After two decades of fan obsession and dissection — from runway dissertations to Tyra Banks flexing model behavior from the head of the judging panel — who really came out on top at the end of America’s Next Top Model?
Twenty years after Banks launched the first season (or “cycle,” as they’re known in the world of the show) of her juggernaut modeling competition on May 20, 2003, EW caught up with former contestants to reflect on some of the show’s most controversial moments — and they didn’t hold back while discussing everything from Banks’ infamous Ty-rade on cycle 4 to the contestants switching races for photo shoots that blurred the line between fashion and reality TV excess.
EW requested interviews with Banks and executive producer Ken Mok for this story, and, while a spokesperson for the supermodel host responded to several allegations made by former contestants throughout the piece, Mok provided us with one statement: “As this story has been reported on numerous times over the last 20 years, I have nothing left to add except that I have nothing but respect for everyone who has appeared on the show,” he says through a representative. “I wish all of them nothing but health and happiness in their future endeavors.”
Hulu / Amazon Prime / CW Most shocking moments in ‘America’s Next Top Model’ history.
To commemorate the show’s 20-year anniversary, read on for 14 former America’s Next Top Model contestants’ takes on 20 of the most shocking moments in ANTM history.
EW reached out to multiple ANTM personalities for comment and/or interviews for this article, many of whom did not respond to or declined our requests, including Robbynne Manning (cycle 1); Shannon Stewart (cycle 1, cycle 17); Yaya DaCosta (cycle 3); Cassandra Whitehead (cycle 5); Lisa D’Amato (cycle 5, cycle 17); Kim Stolz (cycle 5); Bre Scullark (cycle 5, cycle 17); Jade Cole (cycle 6); Danielle Evans (cycle 6); CariDee English (cycle 7); Natasha Galkina (cycle 8); Heather Kuzmich (cycle 9); Dominique Reighard (cycle 10, cycle 17); Isis King (cycle 11, cycle 17); Natalie Pack (cycle 12); Celia Ammerman (cycle 12); Aminat Ayinde (cycle 12); Teyona Anderson (cycle 12); Allison Harvard (cycle 12, cycle 17); Annaliese Dayes (cycle 18); representatives for CoverGirl cosmetics; Jay Manuel (creative director, cycles 1-18), and Janice Dickinson (judge, cycles 1-4).
UPN Adrianne Curry on go-sees in Paris on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 1
Cycle 1, episode 6: Adrianne is sexually assaulted on go-sees in Paris
Top Model’s go-see challenge — which tasked the contestants with traversing international city streets to attend real-life fashion designers’ mock castings — was often a lively, entertaining standout among each cycle’s rotation. But, the go-sees’ first go-round ended with one of the darkest moments ANTM ever captured on camera.
While she struggled to find an English-speaking Parisian to help her find the location of her next meeting, eventual cycle 1 winner Adrianne Curry was sexually assaulted on the streets of the French city. “This guy looks like he’s really listening to me,” Curry recalls of a man approaching her as she struggled to navigate the city, and “totally touched” her vagina.
“He reached out and up my skirt,” she says. “I was in such deep shock. The camera crew? Boss mode. We’re not allowed to talk, but they all put themselves between me and this dude. They were there for me.”
Curry, who tells EW she was molested as a child and raped when she was younger, says the on-camera moment “f—ed” her up from that point on, after triggering her post-traumatic stress disorder that’s caused night terrors throughout her adult life, and remembers she was too distraught to make it to her next meeting during the challenge.
“I couldn’t get my s— together. I’m all teary and shaky-handed,” she recalls, and matters were made worse by the fact that the anonymous man made off into the crowd before they could track him down or contact police.
“He just went off,” says Curry. “I just thought, gross, weirdo, a—hole. As it processed, I felt worse about it. It’s not something you feel good about. You feel violated, and it’s gross.”
UPN Adrianne Curry during the nude shoot on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 1
Cycle 1, episode 7: Robbynne and Shannon refuse to pose nude
A teary-eyed Robbynne Manning stood in a bathroom at the Buddha-Bar restaurant in Paris, scolding Jay Manuel with a quote from her grandmother amid the ANTM creative director’s attempts to get the devout Christian to participate in a nude editorial shoot: “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything,” Manning said on the episode, as Shannon Stewart, another religious cycle 1 contestant, stood beside her.
Unfortunately for Manning, she’d fall right out of the competition over her refusal to pose naked during the penultimate challenge of the season, which eventual winner Adrianne Curry tells EW unfolded with even more drama than what we saw on TV.
“They made it seem like they set everything up all private for us, and that was really manipulative. I remember [Jay] came up to me like, ‘We’re using you as the example to oust the Christians.’ They showed me where I was going to be posing. I was so uncomfortable, there were no curtains, the entire wait staff of this French restaurant lined balcony-upon-balcony to stare at my vagina while I was on this table. I was shaking and I was terrified, because I knew if I pushed back, [they’d say] I don’t have what it takes,” remembers Curry, who says she felt like she didn’t have “any option other than to do” the shoot to remain in the competition. “Now, I would’ve told them, ‘Eff you.’ They had a corner for Elyse [Sewell], but for me they wanted a big show to make these girls cry, but inside I wanted to f—ing die.” (Executive producer Ken Mok declined to comment, while a representative for Manuel did not respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment.)
On the episode, Manuel was shown praising Curry’s performance, and told Manning and Stewart that he’d curb the standard for them, offering to create a “nude illusion” via skin-toned underwear or a double-banded top.
“I wanted Robbynne and Shannon to see the more intimate setting we’d created for the rest of the shots. I wanted them to trust me and understand that what I was going to do for them would not expose them in any way,” Manuel said on the show. In the end, both sat the shoot out.
At panel, Banks confronted Manning over her alleged hypocrisy, after she said she witnessed a prior behind-the-scenes moment in a dressing room, where she said Manning shook her bare breasts at Manuel.
Curry says that she, too, recalls seeing Manning do a “shimmy-shimmy” of her breasts in front of Manuel. “I think some people get really caught up with an image,” she says of Manning. “I always suspected that the debutante of our show cared more about image than reality.” (Stewart initially agreed to answer questions for this article, but stopped responding after several emails; Manning didn’t respond to EW’s request for an interview.)
