“America’s Next Top Model” Season 20, Episode 1: Bring on the boys


It has been nearly a year since Tyra Banks has been on our television screens. But she is never far from our hearts (I say that both ironically and unironically), and so I was excited to welcome her back Friday night for a whole new season of ridiculousness. And the two-hour season premiere did not disappoint on that front.

For its 10th anniversary season -- and 20th overall -- “Top Model” has cast girls AND guys for the first time ever. Based on all the photo shoots from the season, which have already been put up for the social-media vote, I knew that Season 20 was going to be a mess. I didn’t realize how low the production values on this show had gotten until the “Find a paper cutout of your face stuck to a fence” bit. Oh, Tyra. Has it really come to this?

It somehow took us two full hours to get down to our 16 semifinalists. (Spoiler: if you look at the released photo shoots you’ll see that two of them ditch the competition fairly early on -- I won’t say who but based on this episode they’re no great loss.) And what a motley crew it is.

I know I’ve said this before regarding other seasons, but for real: this is the least modelesque bunch I’ve ever seen on this show. Precious few of them look remotely like the types of models currently getting work in the fashion industry, even if you’re considering it from a strictly commercial perspective. On that note, having a contract with Guess as the main prize makes a hell of a lot more sense than many of the previous prize packages on this show -- CoverGirl and Italian Vogue seemed totally disparate to me.

So let’s break down these broken-down dolls:

Alexandra made an impression for two reasons: the parched thicket of hair seemingly slapped on her head and her oft-repeated sob story about coming from a well-to-do family that lost everything because of the economic collapse. Because of this, I will heretofore refer to her only as The Economy. I found The Economy grating from the get-go and her dubious modeling potential was highlighted by her porn-adjacent posing in the final photo shoot. The only way she makes it even halfway is if she turns out to be house bitch.

Mike is an ice-cream scooper who Tyra scouted into trying out for the show. Mike has probably the best body of all the guys (scooping ice cream apparently does amazing things for your core), but has absolutely no idea what to do with his face. He’s generically handsome and seems decent enough, but if the premiere was any indication he’s going to quickly pale in comparison to the very similar -- and more charismatic -- Jeremy.

Renee is a former beauty-pageant queen, which historically has been perceived as a negative by Tyra. I found her likable, but perhaps a bit of a prude. She’s going to get saddled with the dreaded “too commercial” label.

Cory is our effeminate gay contestant. He’s like the antithesis of my physical type, but he’s already delivering some droll commentary so he should be fun to watch. He’s got a bit of Efron in the face, and his wiry body type is considerably different from almost all the other guys. That and his sound bytes should keep him safe until right around F6.

Jourdan is as close as we’ve got to a ringer this season. She’s tall -- 6’1” -- and at times looks like a more conventionally pretty Leila from last season. Jourdan’s problem is that she apparently lacks any kind of self awareness. She may be gorgeous, but Johnny Wujak suggested that she has no idea what to do with her face or body on the shoots. And she said numerous face-palm-worthy things during the premiere, including a couple of borderline offensive comments to/about Jeremy. She seems a little full of herself but that might be nerves. And seriously: stunning face. Totally looks like a Guess girl.

Don DEFINITELY is full of himself, and it’s a huge turn off. Don’s best quality is his hypnotic eyes. His body is…fine. Fit but unremarkable. He’s handsome. His racial ambiguity is a plus. But everything else is a huge negative. I give it four episodes before he’s cheating on his girlfriend with someone in the house.

Jianabecame more endearing as the episode went along, but this girl does not read “model” to me at all. She’s pretty, but looks like an everyday, ordinary girl. I don’t get it.

Chris S. is a) tiny and b) reminded me powerfully of Corey Feldman circa 2006. Those are not compliments.

Chlea is like the hybridization of Tahlia and Angelea from Cycle 12, which, again, is not a compliment. She’s our plus-sized -- excuse me, “fiercely real” -- contestant but is another one who does not seem the least bit modelesque to me. Beyond that, I lost track of the number of times she mispronounced words and just overall came off as really, really dim. She says she wants to be a successful model so that she can have her own liquor and clothing lines. She really said that. She wants to be the female Diddy. Chlea, please, I beg of you: the world doesn’t need one Diddy. It certainly does not need a distaff version.

Jeremy became one of the breakout stars of the episode to me, but it had very little to do with his modeling potential. He’s giving us some serious beefcake, with an exaggerated swimmer’s build. But his face is very Iowa farmboy, and he has no idea what angles work for him. (And he has quite a few problematic areas, including his under-eye area.) That said, he is incredibly charming, and I suspect he will be wildly popular with the young ladies watching the show

Nina is trying to be the next C12 Allison, what with the kewpie-doll eyes and the “quirky” persona. But the problem with pushing the quirk angle so aggressively is that it looks like you’re trying too hard, and that’s the case with Nina. I want her to calm down a little. (And also to maybe eat a sandwich or three.) Still, Nina is definitely one of the stronger girls this season.

Phil is hilarious to me. He’s like the hipster messiah and seems to be treating this whole experience as a performance-art piece. I just can’t believe that he’s taking this seriously. Phil is totally my physical type, so I’m biased toward liking him. And he’s fun in his talking heads. But even saying that, the photos I’ve seen of him are laughably bad. Like C19 Jesse-level bad. Phil is adorable. Phil is not a model.

Bianca is also not a model, and I have no idea how she made the final cut. I kept wondering who that girl was who kept wandering into shots. It looked like she just came from the mall. In 1992. Blossom Russo called. She wants her everything back.

Chris H. is probably going to bring the crazy this season. I already find his Sam MerlotteLitebackstory difficult to swallow, and his borderline delusional behavior this episode -- “I don’t know why people don’t like me; all I’ve done is run around punching people in the nuts and then sulk when they tell me to stop” -- has me seriously questioning his mental stability. As far as his modeling potential, he has the ugly-pretty thing going on for him. His face is interesting -- it’s not remotely symmetrical. He reads very masculine in an effortless way. He has no idea how to pose his body, but he photographs better than he looks in video clips. (The skin is a problem.)

Kananiis this season’s young mother trying to save her baby from a lifetime of poverty by going on a modeling reality show. At what point do we as a nation chip in for a pamphlet titled, “Stable Alternative Careers for Aspiring Reality TV Stars”? Because REALLY. Anyway, Kanani is pretty, but she’s got some orthodontic issues to overcome. Believe it or not, she can actually look somewhat regal in some of the photos I’ve seen of her.

Marvin drove me up the wall with his sob story, which has to be the worst in “Top Model” history. You guys, brace yourself: his father was a janitor. THE. HORROR. What classist asshole in the editing bays thought this was going to fly with the average American viewer? Your father had a JOB. He was involved in your life. The fact that he cleaned toilets for a living is a source of shame to you? Get a grip, child. I was both offended for his dad and embarrassed that he had to watch that shit on TV. Marvin is cute and dorky, but as judge Kelly Cutrone pointed out, not necessarily dorky in a good way. He has a very large mouth that dominates his face, and based on the photos, he doesn’t know how to use it in photos. I think the show wants us to love him because he’s the plucky underdog. I found myself hating him by the end of the first episode.

So what do you think of this season’s hamsters? Will a guy take it or a girl? And why are people still trying out for this show anyway?