America’s Next Top Model is over.
Tyra sent out a final piece of mail to let us know that, yes, this Cycle 22 will be the final season. There will be no more smizing. The CoverGirl ads will run Top modeless. Miss J will sashay alone. What will Ken Mok do with himself?
The news is long overdue but it still hurts. The last season I watched was Cycle 21, which was my return to the series after binging last year from the beginning through Cycle 5 on Hulu. Before this, I was a dedicated fan of the show and watched every fucking “I’m not here to make friends!” season up to Cycle 15. I stopped because that was around the time that I switched from kid to adult and shed a few things, ANTM being one of them. Five years later, I’m now allowing myself to meander through media of my past.
I was a staunch supporter from the first season. I watched every episode. I even recorded some on VHS tapes so I wouldn’t miss anything!! I told all my friends at school, at the very tail end of the tenth grade, that ANTM was the best show on television. No one had seen it. No one cared about anything on UPN and they definitely didn’t care for any cultural recommendations from the assumed gay artsy kid. No one cared. My older brother humored me and watched along, likely ogling girls instead of hearing me cry that, yes, this is exactly how the industry works. I had read about it so I knew. I was sure Elyse was going to win and, when she didn’t, I knew it was because she was too edgy while the more commercial Adrianne was a better choice. I was desperate to be on the show and tried (and failed) to relay a message to producers that I would make a great model and character on the show. This was a time in which I was actively going to “open model calls” ran by people who ripped off small towners, people like Dwight Agnor. I was convinced that if I could connect with Ty Ty Baby that I could breakthrough.
Cycle 2 upped the production value, taking the show out of hotel rooms and adding in my childhood crush, Nigel Barker. I actually got to meet Nigel last year at work and I definitely told him that I was fan of “his work” (his body) since childhood. He was thankful but mostly unimpressed because, well, he was at work to promote pediatric AIDS awareness. I quickly became obsessed with Yoanna this season and—since it was finally on during the school year—I was able to preach Ty Ty’s gospel fully.
I didn’t get any converts, though. It wasn’t until college that I found kindred spirits in fans of Eva Pigford and Naima Mora, who I almost went to a book signing for last year just to see what she looked like now. In this pre-Twitter time, I passed my idle hours hounding Elyse Sewell’s colorful, cultural LiveJournal and Rich Juzwiak’s now classic recaps. My conversations went from brief but passionate to sprawling and fangirlish thanks to the show’s rise to success—and I felt like I had a hand in that since I talked it up to literally everyone I knew, going pre-YouTube to show friends taped episodes to convince them. I was a lone gay child Ty Ty street team.
By the end of college, my television and technology habits had radically changed: you could watch so many things online and, really, I no longer had time to deal with watching television. What I did watch were clips and pieces of episodes from websites like Hulu: stopping down my night to watch ANTM was no longer a thing that happened. It was no longer my life. I once worked with a producer that worked on The Tyra Show and helped make the “Kiss my FAT ASS!!” moment happen. The producer told me that Tyra would “love me” and I spent the afternoon writing my name out as “Kyle Banks.”
The end of ANTM is extremely bittersweet. I agree with Tyra that, yes, the time has come: the show was the walking dead for a few seasons and—having worked in television and on reality shows—it was apparent that production was straining, struggling to keep up with evolving audiences. It was clear there was troublere framing a very old, very simple format into a show that could last well into the double digits. I completely understand this.
But what about the 16 year old me? That boy is devastated. He’s sadder than when he learned that a Guys & Girl season was starting two years ago, which he watched and thought, “FUCK, TY TY: I could have been you Cory in 2004.” That boy is very sad. That boy is probably going to eat Little Debbie’s and sniffle. That boy is depressed because the show was this connection to a fashionable future and the real world of fashion. What will he do in a small town with that cosmopolitain connection? He’ll figure it out.