Photos: The CW
In 2003, a little show called America’s Next Top Model — produced by supermodel Tyra Banks — surprised everyone by becoming central (and essential) programming to the UPN and later The CW’s broadcast schedule. Following models through a series of mini-challenges, a main photo shoot or runway walk and a melodramatic judging panel, ANTM was an obvious inspiration for reality sistren RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Aside from the obvious parallels — photo shoots, runways, filming commercials and Raja, who served as one of Tyra’s makeup artists — in both reality competitions, it’s the queer culture that truly bonds ANTM and RPDR. Long before Logo’s library was open, Tyra made her girls vogue, impersonate celebrities, and throw shade at each other, which is why ANTM is the perfect placeholder while Drag Race is off the air. With all of Tyra’s camp and the addition of hot guys, it’s perhaps the gayest program on television.
While RPDR brought ball vernacular to the TV screen, Tyra exposed voguing to the masses. In an attempt to make the young models understand their bodies, angles, and how to pose for the camera, Tyra brought on dancer Benny Ninja in cycle 8 to instruct the girls. The father of the House of Ninja brought his voguing style to a group of mostly midwestern women in order to get them in their bodies. (To date, Drag Race contestants have never had to vogue.)
In what’s become one of the most anticipated challenges of the season, RuPaul has each of the queens choose a celebrity to impersonate for a round of Snatch Game. Similarly, Tyra has challenged or her own “queens” to not only model but also act. In the past this has meant them posing as drag kings, celebrity couples, and fashion icons. In cycle 2, the supermodel asked contestants to each embody a fashion icon — everyone from Audrey Hepburn to Diana Ross — in front of the camera. When Tyra famously challenged Xiomara Frans to be Grace Jones, shit got oh so real. That type of pathos makes you wish RuPaul and her judges held more queens accountable for phoning in tired, manic and unlikable portrayals of Beyoncé.
Reading is fundamental and Drag Race’s library challenge has become one of its most iconic on-screen battles but nearly ten years before Bianca Del Rio and Jujubee ripped their competition to shreds, models were reading one another on ANTM. When the cast of Wild N’ Out appeared on the modeling competition, the contestants were encouraged to improvise raps in order to break inhibitions and get the ladies to think on their feet. Fan favorite (or maybe just ridiculous breakout star) Jade Cole turned the assignment on its ear when she read Furonda Brasfield for filth.
“Furonda, my dear, I know your skin is bumpy but my skin is flawless and you look really lumpy,” Jade rapped. Not subtle shade but most definitely a read.
Finally — if you’re still not convinced as to why you should watch ANTM during RPDR’s off-season — the men. While Drag Race amped up the eye candy this past season with two additional Pit Crew members, Tyra one-upped Ru by making the 20th cycle of her show coed. When cycle 21 premieres on Monday, August 18, another seven men will join the competition. Constantly evolving, Top Model has allowed itself to continue to reinvent itself alongside its ever-changing host.
Recently on Watch What Happens Live, Tyra told Andy Cohen that, in spite of rumors, she’s never been asked to appear as a guest judge on RPDR. To the powers that be, bring Tyra to RuPaul’s Drag Race. She will make your show queerer, hunty.
America’s Next Top Model premieres Monday, August 18th at 9 PM ET/PT.