This post was collaboratively produced by members of Fashioning Circuits, a research group led by Kim Knight in the Emerging Media and Communication program at the University of Texas, Dallas. In addition to Knight, the contributors are Brianni Nelson, Amy Pickup, Tameka Reeves, and Mattie Tanner.
Cycle 17 of America's Next Top Model tasks each contestant with using multiple media platforms to develop a brand centered on an assigned personal adjective. Descriptors range from persistence (Angelea Preston) to daring (Lisa D'Amato) to unique (Allison Harvard). However, the deployment of a consistent brand identity is less important than the contestants' ability to use media to reveal what is presumed to be their authentic personality, their "voice."
The concept of "voice" is revealed in multiple episodes. In "Game," contestants are asked to make a "viral" video and are provided music that aligns with their brand. The music constrains the subsequent lyrics and performance, though these allow some expression of identity. Tyra further detracts from the contestants' creativity by imposing her own lyrics and inserting segments in each video. Despite this, Harvard's video is most successful because it conveys a sense of authentic voice.
In "Tyson Beckford," contestants are challenged to write a blog post describing their personal perspective on Grecian fashion. Preston succeeds by focusing on fashion and utilizing a strong personal voice in her comparison of Greece to her hometown, Brooklyn. The judges repeatedly respond more positively to the expression of a model's voice than to a consistent brand message.
However, the judges' preference for individual voice does not coincide with the overall social media strategy of ANTM. The social media strategy focuses almost exclusively on the show, while ignoring the contestants' personal brands. For example, the Facebook stream consists of material touting upcoming episodes or brief judging recaps. The voices of the individual contestants are conspicuously absent.
Compare this to a fashion reality show that uses social media differently: Project Runway. Both programs extol personalized identity creation. Runway supports these claims by allowing contestants to flourish through individual blogs and video. The designer's identity, or "brand," emerges through these uses of media. Fans are able to engage in dialogue with their favorite designers, giving the show a more participatory feel. ANTM makes an attempt to promote authenticity on the show but lacks any veritable online presence by the contestants or fans.
This cycle's focus on multi-media literacy aligns with the performance of identity through multiple platforms in today's media ecology. We see an interesting tension between the contrived, pre-assigned brand and the contestants' ability to express something deemed "authentic." Ultimately, the show fails to take full advantage of social media to augment these performances.