Want to know how to find your passion in life? Think of something you'd be willing to do for free, Mikel Welch says. It was those words of wisdom that took the 32-year-old, Morehouse grad from a less-than-thrilling career in marketing to season 7 of HGTV's reality design competition, "Design Star."
Show judge Vern Yip says this season may just be the most diverse one yet for the series, with three African-American designers making the final four.
"It's tremendously huge to have three African-American designers in the top four," Yip told The Huffington Post. "The designers who ended up being in the final four are there because they rose to the occasion time and time again."
He added that the diverse ethnic backgrounds of Welch, Danielle Colding and Hilari Younger are undoubtedly what got them there. "We're always looking for different perspectives, for people who bring something different to the table. The world is becoming an increasing diverse place; the U.S. is becoming an increasingly diverse country and we always want to reflect that," Yip said.
From the famous white-box challenge contestants faced in the season's second episode to creating a fantasy lounge for Hollywood's 125th birthday bash, Yip says this season was filled with shining moments from each one of the final four, including Welch.
Though he was eliminated during episode seven, HuffPost recently spoke with Welch about his experience on "Design Star," how he got there and what he has lined up next.
On how necessary design school is...
I think design is something that is a God-given talent. Textbooks can teach you technical things like how many inches a coffee table should be from the sofa, but in terms of design, either you have it or you don't.
On the moment he knew he'd be picked for the show...
I knew that the likelihood of there being several African-American males on the show was going to be slim. So I knew at the final audition there were probably two Mikel's and they were trying to decide which one of us they were going to take.
On avoiding reality-show drama...
With reality TV you have so many shows out now that portray African Americans in such a negative light and we just came together, Danielle, Hilari and I, and stated from the beginning that we did not want to do that. We wanted to give African Americans strong role models that people could actually look up to in the filed of design. We're all very talented, obviously to have made it that far, so we just wanted to make sure that we weren't catty toward each other, we weren't bickering, we just didn't want to be that negative African-American presence that you see on television.
On the biggest barriers African-American designers face breaking in...
To America, there aren't that many African-American designers, and people have these preconceived notions that if you're an African-American designer everything you put in a room is going to be "ethnic." So they're assuming there's going to be kente cloth and you're going to have a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. hanging on the wall.
For African-American males it's even harder. For me to say I want to become an interior designer, the stigma that comes behind it ... I'm gay, but there are a lot of men who aren't gay and they may be black and want to become an interior designers, but there's a negative connotation there.
A lot of the time it has to do with your level of exposure. People pre-judge you and they just assume that the level of taste is just not there. They assume that you just haven't been exposed to certain areas of design.
It's difficult, but I've never been one to let that stop me. At Morehouse, one of the things they always taught us was to never let race be a factor.
On his proudest moment on the show...
Episode 4 I'm most proud of because it was a homeowner challenge and we listened to every single thing that that homeowner asked and we gave them that. As an interior designer, one of the hardest things to do is to interpret someone else's vision. I really think we hit it spot on. I like that room the best out of any room on "Design Star"!
On getting booted in the final four...
It was my time to leave and when God tells me to go, I know it's time to go and I was happy with it. I look at "American Idol" -- Jennifer Hudson didn't win, but she's doing just fine!
On what's lined up next...
I just accepted a job as art director on Steve Harvey's new talk show, so I'm in Chicago right now! I have to do a nine-month run for season one with them and then if season two gets picked up, we'll renegotiate that.
PHOTOS: Highlights from "Design Star" season 7.
For the White Room challenge, the designers are given a blank slate room and white furniture that they must transform with supplies from a non-traditional store into a showcase for their individual vision. This season, the challenge takes place in Los Angeles' Union Station where passerby will be able to view the designers' progress. In this photo designer Mikel Welch poses for a photo in his completed room.
HGTV "Design Star" finalist Mikel Welch discusses his design plan.
HGTV "Design Star" finalist Danielle Colding concentrates on her design.
"The Talk" hosts welcome HGTV "Design Star" finalists and host David Bromstad.
Top four HGTV "Design Star" finalist Hilari Younger selects colors for her room design.
"The Talk" hosts interview HGTV "Design Star" finalist Mikel Welch.
"The Talk" hosts chat with HGTV "Design Star" finalist Hilari Younger.
In week six, the remaining designers will be participating in "The Ultimate Kitchen Challenge." They will be broken into three teams of two and tasked with creating a kitchen from a blank slate incorporating a distinctive Kohler sink that will serve as inspiration. The winning team's kitchen will be featured in an upcoming issue of HGTV Magazine. Shown here is an after photo of kitchen created by designers Britany Simon and Danielle Colding.
In week seven, each of the remaining designers is assigned a brand new condo unit in which they will create a model living/dining room. In addition to making the room attractive to prospective young buyers, each designer must incorporate a bold color they are assigned at random. Shown here is an after photo of the condo designer Hilari Younger has made over incorporating the color red.
For the fourth week's challenge, the designers get their first chance to work with real homeowners in Los Angeles. They are broken into pairs and assigned either an indoor or outdoor space in one of two homes. The spaces should stand on their own while harmoniously relating to the other. Shown here is the Mast family's living room/dining room made over by designers Hilari Younger and Mikel Welch.
For the third challenge, the designers are paired into teams and assigned the task of making over a space in an old chiropractor's office in the San Fernando Valley for Kris Jenner, matriarch of the Kardashian family, who has outgrown her home office. She wants something that is stylish but not stuffy or corporate. Shown here is an after photo of the kitchen/break room made over by designers Danielle Colding and Hilari Younger.