UPN Adrianne Curry and Shannon Stewart on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 1
Cycle 1, episode 9: Adrianne wins… virtually nothing (allegedly)
“One of you is about to be a star in a matter of minutes,” Tyra Banks told Adrianne Curry and Shannon Stewart before crowning ANTM‘s first winner. “Your life is going to change.”
Things certainly would change for Curry, who prevailed over Stewart as show’s first winner in 2003, but she tells EW her “prizes” might’ve hurt her career as a model more than they helped.
“What I won was to go to Revlon corporate, sit in a back room, have a makeup artist put makeup on my face for a team of about seven people watching me. Who the f— would fight as hard as we fought for that?” Curry says, adding that she was “f—ing humiliated” by the gig — which she says paid $15,000 — after the show’s panel spent the entire season promising that contestants would be “huge Revlon models” with careers on par with Cindy Crawford and Banks herself.
On the final episode of the cycle, Banks said that the winner would receive “a contract with Revlon, a fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine, and representation by top modeling agency Wilhelmina,” but Curry claims that ANTM switching out Wilhelmina for IMG Models as the prize agency on cycle 2 made her a pariah at work.
“[The agents] wanted me to fail. They straight-up told me. They were pissed off because Top Model made them a bunch of promises they didn’t keep because no agency wanted to be part of the show when it first came out,” Curry says, alleging that Wilhelmina was “bitter as f—” over the shift, and hoped that, in holding her back from castings, it would reflect poorly on the credibility of Banks’ show.
“Twenty years ago, Wilhelmina had different owners and staff. Wilhelmina is now a public company. It seems unlikely there would be sufficient motivation to harm Tyra and not try to maximize a model’s earning potential,” current Wilhelmina VP Ray Lata tells EW when reached for comment. Curry maintains that her relationship with the agency was so bad that her ex-husband, Brady Bunch star Christopher Knight, attempted to get her out of the three-year agreement.
“We went into Wilhelmina, my contract was almost up, he was like, ‘What the f—?’ I’m going to say something nice about him. He’s a smart guy and he was like, ‘You got f—ed!’ He’s a former child star, and he knows how that goes, and it lit a little fire under his ass,” Curry remembers. “So, we went into Wilhelmina and he’s like, ‘Break this contract. You guys f—ed her over.'”
Knight was not available to comment for this story, but Phil Viardo, his current manager and Curry’s ex-manager, calls the period in Curry’s career the “Wilhelmina wars,” with Viardo saying that he attempted to do some “arm-bending” to get her out of her contract. “They did less than nothing for her as an agency,” he says.
Curry remembers that she tried to go to show staff for help, but that they “stopped answering phone calls” shortly thereafter. She says she regrets using subsequent interviews to lash out at both Banks and ANTM in her early 20s, and is now thankful for the experience, which led her to a lucrative career working on other television projects as well as her current gig as one of Avon’s top-selling representatives in the world.
“Tyra Banks learned to look out for Tyra Banks. She’s a product of her environment, and I don’t blame her. For her to be as successful as she is, bravo. She didn’t owe me s—,” says Curry. “I know there are a lot of bitter contestants. I’m not at all. I’m glad that happened: the good, the bad, the ugly, because it really molded my life.” (Banks declined to comment on Curry’s allegations about Wilhelmina.)
UPN Shandi Sullivan calls her boyfriend, Eric, on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 2
Cycle 2, episode 10: Shandi cheats on her boyfriend
The intersection of reality and reality TV isn’t always easy to spot, but the line became crystal clear for Shandi Sullivan, who cheated on her then-boyfriend, Eric, with an Italian man shortly after cycle 2 relocated production to Milan for the season’s back half.
The phone call Shandi had with Eric after the ordeal marked a low point for the series, with Eric launching into a verbal tirade while Shandi crumpled into a bawling heap — and cameras captured it all.
“I was really drunk, falling down. If I would’ve seen me out with that dude in [public], I would’ve been like, ‘Okay, grab [her], you’re way too drunk to even know what’s going on,'” says Sullivan, who speculates that production “manipulated” the meeting by suggesting the cast invite the men over, and also provided them with alcohol. “We had sex for two seconds, that was it, and then I passed out. When I woke up, I was like, ‘Oh s—,” Sullivan remembers. “It wasn’t safe, and I wanted to make sure he was [clean]. They ended up [filming] me talking to the guy, like, ‘Do you have STDs? When was the last time you were tested?’ Thinking about that now, it’s so bizarre. Like, this is my life, it’s not a scripted thing.”
The follow-up phone call with Eric, in which she revealed that she cheated, was even more painful, and she insisted that production film it from afar, if at all. Sullivan says the camera crew even told her that they regretted having to capture it for the series. “They weren’t supposed to talk to us,” Sullivan remembers. “But after, they were like, ‘We’re so sorry we had to film that.'”
According to a spokesperson for Tyra Banks, the supermodel “played no role in the events that occurred this night. Everyone, including production, was surprised to find out what had transpired.” (Executive producer Ken Mok declined to comment on this instance, while representatives for producer Laura Fuest Silva did not respond to EW’s repeated requests for comment.)
Sullivan, who now runs a Brooklyn jewelry business, Dream Meow Corner, says there was another call with Eric a few days later, in which he forgave her and apologized for calling her a bitch — an insult that’s long been dissected by the ANTM fandom, enough so that Sullivan says Banks had the former couple on The Tyra Banks Show to discuss it. It wasn’t until an alleged subsequent chat with Banks on the Emmy-winning talk series that Sullivan says she learned to keep her distance from being on television.
“There was another time I was on her show by myself, and I said, before filming, ‘I’ve never seen that episode, please don’t show it, that’s my one request.’ And she showed it. I had my eyes closed the whole time,” Sullivan says, alleging that the show cued up the clip of her on cycle 2 anyway. “I almost got up in the middle of her f—ing showing it and left, but I was like, don’t do that, that’s what they want; they want a reaction out of you, and they’ve got enough.”Banks’ spokesperson tells EW that “Ms. Banks was not personally approached about this request and would never deliberately air a moment if someone specifically asked her not to. This goes against her beliefs.”
UPN Eva Marcille poses with a tarantula on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 3
Cycle 3, episode 8: Eva explodes over her eight-legged co-star
The crying face of Eva Marcille has become synonymous with arachnophobia, after the then-19-year-old future superstar broke barriers for shorter models when she won cycle 3 in 2004 after facing a grave fear of spiders to produce one of Top Model‘s best photos.
