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Una LaMarche Headshot

Meet The Project Runway Season 8 Contestants

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Hello, lovelies. Can you believe this bitch is back on again?

I'm sorry. I don't mean to sound jaded and bitter. Oh fuck it, yes I do. I'm probably going to start calling this season Project Runway: Eight is Enough as soon as the novelty has worn off after ten minutes or two cocktails, whichever comes first. But I love it, you see, so I can't let it go. I have to believe that this is the season Stella will get her groove back (and by 'Stella,' I mean 'Tim,' and by 'groove back' I mean 'drink on.') But I digress.

I used to call these pre-premiere blogs "Handicapping the Project Runway Contestants." That title was misleading.

The use of the word "handicap" as a verb should mean that I'm putting odds on their chances of winning OR that I'm giving the contestants a physical disability, like, say, kidnapping and hobbling them a la Misery or blowing up their apartment complex and making them go temporarily blind, a la Melrose Place.

The fact is, I'm doing neither. What I'm doing is making judgments before I know what I'm talking about. I'm forming prejudices! And today I'd like to share them with you.

A few things before we move on:

1. Photos and video are available on Lifetime's site if you want to wade through it all. But I have to warn you that you will be forced to watch the same Sensodyne and Perdue Perfect Portion commercials over and over and over again until you have lost your will to live.

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Seriously, that title card will haunt your dreams.

2. Lifetime no longer shows contestant's audition videos, which sucks because it was in those that freak flags generally flew the highest (remember Jonathan from last season milking a goat?).

3. I make my first impressions based solely on the designers' names and photos. Then I watch the casting videos and look at their past work portfolios and put together a little briefing on what I think they're like and how annoying they will likely become as the season progresses. To estimate the latter, I use a Smack-O-Meter that I created in early 2008. I should probably update it, but I'm too lazy... I mean, exhausted. Judging strangers is draining, y'all.

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4. I sometimes say "y'all" (see above). But I lived in Texas for four years as a child, so it's, you know, authentic.

5. I am going on vacation tomorrow so will not be able to watch the season premiere until Monday. I KNOW. Anyway, just warning you that there will be no recap until Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Okay. Drumroll, please.

Your (count them) SEVENTEEN finalists this year are...

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2010-07-23-A.J.Thouvenot.JPG

Profession: Designer for TrashBiscuit
Favorite designer: Heatherette, Jeremy Scott, John Galliano
Style Icon: Paris Hilton and Cyndi Lauper
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Santino Rice, Season 2

First impression: John Cusack, fifth Beatle (or "bonus Jonas")
Best sentence from his bio: One of the first garments A.J. ever made, a tunic made
out of rubber exercise bands, did not survive its first wearing but nonetheless made him strive for more.
Oh honey, you had me at "tunic made out of rubber exercise bands." YES.
What we can glean from his audition videos: AJ is over-the-top and tons of fun. He's the very model of a modern gay BFF, down to the Madonna screenprint hanging in the living room of the colorful St. Louis home he shares with his boyfriend and a roommate.

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He works out of what he calls his "fashion dungeon," but instead of being super creepy like Pamela Ptak's Silence of The Lambs lair, A.J.'s basement is like a cuddly Care Bear panic room. His aesthetic is unabashedly flashy (and, often, gleefully tacky). Think party dresses bedecked with toys and candy, recalling an adult woman dressing up for Halloween as a cast member from Toddlers and Tiaras:

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... or shirts made from your second-grade rocket ship bedsheets:

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Could this Peter Pan vibe get old after a few episodes? Sure. But it'll be fun to watch. If A.J. sticks around, the work room will be covered in glitter. Trust.

Potential downfall: The Paris Hilton shout-out strikes me as a red flag, but then again he could just be into tranny glam. A.J. also makes spray-painted trucker hats. But on the bright side, that's a really marketable skill on Canal Street.
Threat level on the Una LaMarche Project Runway Smack-O-Meter: Guarded.

