Armenia's Next Top Model
What does one do when an international modelling career nears its end? It's a dilemma we all face. Often the answer is to turn to drugs, prostitution or, most worringly, television. In the case of Tyra Banks it was all three, with the success of the "Next Top Model" franchise financing both her cocaine habit and her ambitious expansion plans for the chain of upmarket Gentlemen's Clubs - "Banks' Bordelllos".
The answer seemed obvious; Armenia's Next Top Model first aired in January 2009 and was the number one programme in the entire Caucusian Region until its dramatic withdrawal halfway through its scheduled run.
Tyra Banks and her fellow Judges; model and catwalk coach J. Alexander, photographer Nigel Felcher and 60s supermodel Sticky began a search for a model from each of Aremenia’s twelve provinces. Despite terrible roads and hotels that rarely rose above four star standards, they travelled to the four corners of the country; auditioning thousands of girls from the notable fashion-hotspots of Kotayk province and the naturally chic girls of Aragtsotn. But Tyra banks was never going to be content with the obvious. The team doggedly pursued talent across the wastelands of Gegharkunik district, leaving no stone un-turned even in lowly Vayots-Dzor, a province where stones and rocks are in profusion.
On the road they tried out countless hopefuls. This process, along with the humiliation, mental destruction and ritual suicide of the rejected competitors, made up the first of ANTM’s episodes. Following the completion of this exhausting exploration the series moved back to the capital and onto the elimination rounds.
The twelve finalists assembled at ANTM headquarters shortly after Christmas of 2009 (July 16th, 1459 on the Armenian calendar). Many of the more rural girls were visibly overcome by the splendour of downtown Yerevan. It took all of Sticky’s homely British charm to convince seventeen-year-old Bulimia Gevoghlanian to remain following a traumatic encounter with a horseless carriage which she insisted must be piloted by a witch. But there was no time to enjoy the sophistication of “The Paris of the Caucasus” before filming began on the next episode.
The life of an international model allows no time for hissy-fits or squeamishness and no Next Top Model series anywhere in the world is complete without the obligatory exploration of the sumptuous NTM apartments. Since no luxury home is complete without walls, Episode Two showed the girls hard at work erecting theirs. Princess Vaginica surprised everyone and showed her worth by enthusiastically mixing cow-dung with mud to complete the wattle and daub despite her carefully manicured nails. And all the girls mucked in without pretention when it came to chopping wood for the roof-beams and digging latrines.
At the end of two days, the NTM pad was ready. The girls lay back on the freshly swept dirt-floor to enjoy a well-earned rest while they awaited the decision of the panel. Who had shown their potential during the building process? Had anyone let down the fashion world with the poverty of their brick-laying skills?
Tyra Banks and Sticky were unable to come to a firm decision, insisting that each of the girls had shown some of the construction-skills necessary for a top supermodel. Nigel Felcher made the case for the models who would most easily fill the pages of his own fashion magazines (Shaven Asian Babes, Big Girls and Beaver!.) But it was left to J Alexander (now dressed as his alter-ego Miss J.) to bring down the axe on Transcenda Dzenoc. It was with regret that Tyra broke the news to Transcenda whose Buddhist upbringing had not allowed her to participate as willingly as the other girls in the necessary slaughter and skinning of the mules to make the leather strapping for tying down the thatched roof.
Now down to eleven of Armenia’s most beautiful girls, ANTM moved into another elimination round and onto an outdoor location-shoot. In an attempt to broaden its popularity in the provinces Tyra had chosen to shoot in the southern province of Syunik, home to contestant Zmrukht Hajii's minority Sunni Kurd community. The girls underwent gruelling catwalk training in front of Miss J, Sticky and Tyra before moving out to the Bazum mountains to be photographed for the launch of Nigel Felcher's new regional magazine, Persian Pussy. After an exhausing day's pouting the girls were back in the regional capital Kapan for Syunik's first fashion show.
The event was sponsored by Kashmiri Kaftan's (Asia's most trendy manufacturer of quality eveningwear) and the most important figures in Caucasian fashion were sure to be there. Tyra left the girls in no doubt that they were only a few butt-swishing steps away from the big time. Who would rise to the challenge? Who would give in to the pressure? Only time would tell and, following a tense commercial break, the results were announced live.
