Counting Down the Best ANTM Cycles of All Time

Counting Down the Best ANTM Cycles of All Time

It’s so hard to quit America's Next Top Model. It’s own originator and host, Tyra Banks, is coming back after relinquishing the reins for just one cycle. I’ve seen most every cycle* and I will STILL watch it whenever I’m sick/bored/hungover. It’s just a perfect reality show, as I've written about before.

But even perfect things develop flaws given enough time. Not every winner could be a top model, and not every season was a winner. So in that spirit I present:

The BEST ANTM CYCLES OF ALL TIME, ranked.

*I refuse to include anything after Cycle 17 for several reasons: I don’t want to, I don’t have to, it doesn’t have André Leon Talley, and Amazon Prime doesn’t yet have it available. Do I need to go on?

Cycle 17

(Pictured: 14 people who have lost their tether to reality)

(Pictured: 14 people who have lost their tether to reality)

I'm not one for hyperbole, but Cycle 17 was a war crime. Tyra should be tried in court for forcing André Leon Talley to be a part of this. And if she truly revoked the crown from Angelea over her escort past, then she ought to be tried in other courts as well.

But it didn't have to be this way! Cycle 17 had all the elements to work - sorry, I mean WERK. The photo shoots were amped up to levels of absurdity previously unseen in the ANTM-verse, it marked the return of several ANTM favorites, and we still had the aforementioned ALT as a judge. But I just couldn’t manage to care. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why this season was so bad, but this show was still called America's Next Top MODEL, not America's Next Top Gimmick Horse. See photos below to get an idea of what the "high fashion shoots" produced.

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Alexandra, for the second time. Being a passive aggressive B is not a good look!
  • International destination: Greece
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: It’s hard to decide between the "couture hot dog shoot," the Michael Jackson tribute, and posing in a giant salad bowl (because they were in Greece, of course! I have a theory that Tyra uses free word association for all her shoots, and this is my main piece of evidence )
  • Model who should have won: Always a runner up, never a winner - Allison
  • Model who did win: Lisa (after Angelea was crowned and then de-crowned and the finale was shot and then re-shot)

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:


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Cycle 10

(They're frowning because they all know how low they ranked on this list)

(They're frowning because they all know how low they ranked on this list)

Cycle 10 is a “controversial one,” because many people didn’t believe that the eventual winner, plus-size model Whitney, deserved to win. And this wasn’t just some nasty fat-shaming - Whitney was not a very good model! Katarzyna, Fatima, Lauren - all better models. But many eventual winners weren’t very good models, so it’s hard to muster much outrage over this one.

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Every model eliminated was one step closer to this season ending, so I was happy to see them all go.
  • International destination: Rome, Italy
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: The "homeless shoot." At least once a season, Tyra gets it into her head that she needs to send a message through her photo shoots. This season's message was "homelessness," something Tyra had dipped into before (with about as much delicacy).
  • Model who should have won: Katarzyna or Fatima 
  • Model who did win: Whitney

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:


Cycle 9

(Pictured, L to R: Boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring)

(Pictured, L to R: Boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring)

Cycle 9 is also “very controversial,” mostly because everyone thought Tyra only chose Saleisha because of their T-Zone connection. What? You don’t think it was the “cutting edge” hairstyle Tyra forced on her?

(It certainly is a haircut, that's for sure)

(It certainly is a haircut, that's for sure)

I agree that she didn’t really deserve to win, but there wasn't a single other contestant that stood out as a more deserving winner. Bianca was gorgeous but a real bully. Heather, the show's first autistic model, was an interesting case, but she just couldn’t make it to the end. Runner-up Chauntel was boring.

