Gay Dallas designer wins HGTV’s “Design Star: All-Stars”

Leslie Ezelle, the gay Dallas-based designer whose story of surviving breast cancer inspired many last summer when she was a contestant on a Season 6 of HGTV’s Design Star but who was booted about midway through her season, redeemed herself by winning the first-ever edition of Design Star: All-Stars, which aired last night.

Ezelle bested fellow Dallas designer Hilari and sole male finalist Tom in transforming a storage container into a living space. Her genius touch: A Murphy bed that doubles as a blackboard for children to write on when not in use.

Ezelle, who became active in breast cancer awareness following her appearance on the show last summer, really deserved to win, as well. The judges praised her growth both as an designer and as an on-screen personality.

Ezelle welcomed the win surrounded by hundreds of friends and well-wishers by celebrating at a screening at Studio Movie Grill of the finale.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The good, the bad & the ‘A-List’

These arts, cultural & sports stories defined gay Dallas in 2011

FASHIONS AND FORWARD  |  The Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the DMA, above, was a highlight of the arts scene in 2011, while Dirk Nowitzki’s performance in the NBA playoffs gave the Mavs their first-ever — and much deserved — world title. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

FASHIONS AND FORWARD | The Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the DMA, above, was a highlight of the arts scene in 2011, while Dirk Nowitzki’s performance in the NBA playoffs gave the Mavs their first-ever — and much deserved — world title. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

A lot of eyes were focused on Dallas nationally in 2011 — for good and bad — but much of what made the city a fun place last year has specific queer appeal. CULTURE The rise of the reality TV star. 2011 was the year Dallas made a big splash across everyone’s television sets — and it had nothing to do with who shot J.R. (although that’s pending). From the culinary to the conniving, queer Dallasites were big on the small screen. On the positive side were generally good portrayals of gay Texans. Leslie Ezelle almost made it all the way in The Next Design Star, while The Cake Guys’ Chad Fitzgerald is still in contention on TLC’s The Next Great Baker. Lewisville’s Ben Starr was a standout on MasterChef. On the web, Andy Stark, Debbie Forth and Brent Paxton made strides with Internet shows Bear It All, LezBeProud and The Dallas Life,respectively.

‘A’ to Z  |  ‘The A-LIst: Dallas,’ above, had its detractors, but some reality TV stars from Big D, like Chad Fitzgerald, Leslie Ezelle and Ben Starr, represented us well.

‘A’ to Z | ‘The A-LIst: Dallas,’ above, had its detractors, but some reality TV stars from Big D, like Chad Fitzgerald, Leslie Ezelle and Ben Starr, represented us well.

