Credit: Jez Smith/Pottle Productions Inc ©2012 Pottle Productions Inc. All Rights Reserved    
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America's Next Top Model

ANTM Cycle 18 Finale Recap: Sophie Wins & Laura Has a Panic Attack

Congratulations, "Illuminata"! The Little Engine That Could went and did it.

After taking second on Britain’s Next Top Model, pink-haired pixie Sophie Sumner won America's Next Top Model Cycle 18. Her Oxford buddy Emma Watson must be so proud.

But, ah, what a bittersweet finale. Sweet for Sophie and fans — nice to see “British Invasion” actually did belong in the title — but slightly bitter for fans of American Laura LaFrate and certainly for fans of The Sexy Nigel Barker, the therapeutically dashing Mr. Jay Manuel, and fabulous diva runway coach extraordinaire Miss J. Alexander (who didn’t even appear tonight). As Cycle 18 ends, so does the men’s time with ANTM. Smize on, kind gents.

Still, let’s try to focus on the positive — both Sophie and Laura stayed friends (or “allies”) to the end and Sophie got the U.S. break she’d been waiting for in a much-deserved win. But being pro-Sophie doesn’t equal being anti-Laura, so mad props to edgy "Zagilicious" Littlefoot for overcoming her panic attack and doing America proud.

In lieu of a traditional recap, we’ll be ranking the girls and judges, based on their finale status, comments and all-around fascination level. Check out our ANTM Power Play below, starting with our Top Model loser lover. (There are no losers tonight!)

Ranking: 6, The Sexy Nigel Barker
Rank on show: Judge and noted fashion photographer (un-ranked)
Nigel said Laura’s CoverGirl commercial was one of his favorites they've ever done. He liked her best in her natural pre-taped moments, when she wasn't looking at the camera. But in terms of her panic attack during the shoot, he said in a real world situation Laura would probably be swapped out for another model. (So much for empathy.) Nigel said Laura looked like she was having fun on the catwalk in the holographic Forever 21 runway show, but she has to remember to control the moment. He said Sophie looked elegant in the fashion show. Her walk was strong and she was aware of the audience. He also loved her CoverGirl commercial, but didn’t like her in-between moments, the opposite of his thoughts on Laura’s shoot. Nigel said he liked that neither finalist was a typical pretty girl. Laura will do whatever it takes to get the picture, Nigel said. She's sometimes too crazy, but then he also gets the magic. Sophie didn’t stand out to him at first, but the makeover transformed her. She turned into a little light and she's shone ever since. And then that was all Nigel said on ANTM. He shone too, like a not-so-little light. And that great light has gone out.

Ranking: 5, Jay Manuel
Rank on show: Photo shoot creative director and guest judge
Jay was Team Laura on the judges’ panel, which was a nice change since Kelly used to be Team Laura up until the past two episodes. It’s good when the judges can make strong arguments for both finalists. The CoverGirls of today are edgier, Jay said, and he expected Laura to rock the shoot but she was looking self-conscious. He was impressed that Laura pushed through after her panic attack, saying she can push through anything and be in the business. At panel, Jay kept saying he wants someone who "makes some noise" and he applauded unconventional Laura. But at the CoverGirl commercial shoot he made a point to tell Sophie she can come across as the girl everyone wants to know. That’s an encouraging note to give someone right before taping. He’s a good egg, our Mr. Jay. We’ll miss his sexy silver fox hair.

Ranking: 4, Kelly Cutrone
Rank on the show: Judge and leg-en-dary PR maven (un-ranked)
Kelly seemed to be Team Laura for the first part of the season — loving the edgy pirate she wanted to set up with a rock star. But on the finale Kelly was ready to set Sophie up with Jude Law. (Aim higher, Soph!) Kelly said she’d book Sophie before Laura because Laura is prettier on film than in person. Kelly didn't love Laura’s CoverGirl shot and she thought Laura looked forced on the runway. She said the person who keeps on trying prevails and that’s Sophie. Sophie is a great PR story — she's “The Little Engine That Could,” taking second on Britain’s Next Top Model and coming back to try again. Kelly thought Sophie’s CoverGirl photo was "superstar." She's the hot, cool, British model with pink hair who can sell lipstick. However, she didn’t love Sophie’s CoverGirl commercial, saying Sophie looked a little too Edie Sedgwick after the party. But Kelly also added an interesting little note right before the winner was named: She said she thought Sophie would come in and ace this competition so she was surprised it was so close in the end. Was Sophie meant to win this the whole time?

