From left to right: Liz, Sandra, Kyla, Maggie, Rio, Coura, Ivana, Shanice, Christina, Rhiyan, Jeana, Liberty, Khrystyana, Brendi K. Photo courtesy of VH1

I’m obsessed with the Top Model shows, though you have to pay tribute to the original for real worship. “America’s Next Top Model” premiered on UPN in 2003 and has since spawned 24 seasons since, with creator Tyra Banks hosting and playing lead judge in 23 out of the 24 seasons. The show has inspired many different spin-off shows, including such shows as “Britain’s Next Top Model,” “Asia’s Next Top Model,” “Africa’s Next Top Model” and so on. The amount of Top Model shows around the world is absolutely endless. After 22 seasons on UPN/The CW, “America’s Next Top Model” ended, but was quickly brought back on VH1, with Rita Ora replacing Tyra as host/lead judge. Fans didn’t take lightly to Ora’s abilities as a host, and within a single season, Tyra was back on top as host. Now, 24 seasons later, does “America’s Next Top Model” have the spark to still inspire?

It’s getting there. “America’s Next Top Model” is still finding it’s footing on VH1, but it certainly helps to have Tyra back.

Starting off with a supercut of the legacy that “America’s Next Top Model” has created, Tyra talks about how the show has opened up the gates for more women of color, plus-sized women, women with disabilities, transgender women enter into the modeling world, as if we somehow forgot that Janice Dickinson was a part of the judging panel on the show at one time and consistently gunned for all the plus sized models to be eliminated because they were “as big as whales” in Toccara Jones’ specific experience. It is nice to see the progress the show has made in opening up the world of modeling to everyone, but let’s not pretend like they didn’t fight it for a good 10 seasons.

Starting off the new season, they cut right to the chase in starting with a judging panel where they are to whittle 24 girls down to 20 before their first photoshoot. Comprised of supermodel Ashley Graham, Paper magazine chief creative officer Drew Elliott and stylist Law Roach, along with Tyra, it’s a nice judging panel. It’s nothing compared to the panels made up of Jay Manuel, J. Alexander and Nigel Barker, but they definitely aren’t as weak as some like Kelly Cutrone was in the later seasons of the CW series. I like them, even if I don’t love them just yet. I love the idea of cutting girls in real time if only for the catty nature of it. It’s fun and unpredictable, and it’s something that, 24 seasons, is a good way to shake it up without changing it too much. The girls are asked to provide a photo showing their “raw talent” for the judges.

The first girl walks in and it’s Ivana, who immediately has my attention because she is from my own hometown of Durham, North Carolina. She’s curvy, smart and beautiful. Her hair is luscious and rich, and personality holds a room so wonderfully. Pair with that a fabulous photo, and it’s no wonder she gets through. Next: Khrystyana, a Siberian-American girl from New York, with a bubbly personality that’s absolutely impossible to dislike. She doesn’t have the strongest look of the group of girls, but she has the spirit to persevere in the competition. I was also pleased with Shanice, from Eastern Tennessee, as well.

Next, from Idaho, is Liberty. The judges have a hard time deciding on her, as they think she’s too commercial looking for the show, to which I wholeheartedly disagree. I find Liberty stunning. She’s going to face some challenges being as conservative as she is, which could definitely pose to be a problem in the liberal world of modeling, as well as her marketability as a personality, but I found her willingness to learn more endearing than I thought it would be, even if it proves to be fruitless in the end. I want to like Liberty a lot, she just needs to show me she can be a model on top of all of this. She has the look, I want to see growth and acceptance of others, though. Without that, Liberty doesn’t have much to stand on.

Here comes our first cut in Mia. Mia isn’t bad per se, she just doesn’t really have what it takes to be a top model. She’s mousy and shy, and doesn’t seem to really get what it takes to be a real top model. I think we might’ve been able to get something out of her, but I could’ve never seen her cracking past the third episode had she been given the chance, and among all the fierce girls that did make it, it was a worthy elimination, even if it wasn’t one that was apparently obvious from the jump.

More girls flow in and my eye is immediately drawn to Erin’s presence. She’s a beautiful, statuesque Amazon that is stunning. We learn that Erin is a 42-year-old grandmother of three and mother of five. Erin is the oldest woman ever to compete on the show, but you wouldn’t know it. She is what I see when I think of what the judges are describing as “Next Level Fierce.”

Next is Liz, who has a wonderfully unique look, and an even more over-the-top personality. It’s charming, but it reminds me a lot of Brittany in season four of the show, as it can get old really quickly. Liz also has a similar look to Brittany in that she’s a sexpot that exudes sultriness in nearly every look of hers. It’s something that she’s going to have to work on controlling, like Brittany and Minh Tu of Season 5 of “Asia’s Next Top Model” had insane trouble trying to contain.

