America’s Next Top Model made its debut during the reality TV boom of the early 2000s, and was television’s first attempt at blending an American Idol-style competition with the modeling world. Aspiring models from throughout the U.S. were brought together under the eye of supermodel Tyra Banks, serving as the show’s host and executive producer over the course of numerous “cycles” (the show’s preferred term over the more traditionally used “seasons”).
ANTM was an instant hit, drawing some of the biggest ratings ever seen by the UPN network. “Model gave us a footprint in the sand and let people say, ‘Yes, UPN is there,” UPN chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves told Variety after the series’ debut cycle. When UPN merged with The WB network in 2006 to form a new network called the CW, ANTM was one of a handful of UPN shows carried over to the new venture — and undeniably the most popular.
After more than a decade and 22 cycles, the show was finally taken off the air (albeit not for long). Read on to find out the real reason why America’s Next Top Model was canceled in 2015.
America's Next Top Model had a steady decline in ratings
It’s an unfortunate truism in television that, with rare exceptions, most TV shows have a best-by date. Following the success of its early seasons, by the early part of the 2010s, ratings for America’s Next Top Model had begun to dip. According to ratings archived at SpotVault, the series premiere in 2003 attracted 2.9 million total viewers and a 1.5 rating in the key 18-49 demographic; ratings grew throughout the cycle, with the 2003 finale bringing in 4.5 million viewers and a 2.3 in the 18-49 demo.
Viewership kept growing, with 6.4 million tuning in for the fall 2005 finale. However, ratings began dipping in subsequent seasons. By the 22nd cycle in 2015, the numbers had dropped considerably, with an average of just 1.12 million viewers. As SpotVault‘s analysis pointed out, a show that had once been one of the CW’s strongest shows had plunged considerably, and was still trending downward. In fact, the fall 2015 cycle earned a mere 0.37 in the 18-49 demo, a fraction of its early seasons.
In fact, Deadline reported that ratings for the 2015 finale was an all-time low for ANTM, “the worst the 12-year-old show has ever done.”
Few of America's Next Top Model winners became actual top models
The lure of stardom is dangled in singing competitions such as American Idol and The Voice, but longtime viewers can concede that not every winner on either of those shows winds up going on to Carrie Underwood-sized success. That was certainly the case with America’s Next Top Model.
In Touch Weekly took a retrospective look at the post-ANTM careers of the winners, and it’s safe to say there are few who’d be considered household names on the level of host Tyra Banks. In fact, arguably the two most famous winners came from the show’s first and 22nd cycles: Adrianne Curry and Nyle DiMarco, respectively. Interestingly enough, fame for both came not from modeling but from reality television, with Curry going on to star alongside then-husband Christopher Knight (a.k.a. Peter from The Brady Bunch) in My Fair Brady and other shows, while DiMarco became the winner of the 22nd season of Dancing With the Stars.
As Variety‘s list of the show’s most notable contestants indicated, the post-show success of ANTM alums like Winnie Harlow, Danielle Evans, and Fatima Siad have been the exception, not the rule.
There was insensitivity towards the models on America's Next Top Model
America’s Next Top Model has had its share of awkward moments that made viewers cringe. One of these moments came in the fourth cycle when model Kahlen Rondot was asked to pose for a photo shoot in a grave — shortly after learning that a close friend had passed away.
Another infamous moment came in the 15th cycle when Kayla Ferrel was pushed into a shoot that required her to kiss a male model. This made her highly uncomfortable; as Ferrel revealed that not only was she gay, but she had also been sexually abused as a child, admitting that having to be intimate with a man “freaked me out.” Another infamous moment came in the sixth cycle when host Tyra Banks laid into Dani Evans (who would ultimately win) for refusing to let a dentist close the gap between her front teeth.
When a clip of that scene with Evans was posted on Twitter in 2020 and went viral, host Tyra Banks was hit with backlash. She took to social media and addressed “posts about the insensitivity of some past ANTM moments,” tweeting, “I agree with you.” She added, “Looking back, those were some really off choices.”
