Category Archives: Television

Australia’s Next Top Model, Cycle 7 – the full Monty?

montana cox

I stopped recapping Australia’s Next Top Model when I hit Season 7; after re-watching it recently, I remembered why – it was boring.

Yes, the show had its most successful winner ever in the shape of the stunning Montana “Monty” Cox – who has since walked for the likes of Chanel, Dior, Givenchy and Tom Ford at London, Paris and Milan Fashion Weeks (*waves happily at awful Season 4 winner Demelza Reveley, last spotted advertising Ferrero Rocher*). That’s her up above managing to rock having no eyebrows in a Dubai desert by the way. And her managing to rock a ridiculous beehive and sweltering winter clothes in summer down below. Goddess.

montana dubai ausntm season 7

But a cast of beautiful girls does not necessarily great television make, and given the fact that Season 7 didn’t include:

Girl forced to repeat the phrase “I am a power pussy” down the phone to her mum
Model shagging member of the crew, who had to be escorted off-set
Batshit-crazy constestant having meltdown over someone speaking too loudly in a taxi
Massive bullying scandal and the host not turning up for the finale
Punching of walls, swearing on catwalks and stealing of lines in a commercial
The wrong winner being announced

It was substantially less good than any of the seasons of AusNTM that preceded it. Hell, there weren’t even any proper meltdowns at makeover. Is that not the main reason for makeovers?

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Australia’s Next Top Model, Cycle 6: Wrong winner, right everything else

By now, you probably all know about Australia’s Next Top Model, Cycle 6 – for all the wrong reasons! This was the season that made international headlines after host Sarah Murdoch announced the wrong winner, a huge shame for someone like me, who had been quietly and avidly following the show for weeks only to find massive unavoidable spoilers all over the Internet before I had even set eyes on the finale! It was also a huge shame for the show, which had enjoyed its strongest year yet and undoubtedly, it’s slickest live finale (lest we forget the car crash telly of Jodhi Meares’ face-palming Season 3). And yes, the cock-up of all cock-ups was even more cringeworthy when you watched the final in its entirety, where runner-up Kelsey Martinovich was allowed to celebrate winning for a good minute and a half whilst Murdoch’s face slowly turned a shade of green her Botox never thought it could manage.

ANYWAY. The downside of it being the best year contestant-wise was that, drama-wise, it was actually a little dull. The funniest moment was when the obligatory crew-cut at makeover, Sophie Van Der Akker (skin possibly entirely composed of foundation, below) attempted to re-attach her ratty hair extensions back at the house. So they cut her hair even shorter instead! Kudos also to the evil genius who decided to send the girls to Japan for their overseas trip, where they made bemused appearances on a ‘Super Kawaii!!!’ show, where they had to hop like bunnies and dress as schoolgirls and Lolitas, whilst their midget stylists burst into tears of happiness/sadness/randomness at every opportunity.

Drama came courtesy of the most beloved of all AusNTM tropes – the bogan (see Eboni Season 2, Leiden Season 4, Cassi Season 5). This year, it was Gold Coast Meter Maid (think Hooters girl, but in charge of parking fees) Kimberly Thrupp (above). Alternating between giving ‘110%’ and not being arsed, she objected to a shoot concept as, at the grand old age of 20, she ‘didn’t believe in true love’, swore during a presenting challenge and, despite saying her ‘butt’ was ‘grabbable’ at a jeans promo, took issue with having to model swimwear and flounced off to pack her bags (needless to say, she didn’t leave and instead continued to give ‘110%’ whilst admitting she wasn’t trying her hardest). Alex Perry called her ‘so annoying I want to stab myself so it can all be over’.

When she was finally given the boot for her attitude, renowned photographer (and AusNTM Nigel Barker-lite) Jez Smith tried to offer some encouragement about carrying on. Instead, dear Kimberly stuck her chin out, told everyone she wasn’t going to carry on modelling and was going to ‘do something with my life’. Renowned supermodel Sarah Murdoch told her she had ‘the goods to make it’, to which Kimberly maturely replied, ‘Don’t want to. Learnt enough… need to find something else to entertain myself with now’. Hear that sound, Murdoch? It’s a 20 year-old Gold Coast Meter Maid pissing all over your entire life’s work and career! Sadly, the cameraman had gone to sleep, too busy segueing to the moving elimination soundtrack, and was too late to capture the reactions of the panel (can you imagine how Alex Perry looked?!), allowing us to merely hear their ruminations about how they should have kept the previously-eliminated girls instead. Kimberly then refused to hug anyone (‘Is the car out back?’) and made her exit. Kimberly was last seen fishing around for a model agency.

kelsey martinovich ausntm mad men

Fortunately for the lack of drama in-house (the final two, Kelsey and Amanda, were both so sickeningly nice and beautiful that they make Elle Macpherson look like a troll) was that the judges were on top form. Despite a personnel change from the catty Jonathan Pease in the Mr Jay role, to former Banana In Pyjama, the superfluous Josh Flinn (main contribution: report cards that Sarah Murdoch made a big fuss of at panel before chucking away without a second glance, occasional bursts of tap dancing, alas not in banana/pyjama costume), there were plenty of great quotes like:

I would raise my eyebrow… if I could.

(On a photo) She’s competing with the couch… and I keep thinking to myself that’s quite a fabulous sofa.

(In reply to someone saying a photo had ‘a Dynasty look about it’) More like dysentery!

Hmmm… perhaps you had to be there, but Alex Perry and Charlotte Dawson took time out of their Facebook slanging matches to continue to be the best thing about the show. Alas, they had very little reason to get bitchy, as the photos were almost universally ridiculously strong. The majority of them looked like professional editorial or ad campaigns, especially in contrast to NZNTM’s amateurish second season (more of which later).

