''America's Next Top Model'': Beers and tears
If you wanted to see a high-foreheaded celebrity curing the psychological troubles of the nonfamous with instant analysis, you didn't have to tune into CBS's prime-time Dr. Phil special. At the same hour on UPN, Tyra Banks was treating the inner pains of the contestants on the third-season premiere of her talent-hunt series America's Next Top Model.
When would-be model Jennipher began to weep while describing her need to escape a potentially trashy future in Pocatello, Idaho, Tyra shared a deep-breathing technique to suck back the tears. When Rachael collapsed on the floor of a bathroom stall after being eliminated from the competition, Tyra got right down on the tiles next to her and cheered her up with some hair advice. (That spiky bleach job was a bit much.)
And when the hyperbitchy Eva defended her verbal abuse of the other contestants, Tyra would have none of it. ''You're a smart girl, Eva,'' she said, ''and you know what you're doing. You know how to hurt people because you've been hurt before.'' Cut to Eva's façade crumbling like a cookie as Tyra went on: ''You are a sensitive person because you're tearing up right now, and that is the most beautiful part of you I've seen.'' Tyra told her that when she felt the need to be cruel to others, Eva should ''just remember how it felt when your daddy said terrible things to you.''
One hug later, Eva was cured! The next day she stood up in front of all the other contestants and apologized for all the mean things she'd been saying. Of course, you can't blame the scarily skinny Mary for not believing in the sudden conversion, given the way Eva had criticized her figure to her face. ''You just, like, see every bone,'' Eva had said. ''It's disgusting. Makes me gag.''
Moments like that make you think even Dr. Tyra might have a hard time curing some of the tougher cases in Cycle 3. (Wasn't that a dog food?) Most of the contestants suffer from a syndrome common among reality-show participants, especially on The Real World: They're willing, even eager, to narrow down their personalities to sound-bitable packages, stereotypes be damned.
Thus plus-size aspirant Toccara introduced herself to Tyra and her two male associates (whom Tyra calls Mr. Jay and Mrs. Jay) by shouting, ''I'm big, black, beautiful and loving it!'' Julie said, ''I'm representing Indian girls.'' (Funny -- one of my EW colleagues was just complaining that there are so few South Asians on reality TV. Be careful what you wish for.) Kristi immediately blabbed that she is a Republican and posed for the judges in her American-flag prom dress. Nicole, whose occupation is listed on the UPN website as ''former punk rocker,'' let it be known that she is bisexual (and has a crush on Tyra). And about half of the contestants made a lame attempt to seem like girls gone wild in a contrived nighttime pool party.
As much as I love a good stereotype, this can get ugly. ''I know I may seem a little ghetto,'' said Tiffany, who proceeded to get in a glass-flinging bar brawl after an inconclusive dance-off with an apparently envious bystander. ''That skank ho poured a beer on my weave,'' said Tiffany as the others tried to calm her down. ''This is not even my hair. I'm cool, because I don't got nothing to say, but I'm gonna beat her ass.'' Sadly (really), Tiffany didn't make the cut. ''I just hate to go back to people who are going to look at me and say, 'I told you so,' '' she said through tears.
It's never fun when reality interrupts reality TV. Other reality leaked in when Tyra made a speech about how she wanted models to win back the covers of fashion magazines from people like the Jennifers Aniston and Lopez, which only pointed out that modeling isn't the super profession it once was. And a brief montage of last season's winner, Yoanna, underscored that the show's title promises a bit more than it can deliver. (By my best estimate, Yoanna is currently America's 32nd From the Top Model.)
And how are the judges -- never mind the viewers -- supposed to react to the information that Amanda, who has a two-year-old son, suffers from a progressive loss of vision and will be blind by the age of 30?
Never mind all that. Depending on your tastes, you can look forward to plenty of extreme makeovers, catwalk catfights, and digitally blurred naked photo shoots. (''Nude me up!'' said Oklahoma farm girl Leah.) And the two Jay boys can be counted on to add a little catty chatter. After plus-sized Toccara came out in a too-small bikini top, Mrs. Jay said, ''Baby, when she released those puppies, they were full-grown dogs.''
What did you think? Do you expect this season to be a runway success?