Unpredictable Triumphs Over Perfect on 'Top Model'

On a season that forever harped on how little the eliminated model wannabes showed that they "wanted it," the same couldn't be said of CariDee, who had overcome psoriasis, low self-esteem, her occasionally outrageous personality and some catty competition to be crowned the seventh-ever "America's Next Top Model."

Going into the final episode set in Barcelona, the ambitious Melrose was the odd man out because of her constant perfectionism. "We feel that she's fake," said the usually sweet-natured Eugena, who wanted to be in the final two with her bubbly competitor/buddy CariDee.

For the first elimination challenge, the three had to shoot both a CoverGirl commercial and a magazine ad. After some loosening up, Melrose delivered a smiley commercial, but a rather uninspired, tight-lipped ad. CariDee gave a bit too much in the commercial, but relaxed enough to deliver what she called a "blissful" expression for her ad. And although Eugena delivered on both counts -- showing the life and connection in her eyes that had been missing throughout most of the cycle -- the judges eliminated her for her past performance and the fact that she just didn't show enough passion in person, even when she claimed she really wanted to win.

As the first one called to be a finalist, CariDee showed her trademark big emotions: sighing, laughing and almost crying. As she hugged a weeping Eugena good-bye, she whispered, "It's okay, baby. I'll get this for you, I promise."

The final runway walkoff was the most interesting one to date in terms of visual concept and actual model drama. Set in Barcelona's Park Guell designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, the models dressed in Victorio & Lucchino gowns to portray ghostly brides. With each pass, they were instructed to become increasingly theatrical until the big finish, when they would tear around the corner like crazed madwomen as demonstrated by runway expert Miss J. Alexander.

The "battle of the blondes" began well enough, with Melrose showing her trademark attitude and facility with posing. They were instructed to glare each other down as they passed each other, and on the second pass, CariDee accidentally stepped on Melrose's train, ripping it. Naturally, this caused Melrose to break down behind the scenes. "She ripped the f***ing dress. I'm pissed and I want to smack CariDee. I want to nunchuck her."

Nevertheless, she triumphed during the crazy run, in which her poses and expressions were anguished yet photographable. CariDee, on the other hand, went from a rather stiff runway walk to an over-the-top finish that actually had the judges laughing. This hurt her during final judging when Tyra Banks, legendary supermodel Twiggy, photographer Nigel Barker, Miss J. Alexander and photo shoot art director Jay Manuel all agreed that CariDee lost the modeling aspect during the theatrical portion.

"CariDee was a bit busted. She was a bit broke down. She was the 'Runaway Bride of Chucky,'" summed up Miss J.

After a brief look at the entire body of their work, in which both showed to be about equally matched, the judges chose CariDee to win a contract with Elite Model Management, a $100,000 contract with CoverGirl, and a cover and six-page fashion spread in Seventeen magazine.

Melrose, who the judges felt was far too practiced and therefore not quite the genuine person they wanted as a representative, made no bones about her disappointment. "I'm pissed. I put my heart and soul into this and it wasn't enough. And I got called a b***h the whole way through it," she said, crying. "It's just bum city right now."

CariDee, the 21-year-old photographer from North Dakota and a favorite with the fans, took a second to realize her dreams had come true.

"Where's my alarm clock? I need to wake up," she said. "I'm so excited. My dream was always to be a model ... and having psoriasis always prohibited me. I had those kids in junior high who would make fun of me. I always wanted to model and always couldn't because I had this crazy skin disease that I couldn't control."

In the end, the natural ebullience that the judges liked so much took hold of her as she shrieked, "I'm America's Next Top Model, baby! Yes!"