So onto the pretty things… and too many good ‘uns to pick from! As you may have worked out, my love for all things 50s inspired meant I was a sucker for the first week’s Mad Men-inspired photo-shoot, shot by Jez Smith. Gorgeous styling, beautiful make-up and a great atmosphere, albeit more Hitchcock heroine than Joan Holloway (cue girls wondering if Grace Kelly was a man * sigh *). I love how Jez Smith actually captures some emotion from the girls’ eyes (many shoots this series, although pretty, are simply that… just pretty), often a quiet pain or sadness that’s at odds with the flawless imagery. I’ve liberally scattered this post with my favourite photos, which are (top to bottom): Sophie, Kimberly, Joanna Broomfield (wistfully romantic – love this shot), Kelsey, Chantal Crocolo (Keira Knightley’s Egyptian half-sister), Alison Ware and Sally Geach (who both didn’t even make it through the first round!). Kathryn Lyons, meanwhile, looks simply beautiful, as she continued to do throughout.

Kathryn (above) was probably the most photogenic model I’ve seen yet on NTM. In VTs, she was an unassuming scrap of a thing, bony, bad skin, mousy; in photos, she somehow transformed into a gamine graceful goddess, a divine creature blessed with flawless skin and a beautiful bone structure, with a touch of the Audrey Hepburn about her. My favourite photo of her was from the swimwear shoot, which literally took my breath away. It’s just stellar – stunning, sensual with a gorgeous natural ease to it. Needless to say, it’s the banner picture.

Week 2 was a denim campaign, think glossier 80s Bananarama record sleeve (above)! Jessica Moloney’s could be published tomorrow (Jessica Stam and Lily Cole’s love child, given an emo makeover). I also love the use of body shapes and lighting in Amanda’s photo, and the steel tubes and industrial setting work well with the double-denim styling to give an edgy, cool feel.

Week 3 was beauty shot time, in the presence of Harper’s Bazaar editor Claudia Navonne. With an accent pitched somewhere between one of Roald Dahl’s witches and an East European brothel madam, Claudia’s description of ‘POUFF! Magic happens!’ never fails to entertain. Kelsey’s tigress shot (above) is stunning – that fierce mane of hair, the sense of movement in a static image and eyes that connect and are saying very naughty things!

I love the whimsical feel of Week 6’s accessories shoot for Cosmo (above), with one very important accessory – a live animal! The real thought that had gone into matching the animal with the accessories is superb and works in different ways; whilst Amanda’s strong editorial look contrasts spectacularly with the cute little pig she’s holding, Jessica really captures the fun side of the shoot, interacting naturally with her Dalmatian and producing a really infectiously lovely photo.

Week 7 (are you bored yet?) and the usual NTM sadistic streak reared its head, getting models to sport lingerie in sub-zero temperatures (above). I love the vintage, Dr Zhivago-esque styling, whilst the scenery provides a stunning backdrop. The iciness really brings out the ethereal blue in Jessica’s eyes and I was banging on about how wonderful Kathryn’s photo was several days later. (Can you BELIEVE she got sent home that week?!?!).

kathryn lyons ausntm cruise

Finally, deep breath (are you worn out yet), a few moments for eventual winner Amanda Ware. A deserving winner in my eyes, who I’m proud to say I picked out right from the off, as she was about the only one in the opening credits who didn’t look either ugly or unable to walk without looking drunk. Her best photo, for which Alex Perry ran out of synonyms and intensifiers for ‘expensive’, was shooting luxury brands on a luxury yacht. She looks long, lean, entirely above it all… and yes, ridiculously expensive (although as ever, Kathryn gave her a run for her money). In contrast, Tyra Banks much-mooted ‘High Fashion’ Cycle 15 of ANTM saw contestants defying belief and actually dressing up, often in drag, as famous fashion designers. Is there any question as to which series has more class, style and intrinsic understanding of how fashion should work?!

However, my favourite thing about the whole season was the promo. Are there many greater pleasures in life than seeing Charlotte Dawson waving wads of cash at the camera as a bookie (!), 16 pretty girls pretending to be racehorses/greyhounds (!!) wearing evening gowns and going face-first into the dirt (!!!) and Dame Alex Perry, complete with sunglasses and fur, lowering his binoculars to declare ‘Expensive’!!!! The answer (for NTM devotees anyway): no. Enjoy!

Incidentally, this post means I have now reviewed every season of Australia’s Next Top Model so far! That can only mean one thing – ranking time! So if you’re wondering where to start with AusNTM, here’s my take:

BEST TV:  Cycle 5 > Cycle 2 > Cycle 1 > Cycle 4 > Cycle 3 > Cycle 6

BEST PHOTOS/MODELS:  Cycle 6 > Cycle 5 > Cycle 2 > Cycle 3 (Alas, one Burdeu does not make up for a cast of shorties) > Cycle 1 > Cycle 4

The word cycle looks strange now. My work here is done.

Britain’s Next Top Model, Cycle 6: Susan Loughnane Interview

Since I reviewed Britain’s Next Top Model, Season 6 EXTENSIVELY for Teentoday (sadly, now lost to some Internet dark hole), rather than talking about the whole cycle, I thought I’d just bring you my favourite contestant from the series instead – flame-haired Oirish actress Susan Loughnane.

Given that she lasted all of two weeks, she’s a bit of a strange choice for favourite, right? What I liked about Susan was that, apart from being exceptionally pretty, she proved you didn’t have to be some raging drama queen to make for good viewing on a Next Top Model show. She came across as funny and likeable – a fact proved even more by an amazing interview she gave me a long time after her exit. Honestly, I just wanted to sit down over a cuppa tea and have an off-the-record natter with her!

Some self-portraits about the comfort of tea. The lighting, the mood, the expression – so evocative. Love it!

As usual with BNTM, most of the photos were a bit rubbish. Every year I have high hopes they’ll up their game and every year they disappoint, with cheap-looking shoots, crappy sponsorship deals and dull concepts. So Susan can feel smug about the fact that, although she doesn’t even want to model anymore, she already has a body of work from her pre-show days that is actually quite stunning – the ‘pretty things’ that are scattered around this post (some taken by herself, multi-talented girl!). Red hair just looks so amazing, doesn’t it?!

