After eight seasons, or cycles, Tyra Banks has purveyed her talent-driven reality series, “America’s Next Top Model,” into a sleeper hit among TV’s unscripted offerings.
But while typical reality fare yields a winner who walks away with a million dollars, a new house or a gig with The Donald, the spoils of “ANTM” — modeling contracts and a magazine spread — are less tangible. And so the debut of the ninth cycle on Wednesday raises the question: What keeps viewers’ interest through round after round of competition among wannabe models?
“I think people relate to the girls because they’re normal,” said casting director Michelle Mock-Falcon. “People come in to audition and talk about Season 1. And a lot of them relate to (Season 2 contestant) Shandi” — a makeover success story who went on to finish in the Top 3 — “and say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it, too.’ ” When it comes to selecting contestants, the process is daunting, with hopefuls numbering in the tens of thousands.
“The first thing we have to do is see that the applicants are credible as models,” Mock-Falcon said.
Mock-Falcon personally visits eight to 10 different cities, while the casting department scours towns big and small across the country for fresh faces.
The best of each city are presented to Banks, who reviews the portfolio of each hopeful. Banks said casting “America’s Next Top Model” with the production staff is her favorite aspect of the show. “We spend 12 hours together, holed up in a room. We order in food, and we work until we narrow it down,” Banks said.
Just how the casting team narrows down those 10,000 aspiring catwalkers to 13 contestants contributes to the show’s success. “It’s really important to me to look for girls that aren’t necessarily looking like everyone’s idea of a model,” Banks said.
The casting process plays a key role in the ninth cycle, where the first episode of the competition is devoted to the selection process.
“For this upcoming cycle, there are a lot of different looks,” Mock-Falcon said. “The models all have really different backgrounds and have different stories to tell this time, stories that haven’t been told before.”
Ken Mok, who has produced every cycle of the show alongside Banks, shared some insights about his favorite current and past elements of the competition.
“One of the models who we think will really get a lot of attention this time is a girl who has Asperger syndrome. Her journey in the series is a fascinating one,” Mok said.
Season premiere tonight
“America’s Next Top Model” airs 7 p.m. on the CW.