America’s Next Top Model Secrets That Kept It From the Top

Since 2003, aspiring models have dreamed of getting a spot on America’s Next Top Model (ANTM). While everyone wants to be on top, many negative things go on behind the scenes. It isn’t all fun and photoshoots, from Tyra Banks’ problematic stunts to contestants being cut off from the outside world.

Tyra Banks / CariDee, Tyra Banks / Tiffany Richardson, Tyra Banks / Twiggy , J. Alexander, Tyra Banks, Nigel Barker, Denzel Wells.
Source: Getty Images

After contestants have moved on from the show, many have revealed what really goes on behind the scenes of the show, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Find out what happened to the contestants during and after the show that made some of them compare their time on ANTM to prison.

The “We Were All Rooting for You” Speech Was Much Worse

In one of Tyra Banks’ most iconic meltdowns, she went on a rampage against Cycle 4 contestant, Tiffany Richardson. The stripper-turned-model was the gift that never stopped giving on Cycle 4. However, when she tried to be cool about her elimination, Tyra went off on her in an infamous speech.

Tiffany Richardson listens to Tyra / Tyra shouts at Tiffany.
Source: YouTube

She yelled out, “We were all rooting for you! How dare you?!” While it seemed terrible on TV, viewers didn’t hear the whole thing. Tyra got way too personal with Richardson, saying “You can go back to your house and sleep on your mattress on the floor with your baby,” in addition to other hurtful things.

Contestants Are Cut Off From the Outside World

While the competition is the central aspect of ANTM, the drama is what people really stick around for. When many hungry girls are stuck in a house without any contact with the outside world, there is bound to be a lot of drama. ANTM entirely isolates its contestants.

CariDee and Tyra Banks in a promo shot for the show.
Source: YouTube 

The models aren’t allowed phones, computers, internet access, or television. They are allowed to make phone calls from the one landline in the house, but everything is monitored. This is done so that there are no spoilers leaked during production. Also, more distractions from TV and the internet would mean less drama.

Eliminated Contestants Are Held in Hotel Rooms

ANTM is an elimination-based reality contest, meaning it is easy to tell who has been eliminated based on who has been spotted in public while the show is still in production. Therefore, precautions have to be taken to ensure secrecy until the show is over. One strategy is to almost hold the eliminated girls hostage.

A still from the elimination process.
Source: YouTube

After a model is eliminated, they are sequestered in hotels for indeterminate amounts of time. Their hotel stay is based on how long they spent on the show. A girl kicked off at the beginning of the season wouldn’t spend as much time as someone eliminated with five or six weeks left in the competition.

Don’t Expect Help When You Finish – Even if You Win

While the judges on the show, including Tyra, have countless connections in the modeling world, they don’t use their influence to help the models after the season wraps. Former “All-Star” winner Lisa D’Amato said that the series didn’t help contestants enough, even those who won the show.

Lisa D'Amato poses for a photoshoot.
Photo by Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

While it is their job to produce a reality show and not make sure everyone has a successful career after, D’Amato admits they could have tried to help. She thinks that Tyra likes to keep everyone down, so you know she is the queen bee. However, they won’t even forward emails or pictures to their connections.

Tyra Banks Didn’t Care What She Said

During its run-on TV, ANTM covered many provocative topics, including abuse, homelessness, and sexuality. However, some of these moments haven’t aged well. Former contestant Kim Stolz opened up about her sexuality to the judges, and Tyra’s response was unbelievable, considering she supports the LGBTQ community.

Tyra Banks visits Build Studio to discuss the show.
Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

When Stolz said, “I’m gay, and I’m really proud of it,” Tyra responded by saying, “I’m Black and proud, but I’m not walking down the red carpet: ‘I’m Black. I’m Black.’” For Tyra to tell a gay person not to be proud of their sexual orientation was not a great look.

The Judges Don’t See Every Person Who Auditions

While it might seem like the judges see everyone who auditions for ANTM, that is far from the truth. Most people are funneled through quick sessions with the producers, who either send them packing or push them to the next round. Only a few people meet the judges.