Blackface controversies led to America's Next Top Model backlash
White people darkening their skin is a hot-button issue that has led to TV hosts being fired and politicians apologizing for ill-conceived costumes. Yet models in blackface was a phenomenon that took place in America’s Next Top Model repeatedly over the years. As Vox pointed out, there were several occasions when models had their skin darkened for photo shoots throughout the show’s run.
The first time it occurred, Vox recalled, was in the second cycle, when model Xiomara Frans’ skin was darkened so she could resemble model-singer Grace Jones. A clip from the episode showed host Tyra Banks seemingly missing how offensive the whole thing was when she complained that Frans’ reluctance to participate in the shoot was because “ethnic women never want to be darker.”
Another blackface incident took place in the 13th cycle, when red-headed, pale-skinned model Nicole Fox’s skin was darkened for a photo shoot in which the models were all meant to be biracial. “Tyra crossed the fine line from tasteless over to offensive,” writer Gazelle Emami wrote of the episode in HuffPost, adding, “Call it what you want, but that’s basically a euphemism for putting them in blackface.”
Judges were fired and replaced on America's Next Top Model
Loyal viewers of the show had grown to appreciate the judging panel — until producers (including host/exec producer Tyra Banks) cleaned house in 2012, reportedly firing longtime fan favorites J. Alexander, Jay Manuel, and Nigel Barker.
According to a report by Page Six, the “ugly firings” were the result of a planned shift for the upcoming season, with a “show insider” telling Page Six that ANTM would be putting a greater emphasis on social media. Executive producer Ken Mok addressed the dismissal of the trio in a statement. “Nigel Barker, Jay Manuel and J. Alexander have been an integral part of the America’s Next Top Model brand and they helped turn this show into the household name it is today,” he said, declaring they had been “amazing assets to the show.” Despite having just sent them packing…
Barker, however, insisted there were no hard feelings, telling E! News that it “wasn’t a shock” that he was let go, insisting it was “a network thing” to axe him. “There had been a discussion that ratings were down and that something like this would happen,” he explained.
Were there too many changes at America's Next Top Model's judge table?
Supermodel Janice Dickinson was one of the original judges of America’s Next Top Model. As the show evolved in its early seasons, Dickinson ultimately parted ways with the show. As Entertainment Weekly reported, it wasn’t clear whether Dickinson (described as ANTM’s Simon Cowell) “quit or was pushed.” Brought on as her replacement was iconic British model Twiggy. “We are thrilled to have Twiggy as a part of this cycle’s judging panel,” said ANTM exec producer Ken Mok in a statement, lauding her “vast knowledge and expertise.”
After five cycles, Twiggy also exited, with “scheduling conflicts” said to be the reason. She was replaced by Paulina Porizkova, who hung on for three cycles before she too parted ways with ANTM.
While Twiggy never confirmed whether she had quit or been fired, that wasn’t the case with her successor. During a 2009 appearance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Porizkova confirmed rumors she’d been axed. She candidly told Ferguson, “I’m looking for a job. Because I was fired by America’s Next Top Model — on my birthday!” While producers may have felt an ever-revolving roster of judges kept things fresh, viewers continually encountered an inconsistent show.
America's Next Top Model's British Invasion season was kind of mean
Producers of America’s Next Top Model could be forgiven for wanting to shake things up in the show’s 18th cycle, although there’s no denying that the ensuing shakeup was ill-conceived. Cycle 18 featured the infamous “British Invasion” edition, which pitted seven wannabe American models against seven fan-favorite contestants from the show’s U.K. version, Britain’s Next Top Model. “Emotions run high, the women are divided and the competition is intense as they vie for the grand prize,” declared a press release, as reported People.