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Bianca. It was hard to watch her bully Heather and I was glad to see it end.
  • International destination: Shanghai and Beijing, China, which of course gave Tyra a fun chance to indulge her every stereotype about Chinese culture through photoshoots!
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: Tyra's anti-smoking shoot, which highlighted the dangers of smoking. Yet another brave stand from Tyra that changed everything. Which is why you never see anyone smoking anymore!
  • Model who should have won: Janice Dickinson
  • Model who did win: Saleisha

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:


Cycle 12

(All the models were posing with various ailments, from headaches to booty aches. #highfashion)

(All the models were posing with various ailments, from headaches to booty aches. #highfashion)

Cycle 12 is pretty boring. Even Tyra's extremely high levels of Tyra-ness couldn't save it. But it does mark the first appearance of ANTM all-star Allison, who was far more interesting than Cycle 12 deserved. Some other assorted things that happened: London (the model, not the town) gained a bunch of weight during filming, which is always tough to sit through (see also Keenyah, Cycle 4), one model, an old crone of 26, fought with another model, a burn victim (and I was kind of rooting against the burn victim!??!), plus a visit to a favela. Classic Tyra.

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Tahlia. 
  • International destination: Sao Paulo, Brazil, where we got to meet the REAL LIFE girl from Ipanema! The contestants got the incredible honor of meeting someone for whom a song was named (they did their best to act excited, bless them).
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: When Tyra “took a stand” against women growing up too fast by making her (grown ass women) models dress up like kids. I’m sure it all made sense in Tyra’s head.
  • Model who should have won: Allison
  • Model who did win: Teyona


SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:


Cycle 14

(These are just fantastic, timeless looks. Bravo, Tyra!)

(These are just fantastic, timeless looks. Bravo, Tyra!)

I’m not sure what dirt Tyra has on André Leon Talley, but it must be GOOD, because there’s no other reason we as a nation deserved to have him and his SALONS on Cycle 14. He breathed new life and vitality into a show that, let me repeat, already had 13 seasons in the can. But this cycle suffered from the same ailment that most of the later cycles suffered from: irredeemable boringness. The girls weren't standouts (quick! name one non-Angelea model) and the photo shoots increasingly didn't feel like a real modeling completion. Also - how weird is it that Tyra managed to find TWO model contestants who got pregnant the FIRST time they had sex? That's a little too suspicious to not be a full blown fetish. Busted, Tyra!

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Brenda. Something about her creeped me out (that something being that she photographed like a 45 year old....in 1976! That's specific but watch this cycle and tell me it's not true)
  • International destination: New Zealand. And if you think for one second that Tyra didn't force them to do a Hobbit-themed photo shoot, then you don't know Tyra.
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: The afore mentioned Hobbit photo shoot was ridic, but I think top honors go to her "America’s Next Top Vampire shoot," because you know Tyra had just been binging a lot of True Blood late into the night.
  • Model who should have won: I don’t care! Everyone on this season was pretty awful (Angelea was a delight, but she was never a fantastic model)
  • Model who did win: Krista

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:


Cycle 13

(They are all sentenced to life....of being shorties!)

(They are all sentenced to life....of being shorties!)

Aka the short cycle: girls 5'7" and under. I actually watched this cycle recently and can’t remember that much about it, apart from winner Nicole and runner up (and future all-star) Laura. Guess I should check my SHORT TERM memory. ZING! Also did it seem a little unfair to anyone else that the eventual winner, Nicole, was the same height (5'7") as Eva, winner of a "regular" cycle? Just me?

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: All of them?
  • International destination: Hawaii. Did no one have the heart to break it to Tyra that the US acquired Hawaii in the 1950s?
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: Because Tyra just couldn’t help herself, we got a second helping of a “trans-racial” photo shoot that no one asked for.
  • Model who should have won: Nicole
  • Model who did win: Nicole

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS: 


Cycle 11

(Did I miss when Mr. and Miss Jay were contestants?)

(Did I miss when Mr. and Miss Jay were contestants?)

Cycle 11 was a weird one. It had the bizarre “conflict” between European ideals and American values, which mostly boiled down to Marjorie’s untreated anxiety and Elina’s desire to have something to blame when she did poorly on a photo shoot. But there were a few bright spots, including Isis, the first transgender contestant (who would go on to re-appear on All Stars), and appealing personalities in Sheena and Annaleigh (who went on to star in movies and a short lived ABC show).

