interview

His Name is Baby Tap, and He Doesn’t Know Why

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“Um. My name is Baby Tap. I don’t know why, but, my name is Baby Tap. It’s nice to meet you,” he says in a video message posted to his YouTube account in July.

A more important question might be who is Baby Tap?

But, it’s unfair to the essence of the human behind the art to ask such a question.

After all, it’s not like Avess Arshad isn’t a person in the first place.

With a steady job, full-time hours at a café, and a quaint London apartment he shares with his boyfriend, he’s most humanly human. It’s just that his musical endeavors are unlike anything the patrons he serves within a commercialized London could easily warm up to.

Beats of otherworldy flair. Electronic murmurs. Lyrics some might call crass—the package is chaotic yet calculated; There’s a science to Arshad’s craft. It just takes some getting used to.

Even he struggles a bit to define himself in “normal” terms.

“I feel music, I become music. I don’t sell that shit or ever intend to. It’s far too precious to me,” he says, like a rebel (revolutionary?) defending a countercultural identity as an independent artist. What a dead-on-arrival term in today’s music industry, huh? Independence. For some, it’s synonymous with a lack of grandeur. Of meager means heralded only when recognized by the masses. Is it possible to be an independent artist in today’s world without automatically shoving oneself into a niche with potential for fluke success? We see artists who were once firmly-planted atop the charts of yesteryear (Eve, Radiohead, Bjork) now releasing music independently—free of constraint—to satisfy their artistic craving seemingly stifled years prior.

Indie is synonymous with freedom. With uprising.

How does Arshad explore this freedom?

“I fit into the equation of music as a whole as an enjoyable catharsis through energy and expression, spirituality and dance,” Arshad says of his art. “It’s fire, you know. Music is like fire.”

It’s an elemental likeness that illuminates all the things which make Baby Tap an undeniably radiant spectacle. For Arshad, having conviction in songs like “Gay for the Hip-G Girly Girls,” “Fuck Me With No Rubber,” and “Kill Yourself” transcends mere shock value.

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“I know there are people out there with the same sense of humor as me,” he says of the tracks on his first full-length release, Gem Pop, released earlier this month. “I work hard. I say what I want to say. I am destined to find the most hyphy, insane beats. I am destined to give people the opportunity to release their craziness. Whether that works on a big scale or not, I don’t give a shit. As long as I’m enjoying my own journey I invite others to enjoy theirs.”

For Arshad, it’s a journey nearly ten years in the making. In 2003, a 14-year old Arshad began dabbling in electronic production. Never losing sight of what was once just a fun way to pass the time when nothing else could, he’s amassed hundreds of tracks, ten full-length demos, and a decade of experience. That’s more than most major-label pop stars. For Arshad, however, success has been defined by time spent perfecting his passion after 12-hour shifts at work. Of hours clocked cutting tracks and laying down vocals (with no pay) in a cramped apartment while the rest of the world (or his corner of London) toiled away just outside his window.

“I had to work so long and so hard to manipulate feelings into sounds the way I wanted to. I spend at least an hour on it almost every day,” he says of his process, which still includes balancing a “real” job aside from crafting videos to accompany the tracks in addition to writing and producing music. “I will never appreciate having to work to live under these rules from the government. I would rather just do what I want and take life slower and more freely but I just make sure I kick my own ass into gear and work on that music as much as I can.”

He pauses.

“But, sometimes I am so tired. I don’t know what the outcome is. I will let it be what it turns out to be. I do not know.”

If the amalgamation of pop-culture collage, candy-coated colors, and graphics inspired by the 90s digital era are any indication: does anyone know, really? Do we know how to define art? How to define ourselves? Or do we let a cyber-footprint fill in the empty spaces we’re too lazy to show in waking life? Is there vision in independent expression like the uninhibited beauty which flows forth from artists like Baby Tap? We see a portion of ourselves in this type of art. Perhaps this uninhibited display is what makes independent artists such as Arshad such clear points of interest in this mess of a society where slaving to unseen masters can inspire alternative output.

“At the end of the day we die alone and nobody will really understand us as we understand ourselves, so I’m just following my desires and needs,” he says. “Baby Tap represents the acceptance of confusion and the ability to ride on the flow of life.”

Whether it’s recording into the wee morning hours, filming a video like a pop icon on a London park bench, or merely toying with new sounds—boyfriend and day job tucked at his hip as a reminder that life exists outside of art—we’ll indulge in the flow of life Baby Tap wants us to see, and realize that a separation of the two is mere child’s play.

Download Gem Pop for free (payment optional) here:

Baby Tap will be playing from 10PM-4AM on Sunday, August 25 at:

Star of Bethnal Green
359 Bethnal Green Road
E2 6LG

Directions:

Tube: Bethnal Green
Overground: Shoreditch High Street

Bus: 8, 106, 388, 254, D3
Nightbus: N8, N253

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Tears of Courage; Alice and I Interview Laura Dern’s “Cry Face”

By Joey Nolfi and Alice Groesbeck

Sitting atop the thespianic-Everest that is Dr. Ellie Sattler from “Jurassic Park”‘s mug is Laura Dern’s Cry Face, or “Shine,” as “she” likes to be called.
“Ain’t nobody shine brighter than me baby,” she said while sipping on one of Laura Dern’s tears like it’s a chilled glass of Arbor Mist. Although “Shine” sparkles, her wattage is dimmer than a star’s. Shine’s “shine” is infectious, and when it comes to saving face, she says it’s all about how you work it.