There were downsides, though. Drew Ginsburg served as the token gay on Bravo’s teeth-clenching Most Eligible: Dallas, and the women on Big Rich Texas seemed a bit clichéd. But none were more polarizing than the cast of Logo’s The A-List: Dallas. Whether people loved or hated it, the six 20somethings (five gays, one girl) reflected stereotypes that made people cringe. Gaultier makes Dallas his runway. The Dallas Museum of Art scored a coup, thanks to couture. The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk not only featured the work of the famed designer, but was presented the designs in an innovative manner. Nothing about it was stuffy. Seeing his iconic designs in person is almost a religious experience — especially when its Madonna’s cone bra. Gaultier reminded us that art is more than paintings on a wall. (A close runner-up: The Caravaggio exhibit in Fort Worth.) The Return of Razzle Dazzle. ­­There was speculation whether Razzle Dazzle could actually renew itself after a near-decade lull, but the five-day spectacular was a hallmark during National Pride Month in June, organized by the Cedar Springs Merchant Association. The event started slowly with the wine walk but ramped up to the main event street party headlined by rapper Cazwell. Folding in the MetroBall with Deborah Cox, the dazzle had returned with high-profile entertainment and more than 10,000 in attendance on the final night. A Gathering pulled it together. TITAS executive director Charles Santos took on the daunting task of producing A Gathering, a collective of area performance arts companies, commemorating 30 years of AIDS. Groups such as the Dallas Opera, Turtle Creek Chorale and Dallas Theater Center donated their time for this one-of-a-kind show with all proceeds benefiting Dallas’ leading AIDS services organizations. And it was worth it. A stirring night of song, dance and art culminated in an approximate 1,000 in attendance and $60,000 raised for local charities. Bravo, indeed. The Bronx closed after 35 years. Cedar Springs isn’t short on its institutions, but when it lost The Bronx, the gayborhood felt a real loss. For more than three decades, the restaurant was home to many Sunday brunches and date nights in the community. We were introduced to Stephan Pyles there, and ultimately, we just always figured on it being there as part of the fabric of the Strip. A sister company to the neighboring Warwick Melrose bought the property with rumors of expansion. But as yet, the restaurant stands steadfast in its place as a reminder of all those memories that happened within its walls and on its plates.  The Omni changed the Dallas skyline. In November, The Omni Dallas hotel opened the doors to its 23-story structure and waited to fill it’s 1,000 rooms to Dallas visitors and staycationers. Connected to the Dallas Convention Center, the ultra-modern hotel is expected to increase the city’s convention business which has the Dallas Visitors and Conventions Bureau salivating — as they should. The hotel brought modern flair to a booming Downtown and inside was no different. With quality eateries and a healthy collection of art, including some by gay artists Cathey Miller and Ted Kincaid, the Omni quickly became a go-to spot for those even from Dallas. SPORTS The Super Bowl came to town. Although seeing the Cowboys make Super Bowl XLV would have been nice for locals, the event itself caused a major stir, both good and bad. Ticketing issues caused a commotion with some disgruntled buyers and Jerry Jones got a bad rap for some disorganization surrounding the game. But the world’s eyes were on North Texas as not only the game was of a galactic measure, but the celebs were too. From Kardashians to Ke$ha to Kevin Costner, parties and concerts flooded the city and the streets. The gays even got in on the action. Despite crummy weather, the Super Street Party was billed as the “world’s first ever gay Super Bowl party.” The ice and snow had cleared out and the gays came out, (and went back in to the warmer clubs) to get their football on. The XLV Party at the Cotton Bowl included a misguided gay night with acts such as Village People, Lady Bunny and Cazwell that was ultimately canceled. The Mavericks won big. The Mavs are like the boyfriend you can’t let go of because you see how much potential there is despite his shortcomings. After making the playoffs with some just-misses, the team pulled through to win against championship rivals, Miami Heat, who beat them in 2006. In June, the team cooled the Heat in six games, taking home its first NBA Championship, with Dirk Nowitzki appropriately being named MVP. The Rangers gave us faith. Pro sports ruled big in these parts. The Mavericks got us in the mood for championships and the Texas Rangers almost pulled off a victory in the World Series. With a strong and consistent showing for the season, the Rangers went on to defend their AL West Division pennant. Hopes were high as they handily defeated the Detroit Tigers in game six, but lost the in the seventh game. Although it was a crushing loss, the Texas Rangers proved why we need to stand by our men.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Dallas’ Leslie Ezelle booted from ‘Design Star’

This hasn’t been a good few weeks for Dallas’ gay reality contestants. Two weeks ago, Lewisville’s Ben Starr almost made it to the final of MasterChef, having to settle instead for the praise of host Gordon Ramsay. Then Monday night, Leslie Ezelle — the breast cancer survivor and local interior decorator we profiled in July — was one of two contestants eliminated from HGTV’s Design Star. But Ezelle is taking it in stride: Rather than sulk, she invited some of her friends over to a viewing party to watch her get eliminated.

Why share your loss with the public? After surviving six cancer surgeries, Ezelle felt it was only fair to let her four children and stepchildren know you can’t succeed unless you try. And it gave her another chance to make her case for Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure on Oct. 15.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Embracing the pink

Breast cancer survivor Leslie Ezelle turned tragedy into hope, with a new business and a spot on HGTV’s ‘Design Star’

DESIGNING WOMAN | Dallas designer Leslie Ezelle survived breast cancer and is now one of the hopefuls on the new season of HGTV’s ‘Design Star.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor


Season premiere airs on HGTV July 11 at 8 p.m.


Going through the horrors of breast cancer may be the best thing that ever happened to Leslie Ezelle.

In 2008, the Dallas resident was a stay-at-home mom to her four kids and stepkids when she was diagnosed. Not a lot of people, even friends, knew about it at the time.