Notably, the “British Invasion” season featured publicist Kelly Cutrone behind the judges’ table. Tensions between Cutrone and British model Louise Watts simmered and then boiled over when the two clashed over Watts’ running on the set. When Cutrone lit into her during a judging session, Watts decided she’d had enough and stormed out. Filmed outside next to a parked car, Watts was emotional, tearful and furious, declaring that if she ran into Watts on the street she’d “knock her out.” Sure, the moment was full of the kind of high drama that viewers of reality TV lap up, but was that what viewers wanted from this show?
America's Next Top Model no longer fit the network's brand
While plunging ratings and constant changes at the judges’ table may have been factors in the CW’s decision to cancel America’s Next Top Model, another had to do with the changing nature of the network itself. When the UPN and WB networks merged to become the CW, ANTM was one of the few UPN shows brought over to the new hybrid. For years, the show proved to be an ideal fit for a network that marketed itself to a young female demographic, home to such series as Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, and 90210.
As Variety pointed out, by 2015, ANTM was no longer such a great fit with the network’s programming, which had evolved to expand beyond teen dramas into the superhero realm with the likes of Arrow and The Flash.
In an interview with TV Guide, the CW’s president, Mark Pedowitz, admitted that the network had intended to bring the show back for a 23rd cycle. However, after some conversations with Tyra Banks, all parties involved came to a mutual decision that fans of the show were not going to like.
America's Next Top Model was finally canceled
In October 2015, the CW announced its decision to cancel America’s Next Top Model after 22 cycles. Tyra Banks was the first to break the news. “Thinking #ANTM22 should be our last cycle,” she wrote on Twitter. “I truly believe it’s time. May your pics be forever fierce. Keep on Smizing!”
The CW’s president, Mark Pedowitz, confirmed the news in a statement. “America’s Next Top Model was a successful franchise for two networks, first at UPN and then The CW, and it became not just a ratings hit, but a global pop culture phenomenon,” he said, as reported by Variety. He also thanked exec producers Banks and Ken Mok for “establishing a show that was not just popular in the U.S., but all across the world.”
Pedowitz subsequently told TV Guide that it hadn’t been his intention to cancel the show. It was only after discussing the future of America’s Next Top Model with Banks that the decision was reached. “America’s Next Top Model was an iconic show,” he said. “It kept the lights on for many, many years in many, many forms.”
America's Next Top Model was resurrected for VH1
After its 2015 cancellation, America’s Next Top Model was gone — but not for long. In April 2016, just months after the supposed series finale aired, Variety reported that the show was making a comeback. There would, however, be some changes, the least of which was that it would now be airing on an entirely different network, VH1. In addition, Tyra Banks, while continuing her behind-the-scenes role as executive producer, would be stepping back from her on-screen role as host.
Instead, British pop star Rita Ora was selected as the new host for ANTM‘s 23rd cycle. “I think I was 12 or something when I first noticed [the show] and I’ve just been so obsessed with it,” Ora told CNN.
Ora, unfortunately, didn’t make a lasting impression. When VH1 picked up the show for a 24th cycle, Ora was out. Stepping in to replace her was none other than Tyra Banks, reported Variety, with the new cycle offering yet another twist when Banks took to Twitter to share a video, announcing that the age limit for models had been jettisoned. “I don’t care how old you are, honey,” she said to aspiring contestants.
The uncertain future of America's Next Top Model
After Tyra Banks made her triumphant return in the 24th cycle of America’s Next Top Model (its second on VH1), fans wondered whether the show would return for a 25th. They were in for a long wait, give that the cycle’s finale aired in April 2018, and, as of May 2020, no decision about a new cycle had yet been reached.
Speaking with ABC Audio in February 2020, Banks said that, while a 25th cycle hadn’t yet been confirmed, she was optimistic it would happen, expressing her desire “that we should at least end at 25.”
If America’s Next Top Model were to return for one final swan song season, celebrating its milestone 25th cycle, it would be a fitting end for a groundbreaking reality show that made its mark on television, surviving on three different networks over the course of three different decades. “So, we’re seeing if that could happen,” Banks told ABC Audio. “We shall see.”
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