Marcille, who went on to become a successful actress and main cast member on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta, remembers stepping onto the set of a Verragio diamonds beauty shoot feeling “super excited” to be modeling “millions of dollars” worth of jewelry — until she saw a first-aid army join them behind the scenes.
“We’re in glam, hair is set, makeup is set, and, out of nowhere, emergency medical people come. And I’m like, oh, s—, did something happen to someone? And then people [came in] with these boxes,” she says, reflecting on the moment just before the models were introduced to the surprise “human-sized spider” they’d be posing with. “I’m like ‘Why the f— would we do that!?'”
Her wave of anxiety came “in doses” throughout the rest of the day, Marcille recalls, and attributes her phobia to an incident on a family vacation to the Bahamas four years prior, when she nearly got elephantitis from a centipede bite on her toe.
The feeling from that horrific childhood experience, she says, was something she disclosed — at least in part — during her ANTM application process, as she remembers filling out a form that asked contestants to list “all of your phobias” for the team to review. “I didn’t specify ‘tarantula,’ but I felt like it was in the category,” Marcille says, teasing the information she put on the form without explicitly revealing it. (ANTM developer and executive producer Ken Mok declined to comment, and representatives for executive producer Laura Fuest Silva did not respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment.)
Marcille, though, knew she had to overcome her fear to remain in the competition, so she called her brother, a U.S. Marine sergeant, for advice on how to soldier through the fear. After a pep talk, Marcille says she “pushed” herself to go through with the shoot, but the end result — a photo that earned her a second-place finish on that week’s ranking with the judges — still shocks her.
“I have no clue how this picture did not just have tears everywhere. I was terrified. I was mortified. I don’t know how I got a good picture at all. It taught me a lot about life, like that Whitney Houston song, I didn’t realize the strength in me. You don’t realize it until you go through something scary enough and come out because you stood firm,” she says. “But,” she cautions, “don’t take pictures with tarantulas. Those s—ts aren’t nice. Those little hairs you see? They stick to you as it moves. It’s scratching, and it’s horrible.”
UPN Eva Marcille, Ann Markley, Yaya DaCosta, Norelle van Herk, and Amanda Swafford on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 3
Cycle 3, episode 9: Japanese government allegedly detains the cast over suspected sex work
Apparently, the Japanese government could think of only one way to classify a group of six models passing through customs from America: “We looked like hookers. No doubt,” ANTM cycle 3 contestant Ann Markley (who now goes by Annalaina Marks) tells EW, reflecting on the moment the cast was detained after their multi-hour flight from New York City to Tokyo, where they were set to film the conclusion of the season in mid-2004.
Markley says the half-dozen finalists — also including Nicole Borud, Norelle van Herk, Amanda Swafford, Yaya DaCosta, and eventual winner Eva Marcille — assumed that the detainment was a test from production sprung on them at the last minute.
“We’re thinking it’s a challenge, or they’re testing us to see who would break,” she says, but, after a stylist traveling with them was sent back to the U.S., they realized that it was no laughing matter, as officials assumed they came to Japan for sex work.
“I called my mom from a payphone in Guam, and was telling her what happened. At the time, I was 19, and it was kind of scary, and it was the first time [during filming that] I was like, am I safe?” explains Markley. “Until then, we felt cared for, and that was the first time I was like, I need to tell my mom where I am.”
Though footage from the ordeal didn’t make it to air, Markley says the three-day delay put creative director Jay Manuel behind schedule, and forced him to cancel their first photo shoot in Japan and replace it with an infamously awful Campbell’s soup commercial.
“I don’t know what the [original] shoot was, but Jay was like, ‘Ann, I had this whole f—ing amazing shoot planned,” she says, and even remembers that the wardrobe department suffered setbacks, too. “The robes we were wearing? From the hotel,” Markley remembers, laughing. “He threw that together!” Well, it’s certainly better than Japanese officials throwing the book at them, that’s for sure.
(Executive producer Ken Mok declined to comment, while representatives for Manuel and producer Laura Fuest Silva did not respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment.)
UPN Ann Markley hugs Yaya DaCosta and Amanda Swafford goodbye on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 3
Cycle 3, episode 12: When Ann & Eva had Adam & Eve shaking
There’s a moment on cycle 3 of Top Model where contestant Ann Markley predicted to castmate Eva Marcille — whom she’d known for a matter of weeks at that point — that they’d be friends “for the rest of,” well, something intense. Before she finishes the sentence, she trailed off into another thought. “You will be at my wedding,” Markley continued to Marcille through tears. “I swear to God.”
“No, I was not in Ann’s wedding,” Marcille tells EW with a laugh, roughly 19 years — not quite eternity — later. In fact, the pair aren’t much of a presence in each other’s lives at all. “I have not [regularly] talked to Ann since we left Top Model.”
The foundation for one of the show’s most prominent sisterly bonds began, as Markley recalls, off-camera, while they were on a plane headed for the final round of ANTM auditions. They “vibed” and “banded together” immediately, Markley says, but the edit of the show “made it into [that] Ann is a lesbian and wants to marry Eva.”
Marcille compares the platonic relationship to the kind of fleeting friendship kids form at “summer camp,” but they still provided a safe space to receive each other’s intense emotions while contest pressures intensified. Things unraveled on episode 9 in Japan, however, after a disastrous Campbell’s soup commercial led to Marcille expressing that she hoped a mutual friend, Norelle van Herk, was eliminated over the eventual cycle 3 champion.
“I started to question it. It kind of became cutthroat, like, I guess we’re in a competition and not all here together, and then it kind of got weird,” Markley says, adding that, nearly two decades later, she doesn’t hold ill will toward Marcille for how they handled personal business at 21 and 19, respectively — especially when, on episode 12, Markley didn’t hug Marcille (who went on to win the cycle) goodbye after the former’s elimination.
“I definitely intentionally didn’t hug her, because I was mad,” Markley says. “It’s such a bitchy, college move. Like, just ice somebody out. But, I’m an adult now.”
Markley and Marcille didn’t maintain contact after filming, but they still harbor warm feelings as one-time, on-air besties.
“I wish her well,” says Markley, who still models and acts while juggling a business called Full Feedings, which promotes sleep methods for infants. “Would I like to see her? Sure, but we all have our lives.”