Credit: Jez Smith/Pottle Productions Inc ©2012 Pottle Productions Inc. All Rights Reserved    

Ranking: 3, Tyra Banks
Rank on the show: Host/creator/diva (un-ranked)
As usual, Tyra came into the house to interview the finalists about their journeys. Tyra talked to Laura about her panic attack, where Laura almost passed out. Tyra said she's noticed that when someone acts all crazy they tend to be covering pain. Is Laura covering pain? Laura talked again about coming home at age 9 to the smell of alcohol. Tyra said it sounds like she had to be the caregiver. Sometime the strongest people in the world have gone through hell, Tyra said. She loves the transformation stories. Tyra talked to Sophie about being the only Brit left on ANTM. Sophie said she knows Laura takes better photos. Tyra said she noticed Sophie gets teary when she gets called safe at panel. And Tyra said she doesn't call her Illuminata for nothing. She lights up a room. "If I was 21 I'd want to be your friend." Aww. Then she said Sophie’s not cookie-cutter pretty. Her eyes are too far apart and her chin is too short but that's what make a good model — when someone is a little off and different. And her personality is exponentially beautiful. It was the most Tyra had gushed about Sophie all season.

At panel, Tyra said she didn’t notice the “horrible walk” everyone had previously said about Laura. She commanded the stage. All eyes were on Laura. But all eyes were also on her “side smoochy tooch smirk” and not in a good way. Tyra liked the twinkle in Laura’s eye in her CoverGirl photo but not her nervous face in the commercial. Tyra wasn’t impressed by Sophie’s commercial, saying the girl she wanted to be friends with wasn’t represented in the ad. But Tyra said Sophie’s body language in the runway show, when she blew the dandelions, was genius. Apparently that was enough!

Ranking: 2, Laura LaFrate (US)
Rank on show: Cycle runner-up
Do you think Laura’s panic attack cost her the win? At first it seemed like, if anything, it might help her, since it showed she can rise above adversity. ANTM loves that kind of thing. But at the CoverGirl shoot, Laura started shaking and sweating. She felt like she was choking and her vision started to blur. They had to take her to the hospital. It was pretty scary and it seemed to scare Tyra in a bad way. But Laura impressed Mr Jay. Jay went to bat for Laura at panel and guest photographer Jez Smith was very impressed with Laura at the Vogue Italia photo shoot. They had to do a hyper-stylized spa inspired shoot and both Jez and the Vogue Italia stylist thought Laura was perfect. It switched Jez’s mind from Team Sophie to thinking it was all tied up. Unfortunately, since Laura didn’t win the cycle, only Sophie’s Vogue spread will be published. They should change the rules, since that nearly nude shoot was right up sexy Laura’s alley. In the end, Laura battled her demons and pushed through to second place. Tyra told her she will be a high fashion model. (And maybe a rock star’s girlfriend?) Rock on, Littlefoot!

Ranking: 1, Sophie Sumner (UK)
Rank on show: WINNER!
So-phie! So-phie! So-phie! Not even gonna pretend we’re not thrilled about this outcome. It’s good to have a winner we wholeheartedly support. (*cough*Team Allison Forever*cough*) Not that we would’ve disagreed with Laura winning. There were plenty of legit reasons for Laura to win, beyond being American. But Sophie did shine throughout the season and we agree with Jay and Tyra that Sophie is the kind of girl you want to be friends with, whether you’re 21 or not.

So now Soph gets a modeling contract with LA/NY Models, a chance to be a guest correspondent on Extra, a fashion spread in Vogue Italia, the cover and spread in Beauty In Vogue, the face of ANTM’s perfume Dream Come True, a single to be released with CBS and a $100,000 contract with CoverGirl cosmetics. And since her plan was to break into the U.S. modeling world — ‘cause if you make it here, you’ve made it everywhere — we can probably expect to see Sophie as a new New York or L.A. resident pretty soon. So she really will be America’s Next Top Model. We adopted her!

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Gina Carbone is a contributing writer at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @ginacarbone.

05.31.2012 / 07:16 PM EDT by Gina Carbone
Related: America's Next Top Model, Recaps, Nigel Barker

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