Bitches ahoy! We begin the Top Model premiere, as we often do, with the thirty-three semifinalists. This year, they bypass the customary L.A. visit and instead fly to San Juan, where one Miss J. Alexander does his best Captain Stubing imitation and informs them that the semifinals will take place on a giant cruise ship. Okay, so maybe he was a little more Cruise Director Julie than Captain Stubing. You get the drift. After Tyra attempts to revive her singing career showgirl-style, the girls partake in an impromptu runway show on the lido deck, to the endless delight of the other passengers, minus the ones who really wanted a good view of the shuffleboard game. We have some real characters this year, many of whom actually have different afflictions than the contestants in seasons past. At the top of that list is Heather, a self-described insecure nerd girl with a Quasimodo hunch, who has Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism. There is also Marvita, a Grace Jones look-alike from Alaska who has had tons of childhood trauma that Tyra of course makes her talk about to the discomfort of everyone. Victoria goes to Yale, which is affliction enough. Janet is a bikini waxer. Which, ditto. Jennifer from Walpole (represent!) has a ferocious Massachusetts accent and is blind in one eye, Lisa spent years in foster care and is now a "bikini dancer," Ebony is a bitch with a heart of mush whose mom was a crack addict, and Spontaniouse is named Spontaniouse. Aside from Victoria getting a little pukey on the ship and some bitchiness involving Ebony, there really isn't much drama at all. What I wouldn't give for a little rum punch in someone's weave. The girls meet Season 8 winner Jaslene on a beach in Antigua, and have their first photo shoot (in swimwear, natch). Thirteen girls get cut, and actually have to stand at the port and watch the ship sail away without them, like so many dreams deferred. Tyra and the Jays deliberate further about who is model material, and we end up with our final thirteen: Mila, Bianca, Jenah, Chantal, Ambreal, Victoria, Sarah, Saleisha, Kimberly, Ebony, Janet, Heather, Lisa. Marvita has been through so much shit in her life that she's all, "Whatevs, life isn't about getting what you want," and doesn't cry like the other punk-ass girls. Everyone else is, well, a punk-ass, and lots of tears are shed. Next week: Iceberg!
Modeling, says the voice of one Miss Tyra Banks, is not about being the most beautiful girl in the room. Well, judging by this show, that's a fact. "America's Next Top Model strives to find girls who have that je ne sais quoi -- the controversial, debatable beauty that defies description." Ha! What kind of spin doctor did they hire to come up with that one? We see photos of past winners, minus Adrianne of course. But, Tyra asks, what is beauty to you? Is it odd, edgy, bizarre (picture of bald Tyra) or safe, clean, predictable (picture of pretty Tyra)? "To me," Tyra says, "it's all beautiful." And we can kiss your fat ass. WE KNOW. Tyra continues, "My mission has always been to expand what America considers beautiful, question what makes a model, and open the world of fashion to young women everywhere." A modern Jeanne D'Arc, is Tyra. We see footage from cities around the country, with girls waiting in line to prove their mettle and challenge our conceptions of beauty, willingly or not.
And then, weirdness. We see Tyra Banks on the phone, and then we see various semi-finalists on "home video" receiving these "calls." The girls are clearly excited. "Tyra" tells one contestant to give her a "ha ha ha" and then a catalogue pose. She tells another girl to work the runway then come back to the phone. One contestant has a white tank top with a drawing of what looks like a cross between Lucinda Williams and an alien. I love Lucinda, but that thing is going to give me nightmares. Crying, screaming, happiness. Tyra, who, let's be honest, is clearly on the phone with nobody, says, "We are going to the Caribbean for casting." Lucky bitches. One girl says, "I love you, I love you, I love you," and another says, "I love you, Tyra." So maybe she actually did call them herself, but clearly her on the phone just now was a fakey set-up. I know, I know, because the rest of what we see on this show is totally authentic.
If I may, I would just like to interject a little bit of sad news here, before I start ragging on our new friends. Those of you who have read my recaps for several seasons might remember that a few times I've mentioned my cat, Miss Itty. To the great despair of me and everyone else who loves animals who are clearly the best, Miss Itty passed away last month. She always loved to curl up next to me while I was watching the show and recapping, and I'm sure she had definite opinions on all of the contestants. So this season of recapping is dedicated to her. I know that somewhere up in heaven she's hoping that Ebony gets a really good bitch edit.
So, we're in San Juan, where the thirty-three semi finalists have arrived for the "adventure of a lifetime." They are on a bus, where tour guide Gregorio Cuevas tells them they have a big surprise in store, and then asks them to put on blindfolds. The safe word is "shenis." Jessica, 23, from Brooklyn, notes how funny it was to have thirty-three girls trying to walk in blindfolds and heels. I would like to do that and put them all in a room with no doors. And then, still blindfolded, the girls stand before one Miss J. Alexander, who is dressed like Captain Merrill Stubing of The Love Boat. I know that Miss J. is sitting at home and reading this with satisfaction, thinking that this is the gayest thing I've seen all week. However, at the moment, I'm on a plane home from Los Angeles, where I just saw Rufus Wainwright sing Judy Garland at the Hollywood Bowl. So, from my perspective, Miss J. looks like Rambo right about now.