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Nicole Fox's Top Model destination: The finals (and she deserves it)

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Louisville's Nicole Fox has been getting strong and stronger as cycle thirteen of America's Next Top Model has marched on -- so much so that last night's episode strained to create suspense about whether she'd reach the finals.

Was there ever any doubt? Hell, no.

Still, the producers tried to pump up the illusion of bad juju, using numerous clips of Nicole making mildly critical remarks about her other competitors, Jennifer, Laura and Erin, instead of focusing on the way she usually avoids drama. Then, there was the first challenge: a dance competition of the sort guaranteed to make the admittedly awkward Nicole look like Elaine on Seinfeld. And she did. Oh, yes: She did.

The idea was to combine the hula -- in a tribute to the Hawaiian setting -- and hip-hop dancing. Each contestant was asked to create a dance telling their story, and Laura (the eventual winner), Erin (too cocky, as usual) and Jennifer (better with the hula than the hip-hop) managed to do a credible job.

And Nicole? She was so comically self-conscious that afterward, judge Miss J did a satirical imitation that still didn't manage to be as funny as the real thing.

Of course, Nicole's stumbles didn't hurt her in the slightest when it came to the challenge that counted -- a photo shoot while posing on an outcropping, with the surf shooting up behind them, that was supposed to recall Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. Nicole absolutely destroyed her rivals, prompting so many compliments from Jay Manuel that even the prospect of having not one but two wannabes on the chopping block wasn't threatening in the slightest.

The photo of Nicole chosen for final analysis received some criticism from the judges, with Nigel Barker saying she'd lost her angularity again. In contrast, an image of Laura with massively bee-stung lips and an expression that made it look as if she'd been harpooned from behind won lavish praise -- and even Erin's shot earned some compliments. Not so with Jennifer, who'd seemed a lock for the finals just a week earlier. In a word: disastrous.

No surprise, then, that Jennifer and Erin went home -- and despite the carping, Nicole's photo was ruled the week's best. Now she just has to top Laura, the cornpone Kellie Pickler of the troop. But while Kellie Pickler is enjoying a notably successful post-American Idol career, did she win? No.

Should Nicole? Yes. A thousand times, yes.

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