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2010-07-23-AndySouth.JPG

Profession: Freelance designer, and personal assistant to another designer.
Favorite Designers: Yohji Yamamoto, Christopher Decarnin and John Galliano
Style Icon: Audrey Hepburn
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Christian Siriano, Season 4

First Impression: Anyone with those bangs would totally cut a bitch.
Best sentence from his bio: Some of his past jobs have included working as a sales associate at a Michael Kors retail store... Innnnnnteresting.
What we can glean from his audition videos: Andy is cute and spritely and kind of reminds me of a friendlier and less edgy Siriano (maybe it's just the hair?). He may not be as fierce as his headshot, but one thing is clear: This man likes to show some serious cleave at all times.

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It worries me that he does his "thinking" wearing an enormous, spangled boomerang-shaped baby changing pad on his head...

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But he's very talented. At the audition he showed a variety of pieces inspired by Asian culture -- everything from rice paddy workers to Chinese lanterns -- that also proved he has amazing range. He even made the jeans he was wearing.

Potential downfall: His pants may kill me.

Featured styles include the "Elephantiasis of the Imaginary Testes":

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...the "Foot Fetishist's Lament":

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...and the "Please Hefty Don't Hurt 'Em":

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Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: Everything but the pants: Low. Pants: Severe.

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2010-07-23-AprilJohnston.JPG

Profession: Just graduated from college (In which case, my profession is "Just ate a Hot Pocket." This is fun!)
Favorite Designer: Alexander McQueen, John Galliano
Style Icon: Lady Gaga and Santogold
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Christian Siriano, Season 4, SethAaron Henderson and Ben Chmura, Season 7

First impression: Um, I thought established designers-slash-pretend-polygamists weren't allowed on the show... Chloe Sevigny.
Best sentence from her bio: April's designs are inspired by the decayed beauty of asylums and morgues which allow her to be able to design in a dark, romantic way. Well, at least when Michael Kors inevitably accuses her of making a disco straight-jacket she'll be pleased.
What we can glean from her audition videos: I was wrong about the Chloe Sevigny thing. In fact April resembles a slightly less glamorous Blake Lively with a Flintstones hairdo. She's fairly reserved and doesn't show much personality, but it's also possible she's just hungover from all the Jagermeister.

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Also, she has a really nice house for a person whose full-time job is having just finished college. I'm just saying.

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Potential downfall: In her audition video, Tim and the judges (including last season fan favorite Anthony) didn't seem especially impressed by April's Goth-y, zippered pieces.

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It's like a line-up at a leather bar. Or the Depressed Cellblock Tango.

That plus her relative youth and lack of real-world experience makes me think April may not last long. Also, I question the taste of anyone whose drink of choice is Jager. Shudder.
Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: Guarded

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2010-07-23-Casanova.JPG

Profession: Fashion designer
Favorite Designer: John Galliano
Style Icon: Josephine Baker
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Rami Kashou, Season 4; SethAaron Henderson, Season 7

First impression: Wow. Slow clap, Lifetime. This man has no last name and knows how to smize. It's like he was created via computer a la Weird Science to appear on reality television.
Best sentence from his bio: He... gains much of his inspiration from history of pioneering people, such as Luisa Capetillo, the first Puerto Rican woman to wear pants in public. I cannot hate on a healthy respect for pants.
What we can glean from his audition videos: He doesn't speak much English; he does have a first name (Carlos) but for reasons he claims not to know, he does not use it; one of his signature pieces is a "naked dress":

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...and he meditates on a cow-skin rug:

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Potential downfall: As his moniker might suggest, what Casanova lacks in taste he makes up for in confidence. His Jesus (Season 7 Jesus, not Jesus Jesus)-like ego and affinity for irridescent animal skin prints make me skeptical that we will see Casanova at Fashion Week.

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"Dear God! Who skinned Joan Collins?"

