Model Watch: America's Next Top Model Is...

I learned my lesson. I'm not going to throw a spoiler in the headline or even in the first paragraph of this blog post -- not even if you already know who won. Some people have DVRs and were busy with Top Chef All Stars and Celebrity Rehab, and I respect that. But that doesn't keep me from saying that I had already decided that no matter who won America's Next Top Model last night, I would still be proud of Dallas girl Ann Ward.

She's come a long, long way. She walked the runway for Roberto Cavalli's Just Cavalli line last night and did not fall down. She looked natural on the return pass (the approach, notsomuch). She gave stunning face in her Cover Girl commercial. And for her voice-over, she barely even mumbled.

Competitor Chelsey Hersley was clearly cut out for the modeling world. She had the personality, the drive, the fashion passion, the experience. But this season of ANTM was all about high fashion -- something that Ann's awkward, frightened rabbit demeanor naturally lends itself to.

I was torn. See, in the past, the winner of ANTM is stuck in a contract rarely to be seen again, while second place (sometimes on down through fifth) enjoys a healthy span of career activity post-show. So we'd want Ann to get second place, right? Well, but this season offered the most impressive prize package of Top Model seasons to date: a spread in Vogue Italia, a feature and cover of Beauty in Vogue, a year with IMG Models and contract with Cover Girl. Minus the Cover Girl, it was all very, very high fashion. So we'd want Ann to win, and then Chelsey could get the much-deserved immediate non-editorial work elsewhere?

Except, wait, none of that matters really, because for the first time we have a competitor who has a real chance of becoming an actual model. Like, for reals. Yes, Ann, with her flawless portfolio and timid-but-sincere communication skills might actually show up in high-end editorial long after that easy, breezy contract runs out. In 15 seasons of this Tyra-fest I never thought I'd see the day.

From the start, judge Andre Leon Talley was pulling for the tall Texan with the minuscule waist. Nigel and Tyra loved her film but went back and forth on her personality. Miss J was ... flamboyant. Jay Manuel seemed to think she'd do poorly on set, but then she'd pull off amazing shots. She won five episodes from the start. But then gap-toothed ice-blond Chelsey began creeping up ... until the end.

In Tyra's directorial debut -- a motion editorial, which you should watch if you need a good gut-busting laugh later on -- Ann won best film.

In last night's episode, the challenges seemed tweaked for our Ann. Instead of speaking directly on film for their Cover Girl commercial, as all other models have done in past seasons, the girls got to do voice-overs and essentially pantomime their scenes. They claimed it was to give them a challenge closer to what they'd be doing in the real world, but it seemed perfect for the girl whose personality had been criticized the whole season.

The girls also walked for Roberto Cavalli in a Just Cavalli runway show -- a line that is decidedly more youthful than his other lines. Good for the gangly Ann, but a bit aging for the elder Chelsey.

Both girls looked phenomenal the entire time, but it seemed tragically obvious who the judges, producers, world, etc. were gunning for...because they knew who had the better chance at actually getting work in the same vein of the "high fashion" season.

So when Tyra hugged Chelsey and told her to later say the judges made the wrong decision, Chelsey said she would. She felt betrayed, even though she'll probably get a shit-ton of good old-fashion commercial work stateside.

But Ann was the perfect fit -- criticized waist and all. She was excited to finally see value in her height and be able to say "look at me now in this Cavalli, oh, and back there in that Missoni" to all the assholes who made fun of her in school.

Only now, we get to see why we sorta wish she hadn't won -- as tabloids and rags jump out to say that she's too thin or a bad example of body image. But, hopefully, she'll maintain her healthy outlook on the whole thing, as evidenced in her post-win interview below:

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Merritt Martin
Contact: Merritt Martin