Susan’s interview is a must-read for any Next Top Model fans; it blows the lid on the whole series! Since Teentoday has been scrobbed from the Internet (and with it, about five years of my life and work *sad face*), I’ve reproduced it here in its entirety – enjoy!

So… the big question… who are you rooting for in the final?
Do you know what, I’m rooting for Tiff. She is the real underdog here because she’s not 100% British. I can empathise with that. She won’t get the same level of support the other girls will get. I think all the girls deserve it though, I would be over the moon for Alisha or Joy to win. I would have loved to see Amelia win as well : (

You’re going to be at the final with the rest of the girls… do you have any idea what’s gonna happen during the show? Will you be wearing one of your impressive jumpers?
Yes I can’t wait!! I have no idea what’s going to happen! All I know is that they have booked for me to get my hair done at Daniel Galvin before the show and all the girls will be staying in a hotel together! I’m super excited. I don’t think it will be an appropriate time for me to whip out one of my amazing jumpers unfortunately, however I do have a lovely dress which will have to suffice.

You’re also going to be at BNTM Live along with the other girls. Any idea what you’ll be doing there? Excited?
Actually I don’t think I’ll be doing BNTM Live. The models aren’t being paid. The show will undoubtedly make a huge amount of money. I don’t do unpaid work anymore. I’m not demanding a lot but if I don’t value myself, who will?

I guess it must seem a long time ago since you left the competition; did you keep up with watching the show? Were you OMGing at stuff along with the rest of us?
I don’t actually have a telly here! I do watch all my favourite shows online though, god bless 4OD! However I’ve had to wait to watch BNTM on youtube. But mostly I knew how things went, because we all found each other on facebook and got the gossip there. It’s funny to watch how it’s all edited though!

sue loughnane swimwearYou may have gathered by now that I’m a sucker for 50s styling. The colours here are so vibrant and Susan looks like Rita Hayworth. Hot!

I wanna talk a bit about your time on the show… as you know I was a big fan and really sad to see you leave so early : ( Were you upset/shocked about how you were eliminated?
Aw that’s nice, I love hearing that. Honestly, I couldn’t believe I’d even gotten onto the show. I don’t really see myself as a model and have trouble understanding how anyone else sees it. I think I made it on there mostly as a result of my personality! I really clicked with all the producers and I think they really liked me. I think they wanted me there more than Elle and the judges. I thought the way I was eliminated was great, very dramatic, just how I like it! I loved how fans were outraged and really got behind me! That was brilliant, I was so unbelievably grateful for that. It could have been far worse. Delita got a very hard time from the fans for being in it as long as she was. And the photographers on the show didn’t seem to like her either. I think that would be much harder to deal with. I felt quite sorry for her. I was lucky that the photographers on the show really liked me, I came across well and a lot of people were disgusted when I left. You couldn’t ask for a better exit than an unfair one! I’m quite ‘glass half full’ about the whole thing.

It seemed strange as you hadn’t received as much criticism as some of the other girls for either your walk or your photos. Do you think if you’d been given more constructive criticism, you could have improved and stayed longer?
They want the girls to have a character arc. It is the same with acting. There has to be a story. You have to start somewhere, preferably a fairly rocky start, or where they show your potential but how you might falter, and then there has to be hurdles, breakdowns, obstacles, triumphs… Me, I was always quite stable and happy. This was my flaw. I think I was too grown-up for the tantrums and the breakdowns, and I knew enough that I wasn’t starting from a disadvantage, so the story wasn’t there in the long run. So they got rid of me. It was never about how I performed as a model. Am I ruining it for you?? Sorry.

 

The people at the go-sees didn’t seem encouraging at all and looked like they were sucking lemons when they saw you! Did you already get the vibe that they weren’t interested? Were you angry (I was and I wasn’t even there!)?
I know that they were told to criticize me, because it was my time to go, but man they were total assholes! They weren’t nice people, they had no scruples, no shame, no empathy, nothing. The majority of the horrible things they said were actually edited out because it was just too mean and completely unjustified. It took all my strength not to tear them to pieces for being horrible human beings. But karma will get them, they will come back in the next life as a warthog and a stinky hyena. [Guess they won’t be getting a Christmas card this year…!]

I read in one interview that you wanted to deck them! Models 1 will also be at the BNTM Live event… have you been working on your right hook?!
Haha I have better things to do than take them out. But in fact I have been working out a lot lately. I do want to be able to throw a good punch in case the need ever arises. It’s actually quite empowering as a woman to work on your physical strength.

Were you upset that you didn’t get a proper goodbye – seeing Elle, writing a farewell letter etc? What were the other girls’ reactions to your departure?
Oh no, as I said I was very happy with how I went. I didn’t have to go through another elimination, those are the most horrible nerve-wrecking things! And all the girls were there to help me pack and make me feel better. They even tried to bake a potato for me to bring with me, they knew how much I loved my spuds, and Tiffany gave me her last energy bar, which meant a lot in a house where food was scarce and you couldn’t just pop out to the shop and buy more. And they were just so lovely and supportive. They were really a great group of girls! Afterwards, Tiff and Amelia went into the diary room and said some really sweet things about how much they were going to miss me. I cried watching that.

Did it frustrate you that, whilst some judges complained that your acting detracted from your modelling, loads of stuff after you’d gone revolved around acting? You’d probably have rocked the bullying campaign, the horror shoot and the Hollyoaks challenge!
Yeah, well I couldn’t have stayed on really, could I? That would have been my chance to shine. So they had to find some way to get rid of me. So they found two callous assholes with no scruples who would be quite happy to shamelessly put me down and bully me. And that was followed by an anti bullying campaign…

Do you think you had a different experience to the rest of the girls as, with your acting, you’re more savvy to being in front of the cameras and dealing with criticism? What do you prefer – reality tv or having a script?
I honestly prefer having a script, however I am quite comfortable just being myself. But I was completely sure of who I was and what I would and wouldn’t do. I think that comes with age. At my age, I know who I am and cannot be pushed around by producers and convinced to do something I would be ashamed of later. The younger girls were more malleable which makes for better TV.

