What's new for Vietnam's Next Top Model?

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The new season of the hit show is warming, or that is, heating up with a new set of judges and a thousand would-be supermodels competing fiercely


The judges for this year competition: (L-R) Make-up artist Nam Trung, model Xuan Lan, designer Do Manh Cuong and photographer Pham Hoai Nam

Hundreds of young women dolled up in make-up and fancy outfits lined up around the block in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi for their shot at being Vietnam's next top model. After hours of waiting, they competed in four increasingly difficult tests: catwalk, bikini modeling, interview sessions, and posing.

Le Vu, a representative from Vietnam's Next Top Model's local organizer Multimedia JSC, said that over a thousand registrations came in from all corners of the nation.

But only 18 women will be chosen for the two-month elimination challenge, which will air from September 25 on VTV3.

Most of the hopefuls for the second season of the reality show are amateurs with nice figures, but few have any experience beyond a training class or an amateur show or two at the local club or cultural house.

One the first day of tryouts on August 16, one girl argued with the judges' comments while the others laughed and yelled at her. The model eventually burst into tears in front of everyone.

For these young ladies, the contest could be the key to a full-time modeling industry job, whether or not they win the competition.

The format that has been sold to 110 countries pits 12 to 18 women against each other in a series of modeling challenges, with one contestant eliminated each week. To increase the drama, the women must live in a house together throughout the show.

Khieu Thi Huyen Trang won last season's show and is now the epitome of Vietnam's increasingly archetypal rags-to-riches story.

From the remote area of an underprivileged province,

Trang was first insensitively dubbed "the ugly duckling" by the media. But with a lot of sweat and tears through some very awkward challenges such as posing with a python and modeling for a photo shoot in a cold storage locker Trang proved her mettle and transformed herself into the beautiful swan no one had believed in, over the course of two short months.

She's now on the covers of Vietnam's most famous magazines and has competed in several international beauty contests. Though she's been criticized for being cloddish and exhibiting only amateur modeling skills, she's not hurting. After all, for many Top Model contestants, it's the VND2 billion cash prize they're itching for.


Khieu Thi Huyen Trang, winner of the Vietnam Next Top Model first season

And what would a reality show be without controversy?

Last year, the first judges' panel was replaced with a new set of critics including model Ha Anh, designer Huy Vo and model Duc Hai after a disagreement with the show's management. Though that panel was commended for its good work, an entirely new set of judges has been selected for this year's show.

The judges are now model Xuan Lan, photographer Pham Hoai Nam, make-up artist Nam Trung and designer Do Manh Cuong. But some critics have complained that this panel, which boasts loads of fashion industry expertise, has no international experience.

Local newspaper Dat Viet has also fanned the flames of controversy by challenging the show to add a nude photo shoot to the list of challenges, like in many of the show's foreign versions.

But the show is doing its best to be new-media savvy and reach out to the world of heavily-critical netizens. Vietnam's Next top Model's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/vnntm?ref=ts,) has garnered 15,929 "likes" and news about the show is updated every few minutes.

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