Also, there's this:

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I mean, tribal jewelry is kind of '09, but the tightie whities and clutch make it totally modern.

Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: Severe.

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2010-07-23-ChristopherCollins.JPG

Profession: Fashion designer
Favorite Designer: Dior and Lanvin
Style Icon: Dita Von Teese
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Austin Scarlett, Season 1

First impression: Serial killer. What? They're usually non-descript white males around 30. Did you not see Copycat?
Best sentence from his bio: Christopher is known for his use of fine silks and tailored Elizabethan collars. He draws inspiration for his designs from his grandmother... whose skeleton he keeps in the upstairs bedroom. Seriously, you guys, I told you.
What we can glean from his audition videos: I'm sorry I said you were a sociopath, Christopher. You seem nice, if a bit bland. But you live in a tree house and don't own a TV, which means I cannot trust you.

The judges, however, LOVED Christopher's designs. Tim Gunn said: "You embody everything that excites me about American fashion." In photos, Christopher's clothes look tailored but kind of ordinary...

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But if Tim says he's bitchin', I'll believe it.

Potential downfall: Christopher's blank-slate personality will probably fade even more when compared to the other designers. He makes Ben from last season seem outlandish.
Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: Low.

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2010-07-27-GretchenJones.JPG

Profession: Designer/director of MothLove [Ed note: TrashBiscuit, MothLove... I think we've unlocked the secret to launching your own fashion line: two nouns, no space. Look for my debut fez collection, CatheterMint, in stores soon!!!!]
Favorite Designer: Vena Cava, Halston, Rachel Comey, Chloe, Isabel Marant, Vanessa Bruno
Style Icon: Chloe Sevigny
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Leanne Marshall, Season 5

First impression: Hipster Peg Bundy - I can dig it.
Best sentence from her bio: The first dress she ever designed was the dress she wore to her First Communion. Um, slow down there, Doogie Howser.
What we can glean from her audition videos: Despite showing pieces at her casting session with descriptions that made my eyes catch fire--"Stretch silk velvet jumper," "double layer tie dye process," "little culotte," "high waist harem-inspired trouser" (the only thing missing was "military-style irridescent jersey romper")--I kind of can't help but love Gretchen. She's beautifully gangly and awkward, and she likes to listen to Roy Orbison while reading magazines. I have a girl-crush, tie dye be damned.
Potential downfall: While her work is unquestionably strong, her pieces aren't the most original of the group, and many give off an Anthropologie vibe:

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Nothing says "beach day" like thigh-high socks!

Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: Low.

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2010-07-27-IvyHiga.JPG

Profession: Fashion designer, Ivy h.
Favorite Designer: Marc Jacobs, Consuelo Bruno
Style Icon: Coco Chanel
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Christian Siriano, Season 4

First impression: This one's a killer; you can see it in her eyes. It's possible I've just watched too much Kell on Earth, but I'm picking up some cut-throat Cutrone action.
Best sentence from her bio: Ivy's mentality is that she has no other option than to win. I don't mean to stereotype here, but I went to a high school with a huge Asian population. And it is a fact that after scoring 97 instead of 100 on a test, a Korean classmate who shall remain nameless threatened to jump out of a window. So all I'm saying is, Ivy, you have other options. Like a bucket of KFC and a season pass to Kell on Earth. It's actually a really good show.
What we can glean from her audition videos: The entire contents of her fridge and pantry. No, for serious, three-quarters of her home visit is Ivy methodically showing us every food item she has on hand.

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But I ain't mad at you, girl. Those left-overs look tasty as fuck.

Ivy gives off an Irina Shabayeva-ish vibe -- nice enough, but not here to make friends. She favors reversible and/or changeable looks, like this coat:

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And I don't know what this is, but it reminds me of one of those creepy ghost-twin Olan Mills photos where you see a child's portrait and profile in the same shot:

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Watch out, girl on the left! Your evil twin is pissed that you are wearing the same Band-Aid-colored silk organza spaghetti shirt as her.

