It’s almost hard to believe, but when America’s Next Top Model premiered in 2003 on UPN -- yes, that was a network until 2006 -- there were no major social media platforms. In fact, social media as we know it didn’t even exist yet.
Facebook didn’t launch until 2004. Twitter followed two years later, with platforms like Tumblr (2007), Instagram (2010), Pinterest (2010), Snapchat (2011) and Vine (2013) to come over the next decade.
While Tyra Banks has always tried to keep America’s Next Top Model relevant -- introducing new challenges and themes to fit the ever-evolving definition of a model or Tyra’s own needs -- social media wasn’t a major component of the show until cycle 19, when the public was allowed to vote and Bryanboy was added as a social media correspondent.
“The reason we’re still on the air is we’re always looking for ways to push the envelope,” Tyra said in 2013.
By cycle 22, which Nyle DiMarco would eventually win, the contestants were competing in social media-inspired challenges, from hashtag-themed photoshoots to “living photos” created by Flixel -- a company Tyra invested in and featured heavily in cycle 21. Tyra scoured Instagram to find would-be contestants with the best selfies and biggest followings. There was even the web-only The Comeback Series, which allowed audiences to vote on Facebook for which model they wanted to return to the competition.
Along the way, Tyra, who calls herself “obsessed with technology,” embraced social media, not only by investing in Flixel and featuring it on her show, but becoming a user on platforms like Vine and learning how to make GIFs. “You’ve seen me on Vine being the fool. It’s something I enjoy myself,” Banks said in that same interview. (Check out some of her best Vines here.)
Of course, over the past few years, modeling has evolved as Instagram stars -- Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner among them -- have become the faces of high-profile brands and campaigns, eventually going from filters to the runway. And when Rebecca Romijn suggested to ET that they weren’t true supermodels, Tyra came to the defense of Gigi, Kylie and Instagram sensations alike.
“We witness young girls on reality shows and super popular girls on social media now being called Supermodels and think, ‘WHAT?! It’s not fair! Is that kind of success even real?’ I’ve gotta be blunt. Yes. IT IS REAL,” Tyra wrote in an essay title “Model War.”
On cycle 23, now hosted by Rita Ora, social media scores may be gone, but their presence is always felt, thanks to the emphasis that the winner be a “triple B” -- that is, a boss, a brand and a business -- with contestants constantly being reminded how something might play out on social media. Even Instagram and Snapchat play a pivotal role on the show, with contestants attempting their best poses on the platforms. In another episode, one model's prized selfie with Zendaya causes #squadgoals envy among the other girls.
Snapchat, which has reached a new level of popularity over the past few years, plays a pivotal role in the latest episode of America’s Next Top Model -- and ET has your first look.
DJ Khaled, a music personality and internet phenomenon, even swings by to teach the contestants a few lessons about the platform. (His popularity is largely due to his popular Snapchat videos, in which he embraces life as a living meme.) “The fans and the people that’s going to support you, they have to be connected to you. … We’re superstars, but the only way to do it is to really be it, live it,” DJ Khaled tells the aspiring models before sending them out on the streets of New York City wearing nothing but lingerie to film Snapchat videos.
One pair of contestants prove they “get it” right away, with a video that’s on message, on brand and authentic. “She’s being herself,” DJ Khaled says. Yes, even Tyra would be proud.
America’s Next Top Model airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on VH1.