Nicole Fox is the Top Model champion, my friends

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Louisville's Nicole Fox has looked like the sure winner of America's Next Top Model, cycle thirteen, for weeks now, and that presented a major problem for the show. How to maintain the suspense when Nicole was clearly head and shoulders above her fellow competitors (despite being a petite five-seven)?

The producers (and editors) responded to this challenge in last night's finale by doing everything -- and I mean everything -- in their power to make it seem as if challenger Laura Kirkpatrick was going to pull off an eleventh-hour upset. In the end, justice prevailed and Nicole was deservedly named the champ, but not until after fighting off plenty of negative energy -- most of it coming from her fellow contestants.

The interview segments disproportionately favored Laura, the twangy Kentucky girl, with her boldly declaring that she has a much more accessible personality than Nicole and is better on the runway, too. Those qualities came in handy, given that they were key to the last two challenges: starring in a CoverGirl commercial and participating in a glitter-spattered fashion show.

More bad signs for Nicole: During the commercial shoot, Jay Manuel described her as seeming snooty -- where the hell did that come from? -- while praising Laura's performance as a triumph over her dyslexia. Then, at the fashion show, four wannabe models who'd fallen by the wayside were brought back for the occasion, and Erin, Sundai and Jennifer all said they were rooting for Laura to win, with only Brittany expressing good thoughts for both.

Oh yeah: During the runway segment, a cutaway caught Tyra Banks complementing Laura's style but not that of Nicole, whose gait was unexpectedly galumphing. Then, in the panel, almost all of the atta-girls Nicole received were qualified, while Laura's critiques were much more straight-forwardly positive.

Doom, right? But no: Nicole was given the prize, and she reacted with legitimate surprise, which makes perfect sense. Along the way, she'd talked again about how awkward she'd always felt both physically and socially, noting that she'd sometimes eat in a bathroom stall at school rather than face the terror of actual conversation.

Somehow, though, she managed to overcome her phobias, growing more confident with each passing week -- and her unusual look (and flaming red hair) bodes well for an actual career in fashion, as opposed to fleeting reality-show fame followed by a rapid return to obscurity.

Local girl makes good -- and expect that to continue.

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