Potential downfall: A penchant for making reversible garments has not served contestants well in the past (Ari Fish, we hardly knew ye).

Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: Guarded.

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2010-07-27-JasonTroisi.JPG

Profession: Landscape designer (glorified lawn cutter)
Favorite Designer: Can I say myself? [Ed. note: Yes, if you want to sound like a douche.]
Style Icons: Marlon Brando, Vincent Price
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Irina Shabayeva, Season 6; SethAaron Henderson, Season 7

First impression: A bowler hat and a tank top? It's like Jersey Shore meets Newsies! Extra, extra -- we got a Situation here.
Best line from his bio: Unable to find a job upon graduation, Jason took a nine year break from designing... Chip, meet shoulder. Shoulder, chip.
What we can glean from his audition videos: I can't tell if Jason is really cocky or just nervous. For now I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, because he appears to still live in his parents' basement, and also because he's kind of hot:

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I mean, right? In a Tony Danza kind of way? Have I just watched too many acid wear commercials?

Anyway, Jason really likes moldable fabrics and creating shape using boning.

Like, um... this:

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Boning indeed.

But when he's not busy clothing the extras from Eyes Wide Shut, Jason does make some nice womenswear:

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I mean, I know Neve Campbell looks bored, but that is a pretty sweet jacket. Ooh! Who else feels like watching The Craft?

Potential downfall: He's pretty cocky, but then again Jeffrey Sebelia took cocky all the way to Bryant Park, and with a creepy neck tattoo to boot.

Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: High

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2010-07-27-KristinHaskinsSimms.JPG

Profession: Apparel designer, freelance graphic designer and adjunct professor in graphic design
Favorite Designer: Ann Demeuelemeester
Style Icon: Audrey Hepburn
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Christian Siriano, Season 4

First impression: It's as if all the female A Different World cast members became one. I mean that as a high, high compliment.
Best line from her bio: Despite any formal training, the response to her work tremendous and she went on to start a t-shirt based apparel line called "strangefruit." I can't make fun of this because it's from a Billie Holliday song about lynching. CatheterMint doesn't have that problem. I'm just saying.
What we can glean from her audition videos: I am loving Kristin. She's laid-back but kind of goofy and makes really interesting, drapey, convertible pieces from t-shirt fabric, which as we all know is the only thing better than wearing actual clouds, or cherub skin.

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Also, how can you not love a woman who enters her kitchen like so:

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Apparently her husband cooks her Thai food all the time using peppers from their garden. Now that's a different world from where I come from. Jump away, girl.

Potential downfall: Kristin has made some missteps, which all seem to involve tie dye and silk-screened heads of Malcolm X. I have a feeling the judges may find her work uneven.

Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: Low.

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2010-07-27-McKellMaddox.JPG

Profession: Fashion designer
Favorite Designer: Coco Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier
Style Icon: Josephine Baker
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: SethAaron Henderson, Season 7

First impression: Three words: White. Lady. Dreads. But actually, in order to give you a better sense of my first impression of McKell, I need to show you something:

2010-07-27-MichaelMcKellMichael.JPG

Um, YES. McKell, Michael, and Michael may try my typing patience, but not since Tony! Toni! Tone! has a trio been so perfect together. Still, though, white lady dreads. Cannot look away.

Best line from her bio: Influenced by her surroundings, McKell's designs are ever-changing as her aesthetic evolves as she moves from place to place. Knowing that she's a shape-shifter, I think we can safely deduce that she's totally Team Jacob.

What we can glean from her audition videos: Where there's white lady dreads, there's a rainbow rastafarian print:

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And this sign:

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But McKell seems to have a sense of humor about herself, and she has a ridiculously adorable baby named Maude, which is neither here nor there but which wins her points from my ovaries.

