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Welcome to the first recap of Project Runway 3, and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s one of those kind of shows that I don’t really like all that much. No, no, not our hallowed Project Runway...I keep paying the cable bill just so I can see Tim Gunn in my living room. I’m just not fond of “meet the freaks” shows, which is probably why I never took to American Idol. All I need to do is get through this hour so the real fun can begin.

The Audition Process: The On-ramp to the Road to the Runway

Tim is going around the country to hold auditions for Season 3 in Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami and New York City. Along the way, he is going to have help from prior contestants and some other folks, most notably a very snarky Joann Pailey of Elle Magazine. Nina Garcia better watch her back, ‘cause this one is good. We also learn that Banana Republic is out (auf wiedersehen!) and Macy’s is in as a sponsor. As a big fan of their fairly fashion-forward INC line, and not so much a fan of the bland Banana Republic, I think the move is a good one.

At the auditions, the wannabe-contestants must bring a photo portfolio, three garments, and fill out a twenty page application. Personally, I think the twenty page application is a bit much, but maybe it’s to start separating the wheat from the chaff. If Tim and company like what they see at the audition, or want to know more, they ask the applicants for a video biography. Tim, Nina, Michael Kors and Heidi Klum all review the videos and portfolios and chose the finalists. Tim opines that the auditions this year brought out more professional applicants who are after the recognition and promotion that comes with being on Project Runway. That’s what I love the most in life: self-aware reality whores!

The Los Angeles Auditions: Chock Full of Brain Bleeding Anticipation

Tim was joined by Santino for two days of the LA auditions. Tim happily reports to the judges that Santino was more serious about the process than he anticipated, which is a shock to everyone. At this point, we are treated to the first of the “Road to the Runway” segments, spotlighting some prior contestants. In the little review of Santino’s performance and current status, he boasts that he is now recognized a good deal and he does some work in LA for rockers and actors. This doesn’t impress me much, because I’d think at least half of the LA population are “rockers” and “actors” even if they’re acting like they are rocking the In & Out Burger counter.

At the LA auditions we meet several of those who go on to be finalists. First up is Robert Best, a Parsons alum and current Barbie couturier. Frankly, the three white garments he brings with him to his audition do not ‘wow’ me in any way, but I may be showing my anti-white clothes bias. I’m a self-confessed chronic spiller, and white clothes do not work for me. But this guy clearly has Tim’s favor and his bio video is hilarious: he talks about how Barbie is the best client ever, then, in a “Behind the Music” confessional kind of way, Barbie tells us how evil he is and how he makes his models cry. Clearly the guy has an excellent sense of humor.

In LA we also meet Uli Herzer, a German designer who favors colorful prints in her clothes; Jeffrey Sebelia, a guy sporting a painful looking neck tattoo who designs for actual musicians (or at least namedrops actual musicians), using lots of black fabric and leather and Stacey Estrella, a Harvard MBA who is new to fashion, who provided average pieces but a sketch book with some risqué, cut-up-to-there dresses in it.

Because Bravo is never one to pass up a chance to whore out the Pepper, we are next treated to another “Road to the Runway” segment on the evil beeyotch of Season 1. In a flashback to happier times, Wendy tells the camera, at her very first audition, she has always made the choice to be loyal, kind, and generous in her fashion business. Not missing a beat, footage of Wendy screaming at Kara Saun during Fashion Week follows this sweetness-and-light proclamation. Actually, I think she was never sincere, and was strategizing from the day of the audition, even down to bringing her Dad to the audition. From the current shots of Wendy, she’s lost weight and very likely had some work done.

The remaining finalists found in LA are Bonnie Dominguez, Vincent Libretti and Bradley Baumkirchner. Bonnie is a sportswear designer who has worked with Serena Williams. Bonnie effectively burns that bridge by confessing in her bio video that she let Serena believe that her ideas were really Serena’s because Serena fancies herself as a bit of a designer. Vincent was a fashion wash-out in the ‘80s but he says he’s ready to try again, going to the extent of cashing out his 401K. Personally, I think this is crazy, but maybe he’s got some huge stock pile of money that I don’t know about or a very supportive wife. Bradley doesn’t look like a designer; he looks like he’s in need of a bath and a shave. The judges (and I) are won over by his bio video, his style of sketching (almost cartoon-y, but clever) and the fact that he does wearable sportswear.

Before heading to Chicago, we again hit the “Road to the Runway” and find out what’s going on with Austin Scarlett. Despite having lost the wedding dress challenge and facing the wrath of famous wedding dress designer Amsale on Season 1, he now works for her designing dresses for the Kenneth Cole line of wedding gowns. Austin is glad he never took Nina and Michael’s advice to get away from gowns and couture, and we see him flounce around with scads of poofy wedding dresses. He seems happy, but due to my aforementioned hatred of white clothing, I really don’t see the fun in designing wedding dresses.

The Chicago Auditions: What, was Dollywood booked?

In Chicago, Tim is joined by Nick Verreos, my early favorite from Season 2. Nick’s “Road to the Runway” segment tells us that he is back teaching part time and designing for particular clients, and continuing his line. No great shockers there.

