Wanna be on top?
For 24 straight seasons (sorry, cycles) hundreds of thousands of runway rookies very much did. Leggy natives of Joliet, Illinois and Grand Forks, North Dakota turned up to the America’s Next Top Model set to the learn the art of the smize and the booty touch and, most importantly, how to build a career in fashion á la host Tyra Banks, who very much dominated the field from 1996 (the year she first appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue) onward.
Yes, as longtime creative director Jay Manuel has recently highlighted, some of the critiques and challenges certainly feel off-putting now—and were every bit as questionable in the early 2000s. (Blackface in any iteration is simply not okay, a sentiment Banks no doubt agrees with, having tweeted, “Looking back, those were some really off choices.”)
But when the reality series premiered more than 17 years ago, first on the now-defunct UPN, then The CW and, most recently, VH1, it dominated, at one point netting upwards of 6 million viewers eager to watch wannabe cover girls sob through their pixie cut “Ty-over” and attempt to nail the perfect commercial for LashBlast Mascara.