ANTM has come under fire, of sorts, for never actually producing a top model. While all of the girls who have won and most of those who just competed do actually get modeling work, the show has failed to produce the next Gisele Bundchen, Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss. Many of the girls end up doing more "acting" (guest spots on other WGN/CW shows) or hosting than they do modeling, and the modeling they do is more commercial.
The uniqueness of this past season, however, was both a stated and acted-upon focus on high-fashion modeling. In the past, they've expressed that the winner needs to be able to be both commercial and high fashion, but the prizes (cover of Seventeen magazine, Covergirl contract) were quite commercial in nature and the winners tended to reflect such.
Many changes were made this past season to better achieve the goal of a winner with high-fashion potential:
- Prizes: as I stated, prizes in the past were commercial in nature and, therefore, so were the winners. The prizes this past season were more targeted to that high-fashion appeal. While the Covergirl contract stayed, the winner also won a spread in Vogue Italia and cover of Beauty in Vogue, rather than both in Seventeen.
- Guest judges: bringing in Andre Leon Talley (editor-at-large for Vogue) as a permanent judge a couple of seasons back was already a huge boost to the high-fashion aspect of the show. However, in the past, guest judges have been geared towards the commercial, primarily being pop culture icons, small-time designers or actors. Perez Hilton, Tinsley Mortimer, Lauren Conrad and Lil Mama have served as judges, none of whom are exactly major movers and shakers in the fashion industry. This past season included major fashion designers Zac Posen, Roberto Cavalli, Diane von Furstenberg and Margherita Missoni, model Karolina Kurkova and editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia Franca Sozzani.
- Challenges: gone are the challenges that either involve or reward catalog work or shopping. Runway challenges put the girls in higher-fashion clothing (such as Herve Leger and von Furstenberg) and meeting with the editor of Vogue Italia for a one-on-one. Photo challenges enlisted major photographers like Patrick Demarchelier and Matthew Rolston.
Another issue is just a general recent preference against the American "type," which generally girl-next-door, corn-fed and athletic. While there are many successful American models, this preference has favored those younger models, and models from Europe have been in higher demand than those here. Another effect on ANTM is that, in an effort not to push forward an unhealthy body image to viewers, girls on the show have tended not to be super skinny, though there are notable examples. The show's preference towards healthier models, however, has meant that many of the girls are just not viable given the modeling industry's current standards.
Overall, producers have done a good job of actually adjusting elements of the show to push a high-fashion focus. Although it may mean the demise of more inclusiveness in terms of contestants who are plus-sized or under 5'7" in height being non-existent, it may also mean that the winners and contestants get some attention outside of the show's viewing audience for something other than marrying one of the Brady Bunch. Of course, only time will tell if winner Ann Ward or any of the runners-up will become major players in high fashion.