The Chicago trip only turns up one finalist, which is no surprise given the montage of freaks that we are treated to: a girl with a giant, multicolored, reversible coat that looks more like a comforter; a dress chock full of “wickety whack”; and a drag queen in a dress made by a designer sporting a fur coat that could have only been made by skinning an entire bear. Out of this muck rises one Kayne Gillaspie, a guy from Norman, Oklahoma who designs pageant and prom gowns. Think tight fit and full of sparkly bits, inspired by his favorite celeb, Dolly Parton. He does a great job at it: the fits look wonderful and the overall shape of the dresses is not bad. Of course, that many sequins are blinding, but I’m glad they gave the kid a chance. Plus, I’ve been to Norman several times and have some very fond memories of margaritas from there, and I’m pulling for the guy.

The Miami Auditions: Miami is nice, so I’ll say it twice: Miami, Miami, Miami

Down in Miami, Chloe joins up with Tim for the auditions. In her “Road to the Runway” segment, Chloe is shown at her Houston store, Lot 8, where she plans to stay. She is content with her place in the Houston boutique market but came off a bit full of her self, as Season 2 is on perpetual loop on the store’s televisions.

The two finalist that make it out of the Miami auditions are Michael Knight and Katherine Gerdes. Michael is from Atlanta and conveys this cool hip-hop kind of vibe that a lot of guys from the ATL do. His audition pieces are kind of jokey in concept, in that he did stuff from Season 2’s challenges. However, the construction is fabulous: he did the muslin challenge and made a long dress with star cut-outs that was very detailed and striking, given the plainness of the material. After learning he’s going to the next level, he wins me over by exclaiming four little words: “Tim Gunn, you rock!”

Katherine is a self-admitted dork and is very young. She shows a sporty, car-coat length jacket, with a vented back that evokes beetle wings. I wanted one immediately. However, her dresses are, as one of the panel said, “sad”. If she can stick with the sportswear sensibility, she could go far, but she may be too young and inexperienced.

The next “Road to the Runway” segment focuses on Kara Saun. As would be expected, she is still doing costume design in LA, dressing some famous people (Heidi’s PR pregnancy clothes, for instance), and has come out with her own line. She says the best thing that ever happened to her was not winning PR.

The New York Auditions: Once more, with feeling and an evil laugh

I don’t know about you, but at this point, I’m tired of these lame “Road to the Runway” segments, which would have been so much better as webisodes. Luckily there are only two more remaining, the first being for Daniel Vosovic, who is helping out with the NYC auditions. We learn that he’s done nothing since the end of Season 2 because he wants to do things on “his terms.” It’s a noble concept, but if he waits too long, he’ll lose all relevancy. Just ask Jay...who is the final subject of “Road to the Runway”. He looks more together, has slimmed down a bit, and is finally going to do a runway show in New York at the September 2006 fashion week.

The New York auditions produce the last five finalists. Keith Michael is a menswear designer, who brought only menswear to the audition. He also takes credit for Wyeth designs, despite his name not being on the designs. He is called on this by Joann Pailey of Elle, and I have to admire her directness. But Tim takes a liking to him, so he moves on and ultimately is in the finalist pool.

Laura Bennett, a striking, tall, redheaded architect with five children is chosen. Her designs have very clean lines and nice detailing. She’s got great potential for high fashion, but she seems to design just for herself. I wonder if she will be able to meet the needs of a client that is not her and I also wonder if PR isn’t a way to escape her brood for a little while.

Alison Kelly, who, according to Tim, is both cute and nice, and looks to me amazingly like Elisha Cuthbert. I hope she is not kidnapped and chased by a cougar at any point during the season. Alison displays a keen eye for fashion layout in her design presentation, and truly impressed Michael Kors with her photo book. Her clothes also tend more toward the sportswear end of the spectrum, but a kind of dressy, girly sportswear. If I were about 10 years younger, I could see myself wearing them.

Representing rural O-HI-O (as she says it) is Angela Keslar, a weird one who says fashion designing is like food to her. Her bio video put me off: she says twice within 15 seconds that her designs are mistaken for Yves Saint Laurent. Maybe I’m not giving rural Ohioans enough credit, but I fail to see how that happens in the sticks all that often. And even so, all you need to be is a skilled seamstress to copy a design. The judges like her because of her crafty aesthetic.

And last, but certainly not least, is the freak known as Malan Breton whose name and accent may both be fake. I’ll say this for him: he really has a set on him because this is his third year auditioning. The first year, he did not get on the show. The second year, he insulted everyone at the audition, but still made it on the show, then rejected the offer. He came back a third time, and, despite Tim’s opinion, he made it on Season 3. He’s got an evil Dr. Frank-N-Furter laugh, and I have to wonder if he’s the one we see Tim asking to leave in the previews. Maybe they aren’t supposed to let transvestite transsexuals from Transylvania in the competition.

Finally, we reach the end of this long profile of finalists and some of the prior contestants offer advice. My favorite is Santino’s—if Nina mouth’s off, put her in her place. I sure hope someone takes him up on his advice because that’ll be some really great TV.