UPN Noelle Staggers switching races for a photoshoot on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 4
Cycle 4, episode 5: The models switch races for ANTM‘s most controversial shoot
“There’s a twist!” creative director Jay Manuel told an excited gaggle of cycle 4’s model hopefuls as they learned they’d participate in an ad for the Got Milk? campaign. “We’re actually going to switch your ethnicities!”
The reaction in the room was nothing short of… well… standard for the time. The models smiled, laughed, and giggled as Manuel informed the cast that some of them would undergo makeup and hair evolutions, to take some from Caucasian to Black, others from Latina to white, and beyond. In 2023, it’s hard to imagine a group of young women getting excited about the thought of undergoing surface-level alterations to temporarily portray different races — and agree to have the results televised. The cast of cycle 4, though, maintains that they thought little of the brief at the time, years before this shoot (and another, similar challenge from cycle 13) drew sustained criticism as the internet re-evaluated ethics surrounding it nearly two decades later.
“I don’t remember us raising concern about it, because we didn’t think too much into it, it was just a photo shoot. We were pretending, like we did on every other shoot,” cycle 4 contestant Tiffany Richardson, who transformed to portray a Native American on the show, says. “It reads differently to me [today] because I’ve grown and I understand how people could be offended by it, but I still don’t really give a s—. It’s not that deep for me.”
Competitor Keenyah Hill, who’s now a modeling coach, says that no one made a “serious fuss” about the creative because it took place prior to what she calls “the sensitivity era.”
“There’s a big difference between us being artistic and having fun with photo shoot ideas and different parts of our aesthetic. That’s our job as models,” Hill continues, emphasizing what she feels is a clear line between the cycle 4 shoot and malicious intent behind blackface. “If there’s a [non-Black] who goes out on Halloween, painting their skin brown and making a mockery of it, then it’s blackface, and making a mockery of [Black people.] Those are two different things; look at the context.”
Kahlen Rondot, a white model who, during the shoot, received “really thick foundation” to darken her skin to reflect Hawaiian ethnicity, has a different view.
“I know Tyra got a lot of flak for all this, as she should, because it’s her name on it,” she says. “She needs to take responsibility for certain things. I realize this was 20 years ago, but how did we think this was actually okay?”
In a statement to EW, a spokesperson for Banks says the intention of the shoot was to combat an industry where “lighter skin and straight hair were pervasive beauty standards,” which “perpetuated deep insecurities within women.” The spokesperson maintains that such shoots were “meant to be a moment celebrating and spotlighting underrepresented ideologies of beauty — textured hair and darker skin — on a global scale.” (Executive producer Ken Mok declined to comment, while representatives for producer Laura Fuest Silva and Manuel did not respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment.)
UPN Tyra Banks flips out on Tiffany Richardson on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 4
Cycle 4, episode 7: Fallout from Tiffany and Tyra’s “Ty-rade”
Even if you’re not a fan of America’s Next Top Model, you’re probably familiar with the moment Tyra Banks unleashed on Tiffany Richardson, the cycle 4 contestant on the receiving end of the infamous “Ty-rade,” which famously saw the supermodel host screaming at the eliminated contestant (“I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you, how dare you,” etc.) for seemingly dismissing the show.
“I felt like I was f—ing up every goddamn time. They were ripping me apart. I said, ‘Every week they humiliate us,'” Richardson remembers of why she didn’t cry over her elimination, a move that apparently set Banks off. “Every week I’m doing some stupid s— that makes me look weird and they’re highlighting it. She heard me, and she said something to Janice [Dickinson] like, ‘You hear her?’ They took that and ran with it.”
Richardson says the meltdown occurred pretty true to how viewers saw it on TV, save for the part where she alleges that Banks told her “deeper things than what they showed” on the air.
“She told me how I could go back and sleep on a dirty mattress with my baby. She got deep with it. Of course they didn’t show that. She was just insulting me,” says Richardson, admitting that she was in a difficult place in her life at the time, shortly after “coming off of drugs” before competing. “That right there let me know that you weren’t rooting for me. You didn’t give a f— about me. I was just a story, I was the little poor, dirty girl from Miami, and you were going to save me with this fake Cinderella story.”
She says that she left the set screaming “f— Tyra” and “f— Top Model,” but that Banks came to her hotel room the following day and told her that she’d like to mentor her after the show. Then, Richardson remembers a camera crew interviewing her about the meeting she’d just had, in which she praised Banks because she saw a brighter relationship forming ahead.
In hindsight, Richardson, who now runs an adult daycare center for people with disabilities, and says she hasn’t spoken to Banks in years, sees that follow-up chat differently — especially after she says Banks would regularly call her at home in the weeks leading up to the “Ty-rade” episode’s broadcast, but stopped regular contact shortly thereafter.
“She had to protect her image. She had to groom me up. I did interviews after that, so I had nothing but nice things to say about her. Then I saw her for what she was as time went by,” Richardson says. “I don’t need you to hold my f—ing hand, but, if you said you’re going to be my mentor, then I’d think you would at least call to check in once every three or four months. And she didn’t. She doesn’t owe me anything, but she said it, so it made me think that.”
(Banks and executive producer Ken Mok declined to comment on this instance, while representatives for producer Laura Fuest Silva didn’t respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment.)
UPN Kahlen Rondot’s graveyard shoot on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 4
Cycle 4, episode 8: Kahlen’s grief over the wrath of her seven deadly sins graveyard shoot
Watching reality TV can feel like one of life’s guiltiest pleasures, but viewing an April 2005 episode of Top Model that featured 21-year-old Kahlen Rondot posing for a photo inside an 8-foot-deep grave hours after learning that her friend had passed away felt almost criminal.
Nearly 18 years later, Rondot fights back tears as she recounts the difficult day she discovered, through a voicemail, that, while she was away from home to film cycle 4, a childhood best friend died in a car accident — and she’d unknowingly missed the funeral. Hours later, the cast was informed of the week’s challenge: a photographer would capture them channeling the seven deadly sins while laying in graves at a real cemetery.
“I was bawling and a mess,” Rondot remembers, calling the ordeal a “f—ed up coincidence.” Despite her clear discomfort (she’s shown, on the episode, physically doubling over in tears when the van carrying the cast arrived to the graveyard), the shoot proceeded.