Give us the inside scoop on filming a reality tv show – were the cameras really on you 24/7? Did you feel pressured to come up with good soundbites? Do you feel the producers deliberately amped up the drama for better tv? Did you feel the judges were being honest at panel or just trying to be controversial?
The cameras weren’t there 24/7, there was a lot that the cameras did not see! We weren’t allowed to play music in the house because it would interfere with filming and they might not be able to hear what we were saying. But one night, Kirsty found a stereo system in the bedroom and after they had all gone to bed we used to put it on and have a bit of a boogie. They found us at it one night and decided to film it because it would show us bonding or some shit like that. But there was a lot that they didn’t see. They did deliberately amp up the drama, but I wasn’t really involved in that kind of thing, I tried to mostly stay away from drama. I wasn’t a very good contestant really was I? I would never make it onto Big Brother!! I’m a bit too chilled.

None of the judges were honest really, except maybe Charley. Grace was quite honest at times but always exaggerated what she really thought to make it sound more extreme, because she wanted to be the Simon Cowell one. Julian was always just being controversial, he didn’t seem to have a filter in his brain to sieve out the ridiculous comments. It was like he had Tourettes. The producers obviously loved that.

It sounded like you entered BNTM on a bit of a whim (especially as, you admit, you’re not even technically British!). Were you happy you just got as far as you did? What was the feeling like when Elle called your name last at Model Academy? (Only for her to kick you out without a goodbye a few weeks on – bloody cheek etc!)
I couldn’t believe I actually made it in. It was mad. I went over on a whim. If it hadn’t been for a Ryanair sale and £10 flights, I wouldn’t have gone because I really thought they were highly likely to turn me away the minute they saw my Irish passport. So I just thought, well it would be nice to see Glasgow and it will be a funny experience either way, and sure the flights were practically free. I actually laughed when I was told I had a call back. I did always have to pinch myself when I was on the show and I never felt I would make it to the next week at any stage, so I was shocked to even get as far as I did, and I was really honoured to be there. So I was fine about leaving. I felt a bit abused by their manner of doing it, but I didn’t expect to stay, and I knew there was an elimination that day, it was completely pre-planned in advance, so I was not shocked. It was not a shock elimination like they made out. It was totally scripted. That’s a Fact.

A few unkind people have suggested you only entered to get exposure for your acting – what’s your response to them?
It’s the truth; I have no real interest in being a model. I completely used BNTM for my profile and it worked. So there.

susan loughnaneSusan’s gorgeous 2012 Irish Tatler cover; photo by Barry McCall Photographer

What have you been up to since you left?
Thankfully, I’ve been doing quite a lot of acting. I shot an Irish TV series called Single-Handed down in beautiful Galway. I’m told it will be on ITV over here in the New Year. I’ve just been cast in a play here, I have a fantastic new London agent and he is getting me lots of auditions here so things are great. I love living in London. [NOTE: Since BNTM, Susan has actually become a quite well-known actress, with roles in acclaimed Irish drama Love/Hate and Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, plus has also written her first book!]

You can model, act and have a nifty taste in jumpers. Let’s assess your true triple-threat potential! Any other talents hiding under there?
Haha, that’s really sweet. I do love my jumpers all right. Actually I am also an artist and dabble in photography. I’ve been a professional portrait artist since I was about 17, and still take the odd commission to supplement my income. I find painting a very relaxing and therapeutic thing to do; however, I have taken a break from it since coming to London because I couldn’t bring over all my easels and oil paints and canvases, and it would be a big investment to buy new stuff. Also I am focusing solely on acting for the time being, I think to be truly successful at something you have to be single-minded, and now I am totally focused. I do still carry around my SLR from time to time and snap casual pictures of friends and London life in general.

I just noticed on your CV that you trained for a year at the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York (most famous student: Marilyn Monroe!) – how was that experience?
I loved New York. It felt like home straight away and whenever I think about it my heart actually aches a little. I think it is homesickness. I do feel the same way about Ireland though. The Lee Strasberg Institute was an incredible experience. Not only did I get fantastic training but I met truly brilliant people. It was like the UN, I now have friends from literally all over the world and all walks of life! It was a true all-round life experience.

My boyfriend thinks you look like Amy Adams – have you had that before?
All the time, I used to get called Nicole Kidman too, but I think my personality is closer to Amy Adams… now if I could only have her career…!

How do you think being part of BNTM has changed you?
It has made me very determined. And I have a lot more belief in myself. The fans were very supportive I’ve gotten some wonderfully positive fan mail. It is fantastic and invaluable to have the support of your family and friends, but when complete strangers have a strong faith in you it has an interesting effect. I throw away every negative comment, they are irrelevant to me unless they are constructive. But the really positive ones are like little badges I sew onto my sleeve, like when I was in a kid in girl guides, and they add to my confidence and sense of purpose and self-belief. I really am grateful for that.

And finally, what’s your top style/beauty tip for Teentoday readers?
I believe in rewards. When I have worked really hard I like to reward myself with something I don’t need but really want. Like that jumper I wore on the show, for example. I was shooting a TV series up in Belfast last November, and one day I had two big emotional scenes that were very hard work and emotionally exhausting, but I got a few hours off after so I went shopping in Belfast and bought myself that jumper. I returned to set that day with a huge smile on my face. And now I have a jumper that always makes me happy and reminds me of the great work I did that day. Love yourself, take care of yourself and reward yourself when you deserve it.

All photos from Susan’s website and Flickr. As ever, click on the photos for enlargements.

Canada’s Next Top Model, Cycle 3: Ticket to nowhere?

Been feeling out of sorts lately but unable to work out why? Well, I might just have the answer! It’s been over a fortnight since I did a Top Model post!