Potential downfall: At her casting session, Tim et al were concerned by McKell's tendency to overdesign and potential inability to edit. Like April, McKell seems like someone they were on the fence about, talent-wise. And her hippie-meets white trash aesthetic will get old fast if she can't be more innovative.

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Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: Elevated.

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2010-07-27-MichaelCostello.JPG

Profession: Fashion designer
Favorite Designer: Elie Saab, Tom Ford, Valentino, Donatella Versace, Basil Soda
Style Icon: Sarah Jessica Parker
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Christian Siriano, Season 4
Nick Verreos, Season 2 and Rami Kashou, Season 4 [Ed. note: YESSSSS. NICK 4EVA]

First impression: If Turtle from Entourage became Vince. You guys, I am so tired right now. It's like I'm high.
Best line from his bio: Michael... recently won a[n] award for designing a dress made of upholstery and wallpaper. If only you picked the challenges, Michael. If only.
What we can glean from his audition videos:

Michael has auditioned for Project Runway three times.

Michael has a "sexy chair" that he feels makes him look thin:

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He's Greek, so he stocks Tzatziki (seriously, what is with the food porn in these home visits?):

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His favorite piece of art was made by a drag queen:

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He's kind of a ham, especially when it comes to water:

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All of the above could be douchey, if Michael weren't so charming. But as it stands he won me over. And just the fact that I took so many screen grabs proves he's fun to watch.

Potential downfall: Michael's aesthetic is "more is more." He showed exclusively gowns at the casting -- metallics and brocade and bows and trains and bunching and ruffles and bears, oh my! Tim, Nick, and that Marie Claire chick told him he needs to scale back and seem worried that he can't do anything other than glitzy evening wear.

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Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: Low/Guarded

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2010-07-28-MichaelDrummond.JPG

Profession: Knitwear designer/freelance stylist
Favorite Designer: Issey Miyake, Alexander McQueen (R.I.P.), and Viktor & Rolf
Style Icon: Tilda Swinton
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: he's not saying...[Ed. note: It's totally Suede.]

First impression: The sensitive front man of McKell! Michael! Michael!, Drummond's turn-ons include headbands, guyliner, and fedoras. Turn-offs include shirts and being mistaken for Chris Eliot.
Best line from his bio: He purchased a "prehistoric" knitting machine from a yarn shop but it took him two years before he actually made a dress that could actually be worn. Wait, actually?
What we can glean from his audition videos: The fedora is a lie; Michael favors Kangol caps. The eyeliner, however, is not a lie -- Michael is abundantly gay. He is, as his profession clearly states, not just a designer but a KNITWEAR designer. From his roomy, subsidized artist loft in Denver, he and the prehistoric knitting machine (which is seriously OLD, y'all. It looks like a giant loom-xylophone) crank out wispy, retro pieces, many of which seem to involve plastic. "It's like microdermabrasion!" Tim says of the rough texture.

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Well, maybe he gets his inspiration from his spiky, poop-shaped plants:

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Potential downfall: Michael definitely has a unique point of view. The question is whether the judges will like it. His pieces have a rough finish, and kind of remind me of something Courtney Love would have worn in the mid-90s:

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Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: Elevated

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2010-07-28-MondoGuerra.JPG

Profession: Freelance designer
Favorite Designers: Paco Rabanne, Schiaparelli, Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld, Edith Head, Gareth Pugh, Vivienne Westwood, Nicolas Ghesquiere, Jean-Paul Gaultier
Style Icons: Pee-Wee Herman, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Michael Jackson [Ed. note: Um, best style icon list EVER.]
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Jay McCarroll, Season 1, Kit Scarbo, Season 4

First impression: So... McLovin is the bar back at an upscale leather lounge?
Best line from his bio: Mondo began experimenting with design in high school where he used a gluegun and clothing from thrift-stores to create his garments that he would wear to raves. Yes, I'm sure it was "design" he was experimenting with at these high school raves.
What we can glean from his audition videos: The first thing that struck me about Mondo was that he came off in his casting as fairly pretentious. He came dressed as some cross between Daria and Edward Scissorhands:

