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Next top model comes to the Caribbean

By By Cedriann J Martin

Do you relish fashion, fierceness and—let's be honest—catty competition? If you aren't already hooked on the Next Top Model franchise ready yourself for a new addiction.

Created by model and media personality Tyra Banks, America's Next Top Model (ANTM) is an eight-year-old reality television series that gives its winners shots at professional modelling careers. The season-long question is which competitor, from a field of vastly different young women, should be awarded industry representation and a modelling contract. It is answered by a deliciously critical judging panel through weekly challenges and eliminations that showcase a melting pot of talent, discipline and cringe-inducing failures. From catwalks to photo shoots, advertisements to go-sees, it all amounts to a surreal crash course in a skill that's actually far harder than it looks.

So compelling are the concept and product that Top Model had been adapted for more than 120 countries. And now it's coming to the Caribbean. Caribbean's Next Top Model (CNTM) host and former Miss Universe, Wendy Fitzwilliam, explained that entrepreneur Ian Royer secured the rights to the franchise. Season one will be shot in Trinidad and Tobago with subsequent editions country-hopping through the region.

Online casting started last week with the aim of selecting 30 semi-finalists from thousands of hopefuls. Note: this isn't a Caricom exercise. Applications are invited from every nation "that touches the Caribbean Sea with the exception of Mexico and Puerto Rico". 12 finalists will then be chosen to compete during the season. Fitzwilliam, who also shares the executive producer hat, says she is concerned with securing both entertaining episodes and a winner with a genuine chance at a career.

"I am looking for a girl who can really work as a model. Just like everybody in the world can't be a doctor, everybody in the world cannot be a model. She has to photograph well and have an appeal that allows her to work internationally," Fitzwilliam explained. Applicants should be between ages 18 and 27 and at least 5' 7" tall.

"We're looking for someone who is either commercial or fashion-ready. She has to be lean and she has to have long limbs. It's not true that models have to be six footers but they do need to have proportions that give the illusion of height. We're not looking for a girl who starves herself to death either," Fitzwilliam noted. "This is an investment. We're finalising a contract with an international agency and we need somebody who is healthy and ready to work. I am very focused on getting a girl that is truly representative of us which means that she could look like anything or nothing at the same time in terms of ethnicity."

Does this incarnation of the smiling 1998 beauty queen sound demanding and matter-of-fact? It's because NTM channels some of the no-nonsense spirit of a famously cutthroat industry. Notwithstanding Fitzwilliam's brand, viewers and hopefuls should be mindful not to mix up modelling and pageantry.

"I have done modelling but I'm much better known internationally for Miss Universe," she acknowledged. "There are quite a few differences. A beauty queen needs to show up and make everyone excited. Pageantry is a celebration of you the individual: what is the best dress for you, the best swimsuit for you, you you you… Models don't need to be on and super-engaging all the time but they have to have that 'it' factor and they have to be chameleons when it comes to showcasing someone else's products and ideas. When you see Kate Moss walking down the street she doesn't wow you but in an ad she can be Miss Sophisticated or Miss Biker Chick or Miss Dirty Grungy… she's comfortable in front the camera."

Filming will run from September to October and the programme will air on Monday nights (right after Two and a Half Men) from December 2011 to February 2012 on CBS, thus ensuring truly region-wide access. The Caribbean's beauty and fashion industry will also be showcased. Already Claudia Pegus has been confirmed to be the featured designer in the final runway challenge. Dynamic modelling coach Richard Young is one of the season's judges.

Having spent many months hammering out the legal and financial issues of the venture, the CNTM team is now finessing logistical and creative details with support from CBS. It's an unprecedented showcase for the Caribbean and—for some lucky young women with the right combination of attitude, talent and genetic gifts—it's an unparalleled opportunity.

For more information on Caribbean's Next Top Model visit their page on Facebook or go to www.caribbeansnexttopmodel.tv for casting details and show information.

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