A spokesperson for Tyra Banks explains that “the shoot had been planned beforehand, and, as is standard with any production of this magnitude, it would have been near impossible to pull off an entire shoot change, especially if you factor in all of the location scouting, permit requirements, etc. that go into filming a competition series.”
Rondot maintains that creative director Jay Manuel was “sincere and remorseful” in his interactions with her, and estimates he didn’t know about her loss until he questioned her morose demeanor on set. Still, Rondot was overwhelmed, and nearly quit the competition.
“I turned around at one point and started to walk away. I thought I was going to keep walking and not come back,” she says. In a small twist of good fortune, the sin Rondot portrayed for the shoot was wrath, something she easily channeled during the session. She ultimately pulled off one of the most stunningly raw photos the show has ever produced, but only because the image captured her on the brink of emotional endurance.
Rondot, who now runs Bebe Zito ice cream shops in Minneapolis, says that day left her with lingering trauma. “Even now, it brings stuff up. It was scarring,” she explains, adding that the pain from Top Model played a role in worsening her alcoholism.
“Of course, yes, 100 percent. It definitely contributed,” Rondot, who recently celebrated one year of sobriety in January, says, referencing the show’s impact on her substance abuse struggles.
“I was going to be a model, and Tyra found me,” Rondot remembers. “There are dark corners and a lot of toxicity in [the industry], and I mashed a lot of things with the PTSD and drinking. I was like, this is a way to deal with it.
She continues: “I feel like we were just pawns in this production that Tyra’s putting on for everybody’s enjoyment and the fact that we were characters, we weren’t humans behind the character…. I felt like Tyra pulled a lot more strings than we were able to know. I think she knew a lot more of what was going on than what we knew, and anybody given that kind of power, what you do with that kind of power, it reflects on your character, I feel. These people become objects and are dehumanized for enjoyment. That shows a lot about a person’s character.”
A spokesperson for Banks tells EW that “there’s a great number of individuals who contributed to the production of the show over its 15-year run, including a production team [and] network, with many aspects of the show falling outside Ms. Banks’ purview,” and urged people to “note that ANTM was a reality show contest featuring heightened aspects of real life with an element of surprise, as any reality television show does.”
The statement continues: “In the editing process, there’s a team of storytellers who decide which stories to tell that does not include Banks. Footage is then cut and narrowed down before Banks enters with a team of people for review. Cuts are then sent to the network and undergo a series of notes and edits before finalizing. The network has final sign-off on all episodes.”
(Executive producer Ken Mok declined to comment, while representatives for producer Laura Fuest Silva and Manuel did not respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment.)
UPN Keenyah Hill on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 4
Cycle 4, episode 10: Keenyah shuts down a shoot over alleged sexual harassment
With the competition narrowed down to four remaining models in South Africa, 19-year-old Keenyah Hill had two photo shoots standing between her and the cycle 4 title; but, one of them came with an obstacle that impacted her emotions outside the competition as well, with an instance of purported sexual harassment captured on camera.
The episode’s shoot had the cast posing with a trio of male scene partners, who danced around them while a drummer played traditional music. Hill expressed discomfort and stopped the shoot to call out model Bertini Heumegni, who stood on her left side.
“I thought, in my head, What would Tyra do in this situation?” Hill recalls of her discomfort, noting that, in the final photo that was shown on air, viewers can see that Heumegni’s hands are touching her waist. “By the time we got to the set, I was already uncomfortable. While I was in hair and makeup, Bertini was like, ‘You’re so beautiful, I want to date you, I want to come to America and find you, I want to be with you,’ trying to get my phone number. I’m telling him, ‘No.’ Three times, I turned him down.” (Heumegni did not respond to EW’s requests for comment, but told Hulu’s IMPACT x Nightline docuseries investigation into the moment in March: “It wasn’t my intention to make her feel uncomfortable. I just wanted her to have a good picture.”)
Hill went on with the shoot, but says she paused production, alleging that Heumegni appeared to have an erection, and remembers him “grunting” into her ear. In the episode, creative director Jay Manuel told Heumegni to act “interested without literally grabbing her butt,” but it didn’t calm Hill’s anxiety.
“You’ve got to understand I’m 19 years old, this is the first time this has ever happened to me, I’ve never been on photo shoots with male models, all I know is that I feel uncomfortable,” says Hill. “Now, when you watch it, it’s super cringey, because that could’ve been shut down at the shoot.”
That wasn’t the case, she remembers, because Banks advised Hill about handling the alleged harassment differently. At panel, Banks told Hill to use her “feminine wiles” to combat advances on set. “You [push back] in a fun way, where he knows to back the heck up, but it doesn’t really put static in the air, because then it makes you uncomfortable,” Banks said on the show.
“I really wish that my feelings would’ve been taken into account,” Hill replies now, when asked about how she thinks judges should’ve handled her feelings. “That should’ve been squashed there on set, and the focus at panel should’ve been my photo, and not that moment.”
THE CW Brittany Hatch on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 8
Cycle 8, episode 3: Brittany’s epically awful — and painful — dead-hamster makeover
Tyra Banks gave fashion-forward makeovers to the cast as a means to better the careers of her models-to-be, but Brittany Hatch’s fire-engine red weave allegedly left her — and her scalp — physically worse for the wear.
As every contestant who’s ever broken down over a Banks-gifted pixie cut knows, a luscious, flowing weave is exactly what you want… or at least, what you think you want… on the makeover episode. Hatch appeared to be thrilled when the supermodel told her she’d get “long, wavy, red hair, big and bushy.” A mere three episodes later, Banks likened the disastrous hair piece’s disintegration to a “hamster that died” on Hatch’s head.
Hatch famously cried several times during the makeover session that birthed the crimson terrorist, much to the chagrin of fellow contestants Diana Zalewski and Whitney Cunningham, who expressed disappointment with her reaction — which was palpable enough that the episode was actually titled “The Girl Who Cries All the Time.”
But, Hatch explains, there was a good reason for her tears. “It created scabs and sores underneath, so when they wove it in, it pulled at those,” Hatch alleges after the team dyed her natural hair several times before installing the weave. “They braided my hair instead of doing extensions, and my blistered scab was being ripped at by the tight braids.”
