Heidi Klum dishes on the new season of “Project Runway”

In anticipation of the new season of Project Runway, which premieres Thursday night on Lifetime, Heidi Klum did a conference call with journalists about what to expect this time out, and who is her personal favorite of the designers. (Hint! He’s gay!) Here’s an excerpted version of the interview.

Question: Who can we expect to see as guest judges [this season]? Klum: Obviously I can never give too many guest judges away, but some people that I was allowed to mention was Patricia Field. She’s very well known for doing Sex in the City, The Devil Wears Prada. She does a lot of full movies and television. For our very first challenge that we did in Times Square we also had Lauren Graham. I can give her away. A lot of people did see her when she was out with us here in Times Square. Hayden Panettiere has been one of our guest judges. Also Krysten Ritter, and I think I’m not allowed to give anymore away.

What’s it been like being back for the tenth season for you, as the host and judge?  It’s been amazing. It’s been ten years and we all would’ve never thought that we would make it this far. Michael always says that we’re on longer than I Love Lucy, which we always laugh about and I can’t believe it. Ten seasons is a milestone. It’s a long time. And I have to tell you even though we’ve been doing it for ten seasons I still love coming to work every season. I love being with Michael and I love being with Nina and Tim. They’re all so much fun, and we have become a family. It is always exciting to see these new designers, to see their story. They all have a different story to tell and they’re all passionate.

Can you tell us how you think this group of designers compares to past groups, in terms of talent level?  It’s always hard to compare because I never like to say that this season we have more talented designers than previous seasons because they were all always talented. And each year fashion evolves and fashion becomes different and so do our designers. I think we have some on this season that are not that talented and we quickly see that. We have some that are really amazing that have come up with new things where we sit there and we’re like, “Wow, we haven’t seen anything like that,” or, “You have a different technique.”

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

“Project Runway” crowns a gay winner — we just don’t know which one yet

Ever since Project Runway moved from Bravo to Lifetime two years ago, its entertainment quotient has taken a nose-dive. Season 8 was the most boring until the current season, an All-Stars edition which brings back players from Seasons 1 through 8. (Season 9 also crowned a controversial winner, someone who had been a designer for only a few months.) This version has been marred by dumb competitions and a substitute slate of less interesting judges. (No Tim Gunn! No Heidi! No Michael Kors! No Nina Garcia!… OK, that last one’s not so bad.)

But the one thing you can say about this season is: Whoever wins will be a gay guy.

That may seem like a ho-hum moment, but considering just how gay the show is — from the judges to the mentor to the contestants to the audience — it’s rather remarkable how poorly the gays have fared over the years. Last season, every male contest was gay (though one claimed not to be but… I mean, c’mon!); two were in the final three, but lost to a straight woman. Since the beginning, at least seven gay men have made the top three, but none has won since Season 4′s Christian Siriano. He may even be the last truly deserving winner.

That changes tonight. In the second of the two-part season finale, the three finalists are all gay: Austin Scarlett (Season 1′s fourth placer), Michael Costello (8′s fourth placer) and Mondo Guerra (8′s runner-up). Kenley Collins was kicked off fourth.

The fact Kenley and Costello stayed in the running so long — or that either is considered an “all-star” — is another one of the problems with the series: You become acutely aware what flashes-in-the-pan some of these designers were, and that they got further on the show than their talents would bear out. (Costello continues to steal others’ ideas, then drape a goddess dress to eke through.)

Mondo was the deserving loser a few seasons back, and Austin has become such a fun personality over the years (especially after his travel-fashion series with Santino Rice), so our loyalties are divided. But we’ll be watching for sure.

So … who do you hope wins?

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Queens of the deserted

‘Project Runway’ alums Austin Scarlett and Santino Rice go ‘On the Road’ in the American heartland —and the Midwest may never be the same

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Ont the road
TWO WRONG FOOLS | Thanks for everything, guys: Your traveling fashion reality series is a hoot.

4.5 out of 5 stars
ON THE ROAD WITH AUSTIN AND SANTINO
airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on Lifetime.  Watch episodes online at MyLifetime.com.

There are three big surprises about the new Lifetime Network series On the Road with Austin and Santino. First is how damned entertaining it is; second is how Lifetime made no effort to market it to the gay press; and third is how that it is on Lifetime at all — it seems ideal for Logo or Bravo.

Come to think of it, the third may explain the second. But let’s stick with the first.

For those who haven’t been addicted to Project Runway for a few years, Austin is Austin Scarlett and Santino is Santino Rice, also-rans in the first two seasons of the series but fan favorites for their personalities: Austin, the fey, face-powdered Quentin Crisp dandy; and Santino, the butch, cutthroat bisexual. Sharing the screen, they present as a queer Felix and Oscar, i.e., ones who know how to throw a half-lip stitch and cut on the bias.

The premise of the series is a kind of traveling Queer Eye for the Straight Gal, where the fashionistas visit small-town tomboys and make for them one faboo gown to wow their friends and family.

That’s the premise, but it’s not what the show is about. No, it is about the fish-out-of-water picaresque that puts a flamboyant odd couple in the heartland: RuPaul’s Drag U Meets Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
And it’s effin’ brilliant.

After only three episodes (the fourth will air after press time) — one of which was to nearby Weatherford — On the Road already deserves cult status. The highlight of the series so far: Austin flouncing into a general store in rural Antlers, Okla., beret jauntily askew, and sashaying through the aisles of Wranglers and gingham while the stunned proprietor and his son stare — polite stares, but stares nonetheless.

Not only is the show touching in the predictable but effective Queen for a Day tradition (with the added sweetness of Austin and Santino’s sometimes prickly but loving pas-de-deux), it’s a remarkably empowering bit of social acclimatization, as two queer men withhold judgment on Red State America while Red State America withholds judgment on them. Could it be gay acceptance has come so far that even in the “deer capital of the U.S.” two fashion designers can be welcomed with open arms and open hearts?

It is if this show has anything to say about it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 20, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens