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Former model and America’s Next Top Model host Tyra Banks is under scrutiny as former contestants reveal months of unfair treatment faced while on set. Originally airing in 2003, ANTM was a reality competition series consisting of aspiring models trying to break into the high-stakes industry. Contestants spent weeks posing for various photo shoots in order to wow the panel of judges and secure a contract with a top modeling agency. The series, representative of female empowerment and equal opportunity in the modeling industry, has now been tarnished with behind-the-scenes information and exclusive tell-alls.
Among a multitude of exposés and articles, the gripping revelations from Business Insider are the latest to expose the dark truths of the once-beloved series. Upon speaking with contestants, judges, and producers, it was revealed the runway challenges and other segments testing the models’ abilities were unsafe and often resulted in injury. Within the first few weeks of filming, contestant Eugena Washington stood before a pathway of wooden planks bobbing unsteadily within a pool. Anxiously awaiting the dangerous platform in 6-inch heels, she was instructed to walk across, causing her to fall and crack her knee. Other contestants walked away with visible scars and long-term physical ailments with little to no aid from producers.
Producers and crew members also spoke candidly about the mental and emotional demands asked of models during their time on the show. While facing isolation from the outside world, contestants often felt forced to reveal past traumas and personal information for the sake of ratings. For example, in season four, competing model Lluvy Gomez recalled a strenuous photo shoot that resulted in an emotional breakdown. Despite her overcoming hardships, producers pressed Gomez about her deceased father, a personal matter discussed during her psychological evaluation. Gomez claims her mental well-being was intentionally pushed to create an emotional episode for viewers.
In late March 2022, Angelea Preston (who appeared as a contestant in seasons 12 and 14) came forward to Bustle about her brush with fame and eventual downfall with the show. On the surface, Preston was a fan favorite. In 2011, after a year away from the ANTM bubble, she was called back for a special “All-Stars” season. She won the season, yet this news would never reach the public. Her title and $100,000 contract with CoverGirl were taken away due to her time as an escort between seasons. Producers set an alternate ending for the series where another model reigned as champion; looking back at the finale, Preston is nowhere to be found.
In 2010, Preston moved to New York with high hopes but found herself alone in the city, desperate for work. In a twist of fate, she found herself in harm’s way. Working as an escort, she became subject to multiple forms of abuse. After a harrowing journey, she was able to escape, yet her story gained little to no sympathy from the show’s board. She recalls distinctly what the network attorney told her before she was asked to leave, “You know, Angelea, you have no one to blame but yourself. You did this to yourself.” In 2014, Preston brought a legal claim against Banks and the CW team, yet she dropped the case three years later due to a lack of results. In telling her story, she hopes to reach Banks and her team for some sort of acknowledgment and apology.
As more revelations come forward, it is evident that everything was not what it seemed on the Top Model set. The exciting weekly challenges and unique opportunities were interspersed with anxiety attacks, bouts of depression, and uncomfortable situations initiated by producers. With stories such as Preston’s, among other contestants coming forward, it is wondered what the true intentions of the series were. A show aiming to uplift women in their chosen field was instead crafted for ratings and false hopes. Banks has mostly failed to address the multiple allegations about her and the show.