Janice Dickinson / Noel Marin / Nigel Barker / J. Alexander.
Source: Getty Images

Only about 100 girls meet the judges, which sounds like a lot, but sometimes thousands of people try to get on the show. It sounds brutal, but dreams are worth a few days in line for these models. They just don’t know what is coming next.

The Show Exploits People’s Traumas for Entertainment

One common theme revealed by former contestants is that ANTM exploits traumas for entertainment value. Whether it was childhood trauma or current struggles, the show didn’t hold back. On two occasions, ANTM asked two of the girls whose friends had recently died to pose like corpses.

Kahlen Rondot poses for the media.
Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

During Cycle 4, Kahlen Rondot, who had just found out that her best friend had died, was asked to pose in a literal grave. They told her she could skip the challenge, but it would affect her placement, so she did it anyway. It caused her a lot of mental anguish.

Racist Challenges

The reality competition began in the early 2000s, but that is no excuse for some of the things they got away with over the years. In more than one instance, contestants were told to pose as a different race. In Cycle 4, Jay Manuel introduced the “ethnicity switch” challenge.

A model gets her makeup done for the shoot.
Source: YouTube

The challenge involved multiple white women posing in blackface because the goal was to “take on the persona of that ethnicity.” Why did Tyra, a black woman, allow this to happen on her show? It might have been a different time, but blackface has been racist since before ANTM.

Eating Disorders Were Dismissed

There have been many connections between eating disorders and the modeling industry, and ANTM shined a light on this problem. However, they only made things worse. In Cycle 3, Cassie Grisham openly talked about losing weight, starving herself, and having bulimia, but no one did anything to help.

Cassie Grisham poses for the media.
Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

One of the judges who overheard the conversation told the photographer that Cassie just needs validation. While the cast and crew knew about her condition, no one intervened. Despite their knowledge of her struggles, the judges still told her she was “too big.” It’s truly disgusting.

A Model Sued the Show

Angelea Preston was on Cycles 14 and 17 of ANTM. She made it to the top three in Cycle 14 and the top two in Cycle 17. However, Preston was dramatically eliminated without reason at the last minute, and D’Amato won by default. Viewers didn’t understand the choice.

Angelea Preston is in a still from the show.
Source: YouTube

Later, it was revealed that Preston was disqualified from Cycle 17 because the judges learned about her past as an escort. However, Preston said the show knew about her history and only eliminated her for dramatic effect. She sued them for breach of contract, seeking $3 million in damages.

Paulina Porizkova Blames Tyra for Being Fired

ANTM went through many judges during its 24 seasons, and a few of them had choice words about the show. Former judge Paulina Porizkova was not shy about why she thought she was fired. According to her, Tyra’s constant tardiness was to blame for budget issues.

Paulina Porizkova attends an event.
Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic/Getty Images

As a result, Porizkova was let go to save money. The show had to pay a lot of overtime when Tyra was late for judging, which forced ANTM to make budget cuts. Makeup artists and hair people were also let go because production couldn’t afford them.

There Was a Therapist on Call

While many bad things happened behind the scenes, this was one of the only smart decisions. After being locked up for weeks with no connection to the outside world and having your dreams ripped away in front of millions of viewers, it’s no wonder the contestants needed psychological help.

A contestant speaks to the camera in a still from the show.
Source: YouTube

According to a former contestant, a therapist was on standby for the girls to call after every elimination. The models must have needed the therapist because it is such a stressful situation, and we’re shocked that more women didn’t have meltdowns.

Some Models Didn’t Audition

The audition process for ANTM was highly publicized, but the producers don’t always follow the process. If they find someone they want on the show, they will do anything to scout them. The only restrictions are models who worked in a national campaign within five years of the show.

Models Jaslene Gonzalez, CariDee English, and Saleisha Stowers pose for a photo.
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage/Getty Images

When Saleisha Stowers won Cycle 10, people were shocked to find out that she starred in a national Wendy’s campaign less than five years before her season. The producers claimed it was not considered modeling, so they let her compete.