“Shine” happens only on special occasions; i.e. working with David Lynch or starring in a television show you’ve co-created to give yourself complete artistic freedom. For Laura Dern, those two things mean, for certain, that her “cry face” (Ok—“Shine”) will expose itself at one point or another. Whether it’s nestled as comic relief (?) from all the crazy that populates the three hours of Inland Empire or as means to communicate true insanity of her character on Enlightened, Dern’s “Shine” takes the cake as the most generous gift she’s given any audience over the course of her lengthy career.

“It’s a rare and exciting thing to be recognized as one of Hollywood’s most iconic muscular movements,” said the cry face, busy on a promotional tour for Dern’s latest film, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. “I never really thought I was pretty in the first place. I was the “dork” in high school, but now I get to look back at the years when Paula Patton’s ‘I-have-good-hair’ smirk got all the attention in high school and recognize that I’m here. I’m the star now.”

But the road to success wasn’t always easy. Tough competition from the cry faces of Hollywood veterans Julianne Moore and Ashley Judd have given the famous frown a run for its money.

“Julianne’s cry face is just a phenomenal asset to the community,” Shine said. “Without trailblazers like her, expressions like myself would be nothing in this town.”

It’s true we’ve grown to love the startling sight of the phenomenon known as Laura Dern’s cry face, if shock value counts for much of anything these days.

“With shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Jersey Shore populating our young peoples’ minds, what’s left in this world that can truly shock them?” the somber face said. “They need something that’s going to jolt them into consciousness. Something they don’t know is coming. Something they don’t appreciate the full brutality of until they lay down to sleep at night and they see me when they shut their eyes.”

The thought clearly excited Shine.

“I will give that Honey Boo Boo nonsense some credit, though. Mama’s chin is a genius.”

Shine patted Dern’s cheeks, which are bright red and moist with salty saturation as her face tried to keep the contortion plastered front and center for the duration of our interview. I told her she looked uncomfortable and that if it’s causing too much discomfort, she’s free to take a breather and let any of Dern’s other emotions take over.

“There’s always the angry face,” I told her, “I’ve only ever seen that in Inland Empire, unless we’re counting the times it’s shown up in nightmares.”

Shine doesn’t take the news easy.

“Everyone knows it takes more muscles to frown,” reflected Shine while a lone tear splashes itself on the nether regions of her palette somewhere between her lip and comic fantasy; “so that makes me the strongest of them all. Longer than angry, longer than happy; I’m here to stay.”

From one strong entity to another, I wasn’t convinced. A real woman knows sacrifice, and I decided to throw a wrench into the cold machine that is Shine’s ego by flipping a bitch. While the hot mess that is Laura Dern’s Crispy Bangs distracted Shine, we decided to fill our suite of the Chateau Marmont with surprise guests so they could weigh in on what it means to be a fresh face on an aging starlet. The door opens. Natalie Portman’s Crybrows enter along with the cry faces of Julianne Moore and Ashley Judd.

A cloudy day in facial Hollywood.

“I hate to be the Dance Mom of the industry, but can they please leave the room?” Shine said as her assistant finished patting her with a Kleenex. I can’t tell if the tears are real or not. Damn, she’s good.

Moore’s Cry Face snaps. “Not a chance! This is payback for that trailer prank you pulled on the set of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.” The room shakes, not from fear, but from security running by the Oprah suite to see if Lindsay Lohan’s pride was anywhere in the room. A Macbook cowers in the corner.

“You know, you might be here to stay–for now–but what about these other up-and-coming facial expressions that are nipping at your heels” I said, while Shine snapped at her assistant to fetch her a bobby pin to show Crispy Bangs who really runs the show.

“Natalie Portman’s got fabulous crybrows. Crybrows that won her an Oscar,” I remarked.

Shine shot me a look that was concealed in her typical upset demeanor, but I knew she was colored surprised by my remarks. Shine was confused and had a look reminiscent of Cher’s Ice Face from her Burlesque pitch meeting where the near mention of the words “co-star” and “Christina Aguilera” nearly caused Cher’s lace front weave to file its quitting papers.

But, Shine fought back.
“Natalie Portman cries like her ego knows something great is happening,”  Shine said. “Those brows are frowns turned upside down. Her ego is in it for the glory. She doesn’t cry with purpose for the art like I do.” Her assistant hands her a tissue but Shine cries even more when she is confronted with the cruel reality that she lacks hands.

“Gals, we’re better than this. Can’t you see we’re a revolution in facial performity? There’s strength in numbers, here. Together we can change the ‘face’ of our industry,” cried Shine. “Unless, of course, you only do about 5% of the actual crying. Does the Academy offer cry doubles once you get an Oscar?”

All faces pointed to Natalie, who stormed out. The faces looked around, unsure of what to do when they heard a slight ruffle from the corner of the room.

“Just taking a look at the ‘competition,'” laughed Meryl Streep’s Pursed-Lips Bitch Face in a whisper, soft as wind from behind a sheer curtain it had been hiding behind this entire time. Her words stung like the salty tears hitting Shine’s eye.

“Unless you’re also controlled by Meryl fucking Streep, you don’t run shit,” she says as the curtains close and the lights dim. In the corner, Lohan is seen turning out the lights as she leaves the suite under the cloak of near-darkness, clutching the Macbook Pro as it softly whimpers.

Streep’s Pursed-Lips Cunt Face wafts out, leaving nothing but layers of backhanded sass to blanket its inferiors in a sense of dread.

“It’s a cold day in this warm town,” Moore’s Cry Face reacted.

“No,” Shine remarked. “That’s just my shade.” As Shine left the suite, the hallway fills with light and applause while the rest of the Cry Faces cowered in her shadow.

If it were lonely at the top, the Cry Face of Laura Dern would never know it. She’s just too busy shining.