Cycle 3 of Canada’s Next Top Model was the best Canada had seen yet. Given that Season 1 was fronted by Long John Silver’s wooden stump (I’ve heard she goes by the name of Tricia Helfer), populated with a cast of ugmos and won by an anorexic who gave up modelling before she’d even begun, you can see this isn’t exactly the most glowing of endorsements. Thankfully, Tyra freed Mister Jay in time for Season 2 and by Season 3, he had rounded up a vaguely attractive cast, half-decent panel and enough budget to ensure that shoots no longer looked like they had been done by that dodgy bloke who hangs round your mall.

Although it was the most recent cycle of CNTM, the series still felt like it was occurring in the medieval ages of Top Model-dom – a too-short run, a dated look and a distinct lack of drama. But it was good to see an unshackled Jay Manuel declaring he hated the word ‘fierce’ – take that, Tyra!

What drama there was started off pretty low-key. One girl walked before anyone had even learnt her name. Another girl didn’t really fit in. There was the obligatory meltdown at makeover – ‘I look like a muffin!’ – and the most un-dramatic outing of a lesbian I think I’ve ever seen on reality television. And then there was Maryam.

Maryam was originally from Iran, meaning she was the one who would make incessant references to her culture every time she had to reveal so much as an ankle on tv. So far, so standard. But as the girls screamed, whooped and jumped up and down on discovering they’d be Bahamas-bound for a bridal-themed photoshoot, it transpired Maryam didn’t have a passport. Poor girl probably thought she wouldn’t need it, given CNTM had thus far been so low-rent that the furthest the girls got from Canada was probably being made to flick through American Vogue. Everyone thought Maryam was a goner and Barbadian-born Ebonie thought she had her best shoot yet but the show stumped up a special shoot for Maryam, using better green-screen effects than Clash of the Titans, and girlfriend absolutely rocked it.

Come panel and Ebonie’s photo (above) was truly horrible and looked like she was having the worst period OF ALL TIME (judge Yasmin Warsame: ‘I’d buy that, I’m sold!’ *on seeing close-up* ‘Oh dear, I change my mind!’). Ebonie still thought she’d done brilliantly and was promptly sent packing, still protesting her brilliance. Surely I’m not the only one who gleefully cackles when stuff like that happens?!

I absolutely loved this shoot because I’m a sucker for bridal. A childhood spent collecting Barbie stickers and swooning over Disney movies has meant that seeing a bridal gown triggers some primal urge that sets me off squealing and clapping my hands like a seal. Contrast tropical setting and pretty dress with looks of intense pain and sorrow and I adore it even more, regardless if it’s an idea as old as (certain parts of) Janice Dickinson. My favourite photo of the entire cycle was Heather’s (the banner photo), the perfect balance between serene beauty and utter wretchedness. I also love how true Rebeccah’s feels – a quiet moment of sadness captured on film. [Her story about how she achieved it, by thinking about when her dog died, would have made even the most Botoxed-up fashionitas shed a tear… if their ducts hadn’t been frozen solid, of course.] And as for Maryam? Can you tell her signature look was ‘fierce’? She was the only girl to show some attitude and look pissed and I think it pays off. [Below, left to right: Rebeccah, Maryam]

Just when you thought the passport dramz was over, cue more screaming, whooping and jumping up and down because the girls were headed to New York! And guess what? Maryam still didn’t have a passport!

Having blown the budget on two international trips and green-screen technology, there was no special treatment for Maryam this time. So whilst the rest of the girls did some fancy shoot portraying two different characters in one photo, Maryam called upon a photographer mate (quite likely that dodgy bloke who hangs round your mall) to make her own picture. As she was shown posing in what appeared to be someone’s cloakroom, rattling on in her thick Iranian-accent about being pictured with a gecko, this was hide behind your pillow viewing. Clutching her brown envelope at panel, containing what you imagined was some amateur snapshot of her gallivanting with a lizard she probably found in the streets (very common in HK), I could barely watch for fear of this sweet little Iranian flower being brutally stamped out by the judges. And yet, it somehow turned out awesome, better than the stupid New York shoot and she even escaped the bottom two! Only to be given the boot a week later…

Overall, I was pretty impressed with the standard of the shoots, although after a bit of digging on forums, it appears that’s because most of the ideas were nicked from other (better!) fashion editorials anyway! Photographed in Week 1 by Nigel Barker (*groan*), I initially thought the concept of being shot at random with a wild animal was a bit of a stunt. But, combined with glam 80s styling, big hair and a liberal dose of fierce eyes, it worked (in fact, something pretty similar was done this current season of AusNTM). [Below: Maryam, Nikita, Rebeccah, Heather]

Meanwhile, I simply loved the styling in Week 2. It looked, as good old Alex Perry would say, ‘expensive’. These lushly opulent designer frocks are works of art and were shot and styled accordingly. I could do without the random flashes of bright light but Nikita (the ‘muffin’ makeover girl, who was a great contestant – quick, witty, bitchy but still likeable) looks regal and exquisitely untouchable – bow down! I also really liked Rebeccah doing something a bit different and channelling Twiggy, which really works with her outfit and haircut. [Below: Rebeccah, Tara – purely because I love her outfit, Nikita, Heather]

Finally, beauty shots avec duct-taped mouths. It’s such a great concept for a beauty shot that I refuse to believe it hasn’t been used before, but the CNTM girls do it justice. It would be easy to fall into an oppressed woman trap so I love how defiantly Nikita eyes the camera, but still in an aloof sexy way. And those are some quality cheekbones (and nails)! Heather’s ethereal, almost resigned look heavenwards manages to transcend both the duct-tape and the huge hair whilst Rebeccah channels Twiggy… again! And I’m still going to love her for it… again! Her make-up is more cutesy than the other girls, so the big eyes look great with it and the composition of the shot, with her peeking out from one side of the photo just like she’s peeking out from one side of her hair, is kookily clever. [Below: Nikita, Rebeccah, Heather]

So, a solid season with solid photos, a solid cast and enough drama to keep things ticking along for eight episodes that can be wrapped up in a weekend. Basically, just enough reason to forgive and forget for a few weeks that Canada is responsible for both Justin Bieber and Avril Lavigne. Oh, ok, nothing can make up for that!

