America’s Next Top Model
In her fiercely vulnerable memoir (and gut-wrenching love letter to her transgender husband) The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson describes queer pride as “a refusal to be shamed by witnessing the other as being ashamed of you.” Being queer may seem tied to some deep sense of self-reproach, but it’s the absence of shame that makes queerness beautifully impervious to the outer world of skateparks and car dealerships. Don’t expect any of this cycle’s models to articulate any of that in this week’s Pride-themed episode, though, because in the social bubble that is Top Model, Pride is about winning a runway challenge while wearing outré bottom lashes as confetti explodes in your face or something. Throughout the episode, we get some shallow peeks at what queendom and queerdom mean to these girls, only one of whom falls under the LGBTQ umbrella.
Speaking of, Brendi K. opens the ep by joining forces with Shanice and launching a shuttle bus smear campaign against Christina, who is disrespectful and not nice according to the girls. “We are ALL bad bitches!” screams Brendi, who is way more upset than anyone ever should be in the soft-handed world of modeling. Christina is feeling upset because she feels outnumbered by people who don’t like her, which she never had to deal with during her gap year when she taught English in Barcelona.
Back at the house, Rio’s Best Photo win is emblazoned on the living room monitor, reminding us that Rio is absolutely stunning. She goes on to gloat about defeating “the pretty girl” Sandra, reminding us that Rio is also absolutely ridiculous. Is this the part where we have to reassure a model that she is “pretty”? Pass. Emboldened, Rio lets front-runner Khrystyana know that she is right behind her in this race.
A TyraMail dispatch declares this week’s intention to celebrate the LGBT+ community by bringing the competition to famed gay bar Micky’s in West Hollywood. The girls are to walk in a pop-up runway that’s meant to be fun and gay and celebratory instead of serious and editorial and joyless. Pro-Trump Liberty (an oxymoron here) takes center for a moment as her political leanings are discussed yet again, for which Kyla, an “activist” to the extent of her high school’s GSA involvement, has no time or respect. Moments later, she walks the runway in a denim jacket with an image of Caitlyn Jenner on the back and it’s like, does she know?
Brendi reveals she is not out as bisexual to her family back home in Nashville, where it wouldn’t be accepted, although whether she is out to her family as Jessie J. circa 2015 is not discussed. Meanwhile, Liberty says there is a “bias towards [sic] gay people” where she is from and therefore this runway will be challenging for reasons unknown, since the presence of a queer person shouldn’t hinder anyone’s ability to bevel and turn.
We have a fleeting second of thinking this runway will be an opportunity to see the girls have fun, but we’re quickly reminded of what a bunch of dead fish we’re working with here. Their assignment is to “get the crowd pumped” wearing designs by Christian Cowan for a chance to walk his show at New York Fashion Week, but they barely manage to get them to crack a smile without a producer politely requesting one. Jeana is solid, we’re told. Khrystyana brings her natural effervescence to the stage and triumphs as a sort of plus-sized Little Bo Peep. Everyone else is fine. Points to Erin for keeping it light and slapping her ass on the way offstage, but major deductions for yet another reminder of her age (42, which we can now relay quicker than the age of our own mothers). Erin, we’ll say it slow for your wizened eardrums: There. Is. More. To. You. Than. This.
As for Kyla, we’re reminded that there’s something sort of unprofessional about her, not from a behavioral standpoint but a performance one. She’s always a touch sloppy and never very memorable, and this outing at Micky’s is no exception. The Jenner jacket would have made more sense on Liberty in terms of political alignment, and if it’s supposed to be tongue-in-cheek then that is most certainly lost. She’s easily overshadowed by the other girls, including Liberty, whom Kyla says would be an “embarrassing” winner of the Pride challenge. Minutes later, she will blame the day’s loss on the fact that she was too busy saying, “Let’s let these transes [sic] use the bathroom” rather than focusing on the challenge. See: activism.
Liberty then voices in confessional about “Republicans getting a bad rap because Donald Trump can be offensive.” We would have hoped for her to express a more holistic view of the right wing collectively selling out its values in favor of fascist ideals, but we don’t expect Liberty to understand even that unnuanced opinion. Then there’s a badly edited discussion between Kyla and Liberty about feminism that does neither party any favors, though it does provide us the beautiful sound bite about “the beauty of being a Republican” from Liberty. If the producers had any sense at all they would demand she expand on this, but instead we’re back to the engrossing Christina narrative seconds later as she makes an effort to connect with the other girls in the hot tub.
She unfortunately makes that effort with Brendi, who is never not shown jumping down someone’s throat. One helpful tip, Christina: Try to make friends with one of the many girls here without a personality so as to not clash with one. Like Sandra, maybe. At the very least, she should stop dropping inane anecdotes about her parents working in academia or some shit. She makes a decent effort to talk with Erin, who ends up spinning out, probably confused because the topic of conversation is not her age. (It’s 42, by the way.)
Thankfully, the show smartly brings in some ringers to save the proceedings, as RuPaul’s Drag Race favorites Katya, Manila Luzon, and Valentina enter for the week’s photo challenge. The queens will be paired with each of the girls in a mother-daughter, queen-princess photo shoot. And, we’re so sorry, but the most interesting thing that’s happened this whole cycle is the reveal that Valentina had completely faked a vocal cadence her entire season of Drag Race. Like, she did not speak like this on her season. Master Manipulator. Evil. Queen. We NEED her for All Stars 4. Ugh. We love her, she’s awful, she’s GORGEOUS!
All three queens are sent over to Liberty in a produced ambush that we’re onboard for. She plays along well enough with the queens, but it’s not enough for Kyla, who swears that Liberty is fake! In her photo shoot, which in our opinion goes decently, Liberty is paired with Katya. She discusses how this is the first time she has ever even seen a drag queen and talks about how she is doing her best to embrace new ideas and concepts. Things she was raised around that seemed okay then “I’m now realizing maybe aren’t okay.” So … progress? We have no fucking idea.
Khrystyana truly does look like Katya’s daughter and obviously slays. Kyla, meanwhile, is exhausted from leering at Liberty all day and proceeds to not take the photo shoot super seriously, probably distracted by being around drag queens she’s “grown up watching” and that it’s Pride week, which is her thing.
Shanice does a passable job, but her whole deal is stumping us a bit. Why is she beloved? What happened to her dissociative personalities from last episode? Can they come back? Erin looks good, but is somehow outshined by Manila. Couldn’t they have amped up the makeup on the girls because they were gonna be next to drag queens? If they’re supposed to compete for the camera, then every single one of them is “losing” these shoots. Jeana looks like Sasha Velour next to Valentina, but isn’t as gorgeous as Sasha Velour, so can we call it a wash. Christina does well and Brendi looks exactly like Jessie J. and we won’t be getting over this any time soon.
After the challenge, Kyla is feeling insecure, as is Brendi, and in no time at all the girls are carted away to the judges’ panel. After Tyra forces the girls to give a reductive “fierce snap” in honor of Pride, the girls are called up to the dais and receive varying feedback, of course. Our brief notes below.
Christina: Praised for giving one option where her chin is down and looking like Christina.
Shanice: Praised for having tattoos.
Khrystyana: Praised because she is Khrystyana.
Brendi: Clocked because she was the QUEEN and not the PRINCESS. Ugh, hate when this happens. Drew flat-out tells her she isn’t a star, which is chill.
Jeana: Praised by Tyra for breathing and gluing rhinestones on her head.
Erin: Praised for “channeling” Diana Ross, a.k.a. wearing a Ross-esque wig.
Sandra: Told she is pretty in a great way.
Liberty: Told she is pretty in a bad way.
Kyla: Clocked for “losing her neck” while wearing a costume that entirely covers her neck.
Sometimes it feels like these judges are trying a little too hard to deliver negative sound bites. Like, when they heard they were gonna be on this show, they YouTubed a few clips of Simon Cowell on American Idol and thought, “Oh yeah, for sure, for sure, for sure.” Particularly Law Roach. You can practically hear him asking the producers, “Was that good?” every time he steps offscreen. Well, in terms of judging, it’s just not Next Level Fierce!
In a shocking twist, however, Liberty goes home over Kyla in a poetically themed episode about everything anathema to Republicanism (namely sequins). We wish her all the best in her inevitable acting career in the Left Behind reboot or Ayn Rand biopic, if she can get a good set of shitty teeth from the makeup effects department.
But for real though, Kyla should have gone home LOL. And we say this without an ounce of shame and only Pride.