It wasn’t until a group heart-to-heart with Banks on episode 6 that any progress was made. During the group chat, cameras captured Hatch showing the head judge her damaged skin, and Banks even remarked about the bright red color of Hatch’s scalp. The supermodel apologized for “having them put that cheap weave” on Hatch, but still chastised her in the process. “I think your lesson today is: Sometimes you have to speak up,” Banks told her.
On the following episode, hairstylist Christian Marc came to the models’ Los Angeles home and removed the weave, though not before Hatch bid it adieu by comparing it to a demonic possession, finally exorcized into the annals of the ANTM abyss, without a single tear shed over its demise.
THE CW 50 Cent and Jael Strauss on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 8
Cycle 8, episode 6: 50 Cent makes waves with Jael
Cycle 8 took clichés about “making a splash” on the fashion scene to new lows — as in, below the surface of a swanky Los Angeles pool, after special guest star 50 Cent pushed contestant Jael Strauss into the water during a party hosted by Tyra Banks’ manager, Benny Medina.
What was presented on air as Strauss, who tragically died from breast cancer in 2018, antagonizing the rap superstar at the event, fellow contestant Brittany Hatch remembers as a different story that contradicts the footage viewers saw in the final episode, and alleges that 50 Cent was “egging” Strauss on.
“He kept asking Jael to come over to him, and then telling her to go away, and she kind of got aggravated with him, so she dumped water on his head, and he responded by throwing her in the pool, which Jael thought was hilarious,” Hatch remembers. Cycle 8 competitor Sarah VonderHaar, who was also at the party, corroborates Hatch’s recollection of the moment as “100 percent” accurate. Representatives for 50 Cent did not address EW’s request for comment on this incident.
THE CW Brittany Hatch and Natasha Galkina on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 8
Cycle 8, episode 10: Brittany’s nightmare on Cooper Street go-sees
“I’m going to go over to Cooper,” Brittany Hatch told her driver on the streets of Sydney, after the pair spent a day together carting around to various go-sees among the Australian fashion capital. Instead of following her there, however, the cabbie parked in place, forcing an exhausted Hatch to waste precious minutes doubling back to hitch a ride back to the agency on time.
Unfortunately, though, Hatch was disqualified from the go-see challenge for not making it back to the models’ home agency, and she let everyone know it via an emotional, teary outburst on the building’s veranda.
“We’d just flown to Australia, so we’re already jet-lagged, we’re also sleep-deprived by production, which, sleep deprivation [is] used throughout reality television to keep people emotionally volatile,” Hatch explains, adding that she “absolutely” wouldn’t have had a tantrum if she’d been well-rested. “If you look at studies on sleep deprivation, the CIA used to use it as an interrogation technique. So, they’re just screwing with people’s minds in order to have them in this heightened state to keep them overly reactive.”
Hatch feels that her go-see segment was manipulated by production, and recalls producer Ken Mok (who declined to comment on this claim) accompanying her during the challenge, which she found odd. (Executive producer Laura Fuest Silva did not respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment.)
She also attributes the resulting display to mounting tension with other models, who labeled her a “crybaby,” she remembers, while she grappled with short-term memory complications stemming from a years-old accident that impacted her performance on the show.
“[It] was traumatic for me,” Hatch explains, noting that she broke down coming to terms with memory issues that inhibited her. “In a high-stakes competition like that, where you’re already on edge, I had all the girls accusing me of making this up.”
One thing you can’t make up, though, is cycle 8 competitor Natasha Galkina’s instantly iconic reaction to Hatch’s display. “I just want to tell you that some people have war in their countries,” Galkina told her at the time. Given Hatch’s story, though, it appears that reality TV can be a disturbing battleground, too.
THE CW Chantal Jones and Saleisha Stowers on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 9
Cycle 9, episode 13: Saleisha’s bittersweet victory
It’s a tale as old as Janice Dickinson’s claim that “supermodel” is a word she coined in the 1970s: ANTM alums regularly complain that working after Top Model is a tough gig. For cycle 9 winner Saleisha Stowers, however, controversy erupted over her ability to work (quite a bit) before the show.
Stowers — who now goes by Sal — doesn’t (and never did) hide the fact that she booked jobs, including a non-speaking role in a national Wendy’s commercial or a runway booking modeling a Rami Kashoú dress on The Tyra Banks Show stage, before contending on Top Model. She also participated in Banks’ TZone leadership camp at age 14, but denies that “favoritism” factored into her December 2007 victory.
“I don’t think that’s true. I genuinely worked for it. I was put through the entire audition process, as every other girl was. Did I do things prior to it? Yes. Did I have modeling campaigns? No. I was growing and learning, as all of the girls were,” Stowers tells EW, revealing that she was scouted on MySpace by a member of the ANTM casting team and had no pre-established communication with Banks.
“It was never Tyra calling me to be like, ‘We want you to be on this show!’ I don’t know if the fans will ever recognize that,” she continues.
She points naysayers to the cycle 9 premiere, where, during final auditions, Banks brought up Stowers’ TZone enrollment — information that, Stowers claims, she didn’t volunteer to production but suspects was uncovered by staff during the routine background check every contestant must complete. “I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I don’t know you. You went to my TZone camp, years ago, and, because of that, I’m going to be harder to you,” Banks told Stowers, before ultimately welcoming her to the main cast.
Stowers, who went on to become a soap star with regular roles on All My Children and Days of Our Lives, still gets emotional as she comes to terms with the reality that, 16 years after taking the title, many still discredit the work she put in to come out on top.
“I understand people’s concerns that I did stuff prior, but I believe there were certain guidelines within those contracts, and I was within the guidelines of the contract. If I weren’t, they wouldn’t have let me on the show,” she explains, tearing up before continuing. “I hope people will hear me and understand when I say I really did work for it. I put a lot of pressure on myself.”
She finishes: “It’s a lot, what you’re going through on a show like that.” And, apparently, over the years that followed, too.
(Banks and executive producer Ken Mok declined to comment on this instance, while representatives for producer Laura Fuest Silva did not respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment.)
THE CW Tyra Banks scolds Celia Ammerman on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 12
Cycle 12, episode 5: Celia throws Tahlia under the bus
March 25, 2009 was the day that Celia Ammerman learned her place.