Dust to dust… Ashes To Ashes finale review (no spoilers!)

Believe it or not, I do watch things other than Top Model.

The last time I wrote about British TV was when I got all excited for the new season of Doctor Who. I never really followed it up on here because, in truth, I was a little disappointed with the final results, with the quality varying wildly with each different writer and an oddly underwhelming finale. The hiring of Stephen ‘Blink’ Moffat to take over the helm from Russell T. Davies, the return of the Stone Angels, the mystery of Alex Kingston’s River Song and the arrival of a brand new doctor and a spunky new companion had all boded so well… alas, it turned out to be a series not only bursting with potential, but also with the inability to live up to it.

Contrast with Ashes To Ashes, a show I’d all but given up on. Right from the beginning, it was an audition for Stars In The Eyes, saying ‘Tonight Matthew, I want to be Life On Mars.’ The right bits were all there but, like a Madame Tussaud’s waxwork, there was something about it that wasn’t quite right. Philip Glenister’s DCI Gene Hunt was as watchable as ever, churning out one-liners with the speed and ease of a machine-gun, but the character, the performance and the writing made him so inherently watchable that you’d probably sit through Hunt attempting to do Hamlet. Keeley Hawes softly psycho-babbling away could never compete with the mastery of John Simm, and she verged on annoying the viewer as much as she did Gene. And the change of era to the glib, superficial, flashy 80s seemed to set the tone for a series that appeared happy to rest on its laurels by providing a few good laughs, a few good car chases and a few good punch-ups each week. The website even has Gene Hunt’s Quattro listed as a character! Whilst the first season showed some promise, with the brilliant climax of a final big reveal, I found Season 2 near unwatchable. Dull, slow and ponderous, I only found the energy to struggle through (albeit usually with something else going on in another tab on my PC) once I’d learnt that Season 3 would be the definitive ending and provide some answers to the whole saga as begun by Simm’s Sam Tyler. And by ‘eck, it did.

Right from the first episode of the third season, I sensed a gear change, with the whole thing really accelerating around Episode 6. The plots were tighter, the pace was faster, characters were evolving and clues were being dropped at an appetite-whetting rate. A new character, DCI Jim Keats (Daniel May), was introduced and was just the kind of series-driving antagonist Season 2 so desperately needed to give it a greater sense of purpose. But I don’t want this review to include spoilers and become my thesis on the finale, because frankly, the Internet has enough playgrounds for fanboys. Instead, I just hope that this finds its way to someone who hasn’t watched and decides to give it a go. [And for my money, the much-maligned Season 2 isn’t essential to watching the last season anyway.]

The finale was simply a beautiful piece of television. It made everything slot together, made everything before it slot together even better and dovetailed perfectly into Life On Mars. The series creators always stated that they had wanted to do three seasons of Life On Mars, but John Simm wanting out put the cabosh on that. Despite Simm still being a no-show, the last Ashes To Ashes felt like a worthy ending to the whole affair. The door was closed gently and tenderly on five years of remarkable primetime telly, but with just enough loose ends and thought-provoking threads to inspire debate and discussion on the wastelands of the Interwebz for years to come.

It was moving, it was clever and it was startling. Other critics seem to have pieced things together well before time, but not me. It was enough of a surprise to be gripping viewing, but not so much of a left-field bolt from the blue that I was left thinking ‘WTF’ throughout. At times, the acting was hair-on-end heart-wrenching, taking you to places that you weren’t sure a retro bad haircut, a bird with an annoying voice and the chubby buffoon from Plus One were capable of. And that final realisation when everything clicked? Did I mention that it was just a rather beautiful piece of television?

Ultimately, Ashes To Ashes managed to transcend its roots from a high-concept tongue-in-cheek sci-fi time-warp cop-drama nostalgia-trip into something much much more. Sad but loving, profound but amusing, daring but populist, complex but essentially simple – and all with a much-loved misogynistic ball-breaking, tough-talking, hard-drinking, one-liner-spinning iconic anti-hero at its heart. And all this at 9pm on a Friday night on the Beeb? Quite an achievement indeed.

nterview with Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham

Australia’s Next Top Model, Cycle 2: Bogan is best?

If you thought Season 1 of Australia’s Next Top Model hit the ground running, Season 2 proved you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Before the finalists even got within sniffing distance of the model house, they were subjected to a gruelling army assault course followed by their first sweaty mud-encrusted photo-shoot followed by their first elimination! Alas, poor bug-eyed Sasha’s trek to Sydney was all in vain – possibly a ruse to cover up the fact that ugmo Sasha had clearly been mistakenly invited in the first place. This was all within the first twelve minutes.

The real twelfth finalist, spunky Madeleine Rose, allowed to escape the indignities of the assault course, was already clad in a slinky evening dress, sipping champagne and awaiting the rest of the befuddled girls at the model house, who thought she was their hostess. No such niceties, Madeleine had already bagged a bed. Meanwhile, it transpired another girl was related to Olivia Newton-John (I’m now hoping that everyone in Australia is at least her first cousin). We’re only fifteen minutes in.

23 minutes saw “Princess” Hiranthi lock the rest of the girls in the apartment by pissing off to the gym with the only key-card but without telling anyone. 25 minutes was the first catwalk challenge, somehow won by Eboni who’d strutted down with only one shoe on. 33 minutes in saw the first big house argument, over Princess’ hour-long sessions in the bathroom whilst 43 minutes saw the first big house piss-up, complete with lesbian snogging and Lara shaving off a sleeping Hiranthi’s eyebrow.

Remember how last season built up to a final nude photo-shoot? Well, this season, it started with one! Princess Hiranthi ummed and ahhhed over whether to participate, one girl gashed her knee with a razor and there were more tits flying about than at a nut-stuffed bird feeder but actually, the photos turned out rather nicely. Lara’s, below, was my favourite – I love how soft and sensual she looks here – whilst the most action-packed of action-packed first episodes culminated in an unexpected double elimination. Bloody hell.


Frankly, this would be enough drama for a whole season of most other Next Top Model shows. But Cycle 2 continued to progress like a soap-writer’s wet dream. Olivia Newton John’s third cousin once removed quit. Lara flashed her bum in a shop window. Alex Perry debuted his ‘expensive’ line. One girl planted horse manure on another’s pillow. Man-eater Madeleine got laid at one challenge win and had a fling with a grungy-looking member of the crew (‘We just chatted’ she claimed, as infra-red footage showed her moaning and squirming around her sleeping bag in ecstasy). Then another girl claimed the same hair stylist had come onto her too, cue him yelling ‘If you think your little fucking presence can fuck with my existence, you’ve got another thing coming!’ Next scene: him being driven away (rumour has it he only left because she threatened legal action). Runner-up Jess slowly began to unravel in a series of panic attacks and death glares. Then there was the saga of Eboni.

Cycle 2’s bogan, Tasmanian Eboni’s platypus bill of a mouth seemed unable to open properly, meaning every uncouth utterance came out as an obscenity-laden manly drawl that practically needed subtitles. On a punishing  trek round the bush, she began suffering back pains and was carted off to hospital. She returned briefly but on being unable to feel her arms in a swimming session, was ferried back to hospital again. They uncovered a problem with her artery that could potentially cause a stroke so she announced that she was pulling out and her photo disappeared from the end of episode group shot. But then, lo and behold, she was back! Effectively given a bye for the week, Madeleine and Jess were rightly angry yet bizarrely edited to look like villains whilst Eboni launched into one of her usual foul-mouthed tirades and mimed strangling Jess behind her back. Eboni’s injury meant she was unable to pose properly, but outrageous favouritism from the panel saw her all the way to the final, by which time the abnormal artery had been talked up as Eboni having actually had a stroke, become a paraplegic and waiting at death’s door. (Contrast this special treatment with how Gemma’s depression, also a serious illness, was near trivialised in Season 1.)

If last cycle was the Season of the Bogan, this was the Season of the Blonde. We started off with about fifty indistinguishable pretty blondes and an all-round decent cast but despite this, we ended up with a final two of brunette fugs. At least Jess started photographing amazingly at the end, with a touch of the Erin O’ Connor about her, but I just wasn’t a fan of her look. Meanwhile, Eboni had a brace of early strong shots (just not in close-up, thank you very much) but her attitude, lack of versatility (I dread to think how grotesque a smiling shot of her would have been) and most obviously, health problems should clearly have sent her packing.

The drama didn’t end there. Post-win, Eboni ended up confined to hospital for six months, unable to attend the reunion show never mind do any actual modelling, and declared that she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to pursue the career anyway. Well, her dreams came true as she was last spotted waiting tables. That’s in-between being charged with obstructing police after jumping on the back of an officer and being removed from a club kicking and screaming after punching someone (antics that make Cycle 5’s Cassi look like a mere amateur). Meanwhile, Jess sent Eboni abusive text messages during the series’ broadcast, stormed out of a signing session with fellow finalists and punched someone in the gob after snogging a girl at a Gay Bash (literally – ho ho ho) party.

Amidst all this, they still found time for the photos to be amazing, with a five-episode stretch of seriously gorgeous shoots. Following the beautiful nude shots, episode two had a circus-themed lingerie shoot could have easily descended into ANTM absurdity. Instead, it managed to look gritty, powerful and arresting; I particularly enjoyed how cute-as-a-button Lara was contrasted with a circus freak’s rolls of flab. I also love the sexy nonchalance of Madeleine’s pose – the cross of the legs, the cock of the head, the challenging look at the camera. Eboni and Louise’s poses, though practically identical, conjure up entirely different moods, with Eboni’s all long-limbed strength whilst Louise has a sadness and loneliness in her eyes. [Top to bottom: Lara, Madeleine, Louise, Eboni]

Episode 3’s black-and-white 50s starlet emotion shoot, shot by judge Georges Antoni, reminded me of NZNTM Season 1 – except the latter are just good photos whereas Antoni’s are more like art. Simone, playing seductive (as if I need to tell you), is just sinuously sexual here. The curve of the body, the parted lips, the languid eyes… she looks like Anita Ekberg or something, captured in a private moment of just being intensely sexy. Caroline (sadness) epitomises the whole beauty-pain thing that I’m sure is another Tyra-ism and I love how Antoni catches the movement of her wiping away the tear. Meanwhile, Madeleine’s photo (screaming anger) just feels so alive. It looks exactly how I imagine a starlet having a mid-scene temper tantrum, plonking herself down on-set and screaming at some unfortunate minion would look. The glare of light across her eyes is an evocative touch too. [Top to bottom: Caroline, Madeleine, Simone]

Episode 4 marked the returned of Nick Leary and, what with hair stylist Carl stealing his pervy thunder, he just got on with taking stunning photos – even more commendable given how grotty the girls were after a night in the bush. It was all about the styling – a sort of romantic colonial prairie-house look, all big messy hair, big flouncy skirts, white lace gloves, rumpled haystacks and wild animals. Simone’s close-up is flawless but I adore the shape her skirt makes and the lazy way her hands drop down in the full-length version too. The rest (and Lara’s pouty mouth, full stop, which gets the honour of being the banner photo) are just pure sex distilled into a farmyard. [Top to bottom: Simone, Eboni, Louise, Madeleine]

Episode 5’s swimwear shoot marked the first sighting of Jodhi Meares as the client for her Tigerlily line, showing more spark than she did in two seasons as host! I think these photos, by Simon Upton are simple yet stunning. They could be campaigns for Ralph Lauren or Abercrombie & Fitch as they have a wholesome, fresh, natural beauty about them. I absolutely love the guarded look Simone is shooting to camera, which makes you feel like you’re totally intruding in her moment. [Top to bottom: Simone, Madeleine, Louise]

Overall, Season 2 offered almost the perfect balance between pretty things, great telly and the mind-boggling conundrum that has confounded all AusNTM fans for the past 6 years: how the hell did Eboni win?!

Australia’s Next Top Model, Cycle 1: The importance of being a power pussy

Quite why Australia’s Next Top Model doesn’t crow about the success of its first season is beyond me. Whilst Season 3’s Alice Burdeu gets trotted out at the drop of a hat, Season 1’s winner goes unmentioned and unremembered – strange given that Gemma Sanderson has been amongst the most successful of the Next Top Model alumni internationally, working steadily ten (!) years on from the programme, albeit on a mainly commercial level (you’ll spot her regularly and ASOS and she’s actually one of the top-earning e-commerce models in the world). I had actually heard of her before the show, which must mean something!

If you’re used to first cycles having an awkward host, ugly cast, cheap shoots and an uninspiring winner (hello Canada and Britain!), look away now. Other than a first episode where the cameraman hadn’t realised that filming over the host’s shoulder with a direct view to the photos she was handing out probably wasn’t a great idea during call-out, Season 1 was a cracker. The drama… the tears… the bitching – and that was just on the phone to their loved ones! Nothing beats an unhinged wannabe, fresh from being accused of being anorexic, screaming ‘YOU DO NOT OWN ME!!!’ down the phone at her on/off boyfriend or an encouraging mother motivating her upset daughter by forcing her to repeat ‘I am a Power Pussy!’ three times in the full glare of the viewing public.

Then there were the characters. Having watched six series of AusNTM, I’d got used to there always being one “bogan”, a skanky small-town girl whose hicks-ville ways are held up as cause for amusement. This being the first series, there was not just one bogan but half the bloody cast! This lot were mostly endearingly ignorant, with Aborigine model Shannon McGuire coming out with gems like people must be famous because ‘they have a commercial’ (she was slightly stumped as to what to call herself when the finalists got to film one themselves) and being startled at a fancy restaurant by a waiter putting a napkin on her lap and mesmerised by the concept of mineral water!

There was also gobby Sam, pleased to lose a challenge since she was sick of being the experienced one (‘I am so happy to be the underdog for five minutes, thank God!’), an attitude she strangely lost when she happened to win one. Girlfriend even had her own signature pose, the ‘Triple S’ (Sam Shoulder Squint). There was wooden Atong, one of the few black women ever on NTM not to have received the trademark Grace Jones cut at makeover, who thought that someone had stolen money from her wallet in the first episode – yet gave wildly differing values each time she was asked about it. There was plastic Allana, who was continually quizzed over her definitely not-fake boobs, threw a tantrum at makeover when her scraggy hair extensions were removed, was thrown out of a challenge by Napoleon Perdis’ far-more-normal brother for refusing to ditch her fake eyelashes and walked before she was pushed for repeatedly sneaking out to meet her boyfriend. And there was eventual winner Gemma, who managed to shack up with a dinner guest one evening (they found his underpants later!) and whose depression caused sudden outbursts of tears that, as sod’s law would have it, only mortal enemy Sam seemed to be able to quell.

Judge-wise, there was the first appearance of a happier and more innocent Alex ‘expensive’ Perry, albeit with obsession of getting rid of ‘midgets’ and those deemed ‘not beautiful’ already in place. There was someone who claimed be a stylist but wore clothes that looked like they’d been picked by his mum and who had about as much personality as said apparel; however, he did have the best line of the series about a girls’ chunky arse: ‘Stick a handle on it and it’s an overnight bag’.

Fox8 are keen to erase all memory of Erika Heynatz, who jumped ship to another channel in pursuit of her singing career (attempts at which she sadly inflicted on us in Season 2), but she was actually a great host, the most hands-on one I’ve ever seen. I wondered if she even had a room in the model house, given the regularity with which she’d pop up for the most mundane of events, at one point strolling round the corner and scaring the daylights out of Gemma! She also turned up unscheduled to give Allana a memorable bollocking when she quit, ending her diatribe with a delightfully abrupt ‘Happy birthday babe!’

Even the photos were unexpectedly good. The best shoots were done by Nick Leary and I wondered why he hadn’t appeared on any of the latter seasons of AusNTM; come episode four, where he came on to two of the girls and ‘pashed’ another at a party, I soon realised why! Regardless of how he lives up to his surname (think about it…!), his photos are rather fantastic. The sexy swimwear shoot was the first of the whole season, making the hit rate of quality shots even more surprising – let’s just say you can never beat a good pair of fingerless gloves! [Shown earlier: Sam, Shannon, Allana]

The second shoot, on horseback, was similarly gorgeous. They feel like scenes from an epic  movie – romantic, moody, but with a sense of adventure and breathless sensuality too. My boyfriend had issues with the fact that you can barely see the horse in most of them though! [Above: Gemma, Shannon; Below: Sam, Zoe – who is now apparently a wrestler!]

Finally, leery Leary was in his element with the obligatory nude photoshoot. Gemma’s shot (the banner photo) is just beautiful – a judge commented that her gilded limbs looked ‘genetically engineered’ they were that perfect – and although the other girls all produced great photos by going straight for the fierce jugular, I preferred Gemma’s more elegant approach. The boring judge suggested that she was trying out for The Lion King, but that tawny quality complements the pose nicely, managing to be graceful, statuesque and powerful all at once. Bear in mind that this is the first ever cycle of AusNTM and we got three sterling shoots, whilst Cycle 14 of ANTM had ‘dresses made of hair’ and ‘vampires in a bath’ as themes.

In case you’re wondering what’s with the artfully deconstructed banner photo, I’m afraid that Cycle 1 is from a time before the Internet got good and so I went for screencaps instead. Most of the shots were only released in sizes fit for hanging on the Borrowers’ walls, whilst Sam’s horseback photo was entirely different and markedly inferior to the one shown on the programme so my pieced-together screencap is a bit of an exclusive! As for the swimwear shots – well, those were so smoking that they’re still in most of the models’ portfolios five years on. I guess there’s something to be said for having your photos taken by a bit of a perve then.