America’s Next Top Model, the show that taught us all how to fiercely smize, has been on television for more than 14 years.
Top Model is the brainchild of former supermodel Tyra Banks along with her good friend Kenya Barris, who’s also known for creating the hit ABC sitcom, Black-ish.
After the original series was canceled in 2015, the legendary reality TV staple was revived with a new judging panel, headed by Rita Ora, for VH1 in 2016.
Judges Law Roach (image architect), Drew Elliot (creative director, Paper magazine), and Ashley Graham (supermodel) round out the rest of Ora’s crew.
In August 2016, BuzzFeed was given the opportunity to visit the ANTM set during a video shoot and judging panel to find out what goes on behind the curtain of the new series. Here’s what we learned about the Jan. 23 episode:
1. The models shot at the Children’s Aid Society in Harlem. The theme of the video shoot was ~movement~, and their task was to effortlessly walk through a lively block party with a ton of distractions that could easily make them lose focus.
The shoot was reminiscent of another from Cycle 6 of the original series, where the models had to krump while wearing big, bright vibrant outfits. The challenge was to keep it together while attempting to show off a pair of Payless shoes.
2. Though the shoot didn’t begin until the afternoon, the models had arrived hours before to settle in and get their hair and makeup done before heading to set.
3. Each model was given about a 20-30 minute time constraint to run through their block party routine.
The models would begin at the top of steps, right outside of the Children’s Aid Society. The beat would drop and Director X, who’s created music videos for today’s biggest artists (like Rihanna and Drake), would carefully maneuver his camera, catching the models’ every move throughout the block party, from the hopscotch board on the ground, to the double dutch players. The models were also supposed to come up with their own signature dance move perform at the end of their take.
4. Stacey McKenzie, who acted as the runway coach, was extremely hands on during the shoot.
McKenzie routinely stopped the models if they weren’t quite hitting their marks. She also aided them with real-time critiques, offering quick fixes for their performances so that they would hopefully nail the shoot on subsequent takes.
5. Judge Drew Elliot was also very much involved in the shoot.
While McKenzie focused on the models getting the technicalities of the shoot right, Elliot’s job was to make sure each contestant looked great while doing it.
6. The next day, BuzzFeed sat in on the critiques from the new judges, who each bring something different to the panel.
7. Judge Law Roach was a huge fan of the original series. He told BuzzFeed he and his friends often mimic Shani Sullivan’s Cycle 2 runway walk at cocktail parties to this day.
The stylist known for dressing Celine Dion and Ariana Grande described himself as the “sassy” judge. “I take fashion very seriously,” Roach told BuzzFeed, adding that although he can be a bit tough, he’s nurturing too.
8. Elliot, who audiences have come to know as the ~serious~ judge, said the most rewarding part of being on ANTM is taking editorial ideas he’s come up with and producing them on a larger scale for the show.
He loves “seeing it come to life in motion,” he told BuzzFeed.
9. Graham said she and Banks had been in touch since before the ANTM reboot. Banks called Graham when she landed the coveted swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, a first for a plus-size model.
It also put her in similar company with Banks, who’s the first and only black model to ever land the SI swimsuit edition.
10. Graham and Banks also had dinner to discuss the reboot.
In order to get some insight and to help her prepare for her role, Graham said she met with Tyra Banks for dinner in LA. The two chatted about the new vision for the show and about being role models for the contestants. “I have realized that being a role model — and taking women under your wing who you know a lot more than — is only giving back to yourself,” explained Graham. She said that she tries to help other models as much as she can because she wished someone would’ve been a mentor to her when she was coming up in the industry.
11. The judging set is located at a remote studio in New Jersey, even though the models live in New York. And it took at least two hours to go through all the contestants’ critiques.
The production crew kept starting over so that they could get good sound bytes from Ora and the other judges. It also took Ora a bit to nail her lines about the prizes the winner would get.
12. Each judge weighs in for each contestant and the drama, at least while BuzzFeed was on set, was very real.
One contestant — who shall remain nameless until the episode airs — got chewed out by one of the judges because of the attitude she displayed on set during the shoot.
13. Eliminations are serious business.
BuzzFeed was able to view the entire process of watching each model get feedback from the judges, but had to promptly leave once it was over, to keep the results confidential.
14. And both Graham and Ora have the same favorite Top Model moment: the blow-up between Banks and contestant Tiffany Richardson from Cycle 4.
“We were literally just talking about it in the car,” Ora said. “‘We were rooting for you.’ It’s, like, iconic.”