Who Are Tyra Banks' Favorite 'America's Next Top Model' Contestants?
After thirteen years of keeping mum, Tyra Banks revealed her favorite America's Next Top Model contestants to Entertainment Weekly, and what she's proudest of will surprise you. After running for 22 seasons, spawning dozens of emotional makeovers, and gifting us the world's most extensive collection of reaction GIFs, ANTM is coming to an end. While the show has yet to produce any high fashion models, its influence on reality television cannot be argued. Banks claims that it was ANTM that opened the doors for reality stars to be seen as models, so the next time you see Kendall Jenner or Gigi Hadid's faces plastered on a fashion campaign, think of Tyra.
But perhaps most important was Banks' commitment to diversifying the competitors. While this does not discount the mistakes the show made, such as when models were told not to act "too black," or were encouraged to undergo invasive makeover procedures, such as having a gap between the teeth widened or shut, ANTM was one of the first shows to feature lesbian and transgender competitors, plus size women, and boasted an impressive roster of women of color.
To Banks, it was important that viewers at home be able to empathize with the contestants. "I’m really proud of [the show's diversity] because I really wanted to show girls that beauty is not cookie-cutter," she told EW, "So when I’m talking to that girl that’s standing in front of me, and she’s got big freaking red hair and alabaster skin and freckles all over her face, and I’m saying she’s still in the running, yes, I’m talking to her but I’m really talking to the millions of girls that look like her that are at home watching."
So who were her favorite contestants of all time? In addition to picking her favorite smizer, Raina Hein, she had this to say:
One that comes to mind is Whitney Thompson from Cycle 10. She was our first plus-size — or what I call “fiercely real” — winner, so that was really special to me because we were, in hindsight, way ahead of the curve... We had a girl with retinitis pigmentosa in Cycle 3 [Amanda Swafford] — she was legally blind and took the most gorgeous photos. We had a girl named Heather [Kuzmich] who had autism, we had a girl Tahlia [Brookins] that was burned as an infant, and also Mercedes [Scelba-Shorte] from Cycle 2 who had lupus. There was CariDee [English], who won, who had psoriasis.
ANTM didn't break down any doors, as it favored able-bodied thin women overall, but as it ends, the world of modeling has taken baby steps forward the first episode aired (for example, body positive modeling campaigns are gaining traction). While ANTM was never quite the feminist show it wanted to be, it was ahead of others of its time. As for Banks' favorite contestants, they've met varying levels of success. Check out what they're up to below.
1. Whitney Thompson
2. Amanda Swafford
Swafford continues to post modeling work to her Twitter account.
3. Heather Kuzmich
There is little recent information to be found about Kuzmich online. She appears to be studying art in Chicago.
4. Tahlia Brookins
Brookins is not currently represented by an agency, although she modeled for People in 2009.
5. Mercedes Scelba-Shorte
Scelba-Shorte continues to model and is active on social media.
6. Cari Dee English
Images: Getty Images (4), ANTMEurope/Twitter