America's Next Top Model Retools and Puts Vote in Viewers Hands

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By Magdalena Burnham America's Next Top Model recently returned for its 19th cycle, the "College Edition." The cycle before that was the "British Invasion" cycle and before that we had America's Next Top Model: All Stars. This recent need for every cycle to have its own theme was a sign of things to come. America's Next Top Model: College Edition is the product of extensive re-tooling. Aside from the new judges and the college theme, they've added the twist that viewers can participate. Weirdly, they mention the fact that "you, yes you!" can control the outcome a lot, but never give clear instructions on how. There are lots of obvious attempts to associate the show with social media, including constant cameos by P'Trique who they insist on calling an Internet "celebrity" and-I kid you not-a set with words like "tweet" just written on the background. Hip! The constant changes and obvious desperation in the recent cycles are completely warranted. For the first half of its run, every cycle of America's Next Top Model got an average viewer rating of at least 5 million. By cycle 16 it had dropped to 2.52 viewers. The All Star cycle had an average of 2.42 million viewers and British Invasion had an average of 1.52 million viewers. So far College Edition has an average of 1.09 million viewers (ratings info from TV by the Numbers). Despite what the waning numbers indicate, I've had several conversations with other people in their early 20s about America's Next Top Model and the fact that we will never stop watching its brilliant stupidity. Even as it goes from bad to worse, every terrible decision they make is utterly entertaining. For example, they recently decided that every season the girls should record a single, despite having no musical background or talent. Terrible idea? Absolutely. Fun television? Every time. Beyond the delightful trainwreck factor, there's another reason America's Next Top Model keeps sucking me in. As depressing as it may be, it probably has the best representation of any show on television. There's usually a bevy of queer contestants, including lesbian, bisexual and trans women. Sadly, this cycle is an exception. One contestant, Victoria, seemed like she might bring up aromantic and asexual issues, but unfortunately the show seems more interested in making fun of her attachment to her mom than in acknowledging that celibacy is perfectly valid. Still, the show also has more racial and economic diversity than you'll see on any other show. Admittedly, when they have the contestants discuss the economic hardships they've been through, it can feel exploitative, but most shows don't portray the economic inequalities in America at all. America's Next Top Model is unlikely to have a resurgence in viewers no matter how much re-tooling it goes through, so the future of the show really depends on whether it can continue to get sponsors who'll consider the constant product integration worth it even as viewership dwindles. So, for people like me who will stick with this show until the bitter end, we can expect to hear a lot of girls excitedly saying, "We have a TyraMail on our Verizon phone!" Eck.

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