The biggest scandals to ever plague America’s Next Top Model
America’s Next Top Model is certainly in the running for TV’s longest-standing reality TV show, not unlike other staples like The Bachelor, American Idol, and Survivor. A decade after its 2003 launch, Glamour blogger Phoebe Robinson claimed the “seemingly immortal” series would withstand the apocalypse alongside “cockroaches and Cher” — and that might actually be true.
Long from now, aliens discovering our human archives will probably still be subjected to GIFs of creator Tyra Banks screaming, “We were all rooting for you!” Airing in hundreds of countries, the show has accumulated dozens of international spin-offs, and, at the time of this writing, has spanned 24 seasons — much to the shock of Banks. The star once revealed to PeopleTV’s Couch Surfing (via Entertainment Weekly) that she initially believed the series would only last just two seasons.
Though it’s still up in the air, as of this writing, ANTM may very well continue on to Cycle 25. But in the meantime, we are left with the longstanding lessons the series has taught us. Mainly, it’s given us the fierce ability to smize in our Instagram selfies and the intimate knowledge of what makes a tabloid-worthy scandal. However, the show surprisingly has a dark side … some may even call it a curse. As one contestant famously said, “This is not America’s Next Top Best Friend,” and we wouldn’t have it any other way. For better and for worse, these are the scandals that rocked the ANTM fandom.
Tyra Banks' infamous ANTM freak-out: 'We were all rooting for you!'
In Cycle 4 of America’s Next Top Model, Tiffany Richardson unwittingly became the star of one of the most iconic reality TV moments of not just the early aughts, but of all history. It was the one Tyra Banks freak-out that launched a thousand memes, and as we watch the GIF back, it’s almost as if we can still audibly hear Banks screaming, “I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you! How dare you!”
So, what went down? Here’s a refresher (via BuzzFeed‘s recap): Richardson was sent home alongside fellow contestant Rebecca Epley in an unusual episode where two models were eliminated instead of one. While Epley burst into tears, Richardson did her best to remain unbothered. That’s when Banks accused Richardson of taking the competition as a “joke,” but Richardson claimed she was just “sick of crying” and “being disappointed.” After that, Banks unleashed the shriek of millions of failed models who didn’t get even a fraction of the opportunity. It was harsh, and the supermodel judge admitted, “I have never in my life yelled at a girl like this.”
At the time, the moment was shocking. Today, it’s — in our humble opinion — one of the best memes ever. It’s also something that would probably never happen again. In an interview with BuzzFeed, Banks said she “totally wouldn’t have done it” today, or at the very least maybe “wouldn’t have aired it.”
The great Janice Dickinson and Tyra Banks feud of the aughties
Janice Dickinson and Tyra Banks’ long-standing feud is perhaps one of the few ANTM scandals that seemed to be made of teflon. It endured an entire decade, threatening to steal the crown from Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s slurry of public call-outs. The drama kicked off in 2005 when Dickinson, who served as the series’ Simon Cowell, left the show’s judging panel “to pursue other opportunities,” according to Entertainment Weekly. She was replaced by ’60s icon Twiggy, and fans scrambled to figure out if Dickinson was fired or quit.
However, Dickinson left us some not-so-subtle bread crumbs along the way. In 2009, she told MTV News that she was fired. In 2011, she claimed she quit because the show was “rigged,” according to Us Weekly (the CW denied this claim). In 2012, Dickinson told FOX411 that Banks “fired everybody, she’ll keep firing people, she’s soulless, she’s heartless, and she’s cold.” At one point, she even called Banks fat.
After a solid-decade, fans finally got a resolution. In an episode of Oprah: Where Are They Now, Dickinson admitted point-blank that she “loved working with [Banks]” and was just personally struggling. “I’ve said some pretty bad things about her in the past because I had been fired,” she said during an apology. “And I was very hurt that I had been fired, and so I acted out. But that’s not when I was acting in a sober-like fashion.” Now, let’s put this one to rest.
This America's Next Top Model contestant was tragically murdered
In 2015, the ANTM fandom was left absolutely shocked and heartbroken when former contestant Mirjana Puhar was murdered in a drug-related, triple homicide at her boyfriend’s Charlotte, N.C. house. She was 19. According to TMZ, a friend of the couple received a call about gunshots and decided to check in on the pair at home. That’s when they found their bodies (along with money thrown around the house) and called the police. When officers arrived, they reportedly discovered a third victim, the couple’s roommate, Jusmar Gonzaga-Garcia.
According to reports from TMZ and WBTV, both Emmanuel Jesus Range and reported accomplice Edward Sanchez were arrested and charged with four counts of first degree murder in connection to the three homicides and the related murder of a Xanax dealer, who was fatally shot two days prior. While Sanchez was convicted of all four charges and received four life sentences without parole, Range was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and given three life sentences without parole.
