After 12 years and 22 (mostly) unforgettable seasons, it’s “America’s Next Top Model” that is finally packing its belongings and going home. On Wednesday, Tyra Banks announced that the beloved reality competition series is coming to an end this December, tweeting that she “truly believes it’s time.”
When I heard the tragic news, the reality television junkie in me shed a little tear (I made sure to make it fashion, of course), and mourned the loss for a bit, but I can’t say I was entirely surprised. I sincerely have not watched the show since, like, cycle 11, but it’s not hard to tell that in recent years, “ANTM” itself hasn’t exactly remained on top. In the grand scheme of things that shouldn’t matter. “ANTM” is a national treasure. It boasts an impressive legacy, so while it is time for the show to end, it’s certainly not going to fade into cancelled-show oblivion.
After it premiered in May of 2003, the modeling competition show went on to become not just a ratings hit, but also a global pop culture phenomenon, as Mark Pedowitz, president of The CW, the network that broadcasts “ANTM,” has put it. The show additionally didn’t just find success here in the United States; it was (and still is) popular internationally, spawning numerous adaptations in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and other regions.
But what is it that has made the “ANTM” competition so appealing, both at home and abroad? Well, I can’t tell you very much about the international versions of the show, but I can tell you a lot about the culturally seminal American version. “ANTM” is, above all, a reality television series. And through the early 2000s and onward it was one of the best, most talked-about shows out there, delivering some very real, engaging and innovative content to millions of viewers (remember when that was a thing?).
What made “ANTM” so good was its unique dynamic — the dynamic among the aspiring models, the judges and mentors and most importantly Tyra Banks herself. Tyra was surprisingly entertaining to watch, even if you had little to no context about her or the premise of the competition. She is undoubtedly the person that made this show (she is the host and one of the executive producers), but she also truly made the whole show with her fascinating former-supermodel expertise and overall outrageousness. The entire show wasn’t just a learning process for those in the competition; it was a learning process for the viewers. Along with the models themselves, in each episode anyone could learn from Tyra and other fashion industry insiders how to hone their own “it” factors and sell virtually anything.
In the end, Tyra and the show never actually gave us a real supermodel per se, but both sure gave us a plethora of iconic moments, quirky characters and life lessons that we’ll never forget. In its prime, “ANTM” provided TV audiences with very real situations, never shorted on the melodrama or the catfights and proved endlessly quotable (see: “smize,” “I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you!”). It was guilty-pleasure TV, except let’s be honest — most of the time no guilt was involved because the show was genuinely just so good. As I mentioned before, “ANTM” was something anyone at any moment could invest his or her time in. You didn’t have to know anything about fashion or the modeling world to admire the elaborate photo shoots, find the wacky challenges funny or even root for the girls who wanted to win it all.
Admittedly, the show was not perfect in its methods and practices and was not some sort of feminist triumph by any means, but that won’t stop it from going down in pop culture history as one of the most successful and compelling reality TV series of all time. As ridiculous as it could be at times — okay, most of the time — “ANTM” gave us enough memorable moments and strangely useful life tips to last a lifetime, and I think they truly will. Pot Ledom forever.