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...and while he said that he took the judges' previous critiques to heart (apparently Mondo has tried out for the show before), he didn't respond very well to their current criticisms, which are that he has a tendency to overdesign and use too much vinyl. They did, however, like this poodle shirt:

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And while you all know how I feel about rompers, I must admit that I dig Mondo's Mod version:

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During his home visit, Mondo grew on me a little, mostly because he reminds me of my Polly Pocket and lives in a Pee-Wee's playhouse-esque abode, with a mannequin "roommate":

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Potential downfall: Attitude. If Mondo can have a sense of humor and, more importantly, humility I think he can go far. I mean, guys, look how amazing he made Rousseau from Lost look:

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Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: Severe.

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2010-07-28-NicholasDAurizio.JPG

Profession: Handbag designer
Favorite Designers: Yoehlee, Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Dolce and Gabanna, Prada
Style Icons: Victoria Beckham with a little twist of Jackie O
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Christian Siriano, Season 4

First impression: Holy N Sync hair, Batman!
Best line from his bio: As a child growing up in a large Italian family, Nicolas was obsessed with MacGyver, Lego's, Lincoln Logs and any sort of toys that required constructing and being creative. I'm going to use this joke again, because you had me at MacGyver, Nicholas. I will not even hate on your frosted tips.

What we can glean from his audition videos: You know, I have watched every single contestant be told they're being moved "to the next level" by Tim Gunn, and have watched every single contestant be told they're on the show, via speaker phone by the ProjRun casting director. And Nicholas is the only one who seems truly, shit-in-your-pants excited.

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So props.

He's a handbag designer by trade, and his clothes are not the best of the bunch, but he straight up admits they were influenced by Twilight, so, again, props.

In his home visit video he has shaved his facial hair and gone blonder, looking more Lance Bass now than Chris Kirkpatrick. Nicholas lives on the Upper East Side in New York with his boyfriend and his dress model, Mary, whose name is a really specific Gilmore Girls reference. It is at this point that I realize: I love Nicholas.

I love that he's a "really big reader" of Nicholas Sparks novels and diet books:

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I love that his big refrigerator reveal is that he's addicted to ghetto ice pops:

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I love that he uses Patty Hearst as his model:

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[JK, that's not Patti Hearst. The Symbionese Liberation Army did not wear see-through capri leggings.]

Potential downfall: As much as it pains me to say this, as much as I love Nicholas, I don't love his clothes. They're not all as bad as the above, but the taste level is uneven.

Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: If you, like me, love sweet, pop culture savvy gays, Low. If you don't, Elevated.

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2010-07-28-PeachCarr.JPG

Profession: Freelance designer
Favorite Designers: Valentino, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga
Style Icons: Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Onassis
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Austin Scarlett, Season 1; Laura Bennett, Season 3

First impression: Sweet Midwest mom. Remember that old Sesame Street song: "One of these things is not like the others... one of these things just doesn't belong.."?
Best line from her bio: Peach made her first garment in fourth grade while in the 4-H club... the selftaught designer won many blue ribbons at the county fair. Imagine what she would have done with last season's potato sack challenge*.

What we can glean from her audition videos: Oh, Peach. Much like her cutesy nickname (real name: Sheila), Peach's aesthetic is sweet to the point of cloying. Most of the things she showed at casting looked like they could have been Disneyland costumes, like this yellow polka-dot skirt and rhinestone belt:

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True to her 4-H roots, Peach lives in a converted stable.

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"This is the breakfast room; this is where the largest horse was kept." [Ed. note: Not a joke. Direct quote.]

She comes off as very nice, but also sort of childlike. Did the producers force her to get on a tire swing?