Catching Up with Alex Young: Excerpts from my Interview with her from East End Fashion Magazine

“It was a sweet bird,” she says, fumbling for words in the most endearing way possible. “I wouldn’t necessarily characterize birds before this particular photo shoot, but now I know they have a lot of personality. They’re really willing to pose.”

She’s ever a gracious soul, even to feathered co-stars unable to understand a single thing that comes out of her mouth.

It’s a good thing humans easily understand the effects of sweet, sonically seductive musical stylings is as easy as kicking back and switching your brain’s pleasure dial to the tune of “indulge.” It’s the essence of grace that makes indulging in everything about up-and-coming New York City-based pop singer Alex Young so unbelievably satisfying. One day her crystalline voice wafts through a set as the opening act for Cee-Lo Green, the next she’s modeling gorgeous vintage clothing alongside toucans and a python, poise and grace successfully intact for both.

So, let’s give her credit; she has actually far outgrown the generic label of “pop singer.” After all, you don’t make it to MTV’s airwaves without paying your dues, although it helps when talent is imbued at a young age. She says music has been a huge part of her life ever since she was a  child, with memories of her childhood involving parents who filled the house constantly with music, embedding it in her mind and forming a warm relationship that endures to this day.

Sentiment aside, her contemporary career was built upon electronic and pop sounds, but her latest single, “Don’t Play With Me,” threw a funky wrench into the musical machine, complimenting her signature quirkiness and flamboyant performing style.

“The song was just a natural evolution and progression. I’ve always been a lover of old-school Motown and funk music,” she says. “I wanted to incorporate funk somehow… and we took it from there. I’m really excited with the sound.”

The risk paid off. “Don’t Play With Me” garnered Young extensive airtime on MTV-U and the music video for the single (featuring Young in a dazzlingly stylish old-school red jumpsuit) now has over one million views on YouTube.

“You work so hard on putting music together and getting the right sound,” she says of creating the song. “Thankfully the fans were very receptive of the new style. I wanted to go in a slightly different direction, so I don’t think it’s a departure from my sound. It’s derivative of my music, but I always want to push the envelope and keep things new. When you start to concern yourself with what other people are thinking, your music is totally screwed. Your focus is external when it should be internal, and I try my best to concentrate on only that.”

If there’s one thing that’s clear about Young’s career, it’s that she harbors a deep appreciation for the fans that make her work possible. Always a present force on social networking sites, Young never misses an opportunity to interact with her growing set of followers on Twitter and fans on Facebook, 30,000 of which she’s netted on the former. Her page promotes her latest endeavors and projects while Young communicates with her fans, shining a bit of positive light on those who make her career possible.

Along with the new single, Young says she’s currently working on a killer follow-up album to her debut LP, “Amazing,” released in 2009. The album is a return to her roots in electronic pop, while moving in a new direction entirely less traditional than funk.

“Trap” music, as it’s known, is a relatively new stylistic subgenre incorporating elements of dubstep and urban dance, although infinitely “more listenable” than those, Young assures of the new style we can look forward to on the album.

“It’s really an evolution of dubstep. There are a lot of DJ’s playing it right now. It’s very, very new and a lot of people haven’t heard of it yet, especially from a mainstream artist” she says. “I really wanted to bring it to its full scope. It’s relaxed, it’s not as hyped up…it’s that groove that keeps you moving, listening, and involved.”

As for what’s inspiring these slight alterations to her music career, Young says it comes in the form of, well, typical everyday experiences.

“I take a lot of my creative process through ordinary things. The city is constantly inspiring me, and fashion on the street is a huge part of that,” she says. “In New York City you never know what you’re going to see. When you walk on the subway you’ll see someone in a bumblebee outfit or an outfit that’s pop art with a modernistic touch, huge headpieces, leggings and platform shoes… all kinds of style that’s always pushing and inspiring me.”

While we won’t be seeing Young take to the stage in costume as a five-foot insect in stilettos, her appreciation for unabashed confidence and fashion shines through in her clothing line, simply titled A Young Rose.

The line, a collaborative endeavor with her stylist, Arlinda McIntosh, is a minimalistic reinvention of the classic, funky styles of yesteryear.

“The next installment is going to be old Hollywood with a lot more funk,” she says. “I want to throw some fun colors in there and have some fun. Arlinda is in her 50s, I’m in my 20s and it’s an interesting dynamic between the two of us creating a line that speaks to everyone. There’s no age base, it’s style-based.”

Young also cites two very interesting inspirations for fashion and style in general. Audrey Hepburn, the classic film beauty who exudes class and regality. The other? Studio 54 legend Rollerina, a large-and-in-charge drag queen personality straight from the heyday of the club kid scene, whom Young recently had the pleasure of meeting.

Cranking out pieces for a fashion line isn’t the only way Young unleashes her inner fashionista. She creative directs many of her photoshoots, including the aforementioned shoot where she posed with various birds and reptiles.

“I love creating concepts and imagining a scene, whatever it might be, how it relates to my music, and producing it,” she says of the visual creative process. “This photoshoot was always a dream of mine, from the setting to the clothing to animals to the dark and mysterious, yet powerful tone, it’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do.”

But, there are some aspects of her career, found in the most glamorous of places, which test her fearless demeanor.

“Alright, I did have mixed feelings about the snake,” she admits.

Alas, the end result is gorgeous. The snake looks happy. She looks comfortable.

So, Ms. Young does have limits. Luckily for us, she isn’t prone to paying them much attention.

My Interview with “The X-Factor” Contestant Tora Woloshin

“People tell me that the reason they let me go was that they knew they wouldn’t be able to make me into something that I’m not,” says 22-year old Tora Woloshin, singer, performer, and two-time contestant on a pair of the biggest reality competitions on national television.

