Monday, May 18, 2009

America’s Vs Britain’s Next Top Fashion Model

The Tyra Banks franchise’s current series has just reached its sorry end in America, whilst the UK version is finding its fifth’s ‘cycle’s’ feet at present. For some reason, instead of calling them seasons, or series, they refer to every new showing as a ‘cycle’.It’s a weird turn of phrase as there’s nothing rotary about the process. If it was cyclic, surely the models would end up anonymous again, back where they started, come the season finale?

I never did quite understand that.

Watching the British version whilst simultaneously digesting the original has been a disconcerting experience. After so many years, the Americans have evolved theirs into a super-slick, rapid-fire beast in which every non task-based scene is heavily scripted and edited within an inch of its life - and the presence of cameramen in their penthouse in the ‘reality’ sections suggest there are a few prepared lines going on there too. In contrast, the British version is a cheap and frail little runt-sister, desperately trying to emulate its successful sibling and failing time and time again.

So - a closer look at what marks the differences between the UK show and its well-oiled originator. And time to mark them out of ten, because then this piece will at least have some direction.
The Host

As mentioned, Banks heads up the US version. For someone like me who comes to the show blind, only vaguely aware of her persona over the Atlantic, Tyra Banks is simply an infuriating, self-obsessed berk with hair that continues to astonish. Her weave seems to become wavier and wavier as time goes on and by episode ten her wig looks like hawk-wings protruding from her temples, giving her the ethereal, goddess-like frame she desires. And she is actually treated as a deity on the show, blasting out leaden, self-crafted soundbites of pure turd - every one consumed by the starving models as though the word of God was being channeled through a past-it swimsuit model in an overlit studio.

‘Smile with your eyes’ she implores endlessly whilst demonstrating the move, pulling the expression of a cat that’s being rectally examined.

On our side of the pond, we get off lightly. Lisa Snowdon is irritating, but only in that she attempts to emulate Banks whilst incorporating a matey, ladette-show into the act. The effect, whilst painful to watch, is nowhere near as fist-clenchingly nauseating as Banks’ gurn-show. Snowdon is also adored by the models - but in a bizarrely regal way rather than as an omniscient being. This is just about acceptable.

The Judges

This ‘cycle’, the UK version has a new recruit in the mind-scarring shape of Louis Mariette. Presumably the producers saw that The X Factor had a ‘Louis’ on board and decided that anybody camp who was named Louis would fit the Louis bill. The problem is that Mariette is as feeble-tongued as he is extravagantly flamboyant. He may walk the walk, in the most camp manner possible, but he can’t ejaculate the kind of bullshit that riddles the Top Model universe. And that’s disastrous for the show.

On the other hand, Huggy Ragnarrson, the ‘top photographer’ (with the tiny ‘folio, going by the same three shots they show weekly) more than makes up for his lack of presence. With her swaying lower jaw that seems to dangle on a hanger below her shrivelled head alongside those dry-pea eyeballs, she looks she’s melting. And she’s a right bitch.

In the US Banks takes a bit of a backseat and has ‘Miss Jay Alexander’, a tall transvestite with bizarre fashion taste who takes the reins from time to time, showing the girls how to walk - something I learned to do years ago. Another man called Jay, with spiked white hair and a Jack Frost look sometimes assists with photoshoots, posing and slagging people off. Then there’s Brit Nigel Barker, a shaven headed smoothie with a grating transatlantic accent and Paulaskina Popallover, apparently a WORLD famous supermodel according to Banks, except I’ve never heard of her.

The Contestants

The American models are, for the most part, bloody good looking. Obviously they bitch about one another, fall over and fart like normal girls but, for the most part, they look like proper models. The only glaring problem with the American contestants is that the producers always feel the need to include a misfit, despite the modeling game being essentially an offshoot of the cloning industry. Thus, in earlier series we had plus-sizes included in the mix, which built up to transgendered contestants and, in the most recent series, a heavily scarred girl among the hopefuls. These sob-story contestants rarely get past the eighth week, which somehow makes it even worse.

There are undoubtedly some very beautiful girls in the UK version, but they more often than not don’t fit the emaciated-equine look that the fashion world demands of its clothes-hangers. Therefore, the majority of the ladies will never be Top Models. Therefore, the whole show is pointless.


The UK set resembles a smashed New Look warehouse. The lighting is either overbearing or unremittingly dim. Thanks to the camera-work, the girls look either acne-ridden, haggard or green. Their penthouse is shabby. Their photo-shoot sets are always labeled ‘urban’ but look like the scene of any number of sex-crimes. Must try harder.

Across the pond, the Americans throw a lot more money at their cinematography to the point where everything looks glossy and otherworldly, like some Dollhouse vision of artificial perfection. It’s unnerving watching these hyper-real people interacting in a sterile, sexless environment, but at least they make the effort.

Final Score!

We’ve deliberated and I think we’ve found the winner.
- UK - 18 points
- USA - 24 points

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