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TELEVISION & RADIO | TUNED IN

'Next Top Model': Let's put it to a vote

May 20, 2003|Scott Sandell | Times Staff Writer

In Hollywood, it's what is known as "high concept": Take "Fear Factor," combine it with "American Idol" and make the contestants ... models! So you know that "America's Next Top Model" on UPN is going hit a low or two.

Created and hosted by cover girl Tyra Banks, the show starts at 9 tonight with a nationwide search for would-be supermodels, narrowed down to 10 finalists who stay in a New York City penthouse, dine on food fit more for a fat cat than a sex kitten and generally live the life of luxury.

All is not well in paradise, however, as quickly becomes apparent. For one, sharing living quarters inevitably leads to conflicts, over everything from cigarettes to religion. For another, the pressure of competition looms: by the end of the hour, one of the 10 will be voted off.

There is also the price of beauty: humiliation in front of a national audience. It starts off relatively mildly, with the weighing of the contestants. Rail-thinness and plus-sizing come under equal criticism here, but to what effect on the women's self-image? And then there is the bikini wax: All 10 hopefuls get them, and the audience watches as they undergo the procedure. Enough said.

This week's contest is a photo shoot modeling swimwear atop a New York high-rise in bone-chilling weather -- because summer fashions must be shot well ahead of season, photographer Douglas Bizzaro devilishly explains. The ultimate prize, at series' end, is a Revlon modeling contract, management by Wilhelmina Models and an appearance in Marie Claire magazine.

The judging panel comprises Banks, former supermodel Janice Dickinson, Marie Claire fashion editor Beau Quillian, designer Kimora Lee Simmons of the Baby Phat line and a guest. This week's is Bizzaro. As you would expect, the evaluations tend toward the brutal.

Rather than receiving a rose as on "The Bachelor," each successful woman will get her photograph from Banks, with the loser being left out of the picture in more ways than one.

"America's Next Top Model" is a fun concept, especially for male viewers, but it would be better if the camera, and the people behind it, loved these women more.

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