The Curious Case of the Indie in the Mainstream – Allison Harvard of Top Model

The Curious Case of the Indie in the Mainstream – Allison Harvard of Top Model

Allison Harvard ended up on Top Model a couple years ago, and immediately became “the quirky one.” She liked to paint people with nosebleeds and post pictures of herself looking like a goth/bride/squirrel on 4chan. She even became so notorious on the site that the culture gave her the moniker “creepychan.”

When she arrived on Top Model, she had mousy brown hair and didn’t seem to have much potential. Then Tyra got the idea to give her a giant blonde weave and make her look like a Kewpie doll. Suddenly, she was the most stunning, interesting-looking person who has been on the show.

Clearly people liked her, because they brought her back for the All Star season. Her strange niche on the show was especially noticeable this week because they had to make music videos. How does a weird goth, indie chick make a Top Model music video? She was anxious about this, especially since she’s not musical. Finally, she decided to write an ode for her recently deceased father.

When Tyra announced that the girls all had to work the words “pot ledom” (top model backward) into their songs, she basically cried. The absurdity of Tyra’s dumb phrase clearly did not belong in a sincere, sad ode to her dad.

Nonetheless, Allison made it work, and wrote a bizarre, dark chanting tune about death that was ironically upbeat. If it had been produced by someone other than the Top Model staff, it could have easily been a Twin Sister song.

In reality, Andrea Estella of Twin Sister is a lot more Allison Harvard’s speed than a bunch of 19-year-old rail thin girls who dream of walking out of photo shoots with free purses. But Allison remains in the Top Model world because she’s just so freakishly good at modeling.

The entertaining thing about her is that her presence surfaces a strange tension between mainstream culture and offbeat, internet-fueled indie culture, which usually doesn’t happen on a show as entertainingly vapid as Top Model. The judges just don’t know what to make of her – it’s kind of like that video where the old guy listened to Animal Collective and was like …. huh?

But they like her.

“You’re weird,” rapper Game, who was a guest judge, told her over and over again. After telling her she was the mostly weirdly beautiful person he’s ever met, he insisted on keeping a picture of her, which he looked at with charmed suspicion.

What’s interesting about Allison is she herself is not the kind of character that TV nurtures. She is good at fitting into this culture, and adapting fast, but on the show she’s only half of herself – the lollipop holding, tall Olsen twin half. Instead, she’s the type of character that Internet culture fosters. She’s weird, challenging, and meme-able. She is living proof of how the Internet rationalizes things so weird that traditional media doesn’t really know how to deal with them.

Allison Harvard is going to be something. Or better yet, very different things to very different audiences. And that’s very interesting to watch.

Becky Lang