It was a close contest among the final three competitors in this eighth cycle, because no one seemed to have the whole package this show requires: tall, young and (basically) skeletal for haute couture and runway; fresh, healthy and commercial for CoverGirl; and eloquent and spunky as a spokeswoman for TV commercials.
Going into the final laps, Jaslene had the edgy visage, pencil frame and strong jaw that helped her with runways and go-sees. But she'd have to brush up on her speech and curb the drag queen look for the mass-market CoverGirl. Quick-study Natasha, ever positive and ever learning, had the lips and cheekbones for close-up beauty shots, but of course the ad-libbing and tongue-twisting lines were a huge obstacle.
As for Renee, the first two challenges emphasized her strengths: an easy, articulate eloquence and a natural, girl-next-door look - perfect for both the "My Life as a CoverGirl" commercial and the beauty head shot.
So at that point I was thinking Renee was a given, and Natasha was probably a goner - especially since those luscious, pouty lips and that incessant grin failed to yield a fabulous smiling ad for lip gloss, and her commercial exposed new layers of her often spacey, stilted English. Jaslene, too, wasn't quite her glam "Cha Cha" self, but she saved the commercial with some endearing Spanish lines.
Despite the frenetic pace of fitting so many challenges into the final episode, the producers were able to slip in one of Renee's snide jabs: Natasha shouldn't make the final two, because on the runway she "walks like a pigeon-toed duck with a piece of poop hanging out of her ass." So imagine NeNe's horror when she was not only forced to join Natasha in the bottom two but was also kicked off (due to her "mature" look) and made to watch as her nemesis was rewarded a spot in the finals. Ouch. Karma. (To her credit, Renee took the loss with grace, hugging Natasha and telling her to "win this for the mamas, ok?")
Thus, the finale became a Battle of the Bilingual Beauties, complete with couch sessions with Tyra, wherein each talked about her past life struggles. (Although we still didn't find out how Natasha made her way from Moscow to Texas.) CariDee, Cycle 7's spunky winner, and Seventeen's Carissa Rosenberg (last week's Aboriginal-dance judge, seemingly elated to be back in her element) coached the wannabes through separate photo shoots for the cover of the teen magazine. Then they were whisked off to an Aussie designer duo's "Evolution" runway show, where they attempted to make the hunched-over cavewoman look sexy. Jaslene tamed her inner drag, and when Nata's miniskirt slipped completely down to her ankles, the girl somehow stayed focused and kicked it off mid-strut. I bet even Miss J. was impressed.
So, the panel's final deliberation was painful (made more so since everyone appeared to be dressed for space flight. What was that about?). Could the angular Latina be soft and commercial? Could the eager Russian be America's face and navigate the high-fashion modeling world? Could either of them be articulate?
Tyra remarked that each came from strong cultures and represented the "epitome of what being an American is all about." Since frankly none of the final four ladies had the whole package, I have to think that in the end the judges chose the girl who would bring a new look to the franchise. Last cycle proffered the first blonde winner; there have been several brunettes (with no accent). Jaslene brought (not "brung," chica) that Latina spice.
Fierce count: five (including Jaslene's "fierceness")
Cycle 8 total: 27