The CW/Patrick Demarchelier/Pottle Productions Inc
The finale of "America's Next Top Model" airs tonight, with the winner taking home arguably the biggest prize in the show’s 15-season history: a spread in Vogue Italia, the cover and a separate spread in Beauty in Vogue, a $100,000 contract with CoverGirl, and representation from IMG model management. All season long, series creator and head judge Tyra Banks has touted how the competition has been "elevated" and she's right: Being in Vogue Italia — the bible of the fashion industry — can turn a reality show contestant into an overnight star.
After several seasons now of predictable winners, tonight could be a close race to the finish. The judges have narrowed the field down to two: Ann Ward, a 6'2" student from Dallas, Texas, and Chelsey Hersley, a 5'10" waitress from Boise, Idaho.
If the final decision was based on photos alone, Ann would win hands down. The gawky, gangly wallflower disappears on film, replaced by an elegant, poised model. While she may not be conventionally beautiful, Ann is extremely photogenic, a trait that led her to win best photo in the first five episodes (a "Top Model" record).
Chelsey's photos have been solid but not remarkable. Her bleach blond hair and Lauren Hutton-esque gap teeth make her stand out, but she doesn't possess the same "high fashion" uniqueness of Ann. While Ann's self-confidence has faded since her strong start, Chelsey's has grown (especially after impressing Vogue Italia's editor-in-chief, Franca Sozzani, in person).
Tonight's challenges may be the deciding factor. As in seasons past, the first is a print ad and video for CoverGirl cosmetics. Chelsey has the edge on both. She's more commercial-looking than Ann, and therefore more relatable to the CoverGirl customer base. In a prior video challenge, Ann struggled so much, she was reduced to tears.
The second challenge is a runway walk-off in a Roberto Cavalli fashion show. Ann's height and long limbs make her a walking hanger — ideal for couture — but she isn't always able to control her body. Chelsey's walk has more control so she gets a slight nod here.
Ann may be her own worst competition. Tyra likes her winners to be confident; even shy past winners like Naima and Nicole have been self-assured. Ann has struggled with insecurities, stemming from her 6'2" height. CoverGirl, a sponsor of the show and part of the prize package, wants a confident winner that girls can emulate.
Ultimately, it's in Tyra Banks' hands. A longtime champion of "debatable beauty," Tyra has already crowned a plus-size winner (Whitney) and a petite winner (Nicole) on "Top Model." Ann's unique looks would fall into the "debatable" category; in fact, Tyra's already defended the tall, tiny-waisted contestant from critics saying she's too thin. And since "debatable" is what fashion is all about, crowning Ann the winner will further elevate Tyra's message that "beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and proportions."