She speaks candidly about her most recent appearance on (and elimination from) Simon Cowell’s “The X-Factor,” which debuted earlier this Fall. The show is structured similar to “American Idol,” a competition both Cowell and Woloshin have a history with; “Idol” eliminated her as well back in 2005.

“I feel like people on [these shows] really have the talent, but for some reason what they’re being made into is not as appealing as their natural selves,” she says.

Woloshin’s outward appearance can hardly be described as “natural”; a gorgeous array of tattoos (she’s got 17 of them) cascade down her slender frame; a symphony of vintage garb intertwines seamlessly with neon embellishments, dazzling patterns, and just the right amount of girly-girl ornamentation; all nestled comfortably in their dynamic chaos beneath a luscious stream of homemade platinum blonde hair. A Harajuku copycat, some might say; but in the words of the great Coco Rocha, “don’t ever confuse style with gimmick.”

Thankfully Ms. Woloshin’s blood runs thick with style.

It’s funny to see her striking wardrobe so bluntly serve as a metaphor for her demeanor; usually that’s the job of the journalist to lay bare for their reader. With Woloshin, I’m not sure I have to.

“Um, hello, I just got a call from this number?” Woloshin says, returning a phone call I’d placed to her mere minutes after our interview’s scheduled time. It was a quarter to six in the evening.

“Yes, is this Tora? This is Joey, we had an interview for six thirty tonight, so sorry I’m a little late,” I responded.

“Umm…I thought you said six? It’s only three forty-five…”

Time zones don’t translate well in Woloshin’s world. Thankfully she wasn’t up to much.

“Well, right now, I’m extremely broke,” she says. “[After these shows] they just drop you and don’t tell you why. My days consist of pilates, writing music…which takes a long time. I just recently started getting the hang of Garage Band, trying to make all the music myself.” Things clatter in the background. She laughs. Composure maintained.

She then tries to explain one of her tattoos to me, a byproduct of personal experiences she tones down her usually bubbly demeanor to reveal; her amazing style compliments her infectious presence, but it’s also a living testament to the struggles she’s battled her way through.

“My sleeve and my chestpiece are combined. It’s sort of like a map of where my heart’s been,” she says. “It’s about…well…it has biomechanics…it’s kind of my way of saying robots can’t love because they don’t have a heart…kind of like, well, if I was a robot, I wouldn’t have had my heart broken as many times as I have…it’s hard to explain…if you get it, you’ll understand what I mean…you know what I mean?”

Her chest reads “Love vs. Hate.”

Woloshin was a victim of rape at a young age, the effects of which remain with her to this day.

Her voice goes bleak.

“It all started when I was 14,” she says. “He stole my virginity. I wanted to save it until marriage. I had a couple of abusive boyfriends; I deal with a bad wrist because one of them broke it.”

She perks up.

“But I want to be able to change people’s lives with my music and with my words. I feel like I’ve been through so much in my life and millions of other people have been through the same thing,” she says. “I want to be able to bring them hope. That’s why I do [what I do].”

Woloshin has been perfecting her art since she was only two years old. She’s started taking dance and vocal lessons, from California to Arizona, when she was only four. She won a singing competition, Lucky Break, back in Tuscon.

But, while she was tearing it up onstage, a very different side of Tora was burning rubber—literally—on the streets of Tuscon. Woloshin was a drag racer by the time she was sixteen.

“Don’t tell my mom,” she says with laugh.

While her tatted and tanned complexion certainly screams to be framed amidst the backdrop of an underground drag race, Woloshin’s style functions more as a testament to her inner self versus “fitting in” with any subculture she may be associated with. Appearing on “The X-Factor” didn’t help diversify her image any further, she says.

“They didn’t tell my whole story,” she says. “They only said a couple of things; that I like cars and that I like to sing. Obviously that’s not all there is to my life.”

She says she was hoping to showcase her vocal ability even further with a rendition of “Hotel California” at judge Simon Cowell’s house; one final performance to wow him before he selected his final four (which ended up being five) contestants for the live round of shows. She told the camera crews she was nervous about forgetting the lyrics, becoming visibly shaken during a taped interview.

The editors, however, only showed one of her two performances; a rendition of The Rolling Stone’s “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” “They made me look like an idiot, like I couldn’t remember the lyrics to a ten-word song,” she says. “That was a dick move. [For ‘Hotel California’] I had a mic stand, I had a lot of emotion, and I sang it spot-on. I definitely know for a fact that they did not show that song because they knew I was going to be eliminated. Obviously they’re not going to show the better performance because the audience would have been more pissed off than they already are [at my elimination].”

And so Tora was kicked to the curb once again. Her shine, however, fails to dim, particularly in regards to her “broke-chic” vibrancy exuding from her closet. Consignment shops are a quick fix for those on a budget, she says.

“I mostly go to vintage and thrift stores before I go to the mall,” she tells me. “You can find some of the best things there. I think a person’s style should be able to make a statement of who they are. It should definitely say that.”

When asked if she considers brand names superior to no-name bargains, she pauses.

“Only when it comes to cars!” she says, giggling.

So, will you find a gorgeous menagerie of vintage couture lining the interior of Ms. Woloshin’s closet?

Well, sort of.

“My closet is not…um…very ‘presentable’ right now,” she says with a laugh. ” But I’ll invite you over to my house and you can look it over and explain it to me.”

