Vietnam crowns its first "Top Model' with a fizzle

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 (L-R) Top 3 of the first season "˜Vietnam's Next Top Model' Thu Thuy, Tuyet Lan and Huyen Trang compete in swimsuit. Tallest contestant Huyen Trang is the winner.

Last November, Vietnam joined a handful of countries looking to jump aboard the Next Top Model train.

Five hundred women from all over the country turned out to audition for the first season of Vietnam's Next Top Model, produced by VTV3 and MultiMedia JSC.

A minor controversy erupted after the audition judges were given the boot after just three episodes.

The ensuing controversy has yet to be resolved. But, they were promptly replaced and the show went on.

Eighteen chosen contenders spent more than two months slugging it out on the beauty pageant cum reality show. It took two months of challenges and elimination to find a winner. And it wasn't easy. They were asked to pose with pythons, march down the catwalk with dogs and tough survive a slinky photo shoot in a freezing room.

On January 23, the tallest contestant Khieu Thi Huyen Trang (1.78 meters) was crowned the winner. She walked away with a VND2 billion (US$100,000) and a ticket to a model training course in New York City.

Reactions to Vietnam's first foray into the reality-beauty pageant format were mixed.

Tram, Phuong Doan, a Vietnamese student studying in America was amused by the attempted adaptation and found it interesting to watch the girls be groomed for the modeling industry.

"Of course we cannot compare the Vietnamese version to the original Tyra Banks', but it still mets the entertainment demand of locals," she said.

Pooh-poohed by the pros

Despite its popular appeal, many in the local fashion industry took issue with the show.

Many seemed to feel that the show failed to live up to its purported mission "” of turning a pretty local girl into an international model. Others griped that the show felt overly artificial, from the models reactions to the judges' praise.

"I liked to watch the American, Britain and Australian "˜Next Top Model' shows for their fascinating and close details," said Thuy Hanh, executive manager of Elite Vietnam, a model training agency. "The hosts are famous and hold prestigious positions in the fashion industry. But in the local version, I couldn't see even the top 3 making it, professionally. If they do not try to cultivate themselves, I think they will not be able to compete as international models."

Khac Tiep, director of Venus, a prestigious local modeling firm argued that the show was amateur and odd. "Anyone can see the show has a lot of defects," he said.

"From the artificial behavior of contestants, to the odd challenges like walking a dog down the catwalk. I think the challenges should be based on the real local fashion industry. The Vietnamese contestants failed to display genuine emotions, which made the original Tyra Banks show interesting. Maybe they were too shy to express what they feel."

Tiep added that he enjoyed watching the show's first-runnerup, Tuyet Lan, whom she planned to offer work.

Flat finale

Those who enjoyed following the contest expressed some disappointment with the way it wrapped up.

2sao, an online tabloid, proved the evening's most strident critic. Writers at 2sao charged that many of the costumes and arrangements of the final evening were lifted from the final ceremony of Germany's Next Top Model 2009.

Other viewers seemed to cringe at the final evening's trite tone.

Kim Minh, a language student, claimed to have enjoyed the show from the beginning and agreed with the judges' final choice. He just didn't like the way they expressed themselves:

"Huyen Trang made great strides during the show. She went from being tomboyish to feminine charm.

"But I was disappointed with the judges' hollow words like "˜Your walk takes my breath away,' "˜I cannot describe how wonderful your performance is,' or "˜You are not a resplendent rose or sunflower but modest like a jasmine.'

That was pure nonsense."

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