To the astonishment of all, Peggi Chekidjian was voted out of the house following Sticky's controversial insistence that she should model without the use of her prosthetic leg. Her attempts to hop along the catwalk inspired admiration among her fellow-contestants, but led inevitably to disaster. Peggi received scant sympathy from the former darling of swinging London.
"The fashion industry is always being criticised for not using real women," Sticky insisted. "And look what happens when we insist on reality. I'm not shedding any tears on her behalf - if I can't get my tits done at my age without people making me out to be a fake, I don't see why we should let some crip stump about on her wooden leg as if she belongs up there like decent people."
There were many tears on the bus back to Yerevan as the girls bade farewell to Peggi. The melancholy scene turned to tragedy when local Sunni Taliban militia pulled Zmrukht Hajii from the bus. Amidst the confusion it soon became clear that they felt she had exposed too much flesh in public. To the horror of a televison audience of several, she was summarily tried, found guilty and condemned to be stoned to death on the roadside. The local Imam denounced the programme and warned the surviving infidel competitors not to bring their Satanic ways to Syunik again.
The audience can only have been astonished by Tyra Banks' cool head in a crisis. Despite her own fear she kept her hand-held steady-cam rolling, panning along the shocked faces of the competitors, hoping to detect a smile of satisfaction as one more rival departed. In one of the most viewed clips on YouTube, Armenia's Next Top Model showed Zmrukht's last moments to a suitable commentary from the hosts.
Tyra - "It's such a pity, but this could be her final appearance and here's a girl who really knows her angles. Look at the way she's pointing her chin away from the mob to catch the evening light. So professional. She has cheek bones to die for."
Nigel - "And the Taliban know their angles too, Tyra. Look at the way the guy with the grey beard landed his brick on the back of Zmrukht's head. That's a throw of twenty yards or more. Magnificent, you can only admire the gracefulness of that trajectory."
In a first for any Next Top Model series, ANTM's fourth episode centred around the funeral of one of the cast. Zmrukht Hajii's badly mutilated corpse was interred in the graveyard of her local mosque as the remaining eight contestants struggled to maintain their chic style amidst the wailing of her relatives. Each of them wrestled with the problems posed by the need to maintain a suitably sombre attitude while still striking a pose seductive enough to merit a centre-fold in Nigel Felcher's purported new publication Hot Widows.
Tyra - Don't they look great, though.
Nigel - They'll never look more stylish. Black is the new black.
Miss J. - That's right. A model gotta be decorous no matter what. It's a shame because if anyone was the winner in the last round it was Chevon - she looked so at home among the rocks of the Bakum mountains and her sure-footedness on the catwalk was a lesson to us all.
As the funeral cars pulled away from the graveside Tyra ended Chevon's participation in ANTM but not her career. Chevon's looks had captured the hearts of millions watching the re-broadcast of Zmrukht's stoning on Al Jazeira TV. Soon she was turning heads on a personal tour of the Gulf States in which she signed a $5 million recording contract and is reported to have turned down an offer of marriage from Crown Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia.
After the disaster of Zmrukht's death, ANTM was swiftly turning into the least succesful franchise so far. Yet there was worse to come. The original series had been planned for twelve episodes but Sky TV turned down the option on the second half of these and insisted that they would broadcast only eight. With time running out to crown Armenia's Next Top Model, Tyra Banks was faced with making multiple eliminations before the final.
For the first time fortune favoured Tyra as the Nagorno-Karabakh region seceeded from Armenia with the collusion of the government of Azerbaijan. Insurgia Violentia immediately left to take up arms in the civil war. At the same time, Hrachuhi Adiposa's sad past was exposed in a British tabloid. One of the front runners in the competition, Hrachuhi's poise and natural elegance had entranced viewers throughout the selection procedure and early rounds. But poise and elegance don't pay the bills and readers were shocked to learn that Hrachuhi had once earned her living as an exotic dancer.
Could she survive the scandal?
"Parading around in public half-dressed for the titilation of old men is no preparation for life in the super-modelling world," Tyra announced as she evicted Hrachuhi from the ANTM pad, pausing only to shave her hair and brand her forehead.
With seven more contestants and only three more episodes, the remaining models were sent into Yerevan to buy fabric and consult with some of the world's leading designers to produce pieces for another fashion show. Despite the handicap of only two shops and frequent power-cuts, each model was required to produce both swimwear and eveningwear for display in front of the fashionistas of Yerevan.
In one of the most fascinating episodes cameras followed the girls around downtown Yerevan and to their meetings with celebrity designers. Jean Paul Gaultier was said to be devastated not to be able to work with disqualified Hrachuhi, but nevertheless produced a stunning leather bikini and matching leather gown for Trchnak Dadikool despite Trchnak having bought eight yards of silk.
Following further tabloid scandal suggesting Hrachuhi Adiposa had undergone gender-assignment following the Bosnian war and may in fact be wanted Serb war-criminal Ratko Mladic, Sky TV insisted that the series ended immediately. Rupert Murdoch himself rang Tyra and threatened to withdraw funding unless ANTM brought the final forwards. Again fortune took a hand with early front-runner Cunnilingua Methusiak failing to wake up the morning after a hard day's posing.
A controversial choice in the first place, it was suggested that the stress surrounding the final stages of ANTM and the tragic death of Zmrukht combined to put too much strain on Cunnilingua's heart. Tyra, however, refused to admit that her inclusion in the programme was a mistake.
"Some people said Cunnilingua was too old," she told BBC World. "I say that's nonsense. What does it matter how old she was? This programme isn't about superficial things like age, it's about looks. The other judges and I included Cunnilingua because we felt she was the most beautiful entrant we auditioned in Aragotsn province."
"She had the skin of a girl a third her age," Sticky added. "She kept it in her closet in the ANTM house. She told me it was her sister's, flayed off her back by Turks during the Armenian Genocide. She kept it as a reminder of the cruelty of imperialism."
With only Bulimia Gevoghlanian, Chlamydia Leprosi and Princess Vaginica remaining Tyra sent the finalists for a shoot with leading photographer Donald McPherson. Equipped only with a bikini budget and a Geiger counter, the three remaining hopefuls set out for the Soviet-era Plutonium reprocessing site at Metsamor.
"This is a shoot for Scientific American," Tyra explained. "You have to be calm and relaxed. You have to look elegant and yet knowledgeable. You have to point your tits at the camera and look like you might consider dating a nerd."
It was a tense day marked by some fantastic shots amongst the spent nuclear fuel and gently steaming control rods. Chlamydia Leprosi chose to take the bikini theme literally and McPherson took some stunning images of her underwater as she dived into the cooling ponds, kept at a balmy 37 Celsius by the fission of stray nucleotides. Bulimia, by contrast, chose to drape herself across the tables in the neutron moderator recovery plant's canteen. Controversially, Princess Vaginica removed her bikini and posed naked behind the semi-transparent glass blocks made by the vitrification of Palladium/Teleurium waste.
The shoot over, McPherson joined Sticky, Miss J and Nigel Felcher back at Yerevan headquarters to make a decision. The final sequences of the show showed their discussion and the crowning of the eventual winner.
Tyra - What we have to decide is whether we should disqualify Vaginica.
Miss J. - This is Armenia's Next Top Model. Not Armenia's Next Top Whore.
Tyra - Although that is an idea for a show...
Nigel - I'd say that the semi-translucence of the glass meant that you could only see the outline of Vaginica's figure - there was nothing in any way pornographic about Donald's shots. Whereas the ones I took of her from the other side of the glass are hot stuff. Seriously, I mean I could make some real cash here.
McPherson - I'm with you Nigel. I'd say we should look more at Bulimia and Chlamydia. I'm not sure either of them is quite ready for the big time and the behaviour of Bulimia proves it.
Tyra - That was a spectacular bout of binge-eating in the canteen. Maybe it was the smell of borscht that got to her but she'll have to learn to deal with her weight issue. She's out of control. There's fat hanging off her in places I didn't even know you could have fat.
McPherson - You can scarcely count her ribs any more.
Miss J. - Cigarettes are no look for a lady.
Nigel - We could give her a pipe - I have a magazine that would pay top dollar for pictures of her sucking on a Hookah.
Tyra - Well, we haven't even talked about Chlamydia.
Sticky - She had my vote right up until she got out of the cooling ponds.
Miss J. - I think she swallowed something in there. She just mutated like an X-man or something.
The discussion continued as the contestants sweated on the outcome. Eventually, however, the results of the final vote were announced and Armenia's Next Top Model was announced. Princess Vaginica had won a unanimous five to zero ballot, with Nigel Felcher particularly insistent on her victory, hopeful that she would agree to pose for his new publication, Hirsute and Horny.