Tyra Returns with “Top Model”; Does the Fashion Industry Care? Contestants dish on Illegitimacy of Show, Returning for “All-Stars”

Note: Although originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this started as an idea for this blog. I’ve always been interested in ‘Top Model’, yet the show’s aim at creating a real supermodel has always fascinated me in its absurdly presented (and impossible) format which has no relevance to the fashion industry at all. For this piece, I interviewed Jade Cole, Bre Scullark, Monique Weingart, and a slew of people ranging from Ford Models and Anna Sui booking agents, executive producers, and fans and fellow (non-ANTM, I should add) models alike. I was very proud of the piece (front page of Mag section! Holla!) and even more proud of the fact that I royally pissed off Cycle 10’s Lauren Utter with the nerve I had to dare ask her for an interview. She called me “fraudulent” and told me she’d interview with me if I didn’t betray her by spewing her secrets to everyone. I’m sorry, if my memory serves me properly you blabbed to ANYONE who would ask about ‘Top Model’ and its illegitimacy to anyone who’d ask on the IMDB ‘Top Model’ forums. So, again, thanks for blaming your own big-mouthed antics on me even though you told multiple people heapings more than what you revealed to me. Anyway, on to my article:

Originally Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Joey Nolfi (me)

Despite the popularity of “America’s Next Top Model,” former contestants and fashion industry insiders don’t believe the show is an avenue to supermodel stardom.

One of fashion’s greatest minds, Karl Lagerfeld, describes Tyra Banks’ “Top Model” as “trash that’s funny for 5 minutes” but says its contestants “will never become the next Gemma Ward.”

“Modeling is a phenomenal opportunity, a great job, and a s—-y career,” supermodel and former “America’s Next Top Model” judge Paulina Porizkova says in a Huffington Post article about the cutthroat modeling industry.

So why then, since 2003, have countless model hopefuls scrambled for a chance to compete on Ms. Banks’ wildly popular television show in hopes of walking the same runways as Gisele Bundchen and Agyness Deyn?

An all-stars version of Ms. Banks’ hit show returns for Season 17 (seasons are better known as cycles to fans) at 9 tonight on The CW. The show’s format will remain the same as it has for the past 16 installments — 14 contestants will compete for a contract with IMG models, an Express fashion campaign and a cover of Beauty in Vogue magazine. The “All-Stars” version is chock-full of contestants from past seasons again competing for the coveted title.

Since its first airing, the show has garnered millions of loyal viewers and critics on the Internet. Seas of message boards dedicated to praising and bashing particular contestants can be found on countless websites.

Amanda L’Heureux, a 22-year-old Bangor, Maine, resident and avid “Top Model” fanatic, has been watching the show since its fourth season in 2005, blogging about it on her site, “My ANTM Addiction Starts Here.” Ms. L’Heureux says that “All-Stars” is bound to be great television, but will do little to help raise the show’s credibility as a full-fledged representation of the fashion industry.

“I think ‘Top Model’ succeeds as a reality show in a way that a lot of others don’t,” she says. “Despite seeing the purpose of the show fail time and time again, faithful viewers are invested in the contestants for many different reasons. Some people will always support the best model while some tune in to see the funniest girl or the most tragic story. There’s a nice, healthy mix of trash, absurdity and a prize that makes the show decidedly watchable.”

Returning “All-Stars” include fan favorites such as Allison Harvard (Season 12 in 2009) and Shannon Stewart (Season 1 in 2003), but also some of the most notoriously abrasive girls the show has ever seen, namely Camille McDonald (Season 2 in 2004), Angelea Preston (Season 14 in 2010) and Dominique Reighard (Season 10 in 2008).

No longer newcomers on the modeling scene, each has matured well beyond their initial appearance on “Top Model” according to “All-Stars” and Season 5 alum Bre Scullark.

“It’s amazing to see how everybody’s grown and who they’ve become,” said Ms. Scullark, made famous through her involvement in a granola bar theft incident on the show in 2005. “We all have a little more experience and exposure. This time I’m living in a house with girls that really are models. It’s a lot different from [the first time around] living with girls who don’t know if they want to be models or TV stars.”

The blogosphere is abuzz with speculation about the legitimacy of the show as a “serious” fashion endeavor because of the inclusion of “mature” models — the oldest “All-Star” is 33 years old — in the upcoming cast. A model’s career in an industry that craves young, “fresh,” and often unknown faces usually is over by age 25, let alone 33. This has fans and industry insiders alike echoing Mr. Lagerfeld’s criticisms.

“It’s stupid to watch the show as if it’s like the real world,” 22-year-old longtime fan and British model, Avess Arshad, says. “It’s on television, so it loses credibility. [Tyra] is running a superficial show and trying to give it depth beyond anything it ever could have and that’s why it’s so cheesy.”

Detractors of the show have often been those directly involved with production. Janice Dickinson and Ms. Porizkova publicly criticized Ms. Banks and the show after their tenures as judges. Season 5 cast member Lisa D’Amato shocked fans by returning for the “All-Star” season after a very candid interview in 2010 with Out.com where she slammed the show, calling its contestants “[Tyra’s] little monkeys,” saying that Ms. Banks is “absolutely insane,” and that the show “absolutely does not portray the life of a real model.”

In the show’s initial 16 seasons, it has produced successful actresses. Season 3’s Yaya Dacosta starred in Best Picture nominee “The Kids Are All Right” alongside Julianne Moore and Season 10’s Analeigh Tipton garnered critical acclaim for her turn in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” with Steve Carell.

“Top Model” alums also have gone on to become public speakers, television show hosts and lead singers in rock bands, but the one thing “Top Model” has failed to produce is, well, America’s next top model.
“There are very few traditional supermodels these days and models have evolved into reality stars who can model,” said Laura Fuest, executive producer of “America’s Next Top Model. “‘ANTM All Stars’ takes some of the most successful former participants, who have used their experience and exposure on ‘ANTM’ to expand their modeling careers, and helps them to continue evolving their individual brands and entertainment career choices.”

International versions of the “Top Model” franchise have provided star-making platforms for some of the industry’s most in-demand new faces. Winner of the third season of “Australia’s Next Top Model,” supermodel Alice Burdeu, went on to appear on runways around the world, in campaigns for brands such as Dolce & Gabbana as well as gracing the cover of Vogue Australia twice.

Still, the American audience has come to perceive the U.S. version as somewhat of a joke because its first winner, Adrianne Curry, failed to make much of an impact on the fashion industry, instead opting for a career as a television personality with appearances on “The Surreal Life” and “My Fair Brady” after marrying actor Christopher Knight.

“I think the place where ‘ANTM’ has failed the most is dragging along contestants solely for their Cinderella stories or gimmicks,” Ms. L’Heureux says. “Too many times someone who has ‘overcome’ something wins over someone more deserving. That ‘story’ is what they’re recognizable for, not their modeling potential, and that ultimately doesn’t make them bookable.”

With the exception of Ms. Harvard, none of the “All-Stars” contestants was picked for her modeling skill during her previous season, Ms. L’Heureux says.

“They are most notable for their antics. Every single one of them has a notable incident in the show’s history,” she says. “So, this is a brilliant idea as far as the reality aspect of the show is concerned. As a modeling show? Not so much.”

Former contestants on the show agree.

Monique Weingart, Cycle 16, discusses the unfair stigma ANTM leaves contestants with

“I don’t think you can go on the [American version of the] show and expect to become a supermodel,” says contestant Monique Weingart, who appeared in Season 16. “I went to L.A. Models to meet with their New Faces division [after my season]. They laughed at me. I’ll go on castings and meet every requirement and bond with the client. They’ll say ‘You look really familiar.’ I’ll tell them I was on ‘Top Model’ and I never get a callback.”

Although some former contestants feel being on the show has been detrimental to their modeling careers, Ms. Scullark has enjoyed a career that’s to her liking.

“I think people don’t like rejection. I think that people don’t like to hear ‘No,’ whether it’s for a show or at a casting. Those are the excuses people hear, but it really just has to do with them personally,” she says. “I can only speak for myself. I have a Garnier Fructis campaign, print ad for Ambi Skincare and Dove Chocolate. I’ve worked really well with great clients after [Season] 5.”

Still, some winners, who usually receive a print campaign with CoverGirl cosmetics, a cover of a magazine (winners have graced everything from Seventeen to Elle Girl) and a contract with a prestigious modeling agency (from Wilhelmina to Elite) have trouble working in the industry. More than half of the show’s champions barely lasted two years with their prize agency. Contestants who won seasons three through six received representation by Ford Models, an agency with offices from Los Angeles to New York. But, when asked whether the winners booked a respectable amount of work while with the agency, a Los Angeles representative for Ford Models chuckled.

“Not necessarily,” he said.

“Breaking into the fashion industry and doing a reality television show are two different things,” Season 6 contestant Jade Cole says of the unfair “stigma” that followed her around after her appearance on the show.

Miss Jade, the Ace of Spades, Cycle 6’s notorious fan favorite discusses her time on ANTM

Ms. Cole, one of the most notorious contestants in the history of the show, declined to return for “All-Stars,” citing a “bogus” and “one-sided” contract.

“As much as I would have loved to be back on TV, I felt I possibly would be misrepresented if appearing on [Season] 17,” Ms. Cole says. “[It’s basically] signing your rights and life hypothetically away. … Reality shows frequently portray a modified and highly influenced form of reality. [We’re] often persuaded to act in specific scripted ways by off-screen ‘story editors’ or ‘segment television producers,’ with the portrayal of events and speech manipulated and contrived to create an illusion of reality through direction and post-production editing techniques.”

Still, a faint glimmer of hope remains for past contestants and the upcoming All-Stars. A booking agent for Anna Sui, one of the most successful labels in the fashion industry, said that he would consider booking a model that’d already been exposed to a wide audience on the show.

“It all depends on her look, I guess,” he said. “Anything is possible, but I’m afraid I haven’t been following that program.”

“Marble Hornets” Creators Talk Terrifying Audiences, Future of Digital Media

A feature by Joey Nolfi
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi
Originally Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Web series “Marble Hornets” has given big-budget gloss a run for its money.

Grainy, amateur video filmed by “real” people under the guise of documenting a “real” event — horrifying subjects ranging from the extraterrestrial to the paranormal — has been taking over since “The Blair Witch Project” first horrified audiences 12 years ago. You know what to expect from these kinds of movies by now, right?

Troy Wagner and Joseph DeLage, creators of the popular and downright terrifying YouTube series are trying to change that.

In 2009, Mr. Wagner and Mr. DeLage began production on “Marble Hornets,” a Web-based horror series that combines the handheld gimmick of “Quarantine” and “Trollhunter” with the same mysterious storytelling techniques that made “Lost” an international hit.

That “Blair Witch” verite style has grown into an overused phenomenon. It was a novelty in 1999. But, the “shaky cam” gimmick was ultimately an expert scare tactic contributing to the film’s freakish effect. It was good at harnessing audience trust in its authenticity but different from the way audiences were used to seeing a narrative unfold.

“The Blair Witch Project” was a massive hit, making back its production budget, a mere $60,000, almost 4,200 times over in worldwide box office receipts. A revitalization of studios distributing smaller independent productions surfaced.

Without the film that exposed the world to infamous snot-and-tears confessionals, a tongue and teeth wrapped in a handkerchief and a grown man standing in a corner, indie-turned-blockbuster hits like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” never may have found studio-backed distribution. And what would the romantic comedy genre be today without its highest grossing picture of all time?

While verite-style films such as “Cloverfield” and “Paranormal Activity” exploded onto screens around the world after “The Blair Witch Project,” two friends set out with a meager budget, a standard recreational camera and a great idea.

“I see this as a giant experiment that got entirely out of hand. At first it was a thing to keep us busy during the summer,” Mr. Wagner said, fumbling for words and looking to Mr. DeLage to describe the series. “It ballooned into this big phenomenon. … Well, it’s not that big … you want to help me out here?”

The project’s complexity baffles even its creators.

The story revolves around a young man, Jay (Mr. Wagner), trying to uncover the circumstances surrounding the mysterious disappearance of his friend Alex (Mr. DeLage), who’d been working on a student film until he abandoned the project for mysterious reasons. Jay posts archived videos from Alex’s collection on the YouTube account “MarbleHornets” (search the username on the site for the channel) as he comes across them. Sometimes he posts on a weekly basis. Other “entries,” as they’re called, have appeared months apart to coincide with events in the narrative. What Jay uncovers, though, is a tangled web of paranormal occurrences, masked antagonists and terrifying appearances from a mythical creature known affectionately by fans as the Slender Man.

Unlike other studio-backed productions, the Alabama duo’s homespun filmmaking style epitomizes true independent spirit.

“Our budget was 100 percent out of pocket when we first started out,” Mr. DeLage said. “We had no advertising revenue, so we had a budget of maybe $500 for the first 26 videos.”

The first video passed the 1 million mark in total viewership, with subsequent entries garnering just as many.

That’s quite an accomplishment for two University of Alabama students who hold down part-time jobs, attend classes, maintain a social life, and produce one of the biggest Internet hits this side of Ray William Johnson. They’ve achieved a fair amount of Internet fame as actors in the series, and they’re recognized at work or in class as being “from the Internet.”

“Marble Hornets” poses thought-provoking storytelling combined with visceral thrills that set it apart from its competition.

But “Marble Hornets” is still very much a product of the digital age. Its creators say the idea was fostered on a message board where users would create myths surrounding various paranormal/mythical creatures. One in particular, the Slender Man, piqued their interest.

“For whatever reason, I can’t explain, everyone on the forum gravitated toward that one character,” Mr. Wagner said. “I decided to build a narrative video of this. I wrote a quick story up and posted the whole introduction all in text on the thread, I called Joseph, and we decided to make a video.”

Aside from the idea of the Slender Man, the project came out of an ease of access to a media outlet that didn’t require studio backing.

“I think things like Netflix and YouTube are definitely the next final frontier,” Mr. Wagner said. “Assuming the Internet doesn’t become so expensive that no one can afford it, it’s very exciting what it could do and what it’s becoming.”

“Until they can digitally imprint shows on your brain, the Internet has changed everything,” Mr. DeLage concurred, “That is the only direction the media can go into. We’re never going to see anything that really challenges something that can provide what Netflix or YouTube can. Everything else just seems like a step backward.”

While “Marble Hornets” has found a faithful YouTube audience (nearly 100,000 subscribers have viewed each of the 46 entries almost 19 million times), its creators say they’ve been approached by production studios interested in the project. But, they say that the series wouldn’t function as well as a 90-minute film.

“Even though once it’s said and done, [“Marble Hornets”] is about the same length as a movie,” Mr. Wagner said. “But it’s like making a comparison between a movie and a TV show. When you watch a movie you kind of have this unspoken rule that if the movie goes over two hours long it has to be good. In a [series] season, once all said and done, it’s 12 hours. You have much more character development and story arc than a movie at the same time. Each entry is to be its own kind of standalone thing.”

While the thought of a television deal is appealing to them, both say that they are content with continuing to please fans online. While television may provide a much bigger platform, their creative control would significantly decrease. With “Marble Hornets,” Mr. Wagner and Mr. DeLage have placed their work on display and allowed the audience to gravitate to them. It’s even gotten the attention of Roger Ebert, who has called the series “remarkably well done.”

“We were in total shock and awe,” Mr. DeLage said. “We couldn’t really accept that a guy who’s that hard to impress was impressed with what we were doing.”

While “Marble Hornets” — in its second season — has maintained a large following, its creators say they foresee its end after a third season. Although the series may come to a close, its creators will work on other projects.

“I couldn’t even tell you how many Google documents full of ideas we’ve come up with,” Mr. DeLage said. “We consider ourselves more comic than formatic, ‘Marble Hornets’ just happens to be our first foray into serious anything. A lot of our proposed projects aren’t thriller mysteries, but they’re not just silliness either.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

When Art Becomes the Artist; ANTM Winner, Model, Musician, Naima Mora is a Melting Pot of Expression

An Interview with Naima Mora

By Joey Nolfi

She’s a world-class fashion muse and a quirky tomboy; the face of an industry that prides itself on the image of untouchable perfection while still finding time to mentor crowds of young people as a very tangible inspirational speaker. And she’s about as different as she appeared on reality television as the words “Chanel” and “men’s clothing” are from each other.

Naima Mora is a slew of contradictions, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.

Mora’s catapult to fame as the winner of the fourth season of Tyra Banks’ wildly popular “America’s Next Top Model” is only a blip on the radar of this young artistic maven’s long list of career milestones. From posing on the beaches of the Cayman Islands to rocking out onstage with her band at a gig in New York City, Mora can do (and has done) it all.

Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, Mora’s roots run deep within the realm of artistic expression.

“My parents are musicians, and I remember waking up every morning to some different kind of awesome music from a different part of the world,” she says of her childhood, “They always encouraged my twin sister and I to follow our artistic endeavors.”

After studying art at summer camps and crafting the illegal kind in her free time (she says she enjoyed slumming downtown, tagging and spray painting trucks and abandoned buildings), Mora channeled her interests into the fine art of dance.

“In slight contradiction to my tomboy way of life I was a ballet dancer and I loved it,” she says, “When I moved to New York City I was dancing all day with my ballet company and in the evenings I went to night school for creative writing.”

Soon after, the same girl who was so graceful onstage in ballet slippers was soon gracing the set of “America’s Next Top Model”, a competition Mora says far exceeded her expectations.

“America’s Next Top Model was a very emotional journey,” she says, “When I do build the nerve to watch back a couple of episodes, I look back on a younger me. I think I had a lot of balls going out to win that competition, although I can tell I was really nervous most of the time.”

Mora’s nerves proved for naught, seeing as she was crowned “America’s Next Top Model” by Tyra Banks herself, winning out over runner-up Kahlen Rondot, who has since quit the modeling industry.

For every ounce of fame Mora has garnered since her appearance on the show, now heading into its 17th bi-annual “cycle”, an equal amount of backlash follows. Claims of the show being “fixed” after Cycle 9’s winner, Saleisha Stowers, appeared in countless national print ads (as well as on “The Tyra Banks Show”) prior to her tenure on the show have led to some fans questioning the legitimacy of the show itself as well as Ms. Banks’ investment in the girls.

Mora says those claims, echoed loudly and publicly by other former contestants (namely Lisa D’Amato, Lauren Utter, and Adrianne Curry) are simply not true.

“I do believe Tyra genuinely cares about all the girls on the show and I believe that she wants all of the models to move on to pursue wonderful careers,” she admits, “But we cannot expect Tyra or the network to just drop the jobs and work into our hands. I have had to learn the ropes pretty much on my own since winning the show. ‘America’s Next Top Model’ is not only mentorship between Tyra and the models, it is a business as well. There have been a lot of contestants, and while I do believe Tyra cares, I also know that she is working on not only the show but other facets of her own career.”

While Mora enjoyed her time on “Top Model”, she admits that the pressure of having a crew document her every move over the course of a few months took its toll. The audience, however, responded in a largely positive manner to her onscreen character as the rather subdued “reformed party girl”.

“It all depends on how you portray yourself,” she explains, “It’s sad to see though that with more reality television arising, people feel the need to portray themselves in such a bad or negative light to get attention and the American public feeds this by supporting it.”

Whether she was “edited to look that way” or simply too nervous in the spotlight, Mora’s demeanor on the show has facilitated her fans’ confusion with the next step of her career; hard rocking frontwoman of the band Galaxy of Tar.

“The idea that you can know someone completely from a month’s worth of filming is a bit odd,” Mora says in response to the confusion, “I have always loved rock music and the older I get the more I have matured inside of rock culture. I think people were given a chance to witness the kind of person I am, but not who I am entirely from the filming of ‘America’s Next Top Model’. I have always been a bit dark and I’m intrigued by the more magical side of things.”

“Dark” and “magical” are yet another opposing set of descriptors that perfectly profile Galaxy of Tar’s sound. But her current frontwoman position of the group isn’t Mora’s first foray into the realm of sonic heaven.

“A couple of years ago my best friend invited me to sing for his band,” she says of Chewing Pics, the band in question, “That project broke up last year, but it gave us a chance to do something we really wanted to. [We] were interested in pushing some boundaries while the other musicians wanted to make safer music. After we all agreed that it wasn’t going to work out we moved on.”

Despite the demise of Chewing Pics, Galaxy of Tar has achieved success. The band released their first EP, Pneuma, in May of this year.

Although Mora says that she enjoys crafting music and the artistic outlet it provides, some of the output puzzles her just as much as it has for her fans.

“Galaxy of Tar sounds weird a lot of times to me, but that’s a great thing in my book,” she says, “we constantly aim at creating something new. I love the challenge of making sense out of [bandmate Elias’] creation. Most of the music I love now and that inspires me was difficult to understand at first, but the project is particularly special to me because it is something I have set up in my life that will consistently challenge me and perpetuates my own artistic and humanistic growth.”

And she’s got the fiercest onstage moves this side of Karen O., to boot.

“Performing is an extension of myself. It’s definitely evolved since the days of Chewing Pics,” she says, “I just wrap myself up in the moment and the music and allow myself to go wild for a while. I allow myself to fall desperately in love or become angry with vengeance.”

While she moves like a veteran rocker she also maintains the elegance and grace of a model walking down a Versace runway. Although “My music has one hundred times more of an effect on my modeling than vice versa,” she says.

Whether it’s tearing up the stage in front of a crowd of fans or promoting only the most chic of fashions in an ad campaign, Naima Mora says the one thing that keeps her going is self confidence.

“At least once a week I question whether what I am doing is crazy or not,” she says, “all my heroes are crazy too or at least were perceived as crazy at first. I brush that doubt aside. It only lasts for a moment or so.”

While that goes to show that even the most pristine of faces can crack, Mora says that remaining an independent force amidst an industry of deprecation is key to finding success.

“I have sacrificed jobs for integrity. I have sacrificed sometimes integrity for jobs. But that is the growing process of life and learning,” she says, “I really don’t like the politics of a lot of things in both the music and modeling industry, but I have learned to approach these things on my own terms.”

And those of us that get to admire her beautifully diverse career are genuinely appreciate of that.

Follow Naima on Twitter: @NaimaMora

Follow Joey on Twitter: @joeynolfi