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Potential downfall: Sweetness is all well and good, but Peach has got to be able to bring more to the table than candy colors and a Bedazzler. I fear her skill level -- and taste level -- leaves something to be desired.
Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter:Guarded, only because such aggressive niceness can be annoying, especially to New Yorkers.

*Amazingly, Peach's portfolio answers this question:

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2010-07-28-SarahTrost.JPG

Profession: Costume designer [Ed. note: Full disclosure, I recently learned that Sarah worked with some friends of mine.]
Favorite Designer: Adrian, Nudie Cohn, Bill Belew, Gaultier, Schiaparelli, old-school Dior
Style Icon: Elvis
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Jay McCarroll, Season 1, Anthony Williams, Season 7

First impression: Gaga Stefani-Aguilera
Best line from her bio: Sarah has confidence that the judges will make the right decision. Oh, Sarah... so naive.

What we can glean from her audition videos: Sarah comes off like a hipster rockabilly chick, but one you want to drink whiskey with. At her casting session, she shows some really weird creations, like this dress made out of cat-printed fabric:

2010-07-28-Sarah1.JPG

Before you vomit all over your Tim Gunn bobbleheads, know that Sarah described the fabric thusly: "I saw this and thought it was the most awful thing ever." So why use it?
"I love hideous things," she says. This gets a big laugh from Tim. But the judges are clearly very confused by what she's trying to do.

I think what she's trying to do is attractive kitsch. At least, that's what her apartment is trying to do. It looks like she lives in a 1970s motel:

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Sarah really likes Tom Jones.

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Sarah works on a 1930s Singer sewing machine.

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She also has a creepy gold likeness of Clark Gable that looks like a death mask. Best not to ask.

Her portfolio showcases the same kind of offbeat, retro sensibility:

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[I think that second model just saw the cat dress.]

Potential downfall: Being too kitschy; making hideous things.

Threat on the Smack-O-Meter: Depends on how you feel about lady pompadours, but I'll go with Guarded.

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[Ed. note: OMG you guys, I'm almost done. This has taken me forever. I apologize in advance, Valerie Mayen, for rushing through you, but it's fucking late and I have to be on a train before 7 am tomorrow morning and there are SEVENTEEN of you, why, Lifetime, WHY???]

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Profession: Fashion designer, educator, illustrator
Favorite Designer: Rudi Gernreich, Stefano Pilati, Leanne Marshall
Style Icon: Peggy Moffitt
Favorite Past Project Runway Designer: Leanne Marshall, Season 5, Allison Kelly, Season 4 and Jay Nicholas Sario, Season 7

First impression: If she loves Leanne and comes from Cleveland, she's got to be down-to-Earth... right?
Best line from her bio: There isn't one, really, at least if you're trying to be funny. Business of Fine Arts degree, blah blah blah, 2 Critics Choice Awards, blah blah blah, Creative Workforce Fellowship, blah blah blah. Why can't she be influenced by Nutella and straight razors or something interesting? Gawd.
What we can glean from her audition videos: In person Valerie is SO much more vibrant than she is on paper. She's almost irksomely cute, first of all, with a raspy little voice and a Bettie Page hairdo. And she has a really cool design style full of detachable accessories with wavy pockets:

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She, like Nicholas, freaks out when she finds out she's been cast, which endears her to me, but not as much as her New Kids on the Block magnet set does:

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(Don't worry, Joey is off to the left, I just couldn't screen grab them all at once.)

Potential downfall: Hard to say. I didn't get a good sense of her designs apart from the accessory pieces and some nice coats.

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So maybe lack of range?

Threat level on the Smack-O-Meter: Guarded, but only because now I have Step By Step stuck in my head and I can't get it out.

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So there you have it -- this season's crop of characters. What do you think? I like this bunch so far, but I kind of have to, because otherwise I would have just wasted what feels like half of my adult life writing about them.

Look for my premiere recap early next week, and in the meantime, if you miss me, check out my blog, The Sassy Curmudgeon.