Now, here’s where I start to get in my feelings about this show now: Christina. Christina doesn’t have an insane look, she’s pretty, basic, but has potential in a sense. Christina begins to mention all of the designers and photographers she’s modeled for and it begins to come off cocky to the judges, especially Law. Law calls her on it and she throws his criticism back at him, disrespecting the judging panel. And yet, she somehow gets through to the next round. In any other season of Top Model, she would’ve been immediately cut, but I guess they saw something in her that I didn’t. I stand with Law and his iconic break of the fourth wall looking at the camera during her audition.

Moving on more quickly. Jeana is stunning and unique. Maggie is…something, especially calling herself a “vanilla homegirl.” She doesn’t do much for me. Lyric was a worthy cut, especially in her resting on her status as a child of celebrities, as well as their call for her to try acting. Coura is like if Serena Williams and Danai Gurira gave birth to a supermodel. Rio has a ’90s look that I adore about her that is so very Spike Lee. Sandra has a great story and it’s great to see Muslim representation on “America’s Next Top Model.” Kyla is a beautiful, high-fashion model that reminds me much of Zendaya and Adwoa Aboah in one. She’s definitely one of my favorites.

From left to right: Law Roach, Tyra Banks, Ashley Graham, Drew Elliott. Photo courtesy of VH1.

After the cuts, the girls participate in a larger-than-life photoshoot that lets the girls show off their modeling skills in the moment. Many people soar high, including Kyla, Jeana and Ivana, though with obvious connotation, many do not. Erin, despite her beauty, did struggle just a bit in giving variety in her poses. Christina had little to no life in her shoot at all. Ilka and Laminat also struggled greatly, which resulted in their elimination after the photoshoot. I don’t understand why they keep giving Christina passes in the competition when she’s disrespectful and doesn’t deliver on the photoshoot? I’m very confused.

Then, the girls get to participate in a trippy runway walk to prove to the judges they’re worthy of being in the top 14 of the competition. Most girls do fine in the walk, no one particularly blew me away, though Liz and Christina struggled with making their walks cohesive and smooth enough. With Law describing Christina’s walk as “trash.”

After the runway, the girls finally arrive at the iconic Top Model house, which is located in the Hollywood Hills this season. The 18 girls realize that the house only has 14 beds, and that elimination is coming soon.

Many girls begin to fear of their future in the competition, none more than Liz, who breaks down with Khyrstyana in a hallway. Liz, being the loud soul she is, attracts the attention of the other girls in the house during her moment of weakness, to which she is accosted by Shanice for. I thought I liked Shanice, but her cockiness and volatility are going to grow thin on me if she hops on criticizing the other girls so quickly whenever anything isn’t perfect. Shanice is going to have to learn how to be a marketable personality on top of being a model.

But finally, we get to the final elimination, which gets our girls down to the final 14 we’ve been waiting for. The cast of characters consists of Brendi K, Christina, Coura, Ivana, Jeana, Khrystyana, Kyla, Liberty, Liz, Maggie, Rhiyan, Rio, Sandra and Shanice. Noticeably absent from this list is Erin, who struggled in the photoshoot with her pose variety. I couldn’t believe how the judges decided to give Christina a chance over Erin, which just makes zero sense whatsoever. As Erin packs up and heads for the door with her teary goodbye, Tyra has a message for her. At the door, Tyra comforts Erin in her time of need and tells her of her bravery entering the competition after putting her dreams on hold for so long. Out of seemingly nowhere, Tyra presents Erin with a photo, confirming her as the surprise 15th contestant in the competition. It’s obviously a bit staged, at least on Tyra’s part, but Erin’s reaction is all real. It’s a touching, if needlessly cruel moment of having Erin think she was eliminated when she wasn’t. Tyra lets her know that being of her age, and being a black woman is going to make her time in the industry harder, and that she has to work hard to reach her dreams, both in life and the competition, leading into the new season.

“America’s Next Top Model” still needs to find its footing on VH1, as much had to be changed from the original series in its network transition, but with Tyra back in charge, the energy that made “America’s Next Top Model” so palpable is back. It’s possible for “America’s Next Top Model” to survive without Tyra, just as many of the international Top Model shows do just fine with their own judges, they just need to find someone than Rita Ora. That being said, no one is more charismatic than Tyra, and “America’s Next Top Model” seems to be on the right track in finding a new life on VH1 after arriving with a thud last season. Things are definitely looking up.

“The Boss is Back”: 4/5

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.