‘America’s Next Top Model’ finale: And the winner is...

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‘Do you understand how serious this is?’ Tyra asked at the beginning of the final judging panel. ‘This is Top Model elevated!’ And, indeed, in case the name Vogue Italia had lost its weightiness from sheer repetition, the judges did their best to impress upon them that one of the two final contestants would have their lives changed forever. Andre Leon Talley wore a sequin cape! Roberto Cavalli, in all his leather-skinned glory, was the guest judge! Jay Manuel wore a bow-tie!(But where, oh where, was Ms. J?)

And yet, we all knew what was coming. As much as the show worked up the suspense — and it did seem for most of the show that the girls were neck and neck — it was a lopsided competition from the beginning. The really interesting choice here wasn’t between freckle-faced, savvy Chelsey and the ethereally gawky, disturbingly-thin Ann. It was between concepts: commercial or haute couture? Girl next door or girl from another planet? Personable or purely photogenic? In other words, would it be the same ANTM style we’ve come to know over 14 seasons, or would the judges really reach for something different?

In the end, Tyra chose the latter. Even though I had predicted an Ann win, it was still somewhat surprising that Tyra broke the ‘Top Model’ mold to make the super-shy, constantly tearful Ann the face of CoverGirl cosmetics. You had to feel a little sorry for Chelsey. Ever since Kayla, Jane and Chris left, there’s only been one clear choice in battle Tyra, Round 15. Does this mean a serious shift in the way ANTM doles out its titles? Let’s back up a bit. The last challenge means that both girls had to do the work that would appear in print and film campaigns should they win, so both Ann and Chelsey had to strut their stuff in a CoverGirl commercial and a mascara ad. Usually this means bad news for the girl with a hard time speaking (that’s you, Ann) but this time, the process was different. Rather than memorizing lines, the ladies did a voice-over separate from the video segment, which improved Ann’s performance considerably. It also was a sure sign that they were leaning toward the model-as-model rather than model-as-spokesperson/actress role. At that point, Ann would have had to start tearing pigeons’ heads off with her teeth in order to lose it. The girls flounced around and got gelato on camera, much to the satisfaction of Mr. Jay. And, as a further treat, both contestants’ families were flown in. Seeing Chelsey’s adorable Midwestern mom talk up her daughter was as sweet as ‘ANTM’ gets.

But the main event was, of course, the runway show, featuring the fashions of Roberto Cavalli. Tyra imported the last four girls cut from the show plus a haul of Italian models. Neither contestant blew the walk out of the water — Chelsey was a bit brittle and clenched (as Andre Leon Talley said, ‘I felt no snap, no crackle and no pop. But your legs looked great.’) and Ann stared straight ahead terrifyingly, as if drawn in by a tractor beam. (Talley deemed Ann ‘a B minus’).


Alas for Chelsey, in high fashion, total weirdness is often preferable to warmth and corn-fed appeal. And so the inevitable happened. After a brief tussle — Nigel came out strongly for Ann but Cavalli and Mr. Jay pulled hard for Chelsey — Tyra declared Ann the winner. Mazel Tov, Ann! But fear not, Chelsey. As she slunk away in defeat, Tyra reminded her of the real prize: the short-lived — but sometimes quite useful — fame of reality television. ‘Now you’re not just a pretty blond girl,’ Tyra consoled Chelsey. ‘Now people know your name.’

The Final Tyra Fashion Watch: Loved, loved, loved her dress for the fashion show — the beige number with the diagonal strap — and her slicked-back bun was looking mighty elegant as well. Her ruffled, navy one-shoulder dress at the judges’ panel was not a knockout, but still pretty. Overall, a totally un-horrifying season of dresses.

Best quote: ‘They’re not bugs, they’re fans.’ —Photographer to Ann when she was swatting away mosquitoes. Aw!


Where are all those former ‘America’s Next Top Model’ contestants now?

— Margaret Eby