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ANTM

Reality show catwalk and catfights draw loyal crowd

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"Shut your hole, Jade!" Janae yells at the television screen. "I can't stand her!"

Janae and 10 other women are gathered in a Boise home on a Wednesday night to watch the TV show America's Next Top Model. Like groups of women around the country, these ladies meet each week to cheer on their favorite wannabe model, to guess who is getting kicked off the show each week and to boo, hiss and heckle the models, who may end up with hostessing at Applebee's in their futures.

Finally women have the equivalent of Monday Night Football. Not for a long time have I seen a TV show that tugs at heart strings and polarizes friends the way America's Next Top Model does.

This is the purest entertainment. Not meant to be anything other than catty, viewers pick the prettiest girl as their favorite. The models don't have to sing, they don't have to solve puzzles, they just have to look pretty.

Janae's friend Rachael likes Jade, but none of the other women watchers like Jade. "They made her hair look terrible," says Amy, who hosts the party.

"But it was ugly to begin with," someone else snaps.

Yeah, American Idol had a core fan base (recall "I'm 'Aikin' 4 Clay!" T-shirts)—before the mess that is Paula Abdul made it too nutty to watch. But Idol is repetitive and there are no catfights, which, as expected, are essential to the success of Top Model.

Top Model, for those without host channel UPN or rerun host channel VH1, is formatted like all the other reality shows: Thirteen wannabe cover girls participate in various moronic modeling challenges, learn about fashion and how to "fiercely" walk the runway in couture dresses and ridiculously high heels. The winner gets a modeling contract; the losers are blackballed from the industry.

Once this season, the ladies had to pose with bald caps. Another time they rocked the catwalk wearing bejeweled cockroaches as accessories. Some of the girls are hot; some are busted. But looks aren't number one to host Tyra Banks who, at the end of each episode, gives one girl a condescending adieu. Surely you know Tyra, the talk show host and Victoria's Secret model. And lest we forget, Ms. Tyra was once Will Smith's love interest on the Fresh Prince of Bel Aire. So if that doesn't grant her status as a model-making Svengali, ain't nothing will.

Since this is cycle six of the series, followers can take cues from vintage Top Model episodes and make some predictions. Winner? It's hard to say at this point, but easy to look for cues. Take note of the girls with a lot of airtime, they'll be back next week. Girls who flip out are eventually history, and it's bon voyage to the girl who confesses to the camera that she wishes another will get the heave-ho. Every season there's the requisite girl with a medical condition—fainting is a plus—but she won't win because inner strength is crucial. Besides, one sickly girl has already won in a past season.

According to the show, a model must be fierce and edgy. After all, this is high fashion, plebes! So in one episode they all got makeovers.

Jade is a 26-year old Philadelphian who began the show with a wild afro that, in the makeover episode, was shorn to a blonde puff. She's confident that she's the best model living in the loft. She's a self-righteous bitch and she's gonna play ruthlessly to win. There's androgynous-hot Mollie Sue, who is a Florida waitress, and though Tyra thinks she holds back too much in her pictures, she is crowd favorite among the Wednesday ladies' group.

But take Furonda with the mine-explosion complexion. In each episode the girls pose with famed photographers in a photo shoot that helps the judges determine who goes packing for that episode. Despite her flawed complexion, every one of Furonda's photos exhibits a knockout chick with dewy-smooth skin.

"She's airbrushed, it's all fake," yells Amy. Interestingly, the fake quality of the airbrushed pictures is perhaps representative of a reality drama that sucks in massive groups of women each week. But oh-so-real is the bonding experience these women share while shouting at the screen like it's the Broncos vs. Raiders in the final seconds of a tied-up Superbowl.

Watch America's Next Top Model Wednesdays, 7 p.m., UPN.

Questions? Comments? E-mail screen@boiseweekly.com.