America's Next Top Model: The "Cheating" Controversy
America's Next Top Model: The "Cheating" Controversy
I was actually out and about last night while the finale of America's Next Top Model was airing. I came home, pulled up the America's Next Top Model page on BuddyTV and saw the split screen of Saleisha Stowers and Chantal Jones in the final runway show, meaning Jenah Doucette had already been sent home.

My first thought?

“Wow! We're going to have a LOT of disgruntled ANTM fans commenting tonight!”

Well, I would say count me as one of the disgruntled, except that at this point, I'm just over it, over the whole dullsville season.

However, while I'm not thrilled that Saleisha won, it's not because of the prior experience that has many other viewers feeling like something smells fishy with this finale. I don't know if it's exactly fair, but I'm also not exactly sure if Saleisha should be considered a “cheater.”

We all knew that Saleisha had worked with Tyra Banks at a T-Zone camp. But as many savvy viewers have been pointing out both here and in fevered America's Next Top Model forums across the internet, she's also actually modeled on Tyra's own show before, appeared in a nationally-televised Wendy's ad, and had some other appearances that some viewers feel are in violation of the rule that the contestants cannot be part of any national campaign as a model.

Tyra clearly knew about her background, having worked with her at a T-Zone camp and having her model at a Tyra show. To me, a cheater is someone who sets out to break the rules. So is it possible for Saleisha to have “cheated” if it's the show itself that's changing the rules?

I feel that if anything, it's the show, not the girl, that we should be holding responsible. Why should Saleisha turn down an opportunity to progress her career if the show itself clearly thought her previous experience was okay? If you're playing a game and the ref tells you you're not breaking a rule or you can play the game a certain way, even if the rules appear to say otherwise, are you cheating? Or just going with what the authority figure said?

Maybe the show felt that an exception could be made because her modeling time on the Tyra show wasn't an actual “campaign” as specified in the show rules. And maybe her Wendy's commercial wasn't considered working as a model, but rather as an actress.

I don't know – and that's the problem. We don't know what the rationale was for allowing Saleisha to continue in the competition, and it seems like hubris of the show to not clarify these points. Did they think a curious and connected audience wouldn't bring these things up? After nine cycles, you would like to think they would have some respect for the viewers and be more transparent about what happens behind the scenes.

And sure, Tyra mentioned that she would be “harder” on Saleisha because of the T-Zone experience, but did we actually see that come to fruition?

Saleisha had a rather shortened-looking neck in almost all of her photos. Don't get me wrong – I actually like Saleisha. I think she's plenty cute, could even photograph high fashion at times. And she could probably work to create the impression of a longer neck…but it's just, again, the lack of consistency with the application of standards.

How many times have you heard Tyra criticize a girl for having no neck in a photo? About a zillion? And how many times did we hear her criticize Tootie for not having a neck in her photos? I swear it was close to zero. It's a nitpicky thing, but fashion photography is about precisely these nitpicky things; heck, Tyra's the one who taught us all of that!

Well, maybe it's time that Tyra herself learns a few rules of reality television: namely, you can only ask so much of an audience. America's Next Top Model viewers are willing, to some extent, to suspend their disbelief with some elements of the program, mainly that some of these girls could even be considered to be models based on the current standards in the marketplace. And we're willing to still watch and be invested in the outcome even if none of the winners has gone yet on to actually be a Top Model at any serious level within high fashion.

But you can't keep pushing the boundaries of reality in the interest of making your reality show work. And the reality is: Saleisha's previous experience causes a lot of skepticism in the minds of the viewers. Maybe they legitimately didn't think it would, but it would seem that a more honest approach wouldn't have left so many viewers with a bad taste, feeling like instead of America's Next Top Model, last night Tyra crowned America's Next Top Cheater.



-Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of The CW)

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