image: Tumblr

image: Tumblr

Model Tyra Banks’ long-running television show, America’s Next Top Model, which New York Times’ fashion director, Vanessa Friedman posited as “possibly the most successful fashion TV show ever,” came to an end in December 2015 after 22 seasons. The other major fashion television show, Project Runway, which has produced maybe one big star – Christian Siriano – trails behind with 14 seasons. 

Well, America’s Next Top Model, or “ANTM,” is back; this time without Tyra. In her place: Rita Ora, the 26-year-old singer/actress; model Ashley Graham; fashion editor, Drew Elliott; and celebrity stylist, Law Roach. The series revamp is scheduled to its debut on December 12, 2016. Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, now seems an apt time to ask: Just how successful was the first go-around? 

Not entirely shocking, Banks – who rose to fame in the 1990’s, becoming the first black model to cover the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, among other magazines, and one of the highest grossing models in her heyday during the early 2000’s – was the only true “top model” to walk away from the original ANTM series. The finalists on her show, which debuted in May 2003 to a frenzy of viewers, were simply not as successful, but we almost certainly could have predicted that given Banks’ meteoric rise. 

Instead, it seems that the show produced a slew of far less noteworthy models (it appears only a few of the show’s contestants have made it to Models.com – Yaya DaCosta, Toccata Jones, Winnie Harlow, Fatima Siad, and the most successful of all, Leila Goldkuhl) than it did girls who experienced short shelf lives in the industry and/or girls who ultimately turned to acting. In this way, the show does not differ much from the other popular competition-type shows, like American Idol and X Factor.

Instead of skyrocketing to the top of their field like Banks did, which, is, of course, no small feat, it seems the show’s contestants achieved their career high points on the show, itself. Given a number of factors, this is not terribly surprising. Primarily, many of the contestants – including many of those that were successful on the dramatized competition show, were not likely candidates for high fashion to begin with. For instance, more than a few of the show’s most successful girls measured in at significantly below 5’9” – the standard height for runway models. Banks, herself, is 5’10”. Eva Pigford, winner of the show’s 3rd cycle, on the other hand, is 5’6”. Finding it difficult to cut it in the real world as a bona fide model, Pigford has since taken up acting full time.

 Leila Goldkuhl (center)

Leila Goldkuhl (center)

Others lacked the Eastern European looks that have dominated most of the prominent runways over the past several years. Still others were simply too old; most runway models – and those who land high fashion ad campaigns – start working at age 16 or so, maybe even younger if you’re Ondria Hardin or Thairina Garcia, who were walking for Marc Jacobs at age 14. And let’s not forget that the majority of high fashion houses consistently long for fresh, new faces. This is something for which Prada and Miu Miu, for instance, are known. Celine, too. They tend to opt of out casting famous or well known models, such as girls who have been all over television for a season, in favor of exclusive newbies. 

Having said that, according to the New York Times, “the most successful alumnae — like Analeigh Tipton (who came in third during Cycle 11) and Yaya DaCosta (second in Cycle 3) — made their names post-show not in modeling, but in acting.” Fatima Siad, who placed third in Cycle 10, is likely the most successful of the whole bunch. Said (pictured below) went on to sign with IMG in New York and Paris and walk a number of runway shows, most of which were in New York, and landing campaigns for Ralph Lauren and Hervé Léger. With this in mind, does she have a career that can be compared to Tyra’s or any of girls that the industry considers to be top models at the moment – the ones that walk in 70 or so shows per season – opening and/or closing at least a few of them – and then land any of the major campaigns that season? Unfortunately not. 

There does appear to be one saving grace for the show, however: The most successful of all (at least in terms of high fashion), Leila Goldkuhl, who has landed Dolce & Gabbana and Givenchy campaigns, and walked for the houses a number of times, most recently in Givenchy’s S/S 2017 men’s show, found success years after her season of the show aired. 

For the most part, however, instead of finding themselves on the runway at New York, London, Milan or Paris Fashion Week(s) or in editorials in Vogue or other prominent magazines, a significant handful of the show’s alumni (both contestants and judges) have found themselves on the wrong side of the law following their stints on the highly successful television show … you can read about all of them – and the list is lengthy – right here.

This is something CariDee English, winner of the show’s seventh cycle, has attributed, at least in part, to false expectations of sorts. In a blog post following her stint on ANTM, she wrote: “The show provided a wonderful platform for girls to have a chance at their dream, but after there is no ‘Tyra Mail.’ I had to guide myself, and even though I won a model competition I still had no idea what the modeling BUSINESS was like. I had no idea what the industry was really like. I was famous, but no one wanted to take my picture.”

Thus, it seems, the real winners in all twenty-two seasons are viewers, who were treated to entertaining television, and one model: Tyra Banks, who garnered a massively rejuvenated career from ANTM. The show, which has spawned roughly 20 international spin offs, was, after all, a smashing success. And as Friedman noted in an article of her own which coincided with the original series’ finale, the show has left a legacy that extends beyond the trademarked terms that Banks coined during its time on the air (think: “smize” and “flawsome”). Friedman wrote: “It is possible that the show’s single most powerful legacy has to do with the power of the model myth: the dream that a girl (or guy) will be walking down the street, or this in case, stepping onto a set, and will be discovered and propelled to fame.” 

And if we consider the aim of any television show, which is to attract viewers and achieve ratings, I would say America’s Next Top Model was a success. As for whether the new panel of judges and cast of wannabe models will prove as entertaining, the jury is still out on that!