Thursday, March 08, 2012

Kenley Collins did not win for this outfit last week,
tho she should have

On January 23rd I wrote about Project Runway All-Stars:

it’s hard to imagine that the final four designers won’t all be men: Rami Kashou, Michael Costello, Mondo Guerra and Austin Scarlett…. It’s conceivable that Kenley Collins – who is competing with Michael & Jerell Scott for the role of the designer who has most improved since their prior turn on Runway – could sneak in there, but almost anyone else will raise the same complaints of fixed judging that once kept Austin out of the final three in Season One….

Well, we’re down to the final four & it’s Michael, Mondo & Austin, along with Kenley Collins. Rami left early, the victim of one particularly bad design in a TV series that, this season especially, has no room for the one-week disaster. And Jerell was the last to go, tho he snuck by with a couple of over-produced pastiches.

After nine weeks of competition, it is noteworthy that not a single woman has yet won a competition, since the show began with seven women, six men. Kenley’s designs have gotten consistently stronger, even if the polka-dots & plaids are way too predictable – I thought Austin’s glow-in-the-dark ice queen that won last week looked as if somebody had draped Christmas tree lights over a sheer but otherwise unimaginative gown while Kenley’s peek-a-boo structure (above) showed a lot more initiative. At this point, any one of the final four could win the prize quite legitimately, although Kenley just might be the first to do so without capturing any single week’s competition since Jay McCarroll managed that trick in season one.

Runway has shown that it recognizes the gender imbalance in this version of the show. After having eliminated four consecutive women contestants in the first month, the judges in week 5 simply had the three women designers left leave the stage – suggesting that they had neither the high nor the low scores for that week’s competition (tho the judges pointedly never said that) – and finally eliminated a male, Anthony. In terms of his talent, that might have been a little early for him, but as you can tell from my ability to project the final four six weeks ago, I don’t necessarily think his departure was a terrible idea. And the fact that no woman has won a single competition thus far can be viewed as partly a consequence of poor casting at the outset – as I noted on January 23, several of the strongest female candidates didn’t make it to this particular series – but also to the fact that the guest judges have been male for six of the nine weeks. Rapper Pharrell Williams, last week’s guest judge, had everything to do with Austin’s Christmas tree lights winning out over Kenley.

When Rami went out the week after Anthony, tho, the remaining designers were themselves stunned – they recognized that he was one of the best in the room, even if his losing outfit had been cringe-worthy. But his departure did make it clear that the final four would not all be men – not an insignificant result for a show on Lifetime – even if it was just as clear which men would be there. Since then, the show’s narrative has been a matter of which of the markedly weaker candidates would go out next. It’s had all the narrative tension of a teeny-bopper slasher flic – which kid will foolishly walk out into the woods next?

Now at last we are down to all strong designers, but with only a couple of weeks remaining. Will the winner be somebody who is still performing at the same level as when they competed on Runway before, Mondo or Austin, or someone who has visibly improved in between their previous appearance and now, Michael or Kenley? That Austin hasn’t really developed all that much in the seven years since he was first on Runway might be worth a raised eyebrow, but he was strong at the outset & his subsequent celebrity hasn’t eroded his skills either. Every other designer remaining has at least one area of weakness that could lead to his or her downfall: Michael & Kenley have a tendency to make the same garments over & over – Michael also has construction or craft issues that are not easy to hide. Mondo’s own inner turmoil sometimes clouds his thinking – when he’s on, tho, he may be the best designer not named Christian Soriano the show has ever had. I don’t have a favorite here, and I think that the next two episodes promise to be among the most fascinating in Runway’s history.