Okay. Let's get one thing straight from the get-go. I have a staunch and unblemished record as a heterosexual female person. So my hesitant, reluctant question is this: What does it mean if I find a woman in man-drag attractive?
I think it means I watch too much of this goddamn show. That, or I need to be exposed to some dense body-hair and a substantial array of male genitalia, STAT. I'm confused.
Adjust yourselves. It's the I'm Forever Growing Stubble episode of America's Next Top Model.
· I don't know how I've lived for so long without Natasha in my life. She owned this week's episode for so, so many reasons, the first being her phone-sex sesh with her 32-years-her-senior husband. It starts with her purring "You miss me? You remember me? … Everything?" and finishes with her actually purring. And meowing. And clawing the couch cushion next to her. She growls "I need you, Stuart. Would you be gentle with me?" and smirks and squints with the appropriate amount of telephonic passion. Really, out of all the mail-order, Russian/American, cradle-snatching, modeling, baby-producing couples I know, these two are just the cutest.
· We see Sarah, briefly, sans make-up, wrapped in a towel, straight from the shower. She's the ugliest 14-year old male ginger chess champion I've ever seen.
· A Tyra Mail and a Big Pink Hummer takes the girls to meet Elite Models director Cathy Gould, and Elite Model Claudia Mason in a.. er… room that has a sewing machine in it. They ask the girls to dress in some outfits that have been chosen for them, and then tell the room what they like about their outfits. Natasha likes her slutty pants and slutty top, enjoying how they show off "her bardy", and Jaslene thinks she could wear checked pants and braces to a casual night out or to lunch, or perhaps to a Steve Urkel look-alike contest. Cathy and Claudia then smirkingly explain that the outfits were specifically chosen as examples of how the girls shouldn't dress, which is like the Fashion Executive's way of saying "Psych!". Dionne, obviously voicing what we're all thinking, says "Snap! We all jacked up and busted". Word. A rapid montage follows in which the modules follow barked instructions, swapping clothes and accessories in a confused frenzy. Now, although I know that a bunch of rapidly-edited images showing badly-dressed girls hurriedly changing in and out of outfits should be interesting (especially considering my aforementioned Sapphic hiccup), I'm momentarily distracted by a bowl of cold peas.
· Back at the house, Renee aggressively questions Whitney regarding the likelihood of a plus-size model ever appearing on the cover of Vogue, and both Plus-Size Black and Plus-Size White take offence. Pot successfully stirred, Renee retreats to dream of someday making the cover of Teenage Bi-Polar Bitch Monthly.
· Our girls are Hummed to a Sears warehouse, and gather in front of a display of male mannequins. Only they're not really male mannequins. They're real men! Psych! And it was only the breathing, movement, blinking and realistic skin tones that gave them away! The "mannequins" turn out to be Lawrence and Gregory Zarian, identical twins, ex-models, and screeching nancy-boys. They introduce this week's challenge – the modules, in groups of three, are to choose complementary outfits and props from racks provided and set themselves up as mannequins in a retail display on pre-prepared platforms, including naming their display and painting the name on a sign, all within twenty minutes. For fuck's sake.
· Dionne has a background in retail, so she takes charge of picking the outfits for her group, whilst Renee and Sarah help out with props and decorations. I know – an aspiring model who works in a shop – who'd've thought? That's like Hans Zimmer supplementing his income writing jingles or, for the lowbrow amongst you, like a PHD student selling her eggs on eBay. Natasha, Whitney and Jael name their display "Aphrodity's Box", and as Natasha points out, "When you name somesink, you can spall it as wrong or as right as you want". Brittany, Diana and Jaslene throw on some butterflies and pearls and kind of sit around. Seriously, now. This is fucking stupid. The Nancy Twins assess the displays, and somehow manage to distinguish between the three Exercises In Beige. After disqualifying Whitney's group for not all being on the platform (despite Natasha's urgent "Whitany on the podiarm!" urgings), they name Sarah, Renee and Dionne as the winners, with Sarah taking out the individual prize. Renee and Dionne seethe with skinny, bitchy, wide-shouldered rage as Sarah takes the credit for an outfit essentially selected by somebody else. Her prize is the opportunity to do this week's photo-shoot twice. That's a prize.
· While we're talking about Sarah, my housemate pointed out last night how irritating her Excited Jump And Head-Wiggle is, and I gotta tell ya – she's right. Whenever Sarah's given a compliment, she flicks her head around, hops up and down a bit, sticks her tongue out, and pulls a stupid face. Stupider than usual, even. If you imagine pulling the head off a Richie Cunningham doll, jamming it onto the end of a long spring, dressing the spring in an outfit from the K-Mart Anaemic Collection, and putting it in a pot of rapidly boiling water, you're just about there. Got the mental image? Good. Now, imagine setting fire to the doll's head, soldering the spring to a rabid dog and throwing the dog out of a helicopter. Much better, isn't it?
· Natasha overhears some of the other girls whispering about her, expressing their suspicion at the fact that Mrs Mail-Order doesn't wear a wedding ring and implying that there's something dodgy about her marriage. You think? Natasha calls her husband in tears, saying "If averybody would pick on you everyday, you wouldn't be tarff". I adore this girl. I wonder if, when you pull her in half at the waist, there's lots of other little Natasha dolls inside?
· Now, gentlemen and gentlemen, it's time for the Best Cross-Dressing Photo-Shoot Ever. After a quick and irrelevant clothes-changing farce, Jay tells the girls that they'll need some accessories for today's shoot, and in walks a bunch (a gaggle? A whisker?) of pre-make-up drag queens. This week, the girls will be dressed as men, and they'll be photographed with men-dressed-as-women, posing as couples with different themes. Renee summarises adeptly in the make-up room: "Like, I look over there, and I see this dude, but it's Natasha. And then I look over there, and I see this woman, but it's actually a dude". This concept has no base in reality, yet it's carved itself a permanent place in my heart, appropriately just near my cockles.
· There's a photo-shoot summary in my pocket, and dude, am I glad to see you:
o Jaslene and partner are themed 'nautical', and she's dressed in a fishing cap and sou-wester. I'm still really, really struggling with this, but she looks hot. She is Hot Skinny Latino Fisherman, and I need a beer and a quick listen to Back In Black just to set things right again. She kicks arse in the shoot, getting so much into her character that she even announces "I gotta fart".
o Brittany and partner are apparently an "outdoorsy" couple, meaning that Brittany is dressed as a gay lumberjack. She sets her jaw, droops her lids and poses like a man. Mr Jay giggles like a girl.
o Renee and partner are "glam rock couple", and she works her shiny jacket and artificial stubble like a diva. Or perhaps a divo. Whatever. Bitch works it.
o Jael and partner are the "bohemian hippy" couple, and Jael, in floppy beret, patched flares and glasses, is a puppet-maker's version of what a girl dressed as a stereotype should look like. It's not female. It's not male. It's just… odd.
o Dionne and partner are "power couple" in His & Hers suits. Dude still looks like a lady.
o Sarah is a "rocker", and apparently nowadays "rockers" wear skivvies and don't have chins. Even with her double-photo-shoot prize and advice from Mr Jay, she's still told she looks too much like a girl. Hello? She wouldn't even look like a girl dressed in pink frills with her tits out. Open your eyes.
o Whitney and partner are the "collegiate" couple, and no amount of eyebrow-thickening, fake stubble, scarves or cardigans can draw people's attention away from two extremely obvious giveaways – Whitney's left boob, and Whitney's right boob.
o Diana and partner are "red carpet couple", and we see her ample frame wrapped in a tux after, disturbingly, seeing her in full man-make-up and a very revealing singlet. Her shoot is underwhelming, but one of my favourite moments occurs off-camera. Upset about her performance and still sporting stubble and chin-dimple, she sobs uncontrollably, exactly like a girl does. Poor fat, sad man.
o Natasha and partner are "hip-hop couple", and Natasha is dressed as K-Fed, only hotter and with talent. She has stubble, a cap, bling, sportswear and fur, and even improvises her own dental grille-action with a piece of foil from a packet of chewing gum. She asks Dionne to help her out with some appropriate stances and phrases, and causes a riot when she repeats "What it do, shorty" in Rasputin's mother tongue. I cannot, no matter how hard I try, adequately explain how gob-smackingly brilliant she is in the photo shoot. She's not only hip-hop personified, she's convincing enough as a man to make me want to jump in the back of her lo-rider. Damn.
· A Tyra-Mail summons the girls to the Elimination Stadium, and Tyra finally seems to have sorted out her weave-issues and is dressed demurely as Kentucky Fried Audrey Hepburn in a skivvy, pinafore, and side-parted Alice-band. She strums through the prizes, which I think include a safety razor and a packet of Maggi noodles, and then introduces the judges, including Spunky Nigel, who I'm leaving the light on for. Twiggy is dressed as Grandma In Red Velvet, Miss Jay is sporting five symbolic ruffles, and guest judge is Cathy Gould from Elite. Photos are flicked through, and in this week's Postmodern moment, the modules are assessed on their ability to look like they're sporting an adam's apple and a penis.
· The judges deliberate, and Tyra drones through photos and names until only Plus-Size White Diana and Plus-Size Black Whitney are left, or as I'm calling them, Fat and Fatter. Tyra pulls platitudes out of her considerable arse, gushing: "I have wanted to have two full-figured models a part of this competition for cycles and cycles. And we found two very, very strong girls and my dream came true." Really, Tyra – trying to convince us that you dream about anything except eating chicken skin and owning your own media empire is all just so much fluff. She tells Diana that she's beautiful but passion-free, and Whitney is told that she's beautiful, but can't transfer her beauty into photographs. Eighteen years pass, and Diana is pushed off the coil. Bye, Diana! Don't forget to lick the bowl on your way out, honey.
Next week, the girls confront Renee and put her in her place, and we're off to a glamorous evening soiree with Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, and Fiddy Cent. Affray. Partay. Drink Bacardi like it's your birthday.