Paulina Porizkova Didn’t Believe in the Show

When Porizkova replaced Twiggy on Cycle 10, the supermodel only stuck around for three seasons. She didn’t have a good experience, and one of her complaints was that ANTM was out of touch with what the fashion industry was looking for.

Paulina Porizkova in a still from the show.
Source: YouTube

Porizkova didn’t have faith in the career prospects of the top three girls during her final season. She believed ANTM produced bogus models that wouldn’t have long careers. Porizkova stated, “That’s because you can’t pick models from a TV show.”

Adrienne Curry Doesn’t Speak to Tyra

After winning ANTM’s first cycle, Adrienne Curry was supposed to get a contract with Revlon cosmetics as part of her prize. However, it didn’t occur to anyone on the show that the winner wouldn’t fit Revlon’s vision for their brand. Cosmetic companies are very particular about their models.

Adrienne Curry and Tyra Banks during an event.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Curry said her “contract” involved a day’s convention work, and she was never paid. She was disappointed and wasn’t afraid to voice it. In response, her presence was virtually erased from the show. Curry was angry with Tyra, and they don’t speak.

Sending Confusing Messages

Tyra has long stood for body positivity; she’s renounced the term plus-size. She handed over the ANTM title to Whitney Thompson, the show’s first plus-sized model, in 2008. Tyra also applauded Vogue for banning models under 16 who appeared to have eaten disorders.

Tyra Banks speaks to the media.
Photo by Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Despite all these positive things, Tyra praised a contestant in Cycle 15 for her extreme thinness. People were outraged that she was praising an unattainable body standard. Tyra later apologized and said the clip was edited to make it seem like she promoted unhealthy eating habits.

The Janice Dickinson vs. Tyra Banks Feud

When Janice Dickinson was a judge on ANTM, the show was anything but boring. She never pulled away from drama, and she didn’t get along with Tyra. Although the two models tried to have the utmost respect for each other, Dickinson’s claws came out.

Janice Dickinson speaks to the media / A portrait of Tyra Banks.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images /Larry Busacca, Getty Images for CW

Dickinson said, “Sitting next to Tyra for hours can be daunting because she didn’t really like me, and we didn’t get along.” They were competitive, and Tyra didn’t like Dickinson’s controversial opinions. Their personalities often clashed, but they have since ended their feud.

Tyra Didn’t Pick the Winners

While Tyra is the face and primary host of ANTM, she doesn’t have the final say in who wins the competition. Each week the judges assessed the contestants’ overall appearance, performance, and best shot. They chose who was eliminated, but not the winners.

Janice Dickinson attends an event.
Photo by Arnold Turner/Getty Images

According to Dickinson, CoverGirl chose the winners. Although ANTM’s network, The CW, denied the claims, it would make sense. For many of the seasons, the big prize was a contract with CoverGirl, and they probably wanted to pick the right face for their brand.

Allison Harvard’s Blood “Obsession” Was Fake

Allison Harvard is remembered as the Bambi-eyed runner-up on Cycle 12 who gave everyone the chills during her introduction. She said she was obsessed with blood and jealous of people who got nosebleeds. However, that was not how it went down.

Allison Harvard poses for the press.
Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage/Getty Images

Harvard said the editing was ridiculous. Before the footage was spliced up, she prefaced her statement by stating she was fascinated with forensics and generic blood disorders. She never meant for it to come off like some creepy obsession. They edited it for the shock factor.

Some Contestants Went off the Deep End

While most contestants fade back into regular lives, there have been some tragic post-Top Model stories, including that of Jael Strauss. She competed on Cycle 8 of ANTM, and after the show, Strauss developed an addiction to crystal meth. Her story was publicized on Dr. Phil.

A modeling portrait of Jael Strauss / Jael Strauss speaks on Dr. Phil.
Photo by Mark Mainz, Getty Images / Source: Dr. Phil

Her face looked completely different, and her family staged an intervention with the help of the talk show host. She felt exploited by Dr. Phil, but her story helped many people. Strauss was able to get clean and sober after seeking treatment.

Her Death Rocked the ANTM World

Six years after Strauss beat her drug addiction, she was in the headlines again. However, this time fans were saddened and shocked by the news. Strauss announced that she had been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer at 34. It aggressively spread through her body, and there wasn’t a cure.

A photo of Strauss.
Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images

Two months after she announced her diagnosis, Strauss passed away in hospice. She had hoped for a miracle, but she sadly lost her battle. Tyra tweeted, “Top Model has lost a beautiful soul. We will all remember Jael and her fun-loving spirit.”

Low Ratings Lead to Three Firings

Cycle 19 marked a massive change for ANTM, and the show was never the same. Photographer Nigel Barker, mentor J. Alexander, and creative director Jay Manuel were all let go from the series by the producers. The trio had been on the show for almost a decade.

J. Alexander and Jay Manuel attend an event.
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

During Cycles 17 and 18, ANTM lost millions of viewers. Therefore, producers brought in PR experts and Twitter personalities to replace the longtime cast. But this only made the show worse. It was even more unpopular than it had been before the trio left.

Life-Threatening Challenges

ANTM was known for pushing the boundaries. It regularly asked contestants to prove how badly they wanted to win, even if it meant doing dangerous challenges and photoshoots. While no one died during the show, many models were injured in the process, both emotionally and physically.

CariDee final shot / CariDee develops hypothermia during an episode.
Source: YouTube

In Cycle 7, the models were asked to pose in a pool of freezing water. They suffered, and contestant CariDee English developed hypothermia. Instead of being sympathetic, Tyra chastised her for not speaking up sooner, despite clarifying that complaining wasn’t an option earlier in the day.

Contestants Ate in the Closets

While on the show, the contestants stay in a house or apartment where a film crew or stationary cameras continually monitor them. The closets were the only places for privacy. The girls would pile into the closet to eat food where they wouldn’t be filmed.

Contestants of the show pose for the media.
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the producers didn’t like this logistical loophole and asked contestants to stop hanging out in there. They lost the only place where they felt like they had control. They just wanted to eat their dinners in peace, but that is not allowed on reality TV.

The Interviews Are Not Genuine

According to former contestants, the model interviews are manipulated. They had to pick out an interview outfit and bring it with them everywhere to look the same in every clip. Also, the responses to the questions were influenced by producers who told them to answer in a certain way.

A still of an interview.
Source: YouTube

A producer off-camera would ask the question, and the model had to repeat the question in the answer. They did this partially for editing reasons and to get the contestants to answer the way they wanted.

The Show Wasn’t Scripted

Many people believe ANTM was scripted, but according to Cycle 9 contestant Sarah Hartshorne, there was enough drama to make the show flow on its own. While there wasn’t a script to follow, the producers influenced situations by using extremely personal information.

A current picture of Sarah Hartshorne.
Source: Facebook

The producers knew everything about the contestants, including their psychiatric and personal information. The models were easily manipulated, and their words were taken out of context. We hate to break it to the fans, but ANTM was problematic in every aspect, and they caused damage to the models.

Tyra Banks Mocked Contestants

The longtime host of ANTM has had to apologize for many of her past controversies, like mocking the show’s contestants. In one season, she had a dentist shave a gap between a contestant’s front teeth for the makeover episode. However, she later mocked someone for having that naturally.

A picture of Dani Evans.
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

In Cycle 6, Tyra laid into Dani Evans (who ended up winning) for refusing to let a dentist close the gap between her front teeth. When a video of the moment resurfaced on Twitter in 2020, Tyra apologized and said she made some “off choices.”

The Fakest Part of the Show

If you have watched ANTM, you might have noticed how excited the contestants get when Tyra walks into the room. While it is probably exhilarating to meet her for the first time, there is no way they start screaming every time she walks into a room.

Tyra Banks is in a still from the show.
Source: YouTube

In fact, a former contestant revealed that they were required to be excited when Tyra showed up. During a Cycle 9 episode, Tyra did a musical performance, and the girls were asked to scream loudly. They had to do eight or nine takes, which sounds exhausting.

The Pay Was Low

While you might think that the show would provide a fully stocked kitchen for the models in the house, that was apparently not in their budget. Instead, each model was given a $40 daily stipend for food. It was also the only money they got for doing the show.

Hartshorne poses for the media.
Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images

Hartshorne revealed on TikTok that she lived on refried beans and iceberg lettuce during her time on the show. When they were at photoshoots, they could order food or were provided lunch on set. Former contestants never received residuals, and they were basically left broke.

Pressure to Pose Nude

The series might have proclaimed that it was all about women’s empowerment and giving women opportunities, but that wasn’t always true. There were times when contestants felt uncomfortable, but they were ignored. In Cycle 1, Robin Manning refused to pose nude.

Robin speaks on the episode / A still of Tyra Banks during elimination.
Source: YouTube

She was eliminated for protesting, but that didn’t stop producers from making a nude shoot one of the main challenges each season. Many girls after Cycle 1 also refused to pose nude, but the producers didn’t care because it created more drama.

Tyra Was Never Around

It might seem like the models got to hang out with Tyra all the time, but she only showed up once a week. When she was around, she was pleasant to the girls behind the scenes. Hartshorne said Tyra was insanely knowledgeable and would give them advice.

Tyra Banks attends an event.
Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic/Getty Images

The cameras painted a very different picture because she seemed like a monster at times. The way Tyra would talk about race or make fun of a model’s physical features upset many viewers. Tyra has had to apologize for her past statements as the show’s clips resurface.

Makeover Madness

The makeover episodes of ANTM were easily the best episodes to watch because of the drama. Tyra and her team seemed to have the models’ best interests at hand, but they sometimes made huge mistakes. The makeovers were filled with tears, dye jobs, and questionable style choices.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

It might have made for great TV, but many people have admitted that some looks limited a model’s range. Tyra once told an African American contestant that her natural hair was beautiful and then had a weave sewed into it. Her choices rarely made sense and always ruined people’s hair.

Tyra Wanted to Quit

As the show’s host for 22 seasons, Tyra walked away from ANTM in 2016. However, she wanted to quit long before that. She was exhausted from the series and told her lawyer that someone else could take over the show while she remained an executive producer.

Tyra Banks walks the street.
Photo by gotpap/Star Max/GC Images/Getty Images

Her lawyer had an intervention with her to keep her on the show. Tyra was ready to leave and had someone in mind to take over her spot. But everyone wanted her to stay, so she did.

Harassment and Homophobia Were Ignored

The show might have lacked diversity at times, but the contestants came from all over the country with many different experiences and backgrounds. This factor didn’t help them get along all the time, and some incidents between contestants went too far and turned into harassment.

Brooke Miller and Jaeda Young attend an event.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

During Cycle 7, Jaeda Young was asked to do a film with a model who told her he “didn’t like Black women.” The man should have been kicked out, but it was ignored. Also, gay contestants like Kayla Ferrel were told that gay people didn’t face discrimination anymore, which is false.

No Sympathy

Watching ANTM became challenging at times because viewers felt like they were participating in subtle abuse. There were many situations in which contestants were shown little compassion even when they physically couldn’t compete that week. The models were pushed to their limits.

Tyra Banks speaks to the press.
Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images

The judges were rather mean at times. Many of the contestants got sick or injured but were still asked to perform ridiculous challenges. They were shown no compassion and feared elimination if they couldn’t perform. One model left the hospital to do a photoshoot against the doctor’s orders.

Producers Created Challenges That Not Everyone Could Do

There were many instances of photoshoots that were set up to make certain contestants uncomfortable or scared. However, they crossed the line when a challenge didn’t accommodate contestants with different physical abilities, like Nile DiMarco in Season 22.

A portrait of Nile DiMarco.
Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The model was deaf and used an interpreter. Instead of being compassionate , the producers created a challenge where he had to model in the dark. It was probably terrifying for him. They also made a Season 3 contestant who was legally blind walk on a poorly lit runway.

Winners Rarely Became Top Models

Winning ANTM was a massive dream for the models who competed on the series, but the winners rarely went on to have successful careers. There are only a handful of contestants who became household names, and some of them weren’t even winners.

