America's Next Top Model, Cycle Eight, Premiere Episode "The Girl Who Won't Stop Talking"
Originally aired on Wednesday, 02/28/2007

Episode Rating:  * * * (3 stars out of 5)

Episode Overview:
It’s just girls girls girls as Cycle Eight of America’s Next Top Model begins.  Through the two hour premiere, the field of thirty-three girls are whittled down to the top thirteen.

Episode Highlights:
  • The girls arrive and head right to Model Boot Camp with Miss J. Alexander and Jay Manuel.
  • After the first panel, the group is narrowed to 20, and after a party photo shoot, the final thirteen are selected.
  • But the thirteen aren’t safe for long!  After a photo shoot with hottie judge Nigel Barker, and an impromptu fashion show, we have yet another elimination!

Recap:  Thirty-three girls from across the country have been selected to participate in Cycle Eight America’s Next Top Model.  And over the next two hours, twenty-one of them will have their hearts broken as Tyra Banks and the judges make their first series of eliminations.

The thirty-three girls arrive and are whisked away to…a military museum?  Miss J. Alexander and Jay Manuel arrive to set them straight.  Miss J. informs them that the judges are tired of “busted walks” and bad attitudes who aren’t ready to meet Tyra, so these “model maggots” are going to go through Model Boot Camp.  

What, pray tell, is Model Boot Camp?  It’s like regular Boot Camp, but with higher heels.

The girls have to march and line up and shout “Sir, yes sir!” when questioned.  The J’s pepper them with fashion questions, and once again, it’s a field of fashion wanna-be’s with very little fashion knowledge.  Only one model-recruit – a pixie blond named Sarah Vonderhaar – knows who Richard Avedon was.  The others can’t name five American designers or answer who Caroline Herrera is.  Every season this happens, and every season this surprises me.  Don’t these girls mainline Vogue every month?

Finally, it seems they have been toyed with enough and it’s time to meet Tyra.  She makes a big entrance backed by a few Phi Beta Sigma steppers and delivers a rousing speech to the girls, exhorting them to “Be all you can be not bitch all you can bitch!”

Then it’s off to panel.  Some highlights from panel:

Kathleen DuJour – she is 20 and from Brooklyn, with a giant (fake) red pouf sitting atop her head and is a vocal dead ringer for Rosie Perez. 

Natasha Galkina – she is 21.  She currently lives in Texas, but she is originally from Russia, and came here with her husband in an arrangement that sounds a little mail-order-ish.  She seems sweet but possibly a little off-kilter, and seems to be short for a model.  I am glad to see there is one Russian in the running though as Eastern Europeans seem to practically own high fashion right now and it’s been somewhat unrealistic for Tyra to not have any transplants in past seasons.

Whitney Cunningham – she is 21, and is currently a student at Dartmouth.  She is also a plus size model, which Tyra has always wanted to try to include. She seems bright and articulate in addition to being lovely.  As she puts it: “Back home, I’m regular size!”

Jaslene Gonzalez – she is 20 and she is back!  She was actually part of the auditions in a previous cycle, where she blasted into the audition room salsa dancing and sashaying.  She seems more subdued this season, which worries Tyra.

Dionne Walters – she is 20 and chatty.  Very chatty.  The judges can’t get her to stop talking.  Some things we learn about Dionne: she loves spaghetti and her two passions are modeling and dentistry.

Renee Alway – she is 20, married, and has a seven month old.  She also admits that she is “catty” and will say what she thinks.  Which means she will make it into the final six AT LEAST because there is are few things more valuable to ANTM than a pot-stirrer!

Jael Strauss – she is 22 and begins crying as she enters the panel room.  She says she doesn’t know why she was selected and so feels a little overwhelmed.  She also says that she is half African-American, which surprises the judges as her father’s German genes seem to be the dominant ones in her appearance. 

Diana Zalewski – she is 21 and is another plus size model.  Tyra thinks her proportions are “lovely.”  Diana seems very determined and thinks the other girls will underestimate her.

After panel, it is time for the first of the episode’s series of cuts.  In usual super-cruel ANTM fashion, the girls have to tear through a series of gift bags to find their own photo.  Thirteen girls don’t make the cut.  This season, there seems to be more rancor displayed (or at least that made the cut) as at least one of the eliminated girls bitterly spits out: “I guess they picked for personality more than looks.”  Sweetie: have you ever WATCHED America’s Next Top Model before?  Are you aware this is a reality show?  Not to say the girls who do make aren’t beautiful, but um, YES, this is TV, not actual modeling, and they are going to pick based on personality as well.

The twenty selected girls then head to a party where they are photographed.  These shots are then used by Tyra and the J’s to whittle down the group to the final 13.

After her conference with the J’s, Tyra meets with the girls to make the cuts.  The selected girls are as follows:

• Natasha, the Russian

• Kathleen

• Sarah

Cassandra Watson (Who is 24.  24!  That’s like almost 10 years older than many working models!)

