of baggage that “blackface” does in the continental U.S.

On the other hand, I’m not naïve enough to think that Tyra’s transformation of the contestants’ skin color in a TV show doesn’t contain some similarities to the idea of performing in “blackface." I just choose to believe that by styling the ladies as they did in this photo shoot, Tyra and the producers sought to celebrate the beauty of mixed-race people, not to stir up the obvious racial prejudices that some of my media colleagues were so quick to invoke this week.

What do you think? Sound off below with your thoughts. With that out of the way, let's get back to the show.

Even though Rae left us last week, her influence in the house has remained. The women seem to be finally getting along, except for Brittany. She just can’t seem to loosen up like the other girls have. That will come back to haunt her.

As the girls arrived home after last week’s elimination...

They were welcomed by hazard tape and men in hazmat suits. Inside the house stood Tyra amid the mess that the girls called their home. Though Tyra has a penchant for overdramatization, she was definitely justified in condemning that place. It made frat houses look like five-star hotels. After announcing that the girls would have to move, she revealed that their backyard had been transformed into a Hawaiian wonderland. Guess where the girls are going?

In Hawaii, the contestants met up with petite model/surfer Sofia Beschen and former Tommy Hilfiger model/surfer Buzzy Kerbox for surfing lessons. What a surprise when Jay Manuel showed up with their challenge: modeling while surfing. I have to say that it was pretty impressive that the ladies could even stand up on their boards let alone strike a pose for the camera. All of them looked awkward, but the contest came down to Brittany’s ability to stand up straight and Erin, who actually found a way to stay on the board while posing with angles. Erin won a helicopter ride around the island and surprisingly took Brittany and Nicole, who I think were just the first two she saw when she turned around. After the trip, 18-year-old Erin complained, “It wasn’t like winning a tangible prize like dinner or jewelry.…” Someone should tell her how much a helicopter ride costs.

The next day, the women met Jay standing in a sugar-cane field for the infamous “hapa” photo challenge. Just as he was going to introduce the photographer, Tyra came out of the stalks carrying a stalk that looked like she hacked it off with the sheer power of “smize.” As she and Jay explained the race-crossing challenge, she annoyingly chewed on bits of sugar cane. Dang, girl, couldn’t you have waited until the cameras stopped rolling?

TM1309_P18_NIC_REV1 Now, I know the controversy this week was all about the race-bending. I was more baffled by Tyra’s random choice of nationalities in which the girls would portray. It was almost like she was just making it up on the spot. “Erin, you’re going to be Tibetan like the Dalai Lama and [pause, then crazy arms] Egyptian!” Okay, so I was kind of  offended by this week’s styling. Tyra, you did not just give Mrs. Roper’s muumuu to Moroccan/Russian Sundai! But Tyra did explain: “Every outfit is not necessarily what people of that culture are wearing now. It may not even be something they wore in the past. It’s a fashion interpretation.” OK, totally makes sense now.

During the shoot, most of the girls took a while to get used to all the inappropriate clothing and head-to-toe makeup. Nicole, though, seemed to wear her Japanese/Malagasy character like a second skin. I’ve come to believe that Nicole is sort of like a chameleon with her ability to adapt easily to each photo shoot. Brittany looked stiff, though, in her Native American headdress, and Erin just seemed scared of Tyra the entire time.

Supermodel Kirsty Hume joined the judging panel this week and helped name Nicole the challenge winner. Erin and Brittany made up the bottom two. I think that even though Erin should have mastered her “smize” by now, Brittany finally bored the judges enough to send her home.

Erin seems to be skating by on winning the earlier challenges. What do you think her chances will be next week when the models are schooled in the art of bikini modeling?

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


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Photos, from top: The contestants move to Hawaii on "America's Next Top Model." Credit: Ryan Goble / The CW; Yep, that's really Nicole in her winning photo on "America's Next Top Model." Credit: Tyra Banks / Pottle Productions Inc