When I was younger and inevitably bitchier, I used to revel in a programme called America’s Next Top Model.
For those who don’t know, this programme was the beautifully clothed spawn of American top model, Tyra Banks, the everywoman’s discount Oprah Winfrey who gave away jars of Vaseline to studio audiences instead of cars.
The setup brought together around 20 young women and aimed to do what the packaging claimed – deliver us with America’s next top model.
The opening credits found queen Banks smouldering to the camera and asking breathlessly, “You wanna be on top?”
Be still our collective beating hearts and dirty minds! But relax, you perverts, she was only asking if we wanted to be on top of our game, as in do you want to be the top model?
There were tears and drama, everyone cried when they had their hair done, and white girls discovered the terrible, agony-ridden world of weaves. We all learnt the fine art of smising, which is smiling with your eyes. This would prove to be entirely useless in future job interviews.
I like to make my own clothes but I’m not a fashion nut. I don’t buy fashion magazines, and I used to poke fun at models whining about how hard modelling is – ha ha, you just wear clothes and walk, what’s so hard about that? Until a friend asked me to help him with a photo shoot.
“Look at the lense like you’re trying to seduce it.”
“But it’s a lense…”
“I know, just pretend it isn’t.”
“Uh, ok then!” *Tries to smile with eyes*
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to seduce the lense like you asked!”
“Then why are you making that face?”
“I’m smiling with my eyes!”
“Stop doing that.”
“This is hard!”
Bear in mind that I had eaten, and all this would have indeed been harder on only a cup of cappuccino foam or whatever it is that models eat. But I digress. For those of us vertically and aesthetically challenged, the 22 seasons of ANTM were wonderful fluff. All those tall, thin, pretty girls vying with each other for the perfect picture while the rest of us plebs in the real world managed to take one good selfie every three years.
Back in the good old days before we could relentlessly torture minor celebs on social media, ANTM was harmless fun. Tyra Banks was a searing host, who talked so much nonsense that viewers compiled lists of all the ridiculous things she’d said.
It’s the kind of fashionspeak that sounds good if you’re always hungry from avoiding carbs the way powerful men avoid accountability, but for us well-nourished viewers outside the glittering circus of fashion and its thinner atmosphere (everything is thin in fashion!) the stuff she said made no sense. Powerful businesswoman and successful model she may be, lyrical orator she is not.
Anyway, ANTM was successful enough for international spinoffs to emerge, so imagine my delight when a Greek version hit the airwaves in 2009. Here was a show that combined my favourite garbage TV with homegrown nuances and the added advantage that Greek reality TV uses easy Greek, which made Greece’s Next Top Model one of the first shows where I was able to cross the language barrier and become addicted.
In Greece, Greek model Vicky Kaya took the lead. I like Vicky Kaya, she has a kind of soothing vibe to her while also being fair to the models. Out of the original panel of judges, she was the only one who had walked the walk as well as talking the talk, having built a successful modelling career walking in international catwalk shows and fronting major brand campaigns both inside and outside Greece.
She built her career from the ground up, and that makes her well qualified to lead the judging panel of GNTM. She’s also nice to all the girls and prefers to hug nervous contestants rather than go for Tyra’s brand of tough love. Where Tyra Banks made sure that the contestants knew she was on top, so forget about taking her place, Vicky Kaya seems genuinely happy to share her pedestal.
Incidentally, her surname is also the name of a delicious, sweet and soothing coconut spread. I remember that every time I see her on TV. Vicky Kaya eating kaya out of a jar while sitting on a kayak would be a perfect synchronisation seen once in a generation. I hope she’s reading this, and I hope she makes it one of her GNTM bootcamp challenges.
It’s been a while, so I don’t remember much about the other two judges but the one who sticks in my mind is fashion photographer Harris Christopoulos. The way he looked at the contestants and the comments he made about their bodies came across as so unashamedly slimey that it made me want to close my eyes just so that my poor naked corneas would have something to cover themselves with as I watched.
At the time GNTM came out, Greece’s economy had started to tank spectacularly, so the show was the kind of escapism I needed. Back then, I used to write an anonymous blog where I would bitchily tear apart the contestants on GNTM. Age and maturity have taught me better, and now millions of people can savage anyone in the public eye with a few taps on their smartphone.
The Greek version ran for two seasons and then it was pulled off the air in 2011. By then, the crisis had started to get truly awful, and the networks no longer had the budget to produce such a show. So off it went, and in its place came endless budget-saving reruns of Steven Seagal movies. That’s how bad the crisis was. It’s one of the big tragedies that the IMF never even heard of.
The years rolled on and we forgot about GNTM and Vicky Kaya’s lovely hair and skin. The crisis grew deeper and darker.
And then miraculously, as if stumbling out of the desert after a decade of being lost to find a lovely oasis, there was GNTM again! There was Vicky Kaya again! I wanted to fall at her beautifully manicured feet in gratitude. “Why did you leave me,” I wanted to ask her, “Where were you when I needed you the most? You’re so skinny! Didn’t they feed you during the crisis?”
By wonderful coincidence, GNTM resurrection came as Greece was leaving its final bailout programme, which some analysts might say is the ultimate litmus test. So while the economy is still terrible, I can now once again escape into the glittering, pointless world of GNTM where no one cares if your fiscal policies make sense, as long as your butt looks good in a swimsuit.
The new brand of GNTM enters our lives at a time when smartphones are everywhere in a way that they weren’t in the previous seasons. As such, the show’s aesthetic is a lot slicker, and the majority of contestants boast the makeup look popularised by the awful Kardashian cult leaders, which can best be described as sex doll death mask.
So… much… makeup.
Having been exposed to countless camera lenses in the interim period, the new breed of contestants seems to need very little coaching when it comes to posing for a good photo. It’s what this generation does best.
Vicky Kaya remains as nice and professional as she ever was, which makes me wish I could have applied to take part just to troll everyone with my distinctly non-model age, height and everything else, and pretend that I cared about modelling and get a hug from Vicky Kaya.
Anyway, apart from making me feel my age because I’ve never tried to contour and walk around in the world with shamelessly naked and unlined eyebrows, the show has retained some of its original feel. There are a few moments where you buckle up your bitch belts for a bumpy ride, such as when a tiny contestant is told she needs to lose weight, and that she’s prettier when she doesn’t smile.
But it seems that GNTM has grown up a little bit. Sure, some of it is still horribly superficial. But this is a show where you know you’re going to get judged on your looks. And the show seems to have an awareness that its previous incarnation didn’t. The co-judges are more high-calibre. A plus-size model is enthusiastically approved for the next round, while on the previous show she would have been body-shamed into oblivion.
At the heart of it though, it’s still just a reality TV show. In all its seasons, ANTM failed to produce even one top model. There’s only so much Tyra Banks can do! No amount of learning to smile with your eyes is going to open doors for you in the way that having a very, very rich parent can. Just ask three ladies called Bella, Gigi and Kendall, who were almost born onto the world’s most sought-after catwalks and achieved the gold standard while bypassing all the hard work in the way that only privileged brats can.
Please, rich people, stop giving your children things they haven’t worked for.
If the girls on GNTM are hoping for major catwalk success, they’re likely to be disappointed. We can’t all be Vicky Kaya. But in the age of social media, they’ll get their 15 minutes of fame. And they’ll be on top, at least for a little while, stamping on their rivals in high heels while the rest of us try to keep our balance on Greece’s uncertain ground.