I felt burned out on "America's Next Top Model" after the end of last season. However, for some reason, maybe because the world is too serious right now, or maybe because I caught a marathon of Cycle Two on Oxygen last week and got enthused all over again, I have higher hopes for Cycle 12 than I thought I would. The models are back in New York and this particular crop of girls is attractive, diverse and personable, so we may be in for an enjoyable season, one that got off to a power-packed two-episode start.


The first episode, the culling down of the girls from 34 to 13, began in cheesily dramatic fashion as recent cycles of the show have -- although nothing topped last season's "sci-fi" theme in terms of the cringe factor. Using a method of reasoning that's reminiscent of the "Da Colbert Code," Tyra and her minions figured that it's the 12th cycle, and "12" reversed" is "21," ergo let's start the show at Caesar's Palace in Vegas. "Sin City?" Tyra told the camera. "Mmm-mm. INDULGENT City." What?  Before I could try and figure out what that meant, I was plunged into a world of gambling puns. Jay Manuel and Miss J Alexander were then introduced via a sea of fake gladiators. Let the screaming begin!

In the spirit of the Roman theme of the cycle premiere, the girls were all given little white dresses and white high-heeled gladiator sandals to change into, their first photo shoot being a "classic Roman" profile. Then they had to do a runway walk with a smoke machine blowing across it, to mimic clouds. Suddenly it was nighttime and all I could think about was how much their feet must hurt, but the girls probably didn't even notice since it was time to meet "The Goddess of Fierce," that being Tyra of course, who was met with the prerequisite shrieking and crying. It actually makes sense for Tyra to have the show begin in Vegas because she is a Vegas show herself sometimes, what with her gladiators and huge hair and (crooked) crown.

Then it was time for the girls to meet Tyra, Jay and Miss J one-on-one:

Sandra Nyanchoka is very pretty but her crying seemed fake to me (as did Tyra's response), and off the bat, her self-confidence rubbed me the wrong way.

Jessica Santiago, a girl of Puerto Rican heritage, is beautiful but her tale of "I've never been called ugly" failed to rivet me.

We met Tahlia Brookins, a burn survivor who is very pretty but seemed a little too vulnerable, and I think that played out in the episode. She was upset about being forced to cover up more in the later fashion show, but while she said that burn victims should be more accepted in the world, "America's Next Top Model" is not about the world -- it's about fashion (sometimes).  She's going to have to buck up, and Tyra told her as much, which made me glad.

Celia Ammerman is a bit old for the competition, 25, but she loves fashion, clearly, and strikes me as intelligent and strong, and reminds me a bit, speaking of Cycle 2, of Joanna House, in terms of personality.

Angelea was the girl off the top of the show proclaiming that she wasn't looking for "America's Next Top Best Friend." On the one hand, I felt bad for her, sleeping in New York's Port Authority and dealing with a deceased child, but on the other, she seemed like a big pain in the butt, especially mixing it up with Sandra on a later shoot.

Natalie Pack talked about how she's "never had to work a day in my life," but is that tremendously unusual when you're 19?

Kortnie Coles formerly dated Dale Earnhardt Jr. and allegedly represents the plus-size models, although since Whitney Thompson won two cycles ago I'm not holding my breath for another one any time soon.

I love how tall and elegant Aminat Ayinde is. She reminds me a bit of Danielle Evans from Cycle 6.   

Kathryn suffers anxiety attacks and collects pens, and unfortunately for her, she was the one girl Tyra decided to come down on, challenging her to name five working models. It's great when Tyra switches from best friend to mean older sister.

The girls were then given a photo shoot based on pre-assigned goddesses. I took a lot of classics in high school and college but I don't recall the name of "the goddess of friendliness."

The top 13 were then chosen and the girls headed to New York to their Upper East Side townhouse (except for Angelea, who cried about going home to Buffalo. Why can't these people just pick up and move one town over if it kills them so much?)  Once she was gone, Sandra, who kept reminding us that she's from Africa, became the new villain of the show, trying to steal Celia's bed and generally being a jerk. The girls participated in a fashion show and Isabella Falk, who suffers from epilepsy (cue dramatic music), was worried that the strobe lights were going to give her a seizure. I wonder if the "ANTM" producers kind of WANTED her to have a seizure but she did OK.

Tyra likes to demonstrate that various things are important to her and right now it's that little girls are growing up too fast (which is a valid issue, although somehow she tied this to her talk show). So, the girls did a cute photo shoot of childhood games, although half of them ended up doing the same cheesy pose. Can I just say how great Sutan the makeup artist is? I think he should get way more screen time on the show, like maybe even be a judge. He always seems to have exactly one funny little line per episode.

The girls met the judges at panel, including Miss J rocking a Moe-from-"The Three Stooges" haircut. They all got their critiques and Tyra had a few funny lines about their outfits, including "Take off that scarf; you're covering up your lusciousness" and "Those earrings are feeling like a bracelet."

I didn't agree that Allison Harvard, the "weird eye" girl who loves blood, had the best photo (doing double-dutch). I thought it was fine but I preferred Celia's hula-hooping or London's tug-of-war. In the end, Isabella was sent home for her lame dodgeball photo. On the one hand, I won't miss the producers having her bring up her epilepsy all the time. On the other hand, she seemed to have a good attitude, so I'm sorry to see her go.

I'm not sure what the key is to a good cycle of "Top Model," but as long as the girls keep looking good and keep stirring things up, I'll be happy. Plus, next week: MAKEOVERS!!!