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Clark. Transphobia is not pretty.
  • International destination: Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Tyra arranged shoots with clogs and windmills, of course, but weirdly no weed.
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: The "Fiercee Awards." I think in her mind they are more real than The Oscars.
  • Model who should have won: McKey? I guess.
  • Model who did win: McKey? I guess.

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:


Cycle 16

Cycle 16 was a pretty good follow up to cycle 15’s return to form. Alexandria was insufferable, but in a way that was kind of fun, plus it prompted a dramatic breakdown from eventual winner, Brittani. A totally reasonable, totally middling cycle.

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Alexandria. It was fun while it lasted.
  • International destination: Marrakesh, Morocco
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: Ha, those poor cycle 16 girls had to shoot in a landfill. To "send a message," of course.
  • Model who should have won: Brittani
  • Model who did win: Brittani

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:

BONUS GIF!


Cycle 5

(This was Cycle 5, before they could afford a Photoshop professional. Tyra did this herself!)

(This was Cycle 5, before they could afford a Photoshop professional. Tyra did this herself!)

Cycle 5 had a lot of unfun drama. Bre yelling at Kim over stolen granola bars may sound fun on paper......oh wait, actually it sounds boring and irritating! The winner, Nicole, was beautiful but annoying, and was anyone rooting for her over Nik? (No they weren’t) This cycle had the first inter-contestant lesbian romance, which is worth a lot, but it’s overall not the most fun. As a queer ANTM fan I was once utterly charmed by Kim, but reviewing with a lot more perspective and maturity, I realized she just shit talked a lot and wasn’t even that nice to the girl she was making out with. Not cool, Kim.

I think Cycle 5 suffers in my estimation because it was the first time Tyra got it into her head that she could replace a perfect judge, i.e. Janice Dickinson. It did have THE best makeover meltdown of all time - aka Cassandra, the pageant girl who would not get one more inch cut off her hair, and was subsequently ordered off the set by Jay. She held her (newly shorn) head high and announced she was headed back to Texas to get extensions. Shine on you pageant queen!

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Cassandra? It was an elimination I was happy to watch because it was entertaining!
  • International destination: London, England. I'm 100% certain Tyra got the idea because Twiggy was a judge. It's almost embarrassingly easy to trace the train of her thoughts sometimes.
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: The models being chased by the ghost of Jay. Like you would in a totally professional real world top model shoot!
  • Model who should have won: Nik
  • Model who did win: Nicole

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:

BONUS GIF!


Cycle 7

(A lost VC Andrews cover)

(A lost VC Andrews cover)

I had a generally positive view of Cycle 7 because I remembered lots of fun personalities. In truth, it was just that Caridee was a great, personable winner and the twins were a weird and welcome addition. Of course there was also Melrose, who was insufferable but a good foil for the rest of the girls because she was good at what she did, which was to be a Type A brat.

Plus! Whenever I think of that time that Caridee picked up a stick and asked Nigel if he had just pulled it out of his ass, I literally laugh out loud! I'd waited 6 full cycles for someone call out the "noted" fashion photographer, and it was WORTH IT. Of course Tyra made her apologize, but again: WORTH IT.

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Monique. There IS a line and I'm fairly certain rubbing your used panties on an enemies's bedspread is on the DON'T side of the line.
  • International destination: Barcelona, Spain. I think Tyra expected them all to speak Catalan already, which is why she forced them to shoot a Cover Girl commercial in Catalan. Why else!?
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: It’s basically a 9 way tie between every episode. Selected "concepts" included a circus freak-show, celebrity couples, wild hair shows, and romance covers with Fabio. FABIO!
  • Model who should have won: Caridee. Honestly they should have handed her the title right after she insulted Nigel.
  • Model who did win: Caridee. Ditto.

