Whitney, <EM>America's Next Top Model</EM> Whitney, America's Next Top Model

After watching America's Next Top Model (Wednesdays at 8 pm/ET, on the CW) for nearly 10 cycles, I can spot a winner a catwalk away. Why, just last year in this very column, I singled out eventual victor CariDee English as one to watch. So who are this season's beauties to beat? Read on and see if you agree with my picks!
 
Sarah
Working for her: Besides being cute as a button, she's done her homework. Remember how in the boot-camp challenge she was the only gal who could identify Richard Avedon? (He's a photographer: What? You forgot already?) Plus, she has extensive modeling experience already.
Working against her: At least she says she has extensive modeling experience already. She tanked in her first shoot with Nigel Barker, conveying all the passion about life in prison that one would expect from a loaf of Wonder Bread. Even worse, the Tinkerbell look-alike copped to (gasp!) aspirations other than modeling.
 
Jaslene
Working for her: She's an also-ran from last season, and if there's one thing Tyra Banks likes more than a "journey," it's an underdog making a comeback. But even without that distinction, the Latina spark plug photographs like a dream. Seriously, kapow!
Working against her: When she's not in front of the camera — sorry, sweetie — she resembles an off-duty drag queen. And believe it or not, that isn't her biggest problem: La Banks seems to want her to be a caricature of Ugly Betty's sister. When her persona is toned down to normal human levels, the head judge snips, "You're almost boring." (Given that Tyra has taken to making her entrances krumping, who isn't a little dull by comparison?)
 
Natasha
Working for her: The judges gave the boot to Kathleen — who was so sweet and dumb that she thought fur coats came from animals that had died of natural causes — and by and large, they seem to embrace the stupid. So Russian Texan Natasha ought to go far. "I have a different look [from the other girls]," she declared in the premiere, "I'm pretty." How can you argue with logic like that?
Working against her: The mail-order bride is so dim, Mister Jay and Miss J will eventually lose patience with her. And what is up with that hair? She has so much of it, one false move and she's Cousin Itt.
 
Jael
Working for her: What isn't working for her? The bottle blonde is one of those girls who isn't even attractive yet somehow manages to shine as a model; she has a multi-culti background (half African-American/half Jewish); and despite her tough demeanor, she cries on cue.
Working against her: Did I mention that she isn't exactly classically beautiful? As Miss J put it, "She looks like she just got out of jail." Nonetheless, I would call her a sure shot for the final four unless she makes the unforgivable mistake of repeating to Miss Tyra what she said in an early interview: "We're not curing cancer here." Exsqueeze me, but Lady T takes her modeling deathly seriously.
 
Renee
Working for her: When she says, "I've got this in the bag," I believe her. She's like a young Michelle Pfeiffer — she's that gorgeous. And she's as producer-friendly as she is camera-ready: Not long after she admits she's catty, she proves it by baring her claws at airhead Natasha and talking smack about her competition with anyone who'll listen.
Working against her: She's going to spend the next dozen weeks whining about being away from her 7-month-old son. First of all, a baby isn't the kind of problem Tyra can solve (and she loves to "save" girls, ya know), and second, if you really wanna do your kid a favor, become a teacher. I have zippo sympathy for reality-TV contestants who insist that they are pursuing the most glamorous and parent-repellent careers imaginable all for the sake of their children. Gimme a break.
 
Whitney
Working for her: Even if she weren't radiantly beautiful, memorably personable and blessedly eloquent, the time has never been better for Top Model to crown a plus-size gal its winner. But, as luck would have it, she is radiantly beautiful, memorably personable and blessedly eloquent. She looks killer in a swimsuit, too.
Working against her: Fellow plus-sizer Diana is a smarter-than-the-average Top Model knockout, too. But I think Whit can take her. She just needs to keep it together and avoid the kind of meltdowns that did in Toccara.

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