Puhar, who was on the 21st cycle of ANTM, might have had a troubled past, but lived her life with a tenacious spirit. In an interview with The Charlotte Observer, she spoke about fleeing from war-torn Serbia with her family, skipping school, getting into fights, and working at McDonald’s before finding herself on ANTM.
Call the SWAT team, this ANTM alum's got a gun
After appearing on America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 8 contestant Renee Alway found herself serving looks in prison. Luckily, she could probably pull off orange or she wouldn’t have made it to the final three. According to TMZ, the model was arrested in 2013 for a sprawling list of charges following a six-hour, armed police standoff that involved the SWAT team. Yes, the tabloid reported that the reality TV star was “packing heat.”
Per the report, police found Alway hiding with a gun in the garage of a home that was “supposed to be vacant” after receiving a call about a “suspicious female lurking around.” Police, who falsely believed there was another armed man inside, called in the SWAT team to handle the situation. Alway was later booked for “suspicion of burglary, fraud, possession of narcotics, forged bills, and committing a felony while on bail.” The latter charge was related to her arrest a month prior, when she was charged with “possession of drug paraphernalia, petty theft, and fraud.” Cue her headline-making mugshot and court house shaved head, which was the ANTM makeover no one expected.
According to TMZ, Alway was ultimately sentenced to 12 years in prison. She ended up serving a little more than five of them, but got into trouble again when she was arrested for domestic violence a little over a year after her early release in 2019.
On America's Next Top Model, Tyra giveth and Tyra taketh away
ANTM’s All Star season in 2011 put Cycle 14 contestant Angelea Preston back into the running to become America’s next top model — and she actually won. Unfortunately, the title was perhaps the most short-lived in ANTM history. According to the Daily Mail, the model was stripped of her crown in the final hour after producers discovered Preston had worked as an escort.
In her scathing 2015 Daily Mail interview, the model claimed that she only ever became an escort because the industry viewed her as “ghetto,” “a b**ch” and “impossible to work with” after her initial series aired and she struggled to get bookings. “I was in a very, very tough spot. I did some things for money that I’m not proud of,” Preston said. “It was escorting. I had to survive. I had no money. I had no income. It was a stupid decision that lasted a month and I got out and it came back to bite me.”
According to TMZ, Preston claimed that she had already told producers she was “an escort for about a year” before they cast her in Cycle 17. For that reason, she lobbed a $3 million breach of contract lawsuit at the producers, networks, and studios in 2014. It’s unclear exactly what happened, but Redditors suspect it was settled out of court. Who really knows?
America's Next Top Model featured a shocking TV intervention
Jael Strauss was a fan favorite when she appeared on Cycle 8 of ANTM, and America watched on as she grappled with some pretty serious personal drama during her run. Per Gawker‘s recap, the model’s friend passed away from an overdose while Strauss was filming, and she had to make the difficult decision of whether to leave or stay. She ended up staying, dedicating that week’s photo to her friend, and ultimately placed sixth in the overall competition.
Things didn’t fare so well for Strauss following her reality TV run, however. The model unfortunately found herself addicted to methamphetamine, which turned into a full-fledged scandal when her family staged an intervention in a shocking 2012 episode of The Dr. Phil Show. The dramatic episode saw Strauss run away from the cameras to the Paramount lot, where she was confronted by the titular TV host, who asked her, “Are you really convincing yourself that this life that you have doesn’t suck? You’re doing drugs, you’re living in crappy hotels, you’re stripping in some sleazeball joint.”
In an interview with TooFab, Strauss admitted that she felt exploited by the episode, but noted that her story had “helped so many people.” The model did go through with treatment, and as of 2016, she was three years sober. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life,” she told the media outlet.
The cancer diagnosis that rocked the ANTM world
Six years after Jael Strauss beat her addiction, she hit headlines yet again. This time, fans were understandably shocked by her tragic news. The star announced via Facebook that she had been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer at the age of 34 — and revealed that there wasn’t a cure.
“On October 2nd I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. It has aggressively spread throughout my body and is incurable,” Strauss wrote on the Facebook post. “With treatment it may prolong my life longer than the ‘few months’ doctors said I could make it. I don’t want to die. I need another one of those miracles that I got back in 2013.”
According to Metro, Strauss passed away in hospice two months following her diagnosis. Banks shared a touching tribute on Twitter. “Top Model has lost a beautiful soul,” she wrote. “We will all remember Jael and her fun-loving spirit and beautiful soul.”
Wait, where'd our favorite ANTM judges go?
Cycle 19 marked a huge change for America’s Next Top Model — and frankly, the show was never quite the same, as much as we still love a good ANTM binge. Prior to filming the then-upcoming season in 2012, Tyra Banks gave her longtime co-stars — photographer Nigel Barker, mentor J. Alexander, and creative director Jay Manuel — the ax. The trio had been with the series since its inception almost a decade prior.
According to Page Six, their departures were a “production decision” as the show adopted a social media slant to help bolster sinking ratings. The Atlantic reports that the series lost a million viewers between Cycle 17 and 18, but replacing fan favorites with “PR experts and Twitter personalities” proved to be even more unpopular. Viewership — which hovered around five million for the first nine cycles — sank to an all-time low of 1.7 million viewers in Cycle 20.
Though the news of the OG crew’s departure devastated fans enough to change the channel, it wasn’t a shock to those on the inside. In an interview with E! News, Barker admitted, “I’m friends with Tyra and the producers. There had been a discussion that ratings were down and that something like this would happen.”
This America's Next Top Model winner entered Celebrity Rehab
When Lisa D’Amato won Cycle 5, we all sort of assumed she became a successful model. That was seemingly the last time we heard from her, but the star wasn’t hiding on the catwalk in plain sight with Balenciaga’s insane prosthetics — she was unfortunately out in the real world grappling with substance abuse. According to Entertainment Tonight, D’Amato entered rehab for “alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, and mushrooms” … but she didn’t just go to any rehab. She appeared alongside Mackenzie Phillips, Dennis Rodman, and Heidi Fleiss on the third season of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. Thankfully, the star, who was reportedly labeled “an addict in denial” by the show’s host, managed to get clean anyway.
“I proved the world wrong: I’m not an addict,” D’Amato told Paper in 2011. “But I got therapy, which I needed and I’d never had. Society has a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol. I was an L.A. kid, drinking and going to parties when I was 14. Now I’m stronger and smarter. I want to make a difference.” Since struggling with substance abuse, the star made a shocking comeback. D’Amato went on to compete in the All Star season of ANTM, and told Reality TV World, “I think I look better than I ever have before in my whole life.” According to E! News, she also got married in 2012 and had a baby the following year.
Who knew waist size could be so controversial?
Tyra Banks has long stood for body positivity. According to HuffPost, the star renounced the term plus-size in favor of “fiercely real” and handed over the title of America’s next top model to Whitney Thompson, the show’s first plus-sized winner, in 2008. Years later, the New York Daily News reported that the supermodel applauded Vogue for banning models under the age of 16 who appear to have eating disorders.
These are all good things, but her outspoken stance made it all the more controversial when she seemingly praised an ANTM contestant’s extreme thinness during Cycle 15. According to The Week, Banks was met with controversy after releasing a trailer that showed Miss Jay wrapping his hands completely around then-19-year-old Ann Ward’s waist as Banks fawned, “There’s something about her that I like!” She later apologized and explained to People (via The Week) that the way the clip was edited “sounded like I was supporting unhealthy eating habits. I am and will always be committed to promoting healthy body image.”
According to OK! Magazine, Ward was reportedly 6′ 2″ and under 100 pounds at the time she filmed the season. “I didn’t notice how skinny my waist was. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I do have a tiny waist,'” Ward told the tabloid in 2010, adding that she was healthy and just had a high metabolism. Ward was later crowned Cycle 15’s winner.
CariDee English's salacious ANTM call out
CariDee English has been a fan favorite ever since she won Cycle 7 of America’s Next Top Model. So that made it all the more scandalous when she seemingly decided to bite the hand that feeds her — in the comments section, no less. Wow, was the year 2012 wild.
English was apparently a fan of the now-defunct website Gawker, like just about everyone else during that time period who wasn’t Hulk Hogan. According to Radar Online, when the publication decided to run a piece on Jael Strauss’ Dr. Phil episode, English rolled up her sleeves and reportedly typed out a scathing comment about how Banks’ long-running series didn’t evaluate Strauss properly and only saw “a personality good for television.”
“I love, love what I have made for myself since my win, but mentally, its horrific,” English reportedly wrote. “And any girl who has been on ANTM can back me up. No one wants to take us serious as models. Even though we just were named ‘TOP,’ our place in line at Fashion World was at the bottom. The industry many times didn’t care about our name, but did turn a snobby cheek to the name ANTM.” Those are certainly fighting words.
Never nude contestants vs. America's Next Top Model
Robin Manning kicked off ANTM‘s run with the type of shocking drama that turned the program into a reality TV mainstay. Weirdly enough, Manning’s scandal had nothing to do with salacious nude photographs, drug addiction, or anything that would typically be deemed scandalous enough to get a contestant disqualified. Instead, it was her lack of nudity that landed headlines.
Manning was a standout contestant back in Cycle 1, not so much for her modeling as for her convictions. The star was willing to abide by her morals even if that meant she’d get the boot. This became a problem in Episode 7 when the contestants had to do a nude photo shoot. Manning refused, saying, “My grandmother always used to tell me, ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.’ So this stand right here I’m taking might make me be eliminated, so my time is up, and I’m okay with it.”
Manning was — as she predicted — sent packing, but it set a brand new precedent for the show. Contestants ended up following suit over the years and some refused to pose nude or nearly-nude across a number of cycles, including Cycle 2 and Cycle 19. Since Manning’s season, the nude photo shoots have been an ANTM highlight because of who doesn’t strip down.
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