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:

BONUS GIF!

Melrose

Cycle 8

(You can place this cycle in the mid 90s based on the teased hair and white leather belts)

(You can place this cycle in the mid 90s based on the teased hair and white leather belts)

Cycle 8 was pretty silly, with ridiculous photo shoots (Crime scenes! Ice cream sundaes! The ghosts of contestants past!) but it had one of my favorite winners, Jaslene, and of course it had Natasha, the Russian mail order bride who excelled at all the challenges and still managed to carve out enough time for weird meowing phone sex. That was enough.

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Brittany (although she stayed long enough to give us a glorious post go-see breakdown before she left)
  • International destination: Sydney, Australia
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: Each model had to show off their “Four Personalities," and it looked like they shot it in a mall photo booth. (which they might have! I'm not sure how much money the CW had at this point!)
  • Model who should have won: Jaslene (Ed. note: Wrong: Natasha)
  • Model who did win: Jaslene

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:

BONUS GIF!


Cycle 15

(It was so high fashion that they all rebelled against the commercial tyranny of pants)

(It was so high fashion that they all rebelled against the commercial tyranny of pants)

Cycle 15 seemed like an impossible dream. After cycles upon cycles of inanity, increasingly silly shoots and winners that seemed fixed (see: Whitney, Saleisha), Tyra decided to do a real high fashion cycle, and it was actually good! It had a capable and deserving winner in Ann Ward, appealing runner ups like Kayla, real fashion talent as guest judges, and of course, the continued presence of André Leon Talley as a judge. It felt like a lost cycle from years before.

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Anamaria was the traditional villain, so I guess her? I actually kind of would have liked a few more episodes with her tbh.
  • International destination: Milan, Italy
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: The shoot where all the models dressed up like designers, because they made one dress up like John Galliano (see below)
  • Model who should have won: Ann
  • Model who did win: Ann

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:

BONUS GIF!


Cycle 3

(Oh no! Someone spilled all the models!)

(Oh no! Someone spilled all the models!)

Cycle 3 is many people’s favorite, and I understand why, but I have some issues with it. I found Yaya sort of insufferable (or does everyone have a Respito shirt hanging in their closet?), and I just don't believe in something called "who wrote in the brownie" drama. I WAS utterly fascinated by the sapphic undertones of Anne’s and Eva’s “friendship,” and I truly appreciated when Amanda wildly accused everyone of stealing her crystals (which turned out to have been hidden...by Amanda herself). I also liked when Amanda, totally straight faced, told us that her son "was conceived to the hour on September 11th." Good to know! Oh, and there was Toccara, one of the all time greats. In retrospect, I guess it was a pretty good cycle. Not sure what my problem is?!

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Cassie, who didn't think New York was as glamorous as she'd seen in the movies and couldn't wait to get back to Oklahoma.
  • International destination: Tokyo, Japan
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: The weird Ford Mustang shoot where Yaya was a ghost for some reason? Product placements never make for inspiring photo shoots.
  • Model who should have won: Toccara or Eva
  • Model who did win: Eva

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:

BONUS GIF!


Cycle 4

(Very sad - the budget was so tight for this season that no one got shirts)

(Very sad - the budget was so tight for this season that no one got shirts)

I really vibed with Cycle 4. I liked the winner (Naima) a lot, I liked many of the other models (Brittany, Kahlen), but honestly can you imagine a world in which we didn’t have memes of Tyra’s meltdown on Tiffany? What would we even gif? It’s unimaginable.

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Brandi. She had a bad ‘tude and fought with everyone.
  • International destination: Cape Town, South Africa
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: Swap “ridiculous” for “inappropriate” and it has to be the Got Milk campaign where Tyra “played” with race.
  • Model who should have won: Naima
  • Model who did win: Naima

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:

BONUS GIF!