Chantelle Brown-Young walks the runway.
Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images

Arguably, the most famous winner came from Cycle 22 (Nile DiMarco). However, getting the big prize didn’t mean they made it in the modeling world. Winnie Harlow, who was on ANTM under the name Chantelle Brown-Young, became one of the most successful models even though she didn’t win.

Killed Contestants

In 2015, the Top Model community was hit with the tragic death of Mirjana Puhar from Cycle 21. She was just 19 years old when she was shot after she opened the door to two robbers. Puhar’s boyfriend and roommate were also killed in the incident.

A portrait of Mirjana Puhar.
Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Puhar didn’t have an easy life. She fled from war-torn Serbia with her family, skipped school, got into fights, and worked at McDonald’s before ANTM. Sadly, the robbery was drug related. It left the ANTM fans and former contestants shocked and heartbroken.

They Played on Religion

America’s Next Top Model loved when a contestant was religious. It gave that model a more interesting storyline in the producers’ eyes. In Cycle 1, Shannon was always portrayed positively for her religious beliefs, but that wasn’t the case for everyone’s religious opinions.

A portrait of Shannon.
Photo by Scott Rudd/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Stefano Churchill was open about his atheist views, but the show didn’t show him in the same flattering light. Some people believe they were made to look more mean-spirited because of their beliefs. We guess the producers weren’t keen on atheism, which is another reason they ruined the show.

Not Model Behavior

Just because someone is on a reality show, doesn’t mean they are always on their best behavior. The models on ANTM took bad behavior to a whole new level and left producers with a hefty bill. While the places the models live look pristine, contestants caused a lot of damage.

Models pose with Jay Manuel at the show’s finale.
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

In 2008, TMZ reported that the contestants of Top Model got into trouble after causing $500,000 worth of damage to a Manhattan loft they were staying in. The models left the place trashed, and the management company had serious problems.

Confessionals Were Not Optional

Like many reality shows, the contestants spoke openly in confessionals. However, these were not optional; they had to do them every night. Two former contestants revealed they sat in the confessional room for 20 to 30 minutes each night, but the show didn’t air all the footage.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

Sometimes the contestants were too tired and drained from the day to hold it together. They had no choice but to shoot the confessionals even if they weren’t up to it. There must be some interesting hidden footage that was never aired.

The Show Was Finally Canceled

There were many reasons why America’s Next Top Model was finally canceled in 2015. Although it got a reboot on VH1 for two more seasons, the show truly ended when Tyra left. The ratings tanked, and people were over the controversial series after 22 seasons.

Tyra Banks poses for the press.
Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage/Getty Images

Between blackface, body-shaming, and lack of support for contestants, ANTM was no longer something people wanted to watch, even if the drama was enjoyable. Tyra was also over the show, and she was ready for it to end. It was finally time to say goodbye after all those years.

Tyra Faced Backlash Years Later

In 2020, past ANTM clips surfaced on platforms like TikTok and Twitter, causing Tyra to face a lot of backlash. Most of the show’s content hasn’t aged well and wouldn’t last on the air today. As more people looked into past clips, Tyra’s problematic behavior became apparent.

Tyra Banks attends an event.
Photo by Liu Guanguan/China News Service/VCG/Getty Images

Today, people are all about inclusivity and challenging discriminatory language, but back in the 2000s, people got away with a lot more. As the clips of Tyra surfaced, she took to social media to apologize for her poor choices. She wanted to spread beauty and break barriers but hurt people instead.

The Show No Longer Fit the Network’s Brand

Along with plunging ratings and constant changes behind the judges’ table, The CW decided that America’s Next Top Model no longer fit the network’s brand. When the UPN and WB networks merged to become CW, ANTM was one of the few shows brought over from UPN.

J. Alexander and Tyra Banks attend an event.
Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images

However, by 2015, ANTM no longer fit in with the network’s programming, which evolved past teen dramas and into the superhero realm. The CW was now focused on shows like Arrow and The Flash, so they let go of ANTM. It was a mutual decision that fans should have been ready for.