Excepting the often-random front rows at New York Fashion Week, we generally don’t expect to see Kim Kardashian rubbing shoulders with beloved noted fashion photographer Nigel Barker, unless perhaps they are both attending a Hot People on Reality Shows convention. But there she was, sitting at the judging panel on last night’s America’s Next Top Model, even though her actual professional modeling experience is just about equal to theirs. Kim is the latest in an increasingly random selection of guest judges to appear on the five-seven-and-under cycle of ANTM, and in the vein of Carrie Bradshaw, we can’t help but wonder: Is Tyra screwing with us?
Although the fashion world is even less welcoming to short girls than it is to plus-size ones, we went into this cycle of Top Model fully believing that Tyra would at least pretend to take seriously the concept of making diminutive girls into viable models. Other than Cher Horowitz, no one loves a project as much as TyTy does, and despite the fact that few winners of ANTM: Original Height have achieved great success, Tyra still soldiers through cycle after cycle as though each batch contains the next Jessica Stam. So we were disheartened to see this particular group confronted with gimmicks like posing next to jockeys, or being forced to attend judging in flats, as if pistol-whipping them for their shortness — the very quality that got them cast in the first place — instead of showing them how to help people look past it (and ignoring the fact that any real-life agent likely would stuff them into five-inch platforms and beehives).
But the icing on the cake is the motley selection of guest judges foisted upon these tiny pretty people. Traditionally, the visiting panelist evaluating the girls at least worked with them once during that episode, thereby contributing to the feeling — illusory or not — that people in the know are deciding these girls’ fates. For instance, we may not care what photographer Mike Rosenthal thinks in general, but if he spent twelve hours taking pictures of the contestants, we will cede the floor to him. This cycle, on the other hand, feels like ANTM just sold the empty chair at the end of the table to Us Weekly.
In fairness, like the proverbial stopped clock, the tabloid-and-darts method has worked on occasion: Judge Josie Maran, at five foot six, is probably the most recognizable short model since Kate Moss. But it deteriorates from there. Runway star Chanel Iman was a score, but the show didn’t use her catwalk expertise; instead we got a jokey J. Alexander segment in which the contestants were schooled in strutting not by Chanel but by a 9-year-old (presumably because the child is closer to most of the cast in height). Recent judge Jessica White may have a Maybelline contract despite being very slightly below average model stature — she’s five foot nine — but she’s also largely unrecognizable to much of America, and it’s worth noting that the person quoted on Wikipedia as calling Jessica the “model of her generation” is the same Miss Tyra Banks who tried to convince us on air that Jessica is a supermodel. Kim Kardashian can apply makeup, yes, and delivered a very touching performance on her sex tape; however, considering that she couldn’t even convince us she was surprised when that hit the Internet, we can hardly trust her evaluation of performances in CoverGirl commercials. And early-cycle judge Lauren Conrad was equally mystifying. Having your picture taken whilst wearing lipstick is not the same thing as being a model, so having LC critique a photo shoot is about as relevant as asking us to go on Top Chef: Sure, we’ve stood in a kitchen, but that doesn’t mean we can sous vide a chicken. What’s next, Tyra? We hear Kate Gosselin isn’t very tall — maybe she can judge the final runway show, since she’s qualified in the sense that she is experienced at putting one foot in front of the other.
These sub-five-foot-seven contestants already face an uphill battle thanks to their size, not to mention being on a show with a shaky track record even for its tall winners. We wish ANTM would put its money where its mouth is and actually give bigger and better instruction to its shorter-than-ever cast. Then maybe the contestants could transcend their stature and have a faint prayer at competing in the willowy modeling world. But as it is, throwing the girls the likes of Kim Kardashian is like telling them, subliminally, that the best they can really do is hope to be famous for having been on TV once — and that’s a moral to the story that feels like it’s coming up a bit … well, short.