The blonde-haired, Kentucky-born, fashionista-turned-high-fashion-model was virtually fried by Tyra Banks’ laser-beam eyes at the end of cycle 12’s fifth episode, when she shockingly broke rank — literally — to squeal on one of her fellow competitors in an effort to save a friend, Kortnie Coles, from elimination.
“I don’t think any of us knew [she was going to do that],” Fo Porter tells EW of the moment Ammerman stepped back onto the runway to tell Banks that she overheard Tahlia Brookins — another model in the competition who moments prior was spared from that week’s ousting ceremony — expressing doubts about her abilities in the competition. “I think it was a leap of faith on Celia’s part, which was brave, but also, like, you’re throwing other people under the bus.”
Ammerman nervously stood in front of Banks as she gulped, stumbled over her words, and told the gals’ headmistress that “Tahlia did express that she did not want to be in this competition anymore, and she did not feel that this was a wise career move on her part,” before calling it “unfair” if Coles went home over Brookins. “You know what I think is unfair? That you’re saying this, and not Tahlia. Tahlia did not say that to me, she did not say that to the judges,” Banks responded with a look on her face that can only be described as whatever the hell is the polar opposite of a smize. “So, the judges have made their decision. Take your place, Celia.” (Ammerman did not respond to EW’s request for comment.)
Porter recalls the moment as somewhat tame compared to other juicy reality TV clashes, citing the spicy drama on RuPaul’s Drag Race in particular, but she still recognizes that Ammerman’s words were “jeopardizing someone else’s position in the competition” against Brookins’s will.
“I don’t think [Tahlia] deserved it, I just think Celia was standing up for Kortnie. I don’t feel it was out of disrespect…. From what I remember, it was nipped in the bud. Tyra was like, ‘Take your place, thank you for your concern, that’s it,'” Porter finishes. “Like the original Ru.”
THE CW Tyra Banks and Natalie Pack on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 12
Cycle 12, episode 10: Natalie (allegedly) stands up to Tyra
A notable fable in ANTM history centers around Natalie Pack, the Palos Verdes, Calif., princess who, at least given her character on the show, couldn’t be bothered. Except for when she was eliminated, as fellow contestant Fo Porter confirms.
“No one talks to Tyra like that, do you know what I mean?” Porter says of the moment immediately following Pack’s unexpected elimination in Brazil, which she says had her performing a “clutching of the pearls” ritual while she watched the two have “some words” that didn’t make it to air.
Porter, who works as an international model and praises Banks as an inspiration both on and off set, remembers Pack’s shocking “explosion” after she was cut, recalling that the ousted model “had some things to say” in opposition to the judges’ decision to send her home. She won’t elaborate on specific quotes, but likens the intensity of the back-and-forth to the same verbal firmness Banks used while dismissing Celia Ammerman for ratting out Tahlia Brookins on the episode 5 panel.
“Natalie was defending herself against all of these people. I feel that she was blindsided by it all, she didn’t know how to take it or how she could be the one going home that week instead of anybody else,” Porter says, noting that Pack received great feedback from creative director Jay Manuel on the set of their Carmen Miranda-themed photo shoot, which might’ve intensified Pack’s surprise over her elimination. (Banks did not respond to EW’s request for comment on this specific claim, and a representative for Manuel did not respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment.)
“It wasn’t anyone popping off, but it was definitely Natalie vocalizing how she felt, and Tyra Banks saying how she felt, and that was that,” Porter says. “I don’t feel that Natalie was out of place, because she was standing up for what she believed in.”
Pack — who now goes by the name Natalie O’Connell — did not respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment.
THE CW Jennifer An on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 13
Cycle 13, episode 9: Top Model switches the cast’s races… again
Somewhere during the two hours it took the Top Model makeup team to apply dark paint to her skin to transform her into a Botswanan woman, cycle 13 contestant Jennifer An realized something was wrong.
“I didn’t know we were going to have our bodies painted. We were standing in front of the makeup area, we’re holding our bras and underwear on, and as I’m watching them paint my skin, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s really dark,'” An tells EW of the 2009 episode that saw six models switching races for a photo shoot portraying women from different cultures through clothing, hair styling, and, as An describes it, pure blackface — an assessment Banks adamantly denies.
“I kept saying, ‘You guys are putting me in blackface,'” An remembers of the Hawaii-based shoot — which occurred four years after cycle 4 models switched races for the show — also alleging that the show’s team pinned her hair “so they could ‘fro my hair out” to complete her evolution into a woman with African heritage. “They definitely didn’t show any of that footage.”
Banks and creative director Jay Manuel introduced the shoot to the models as a celebration of Hawaii’s immigrant history, with Banks using the word “hapa” — a Hawaiian word for someone of mixed ethnicity — to define the project. An, whose family immigrated to the United States from Korea, says that she wasn’t given an option to decline having her skin darkened and began panicking when she saw what was happening to her body — the end result of which judge Nigel Barker described as “National Geographic” during the panel deliberation.
“I looked around and I’m like, ‘Guys, but I’m in blackface right now.’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s fine.’ I think Tyra came over and she was talking about how beautiful it was that we were trying to meld these cultures in the shoot, and I just remember feeling super uncomfortable about it,” An recalls. “I know that this is wrong, this is uncomfortable with me, nobody asked if I was okay with this, but I also realize that I’m in this competition state. Like, what can I do? I have no say over anything…. once the cameras are on you in that way, you feel like you have to perform and not cause an issue, because the history of the show is, if you cause an issue, you get kicked off. So, I was like, let me just shut my mouth and stay on the show.”
An, who still works as an actress and model who’s appeared in ads for KFC and American Express, says she recognizes that Banks had “good intentions” in celebrating diverse beauty with the shoot and even says she didn’t feel offended by some of the contestants — like Erin Wagner and Nicole Fox — transforming into women of Asian descent for the same shoot. Still, she hones in on Barker’s “National Geographic” comment as an example of why the shoot was, ultimately, inappropriately handled.
“It’s weird when I look at the photo. I don’t see National Geographic, and if we do, I think we miss the point that it’s a fashion shoot that has very little to do with my modeling as much as it does the styling,” she observes. “I feel like, then, it just points to the fact that the point was lost, unless that’s what they were going for. Mostly, I feel like it was a mistake. Like, it just shouldn’t have happened.”