“During breast cancer, I was in complete denial — I wouldn’t talk about it,” Ezelle now admits. “I did six weeks of radiation and wouldn’t talk to anybody there; I just wanted to get in and out.”

But while outwardly nothing was wrong, inside she was falling apart. “What am I gonna be when I grow up?” she asked herself. And the answer was: Follow your dream.

“I thought maybe I could combine all the things I have always had confidence in — my artwork and my painting and my design — and make a living at it,” she says.

For years, Ezelle — a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader — had been an amateur decorator, offering her eye to close friends and family free of charge. But in the middle of breast cancer treatment, she decided it was time to make it official and “start charging for it.”

In 2009, she started her company, LeslieChristine Designs. Around the same time, she took another huge step.

“I was in and out of the hospital during breast cancer with infections and reconstructive surgery,” she says. “I started thinking, ‘What I really want is my own design show. And I want it to be different than other kinds of reveal shows, built around my crazy life. I want it to be like Modern Family.”

Ezelle’s crazy life includes sharing an adopted daughter, Ella, with her ex-partner Marisa Diotalevi; rearing her stepson and adopted sons with her wife Libby; managing “a petting zoo” of a four-legged family that includes a one-eyed Shih-tzu and countless other fauna; and fitting it all into a small house in Preston Hollow.

And the best way to get such a show, she felt, was to compete for it.

FAB CONFAB | Ezelle, above center, and another contestant confer with mentor David Bromstad on the upcoming season of ‘Design Star;’ below, in her cheerleading days with the Dallas Cowboys.

Ezelle and her clan were already huge fans of HGTV’s Design Star competition series, which pits 12 aspiring decorators against each other, with the reward being their own weekly series. She figures she might as well try it.

“The day of the deadline, I FedEx’d my stuff to them. Real soon I went up there to meet them. Then I got a call that I was accepted. It was quick and pretty amazing, but really cool, though. They were auditioning for close to nine months; to go through it that long would have made me a nervous wreck. I did it on a whim and it worked out beautifully.”

This season, gay designer Vern Yip returns as the head judge (alongside Genevieve Gorder and Candice Olson), with guest judges like Thom Felicia and Nate Berkus, plus the addition of a new mentor: The gay former series winner and current TV host David Bromstad, who serves as a Tim Gunn-esque mentor. (Gay judges, gay mentor, gay contestant: This might be the gayest show on TV not on Bravo — and that includes Logo.)

Until the winner of the series is revealed (she can’t talk about it), Ezelle’s own design business is doing well.

“I seem to be caught up with the straight-male-bachelor-penthouse scene, which is really great because they have money!” she laughs. “I’m actually doing my first gay male couple shortly — the first gay clients I’ve had.”

But Ezelle found the whole TV experience worthwhile.

“I felt like I knew all these guys,” she says. “Vern is so sweet, so straightforward. I’ve heard critics and other designers describe him as the Simon Cowell [of the show], but I’m not at all intimidated by him. We have much in common: He and his partner had a baby. He lost his mom to cancer, and he’s very dedicated to this foundation [in her memory]. I learned that the day before I went to check into the show and I just lost it. He’s a good guy!”

Ezelle herself is becoming a devotee of cancer awareness, as well. While she was undergoing treatment, she refused to acknowledge how serious things were.

“I didn’t want to see anything pink — I didn’t want to ‘play’ breast cancer. But that’s really what brought me to the show. I’ve decided to embrace the pink.”

For the season premiere on July 11, Ezelle is hosting an invitation-only screening party and fundraiser for Susan G. Komen foundation at Studio Movie Grill.

“I’m trying to raise $25,000 for Susan G. Komen, hopefully more,” she says. “It’s my time to pay back and bring awareness. Of course, I may be hiding under the table when [the episode] airs, out of embarrassment…”

Ezelle finished her last cancer treatment on Dec. 27 — a milestone for her, but not one she would readily trade.

“Breast cancer really drove me in this direction,” she says. “It makes you remember, ‘It’s not that bad — I’m not dead. I don’t have it as bad as this [person.]’ And I think my story is what got me on the show. Doom and gloom brought me to my dreams.”

And if all works out, it just may make those dreams come true.

To learn more about her designs, visit

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens