Tyra Banks

Jael Strauss and the Era of Exploitation

Crying and frustrated, a then 22-year old Jael Strauss fought to compose herself for a photoshoot on the set of “America’s Next Top Model” back in early 2007. A friend from home had died only a day or two prior of a drug overdose, giving an eerie significance to the shoot’s theme of beauty in the moments preceding a painful death. Each of the contestants were given a grim scenario to pose through. Some were pushed off buildings, and some were simply shot in the head (quick and easy). Jael was set to portray a model who was strangled. She lay there atop silky sheets, stilettos and lace in tow, staring coldly into the camera as tiny tears trickled down her porcelain face.

The pain was real, exploited by producers with a cruel tie-in photoshoot with bitter relevancy to Jael’s life; the bruised markings on her neck giving new meaning to the words “strangling” and “suffocation” as photographers snapped away and producers hovered over this spilled glass of a situation as not to let it trickle to the floor.

There’s only so much “reality” we can endure in reality television.

Fast-forward five years. Strauss, now 28, is the subject of scrutiny yet again as she goes public with her addiction to meth on “The Dr. Phil Show” tomorrow, where her family stages an intervention for the troubled model. She’s come full circle since that fateful day in 2007. The fear of death and uncertainty ringing in her voice as she learned what killed her friend via telephone, now channeled into some sort of banshee war cry screaming for the “Dr. Phil” cameras to leave her alone. A face once porcelain now tinged with sores, aged what looks to be nearly twice what it is in reality.

This begs the question of how much the “Top Model” producers knew about Jael’s fragile state as they were casting for the show. It’s no doubt that Strauss is good television. Her antics were just shy of insanity, enough to make her talking to chickens in Australia or brandishing a tutu and electric blue wig part of a  repertoire of endearing quirks. But the fact remains that her dear friend died of a drug overdose. Is this indicative of the “crowd” Strauss was running with? Certainly drug tests and psychological screenings were mandated for all contestants of Cycle 8, but I still recall past contestants telling me they’d seen Jael at numerous parties taking endless amounts of drugs and unable to hold herself up on two feet.

Ignore reality, indulge the “reality” fantasy, right? It’s unhealthy (and, frankly, none of our business) to speculate on the lives of others especially when we’re given such miniscule fractions of them to begin with. Jael is, unfortunately, another victim of a self-fulfilling prophecy of pop culture junkies. “Red flag” during filming and “red flag” post-show automatically correlate. Jael was odd, so Jael was obviously an addict. The fact remains that we know little, if anything, about the “real” life of Jael Strauss. A few conversations with barnyard fowl doesn’t crack that lid open any further.

What I can say, however, is that the screening process for reality television contestants (and the format of the “behind the scenes” operations) need to change. Contestants, who have asked to remain anonymous, report to me that “Top Model,” not unlike any other reality competition show, is a highly structured mockery of what a “real” model experiences on a daily basis. Re-shoots, scripting, fake-outs (production assistants telling a girl she did horrible on the shoot and that she will be eliminated only to have her called first at panel), all equate to a look at “reality” through a filtered, agendized lens. And since Tyra’s reportedly not too interested in the contestants after they graduate from “Top Model” (http://gawker.com/5942709/americas-next-top-model-winner-caridee-english-describes-how-sucky-it-is-to-win-antm), how are such unstable contestants as Jael supposed to handle something like the diluted version of “fame” that exploded for her in such a short time, only to fizzle out a few months later? One way I can think of…well…meth, anyone?

CariDee English, winner of Cycle 7, seems to think that “they should have evaluated her a lot more before letting her on the show. All they saw was a personality good for television. Well, this hopefully will save at least her life and someone watching. Everything happens for a reason.”

What do you call those who “allow” this sort of thing to happen? That’s right…enablers. Sitting back, digesting this sort of crap television, and processing it via sounding off on the various “personalities” that were all, whether psychologically unstable, current or future addicts, “good for television.”

At what point do we accept responsibility, at least in part, for circumstances such as this? I can’t tell you how many times my praise for Jael during the airing of Cycle 8 was met with “she looks like a crack whore” or “she acts like she’s on drugs” comments from friends and online message board users alike. Since when did insensitivity become acceptable? Is it the filter of the computer screen? The inability to accept the person we see before us as a “person?” I’m in no way saying we are responsible for Jael’s addiction, but we are responsible for indulging in a medium which parades “personality” (AKA – people like Jael) as a freakshow free-for-all. In the end, we only can find comfort in knowing that this proves Tyra Banks’ self-help, “love yourself,” “let’s make a role model-model” piece of television has never had anything to do with modeling –runway nor role.

The fact remains that Jael sought out to be something greater than what she thought her current state afforded her. She sought out reality television to make her a star. A quick-fix overnight modeling sensation that, in reality, takes years to produce. In turn, she was met with a lack of success, an a short-burning fuse as a reality tv implosion. Get famous quick, lose fame even quicker, indulge in escapist fantasy provided by drugs. This is the industry we support simply for a “good personality” to watch fall apart week by week. Americans believe in these rags-to-riches stories because shows like “Top Model” force us into their ideologies where stars are born over the course of a 12-week “competition.” Let’s get one thing straight: modeling isn’t something that can be “judged” or “rewarded” in a weekly competition. In essence, Tyra’s show doesn’t even represent the reality of the “reality” it supposedly documents. So Jael’s descent into drug addiction seems a fitting descent into the, well, “real.” There is no godly “Hand of Banks” that descends from the sky to carry you through to an astronomically difficult dream to attain. This is the harsh reality shows like “Top Model” ignore and gloss over, and Jael is living proof.

And even the “Dr. Phil” clips scream exploitation. We’re making connections to the “before and after,” the downward spiral, and the spectacle of her reaction to the “intervention” that was staged purely to get, as it occurred today, the gossip sites abuzz with fodder in the form of a “former model” (notice how they’re only “models” when they fuck up, because they’re certainly regarded as just the opposite after they’re on “Top Model”) named Jael Strauss.

A consumer as addict and enabler; through our instantly gratified desire for “out-there” personalities and quickfire, meaningless on-air conflicts; to focus groups, tracking polls, and Nielsen ratings designed to reflect just what we want from the networks. That’s one to think about, isn’t it?

Here’s to hoping Jael gets the help she needs.
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Jay Manuel Says Male ‘Top Model’ is “not something we would do”

It’s been discussed time and time again on countless message boards, website threads, and blogs alike. Hell, even my friends as casual viewers have proposed it amidst one of our weekly “endurances” (it can no longer be called “viewings”) of Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Model. What they all say is simple; replace the tears, sob stories, and aggressively “real” (i.e., within the context of reality show “real”; crying, backstabbing, and all around bitchery) conflict the show loves so much with the tanned-and-toned physique of 14 male competitors instead. But, while giving a presentation at the University of Pittsburgh (attended by yours truly), fashion/television personality and America’s Next Top Model creative director Jay Manuel put to rest one of the most heavily contested rumors in the 9-year old show’s history.

A male version of the usually all-female reality competition is “probably not something we would do” according to the 39-year old Canada native who, in response to a question on the topic from a member of the audience, provided rationale for that decision that may surprise you.

Manuel says that the discussion at the round table of one of Tyra Banks’ production meetings (…shit your pants a little? The thought alone is ominous enough) revolves around the appeal of the show’s all-female contestants to not only the target audience of 18-49 year old females, but rather to their male “partners” (alright, “boyfriends,” “husbands,” “apparent television slave,” etc.) who are “forced” to watch the show by their daintier half.

Manuel says countless males come up to him on the street and tell him they know him from the show they’re “forced” to watch by their ladyfriends, saying they enjoy looking at the scantily clad bodies but, as every good “bro” would have you believe, are in NO WAY (AT ALL!!) interested in ANY of the fashionable aspects of the show whatsoever. So, Top Model not only solidifies itself as secondary foreplay for all the heterosexual couples out there, but also as a dazzlingly charming alternative to the “no sex tonight, guess I’ll just masturbate in the shower” that’d no doubt occur as punishment. Surely the legacy Banks and company sought after off the inaugural cycle nearly a decade ago (only about 5 years in Mr. Jay time; seriously guys, the man is going on 40 and has the youthful complexion of a gerber baby’s ass…dipped in the containing jar’s mashed carrot content for coloring, of course)

Despite Manuel’s insistence that a core part of the viewers of Top Model are straight men (again, who knew?) who would be alienated by watching shirtless men for an hour (44 minutes with commercials, guys, and about 55% of that dedicated to God Banks, so it’s not ALL bad), he also cited the failure of other male modeling competitions like Manhunt as a model for an all-male Top Model‘s projected failure.

“Are men really as interesting to watch in a competitive aspect like that?” he asked the audience (i.e.; men are boring). What he really meant to say was “Unless you want to watch an hour-long brofest punctuated by the most desperate self promotional tactics on the face of the earth, you’ll take your ANTM-xploitation and its mass murder of feminism as long as we continue to skullfuck it down your throat.”

‘America’s Next Top Model’ Cycle 18 Cast Pictures LEAKED; Half U.S./Half ‘Britain’s Next Top Model’ Rejects

Apparently Tyra’s scraped the bottom of the U.S. barrel for the last time. Only six contestants on Cycle 18 will be from the United States. The remaining cast will be fleshed out with rejects from “Britain’s Next Top Model.”

The "U.S." contestants on Cycle 18 of 'Top Model'

The "U.K."/"Britain's Next Top Model" reject portion of the Cycle 18 cast on 'Top Model'

I’ve run out of things to say about this show, anymore. The course has been run. I am digging the faux-Amber Rose, though.

This whole show just gets one big, ghetto, Angelea-sized “SMH.”

“Top Model”-gate; Bianca, Shannon, respond; WHAT DA $*#& HAPPENED!?

 

It was a fitting conclusion, the “America’s Next Top Model: All Stars” finale was. The aftershocks of which are currently rippling through the entertainment industry. By “entertainment industry” I mean the 18 gays and their hags (and those on the RTV + IMDB forums, holla!) who still watch this shit (The CW’s core demographic, you know).

 “Top Model” has cemented itself as part of a dying breed of reality programs aimed at authenticating a weekly “competition,” validating its winner with the promise of household name status. We’ve seen them come and go on “Making the Band,” release-and-drop from a label on “Idol,” hawk a collection on BlueFly.com and fade away into some costume design gig for local theatre post-“Runway”. But “Top Model” has always taken the cake for showcasing some of the most rotund of egos out there, regardless of their post-show “work” including an AppleBottoms spread as its biggest accomplishment (I’m looking at you, Jade) or a successful career in something that isn’t…well…modeling (I throw a side eye to you, Ms. Yaya).

Sadly, “All-Stars” did nothing but reaffirm that this is a show whose battle cry has been reduced to the sounding off of its various contestants via Twitter, which ultimately happens to be far more entertaining than anything that’s happened to “Top Model” all year (yes, I’m looking at you too, Cycle 16). Although that whole “Lisa popping up on the wrong side of the pool” thing was fucking tight).

The “All-Star” season was nothing more than a platform which gave already self-inflated (attached to under-producing “models”) egos the impression that they’re actually entitled to a place in an industry the “competition” suggested they were part of. 14 “icons” (as some of their Twitter account biographies self-proclaim) duked it out in an all-out exploitation of why “Top Model” hasn’t worked for about 5 years now (I realize that’s a generous overstatement).

If this show were anything at all about modeling, there wouldn’t be an “America’s Next Top Model” at all. Modeling isn’t something you can “reward” week after week. You have a model’s face, proportions, height, etc. or you don’t. You’ll most certainly never have to record your own single (Banks herself will be the first one to tell you that’s not a good idea… “Shake Ya Body,” anyone?) , produce a fragrance, or validate your own flag-football/hot dog designing/salad bowl posing skills (I kid you not; each of these was a challenge on cycle 17).

The aftermath of last night’s crowning of Lisa D’Amato as the ultimate “Top Model” All-Star (which basically just means a free Express campaign, Vogue Italia Spread, and “Guest” correspondent job on “Extra”) was met with a slathering of loathsome comments unto Tyra’s Facebook page. Twitter exploded. The forums ignited. The Allicats hissed.

And Angelea apparently peaced.

You see, a quick bit of editing post-ridiculous runway challenge (note to all aspiring models; you’ll never have to do anything remotely close to that) incriminated Angelea as…well…something.

 “She just didn’t seem right,” Lisa said, mentioning something further about Angelea’s uneven behavior and “racing” heart. We’re shown the diva in question demonizing herself, mug plastered with a blank stare in some spliced (what was undoubtedly shot as) B-roll I’m sure she was entirely unaware would later be used to incriminate her as some sort of drug addict (which I’m sure the producers wanted us to think).

Cut to commercial.

We return on panel, the usual post-runway judging that would involve the three contestants we, you know, left at the runway. But that’s not the case; Tyra and Nigel announce that Angelea has been disqualified. Some dribble about producers “finding something out” that rendered her ineligible to compete.

“We’re back in LA for a special judging,” Tyra says. “We decided it would be best to evaluate Lisa and Allison’s work in a separate judging that does not involve Angelea.” Lisa and Allison appear before us as if nothing had ever happened. Actually, Allison’s you-can-totally-tell-what-she’s-thinking-at-all-times face sort of read “Tyra be stealin’ cookies from da jar, I know, but I ain’t tellin’ ‘cept fo’ a lil raised eyebrow.

Time clearly passed, though. Enough time for Lisa to get a haircut and Allison’s eyebrows to return to a normal shade of brown as opposed to the horrendous shade of blonde they’d been dyed in Greece.

Rumors abound that Angelea initially won the competition in Crete, blabbed about the win to someone (press, Facebook, Twitter…who knows), was stripped of her title, refused to show up for the re-shoot (where Lisa would have won) and was then disqualified.

 This wouldn’t be entirely unconventional, especially not by “Top Model” standards. I mean, Angelea was the only bitch on this show who was actually eating right the fuck out of Tyra’s stretched (gloved, no doubt—commonfolk germs spread easy, you know) stigmata-plagued (in her own mind) hand. Tears, like, actual legit tears were shed by Angelea over the most minute of slip-ups this cycle. She took this shit seriously, bawling harder than when we first met her (under extremely unfortunate circumstances) three years ago. “This means so much to me,” she’d commonly spout. Clearly.

Can’t say the same for Allison, on the other hand, who couldn’t have given the slightest hint of a fuck (“Today you’re shooting with *insert no-name photographer here*! *other girls jump, Allison remains motion/expressionless*) about this whole damn thing (every judging, her face read an equal “you mean I have to fucking stay again?”).

Lisa was the most logical choice for a winner based on the “All-Star” format right from the get-go. She was vocal about using this to promote herself (“This win will be a great platform to advertise my new album!” she says), understanding the show for what it is and relishing in all its trashy exploitation. It’s just too bad she spent years trashing the show in interviews “We were all Tyra’s little monkeys” she said in an Out.com feature).

That point holds true when you examine Janice Dickinson’s surprisingly candid (actually, I’m more surprised it took her this long to finally admit it) interview yesterday, where she told Tyra to “suck a bag of stank,” revealing that CoverGirl actually picked the “Top Model” winner. It was rather difficult to discern who the eternal-bitchface CoverGirl rep “liked” last night (she seemed “tolerant” of Lisa, at best) but Angelea’s not-seen-on-the-show-but-still-leaked-to-the-public shot was, by technical standards, the best “CoverGirl” shot of the bunch.