Executive producer Ken Mok declined to comment, while representatives for Manuel and producer Laura Fuest Silva did not respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment. A representative for Banks, however, points to a prior statement from the supermodel.”I want to be very clear: I, in no way, put my ‘Top Models’ in blackface. I’m a Black woman. I am proud. I love my people and the struggle that we have gone through continues, and the last thing that I would ever do is be a part of something that degraded my race,” she said. “I’m sorry to anybody that watched Top Model and was offended by the pictures because they didn’t understand the real story behind them or even if you did see the whole episode and you were still offended, I truly apologize because that is not my intention. My intention is to spread beauty and break down barriers.”
THE CW Angelea Preston and Lisa D’Amato on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 17
Cycle 17, episode 13: Angelea allegedly wins… and then loses… it all
Angelea Preston remembers the feeling of winning ANTM‘s first all-star cycle in Greece in the summer of 2011. “I almost ran off stage, it was a tight production, so there wasn’t as many behind-the-scenes people, but [executive producer] Ken Mok was still there, producers, production assistants, and he was like, ‘Angelea, you have to stay on stage, we’re still filming!’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I won,'” she tells EW, adding: “Sometimes I still can’t believe that I won, because it’s like, I don’t win anything.”
True to Preston’s estimation, the show didn’t air the footage, and she wasn’t ultimately declared the cycle 17 winner. After production wrapped that June, Preston alleges that she got a phone call from producer Laura Fuest Silva and casting director Michelle Mock in July, inquiring about sex work Preston engaged in during what Preston calls a difficult time in her life between her elimination from cycle 14 and joining the all-star cast of returning models on cycle 17. “They were like, ‘We’re here to protect you,’ so I was honest with them and told them what happened to me,” Preston says.
A few weeks later, Preston says her presence was requested at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York City, where she alleges that a psychiatrist, a network attorney, Fuest, and Mock met with her to tell her that the show couldn’t air her as the winner because she violated a “moral clause,” Preston summarizes.
“I was so hurt,” she remembers. “I felt like my life and career was ruined. I’m going to be blacklisted, I’m never going to be a model now. This is something that was always going to follow me. because it wasn’t made public yet, but they know, and they work for this big company and they hold these keys for success.”
EW corroborated Preston’s story about being stripped of the title with two sources close to the production, which later filmed a separate finale with the remaining two finalists, cycle 5’s Lisa D’Amato and cycle 12’s Allison Harvard (both of whom declined EW’s request for an interview), with D’Amato ultimately winning.
Preston attempted to sue the show in 2014 for $3 million, she says, but eventually dropped the suit. The story surrounding the ordeal, though, continues to twist.
Now, Preston works as a radio journalist in Buffalo, N.Y., and savors some of her ANTM experience, but can’t shake the violation she feels when thinking back to the time she almost won.
“I recognize the good,” Preston says. “But, was it really an opportunity? For some, yeah. But for a lot of us? No. We’re speaking from experience, and sometimes the truth hurts. Some people don’t want to hear the truth; they want to hear the fairy tale of reality shows.”
(Banks and executive producer Ken Mok declined to comment on this instance, while representatives for producer Laura Fuest Silva did not respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment.)
THE CW Kelly Cutrone clashes with Louise Watts on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ cycle 18
Cycle 18, episode 3: Louise clashes with Kelly Cutrone, storms off set, and quits the competition
From cycle 9’s Victoria Marshman politely disagreeing with Twiggy to Tyra Banks putting cycle 12’s Celia Ammerman in her place, things don’t go well when contestants push back against the judges. Cycle 18’s panel learned a solid lesson, though, when notoriously stern publicist Kelly Cutrone had it out with British model Louise Watts in an explosive blow-up that led to the U.K. contestant’s jaw-dropping self-elimination.
Things began at that week’s shoot, which split the models into teams (half American, with the other half hailing from Britain’s Next Top Model) and gave them a time limit to self-produce a campaign. Adding to an already stressful challenge, London-born Watts says Cutrone was “picking on” her when she scolded her for jogging from station to station. “I didn’t like her tone,” remembers Watts. “She was just horrible.”
“I tell everybody that works for me not to run on sets. It’s a standard thing in the industry. There was no need to run, and I don’t think it’s unprofessional or picking on anyone,” Cutrone tells EW. “[Louise had] zero regard for hierarchy and zero understanding of how the industry works.”
Watts calls Cutrone an “elder,” but maintains that she “wasn’t higher” as a human. “I don’t believe in that stuff. You speak to people how you want to be spoken to,” Watts continues. “There’s no hierarchy. She was talking out of her ass with that.”
At panel, Cutrone and Watts butted heads, after Watts scoffed at Nigel Barker saying that her photo looked “mean” in the face. Watts told the panel that Cutrone was “rude” on set, to which Banks responded by questioning her ability to handle authority. Watts stormed off in tears.
“She thought she’d embarrass me on panel, and I thought, I’ve had enough. You’re trying to make me be a person I don’t want to be. I can’t do all this fake s—,” says Watts, claiming that the edit made it seem like the argument unfolded over one take, but that it was cobbled together from a lengthier spat . “I was going to [confront] her and go, ‘Who do you think you’re talking to?’ But I held that in.”
Banks declined to comment on this instance, but Cutrone remembers the host was “in shock” over Watts’ outburst. “She attacked me,” Cutrone adds. “She ran off stage, went off into the parking lot, and that’s when the cameras turned off.” (Representatives for producer Laura Fuest Silva did not respond to EW’s multiple requests for comment.)
Watts, who says the show treated contestants like “little pawns,” recalls executive producer Ken Mok, who declined to comment, telling her she could return to the competition if she apologized, but she refused, and says she regrets going on the “terrible show” at all. “They said my picture would’ve been the winner that week,” Watts recalls. “I went, ‘No, I’ll be f—ed if I do that. I’m not apologizing.’ Just to be [back] on the Tyra show? No way. That’s when I said, ‘Get me out.'”
Cutrone sees things differently: “I was on the show for five years, and there was only one Louise,” she says. “That format isn’t for everyone. Some people thrive as contestants, and some suffer. It’s like that on all reality TV shows. We have a front row seat, watching people learn how to navigate or drown.”
Sign up for Entertainment Weekly’s free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.
Subscribe to EW’s Quick Drag podcast for recaps of RuPaul’s Drag Race, including reactions with the cast, special guests, and more.