Jakarta. Debuted in 2003, "American's Next Top Model" paved the way for countless fashion-focused reality shows that followed on various television networks. Although the Tyra Banks-created competition was finally put to an end last year after 22 seasons — or "cycles" in the series' parlance — with male model Nyle DiMarco as the winner, its Asian spin-off is still making its way to the top.
Entering the fourth season when its first episode airs on Star World next Wednesday (09/03), "Asia's Next Top Model" will return with an all-new jury squad — and, of course, a gaggle of aspiring models hailing from countries all over Asia.
Cindy Bishop, a Thai-American model and actress, will continue the reins of Nadya Hutagalung and Georgina Wilson as both the show's host and judge. In the judging panel, she will be accompanied by Indonesia's own supermodel, Kelly Tandiono, and American photographer, Yu Tsai, whose works have been featured in the likes of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue Japan.
In the running for the number one spot are 14 young female contestants who mostly come from Southeast Asian countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand — and South Korea. The new episodes will also witness the first contestants from Mongolia and Myanmar, making up a more diverse lineup this season.
This time Indonesia is represented by Patricia Gunawan and Aldilla Zahraa — both of whom have to live up to the success of their fellow countrywoman, Ayu Gani, who snatched the top title in season three.
"It has been an emotional rollercoaster," Aldilla said during a press conference on Thursday, citing various challenges posed to the contestants in every episode.
Patricia, who is entertainingly the biggest joker among this season's posse, offered that she treated every contestant in the house like her own family.
"It was very exciting that I want to call it 'Asia's Next Top Comedian.' Everyone was laughing all the time. And unlike other models, we would say, 'Eating is our happiness!'" she joked.
Meanwhile, speaking about her experience mentoring the models, Kelly said she has learned a great deal from her fellow judges.
"I received a lot of inputs from both Cindy and Yu Tsai. For me, [appearing in the show] is about learning by doing," the model said.
Sticking to old-school image
In a preview of the first episode shown to the press on Thursday, the models bunk together in an apartment suite in Singapore before going through a weekly challenge and photo shoot with the theme of '60s fashion, a similar routine first introduced by the original American version.
In between striking somewhat glamorous poses, they can be seen chatting with one another and speaking to the camera about their experience — all the usual tropes of the reality TV genre.
Right before the announcement of the first person to be sent home, curse words were thrown around when a contestant was confronted by the girls because she never shares food. Drama — often petty, trivial drama — is a signature ingredient of this reality series, after all.
In an age when more and more big players in the fashion industry embraces diversity — of race, shape and otherwise — on the runway, the image presented by "Asia's Next Top Model" is arguably old-school, what with these tall and slender figures elbowing one another.
Are these aspiring models, as one guest judge puts it, "high fashion" enough? It's hard to say nowadays, especially when only a handful of previous winners of the "Next Top Model" franchise managed to enter the actual super-competitive modeling industry, let alone make it big there.
But seen another way, "Asia's Next Top Model" can make for a good, if brain-numbing, entertainment with all the made-up glamour and cattiness between the contestants. The show might not produce the next Kendall Jenner or Gigi Hadid, but it surely will help decompress your mid-week stress level.
The fourth season premiere of "Asia's Next Top Model" airs on Star World on Wednesday, Mar. 9 at 8 p.m. Jakarta time.