• Renee

Samantha Francis

• Dionne

• Whitney (when this one plus size model is selected, Diana, the other, looks devastated, clearly thinking there is no chance Tyra will have two)

Brittany Hatch

• Felicia

• Jael

• Jaslene

• And…Diana!  We will have two plus-size models in the house!

Tyra says goodbye to the other girls, giving them a pep talk and telling them not to give up, and then she and the selected girls have a moment to celebrate before the competition really starts!

Part Two

The selected girls have to head right into their next photo shoot.  Like a previous cycle’s “Model Stereotypes” shoot, this one is another attempt to be controversial by focusing on some hot button political issues, like pro-choice vs. pro-life, death penalty vs. life in prison. The photographer for the shoot is their own lovely judge Nigel Barker.  

Jay tells the girls they will have to bring it, even if they disagree with the subject they have to portray.  I think the show was looking for some emotional conflict, but more of the girls seem pretty unfazed with the subjects they have to portray.  There is one exception: Kathleen.  She has to be anti-fur, but she just seems confused as to what that really means.  No matter how Nigel and Jay try to coach her, she looks pretty, but blank.

Actually, most girls look pretty blank is the assessment of Nigel, Jay and this recapper.  The girls needed to bring it, but it was not brought.

After the shoot, the girls head downstairs to find a giant tricked-out Hummer waiting for them. (A Hummer? Is it 2001?  Isn’t concern about global warming more fashion-forward now?)  It takes them to their new ANTM house, which features rooms centered on winners of previous cycles.  The girls claim their space, and get to know each other a little better.  Jael and Renee seem to bond, which seems to be an odd pairing.  So far, Renee has lived up to her promise of being catty, while Jael seems easy-going and eager to make friends.

Next they head to Goodwill, where stylist Phillip Bloch tells the girls they will have three minutes to paw the thrift store, and compile an outfit.  After the three minutes are up, he also tells them they will now be working those outfits on the runway in a charity fashion show.  At the end of the show, there will be an auction, and the model whose outfit is sold to the higher bidder will win the contest.

Some of the girls managed to put together some cute ensembles.  Jael has a sort of punky hipster outfit, while Whitney was able to find a cute menswear inspired jacket to pair with jeans and a bright top.  Others were not so successful.  Natasha selected a striped tanktop and some 1988 jeans.

After the show, Jael is announced to be the winner, which starts stirring up resentment in her newfound friend, Renee.  Back at the house, Renee tries to get her to dish about the other girls and to join in the cattiness, but Jael just stays positive, so Renee then moves on to complain to Diana.  It’s not pretty.  Also at the house, Sarah stirs up resentment by seeming to brag or at least bring up her experience quite a bit.

It’s time for eliminations!  

At panel, the judges (Tyra, Miss J., Nigel Barker and Twiggy) review the photos with the girls, and then review the slate in private.  Here are the main highlights:

• Jael – Tyra is concerned that Jael didn’t want to win the competition as she was afraid it might make people not like her.  She also doesn’t like that Jael offers up her feeling ill as a reason why her photo, though lovely, is flat.

• Natasha – the judges think she just blends into the background in the photo and has “no connection to the camera.”

• Dionna. – her photo is good, but not great.

• Cassandra – her photo was also not stellar, but of the lot, she seemed to bring more emotion to the shot.

• Renee – the judges think she looks frightened in person and in the photo.

• Diana – Nigel likes that she was enjoyable to work with but her eyes look “dead.”

• Kathleen – the judges are concerned that she had so much trouble understanding what “anti-fur” means despite it being explained to her multiple times.

• Brittany – she was able to bring out a sort of elegant haughtiness in her pro-fur photo.  Although the judges think she could have gone farther with it, they seem pleased.

• Whitney and Samantha – they photographed together as a pro-gay marriage lesbian couple. Nigel is concerned that neither listened to him or Jay about body language.  Felicia – she did solidly.

• Jaslene – wow!  I have not been sold on her as a model in person but she nailed the photo and looks fantastic on camera.

• Sarah – the judges are disappointed; for all her experience, her photo is boring.

After the private conference, Tyra brings the girls back in, and tells them that overall, she is very disappointed in the photos this week and that they will need to improve moving forward.  

And for the eliminations, the girls are called as follows: Jaslene, Brittney, Felicia, Diana, Samantha, Cassandra, Renee, Sarah, Dionne, Whitney, and Natasha.

This leaves Kathleen or Jael on the chopping block and I am stunned!  They are both so cute and interesting.  Maybe not Top Model material, but definitely let’s-leave-them-on-the-show-because-they-are-more-entertaining-than-the-other-girls material!  Jael is there for her admitted fear of success, Kathleen for her cluelessness.  

And it’s Kathleen that is sent home!  I’m disappointed.  Her Rosie Perez voice was adorable, and although she wasn’t the brightest bulb, her commentary was charming.  

We are off to a cut-throat start.  It’s to be hoped that the girls can step up their game or the panel moving forward will only get uglier.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

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