Shannon Stewart claims the finale was taped in Crete (“I flew back with the girls..they did not reshoot the finale” she boasted on Twitter a few hours ago). Unbeknownst to her, Tyra actually said they were filming the finale in LA on last night’s show (What the fuck other reason would they have to fly back to LA for the finale MINUS Angelea? Calling attention to this was the huge mistake here).

Bianca Golden was quick to side-eye bitchslap Stewart’s comments to the ground (still waiting for Shannon’s obligatory “don’t crucify me” response to Biancus Pilate), telling her to “shut up” (burn) and revealing that she “knows” what really happened. To unlock the secret? She needs 20,000 followers by tomorrow (the thirst for publicity is never quenched, apparently).

Even Isis took the opportunity to sound off smack dab in the middle of this profound war of propheticism. “Producers promised us (decoys) would be shown in finial [sic] runway show.. cant believe it until you see it, and I hear it wasnt shown #antm” [sic, once again, one giant sic on this whole fucking thing]. She apparently didn’t get the memo about other more important matters, but this deserved a shout out in its own aloof absurdity as well.

First of all, I can’t stop thinking about is how fucking awful Allison has to feel right now. What was that production call like? “Umm…we have to reshoot you losing again…again.” And I’m not talking about “awful” as in “sad” but as in “I FUCKING THOUGHT THIS SHIT WAS OVER” (did you see the look of relief on her face last night?).

To be honest, I really don’t know what to make of this whole thing. The show shot itself in the foot after the first season, when the Jades, the Lisas, and the Angeleas ensured that no one from this show would ever be taken seriously in the modeling industry. I guess arguing about this kind of thing is like trying to bitch about what type of cancer is worse. There’s really nothing “good” that can come out of either side.

But right in the middle of it all is Lisa, happy as a clam.

“You’re all all-stars and stars to me,” she said on Twitter today.

Hearts and smiles, I suppose. I suppose your very own Italian Vogue spread that you can dangle over their heads will do that to you.

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.”

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

IMG Passes on “Top Model” Molly O’Connell…WTF?

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

I’ve seen a lot in my days of bitchily covering ANTM happenings. Girls talking to plants. Runners-up gracing more than just a few extra covers than the winners of their respective cycle. Hell, an ent from ‘Lord of the Rings’ even won Cycle 14.

But IMG’s recent passing up of Molly O’Connell really has me scratching my head.

The fact that Brittani Kline (repping PA, holla!) won Cycle 16 is still as baffling to many as Jade’s decision to turn down an invite to All-Stars, airing in September. But the fact that Kline was given the leg-up over O’Connell was the real shocker. O’Connell’s portfolio is one of, if not the, best portfolio the show has ever seen. Her bitchy attitude was much in line with how Paulina Porizkova described the actual industry successes in her blog posting last week on the Huffington Post.

So why did IMG, a top international agency, pass? No one knows for sure.

“Yep, now I get to search for new agencies. How fun,” O’Connell’s twitter says after she posted an update about a meeting with the famed agency, “Whatever, Life goes on I guess.”

The life of this topic certainly does. At least for the countless hoardes (ok, all 10) of us who still obsess over this show like Camille McDonald to a fame whoring opportunity.

Perhaps Kline sprinkled some gremlin dust on O’Connell as she slept (they’re roommates now, living in Hoboken, New Jersey. Oh the places the limelight will take you) seeing as her position with the agency was sort of, well, bought.

IMG reps and guest judges alike seemed to adore O’Connell’s look, at least judging from what we were shown on television this past cycle. Perhaps it was Tyra’s way of “spicing things up” to give us a “dramatic” twist of events during the finale in crowning Kline the winner. Fans were certainly shocked, and lunches were unavoidably tossed from their containing stomachs.

The future is still bright for Ms. O’Connell. I have no doubt she’ll be joining the ranks of Mollie Sue, Elyse, and Fatima as a high fashion queen of foreign editorials and hipster fanboys wet dreams.

Best of Luck, Molly. Lord knows you’re not going to need it.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi