After just three episodes, "Vietnam's Next Top Model" has resulted in something of a mistrial.
Judges Nathan Lee, Elizabeth Thuy Tien and designer Hoang Ngan were recused from the show and replaced with supermodels Ha Anh, Duc Hai and designer Huy Vo.
The show's organizer, Multimedia Company, downplayed the change saying it was a natural function of shifting from audition to competition.
"The contestants are now vying to win a top-prize, so I think the show needed new judges to give it a fresher face," Quynh Trang, a representative of the Multimedia Company told VnExpress.
That company's explanation would change.
Nathan Lee and Hoang Ngan told VnExpress that differences between the judges and producers led to a walk-off.
Lee told Thanh Nien that he did not want to go into the gritty details and is looking to move on with his life.
"I can say that the other judges and I have done nothing wrong," Lee said. "I was totally surprised with the organizers' behavior. They kept silent for a long time after the second episode finished a month ago. Differences of opinions may arise at any time in any collaboration, but it's important to remain willing to address and resolve those differences. The producers made no attempt to resolve the problems. I have heard rumors that they are saying bad things about us but just wait and see. If the problem goes too far, I will raise my voice."
Lee also said that everything was going fine until the end of the second episode.
"I have a text message from the producers complimenting the other judges and I on our work after we finished shooting the second episode," he claims. "But they didn't say anything else following those messages. I could tell there was something wrong."
According to Lee, designer Hoang Ngan was in the same boat. They agreed to deal with the break by refusing to talk to the press. Lee also said that there was no contract between him and Multimedia. After years of modeling in America, Lee understands the industry and the show.
"I've followed this show since before it was franchised in Vietnam," Lee said. "I enjoyed a long-term relationship with the show and I cannot understand why they have treated us like this. Ngan is now abroad and she will take part in Dep (Beauty) Fashion Show this October 30. Ngan told me that she does not want this stuff to affect her current work, either."
Previously, Ngan told Dan Tri that she felt bad about her decision to quit the show and didn't mention any differences with producers.
"I just want to say it is partly because of what people call "˜the culture of the business," Dan Tri quoted Ngan as saying. "I think my decision to quit was the right one for me."
Many viewers that have watched the show since it first aired on September 30 said they felt the judges had done their jobs well.
"They conducted themselves professionally," said viewer Bao Nguyen. "They were natural and funny on camera. It is a pity to change judges so soon. That will put great pressure on the replacements."
Supermodel Ha Anh who recently grabbed headlines when her dress came up short at the Diamond Night fashion show, exposing her panties and drawing a punitive fine of VND11 million (US$565) is eager (and nervous) about taking on the new role.
Multimedia fires back
Le Thi Thu Trang, director of Multimedia Company, claims the judges argued a lot about choosing the contestants, so they had to change them.
"It was our fault for not having common criteria for selecting finalists or an official contract with the judges," said Trang. "Besides, due to the broadcast deadlines, we made some organizational slipups."
But it is not the only trouble that this hot reality show met.
Some contestants have claimed the judges have made arbitrary decisions in selecting and eliminating the challengers.
Lam Thu Hang told Thanh Nien that she passed her audition, but during the second round, she was removed because she had won the title Beach Beauty Contest in 2008.
"I was sad when the (ex) judges said that I cheated," said Hang. "I mentioned the beach title in my profile when I applied. If I violated the regulations, why did I pass the audition?"
Eliminated contestant Bui Thi Thanh Thuy said that many of the top 18 finalists are professional models or had won titles in previous national competitions.
"Dam Thu Trang was the favorite face of the Miss Teen Contest 2008 and listed in the top 20 of Miss Vietnam Contest this year," Thuy said. "Why was she chosen while other title-holders were eliminated?"
Trang told Thanh Nien that she will re-consider the controversial cases to preserve the show's fairness.