Cycle 2

(A still from the controversial "sexy funeral" shoot)

(A still from the controversial "sexy funeral" shoot)

Cycle 2 had a LOT going for it. It had a gorgeous winner in Yoanna, a true diva in Camille, and it had someone sweet to root for in Mercedes. It also had one of the first true makeover breakdowns (Catie), which is of course a staple now.

It also had Shandi. Shandi was the original archetype of that model that Tyra kept harkening back to for a dozen more seasons: the “wrong” sort of beauty that just worked in front of the camera. Shandi went from an ugly duckling to someone who looked and posed like a model. It was magic! But we all remember her for that breakdown in Milan, when she had sex with a man who was NOT her boyfriend and then promptly called her boyfriend and confessed, all on air. Talk about a good narrative arc!

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Catie. It was a blessing that she got herself eliminated before she could drown in a river of her own tears, though I did enjoy it when Simon Doonan told her she had "hoe fashion."
  • International destination: Milan, Italy
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: It's a tough call between the Rollitos (RIP) commercial and the “Shake Ya Body” video (never forget).
  • Model who should have won: Mercedes
  • Model who did win: Yoanna

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:

BONUS GIF!


Cycle 1

(The original cycle had the best fashion, hands down)

(The original cycle had the best fashion, hands down)

The original cycle, before things really started getting absurd. Mr. Jay even had black hair! This was the first, and arguably last, cycle that felt like a true “modeling competition,” instead of what it quickly became. It had Elyse, who was the most articulate narrator/model the show ever had, and it had a truly fascinating dichotomy between religion and atheism amongst the models. It had many firsts: the first international destination, the first lesbian contestant, and the first (two) contestants who refused to go naked.

There’s an eerie feeling in discussing Cycle 1 because it’s been all but erased from Tyra cannon because of its outspoken winner, but we'll never forget.

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Robin, particularly after all season of her moralizing and poor treatment of Ebony’s girlfriend
  • International destination: Paris (France)
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: None. All seemed pretty legit (and the cycle was the poorer for it, in my opinion)
  • Model who should have won: Elyse was the best model, but she clearly didn't need the competition, as she went on to be one of the original runners up who had fantastic post-ANTM careers
  • Model who did win: Adrienne

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:

BONUS GIF!

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Cycle 6

(Pictured: the cast of "America's Next Top Best Friend")

(Pictured: the cast of "America's Next Top Best Friend")

I should probably rename this “My Personal Favorite Cycles,” because it all comes down to the cycles with the models you enjoy with most. This had my favorite winner of all time, Danielle, and, more importantly, one of the best villains of all time: Jade, the self-described “biracial butterfly”/“undiscovered supermodel.”

Jade wasn’t a villain in the vein of Monique, who was unhinged, or Renee, who was insecure and jealous. Jade certainly went out of her way to get under Gina’s skin, but where she truly excelled was in her unique cluelessness. Surely you remember THIS quote, which is probably the funniest thing I’ve ever heard on TV: “I’ll always remember this, shooting with the elephant. It reminds me of an ancient dinosaur. ‘Cause they are in the dinosaur family.” Or can anyone forget the runaway success of "Leftover Lady," the spoken word poem that Jade performed after she'd been eliminated, which I now reproduce here:

Let alone the strongest to be subdued
If I only had the magic key
that would unlock the realms to
the plateau of the highest me.
Even though I’ve been badly bruised
Livin’ in a house to become a popular muse

  • Model I was most happy to see get eliminated: Gina. Nothing against her, but constant anxiety and self doubt isn’t much fun to watch.
  • International destination: Thailand, mostly because Tyra noticed that she and the country shared a first syllable in common
  • Most ridiculous photo shoot: Krumping while wearing Payless Shoes, because I’m almost positive Tyra wanted to just show America that she knew what krumping is
  • Model who should have won: Danielle
  • Model who did win: Danielle! Sometimes life works out.

SELECTED CYCLE FIERCENESS:

BONUS GIF!

tumblr_mt75mlNUTi1r7jjj1o2_400.gif
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