Project Runway: The Judging

(This is a series. You can read all about my application to the show in this post, working with Ken in this postthe first day of filming in this postMake Over Day and Walking on the Runway here. )

Breathless, we finished our runway walks and we left the stage. We waited in the back make-up studio. We had all watched the show, so we knew what was happening. In real time, the judges were comparing notes and putting together the “High/Low/Safe” list. There were some snacks in bags on the table, but it was stuff like trail mix or gummy fruit. Can you imagine if you threw some nuts at your face and then went out with an almond skin stuck on one of your teeth? Hillbilly central! I stuck with mints and water and tried not to sweat. There was more blotting and dabbing.

The Production-Back-Stage guy received his messages in his ear piece. “I need the following Ladies…” and my name was called. When we were watching the show at home, Ken predicted that he was in the bottom. Let’s be clear that those confessionals were filmed after the fact. So he was able to say that he didn’t like his design and that he knew he would be in the bottom with the benefit of hind site. When we were live, it was not clear what was going to happen. I was SO grateful that I was called to go out, because the two pieces of the process that I wanted to see the very most were the “Tim Gunn Critiques” and “the Judging”. The two ladies that were not called had to wait back stage and missed ALL of the comments and reviews. Now that I have been through that, it is clear why the designers are just a little bit bummed when they are “safe,” because they do not hear what the judges thought of anything. There is a lot to be learned from hearing what the Judges have to say.

We lined up and we were lead onto the runway.

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We were standing in the order you see here for the judging segment. This took hours. We had been warned that it would. I knew the cameras were panning for reactions and that I would squeak into shots even when it was not “our” turn, so I made a herculean effort to stand up straight and look pleasant and attentive the whole time. Not that this is a burden, it was not. I was thrilled to be out there, but sometimes my “thinking face” looks angry and I did not want to come off as scowling.

The judging goes very much the way you see it on TV. However, on the show it is distilled, as if through a chinois, into a concentrated sauce. In person, the judges each have time to comment. They are allowed to make their qualified remarks, one at a time. What surprised me is that when I watched, the comments were woven together as if it was a conversation. It was very well done. But it didn’t come off as a conversation as much when I was there.

I was VERY impressed with the caliber of panel we had. It was really a treat to get to know Zac’s style a little bit better. He is charming. He is also a VERY accomplished sewer and tailor in his own right. He REALLY knows his stuff.
Erin Fetherston was a surprise. A designer in her own right, she too was super knowledgeable about construction and design. And Zanna was a welcome familiar face. She has an easy discussion style. During the discussions, the judges were SO kind and so careful when they talked about the looks. I went out to the runway prepared for ALL manner of comments to come my way, but the preparation was for naught. They were so kind to us. They were genuinely caught up in our enthusiasm for the show and the process. They all respected the full range of the sizes that we brought to the table. And when my critique came it did not feel personal AT ALL.

To give you an idea for how long the process went on and how physically demanding this process was, I will tell you, the taping stopped when one of the Superfans looked as though she was fainting on the runway. I will not say which one, because, frankly, it could have been any of us. (And because I am not here to call anyone out.) She was fine. (She is fine.) It’s just a long, hot, dehydrating day. They sat her down, got her some water and, after a little bit, she was good to go.
The judging session went in the order that you see on stage, so Ken and I were last. As we listened to the other critiques, the top three were ahead of us, so I was ready for the “we don’t love this look” message.

Heidi said hello to me and she asked Ken to introduce me. I was so surprised by what came out of his mouth, it was just kind of a hodgepodge of what he thinks he heard. It was much worse than what the edited it to be. They edited that very gracefully, but I would still like to put out there on the record that I do not wear flannel (except for my pajamas) and I never said, “I don’t get out much.” I am treated to nights out with my husband on a regular basis and I do dress up for those dates. I don’t want to sound like a shut-in wearing hunting clothes. I will write this off, because Ken had a hard night. He was beaten down and that it must have influenced his “summary.” He started to try to kind of introduce me and tell my story, then he just said. “Tell them about the dolls.” So I told Heidi about Project Project Runway. She seemed genuinely impressed, so that was fun. I don’t think she had really calculated the LEVEL of super fan that she had. Then, the introduction part was over and she spoke first. She turned to me and out of her mouth came the words you heard on the show, “Susi, I have to say, you were my favorite Model today…” and on she went. Oh. My. Word. Stop right there. Because if she could actually feel my joy, then I felt successful. I could not really find the words to thank her. She was really happy for me. That made me even MORE happy. It was a big “fest.” I was recording every second of this in my mind because even if that did not make the cut in the editing process, I HEARD HER SAY THAT! And I will remember that for the rest of my life!! But it did make the cut! And man was that fun to see!!!!

The judges each spoke. They said really exactly what you heard. There was just a little more of it and it was a little bit more segmented to one judge at a time.

Then, we heard, “Okay, you can leave now. We’re going to have a little chat and we’ll call you back to the runway.” The designers must go back to their purple wall lounge. We went back to the little make-up studio. Then we were called back for the close-up looks. This “close-up” view is new this season and, remember, we had not seen any of the episodes, so this was all a surprise to us. We came out across the high part of the stage, then Tim Gunn came, got each one of us and gave us his arm down the stairs. Really Tim, you have impeccable manners, on and off camera.

We were called one at a time to go in front of the panel. Whew! Zac, because he actually knows so much about construction, wants to get right in there and figure this thing out.
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Here is Zac having a closer look.
“There is no lining! No interfacing.” No sir. There isn’t. And then the whole “The zipper is going on a whole journey on it’s own.”
Zanna said, “Did you get the dress of a lifetime?” There was a huge pause after she asked that question. I wanted to say, “No, I wanted a HUGE gown and I got this.” Instead, I measured my remarks and I said, “I don’t think that was the brief. Ken and I talked about a date dress that I could wear out with my husband.” They kind of nodded as if to say “fair enough”. Then I said, “Can I just say one thing in Ken’s defense? ” and Tim actually says, “Yes PLEASE, that is why you are called down here!” And I said what they clipped in there, which was, “I asked for the dress to not be too tight. I didn’t want a sausage casing in the end.” I thought it was very ironic that I did not want the dress to call attention to my stomach area, and yet, there I was, on national television, and ALL WE WERE TALKING ABOUT was where the leather swooshes were cutting me, how poor the fit was, and how my middle was accentuated. Eiyeee.

At some point, Heidi’s assistant grabbed a picture of us.

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After they talked to everyone, we were taken away.

At SOME point in the day, we were fed. (I cannot remember when this was, but it was fast and it was in our Model holding area) Our PA (Production Assistant) Jacquline, was there. She said, “I have to bag you.” When the models get a break in the day, they do not get out of their look. They are “bagged”. She takes an industrial sized black hefty sack, cuts a hole in the top for your head, then little arm holes on the sides, and she helps you into this make shift rain coat. Then you are free to eat. (If you can. If you can even look at food on the most exciting day that you have had in a long, long, long time.) I ate something. I knew I should. We also were interviewed by some bloggers during this lunch break. That was new for me. And Jamie (who is an attorney) took a few calls. She gave her full attention to her clients wearing a sapphire blue gown and jewel toe Minolo Blanik heels. My hat is off to you woman! Your clients are lucky to have you indeed. I watched you shut out the room and just focus on work.  Nicely done.

We made videos about our hair color.

And we were pulled out one at a time for professional head shots.
Humbly I will say, Wow. Thank you to the team of professionals that made me look (and feel) that way and captured that on film. This will probably be my Facebook profile picture until I turn 70. Just Wow. And Thank You.

When we were done for the day, Jane-Sarah, Tristen and I went to Canal street and then we went out for Dim Sum. I had such a great evening talking to these new friends and getting to know them a little bit better. It was such a relief to de-brief  about the experience we had just been through. We compared our offer calls, our arrivals, and our feelings about our looks. The food was amazing. This was the perfect immersion into NYC dinner for my final night there.

The next morning, there was to be a driver meeting me outside the hotel. This is what I found:

I flew home to my husband and my sweet girl. (Thanks for letting me go to NY.) And waited two and a half months to tell these stories and publish these pictures.
It was truly the adventure of a lifetime.
What could possibly happen NEXT?!?!?!


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30 Comments to Project Runway: The Judging
    • NameKathleen
    • Thank you, thank you, thank you! for sharing your story!!! Loved every bit of it! You were beautiful, and kind, and so observant. So happy for you that you got a chance for this experience, and then share it with us in such detail.

      • Susi
      • Ana, We were not supposed to know when we left. I think that made us less of a liability.
        Thank you for visiting us and sharing this with us.

    • DrRuss
    • My biggest regret over the show is that I wish they would have explained more as to why each person was considered a super fan. I watch the episode on the computer so I might have missed that but I wanted to fully explain about PPR and close ups of the dolls, etc. I think that I saw the dolls in a fleeting moment.

      I am very happy for, and proud of, you for doing the show.It took a lot of guts to put yourself out there and you wore your fame with grace, beauty and intelligence.

      Well done.

      • Kat
      • I agree! I think that the whole Ken drama ended taking up the time they could have spent explain who the fans were. It was very frustrating.

      • Ros
      • Yes! I loved that we did get a glimpse of the dolls and I’m glad to hear that Susi explained PPR to Heidi, but I wanted to know more about the superfans too.

        • Susi
        • Ros. I feel like at least Heidi knows. And the designers all know. But, yeah, they showed the dolls so briefly that I think some people might think I just design Barbie clothes in my free time. And I feel like we have been so much more focused than that!

    • Cindy deRosier
    • Oh my gosh- I loved every word of this. Thank you so much for such a detailed recounting of what must have been the experience of a lifetime. I know how incredibly difficult it was to wait for it to air. I’ve been a volunteer on two different Mythbusters episodes and neither one has aired (the first filmed in May 2012 and the second in January 2013). It is KILLING ME waiting!

      • Susi
      • Oh Cindy! Are you in SF? Thank you for your compliments. ANd I would LOVE to see you on Mythbusters!!! Can you send us a line when you are on?

    • Ros
    • You are a classy lady, Susi. I would totally have dropped Ken in it after the dress of a lifetime question.

      Thank you so much for writing up these posts for us. It has been just brilliant to follow your experiences throughout the process.

    • Beth W.
    • Aw, Susi, what a great story from start to finish. Thank you for writing it all down (even though I know you well enough to know you did it in part for your own sake, hee)! I have a scowly “thinking face” too. I need to work on that!

    • MB
    • Thank you so much for sharing all the details, it was fascinating getting a glimpse of the real behind the scenes at PR. I am so happy that even though your dress wasn’t the awesome creation you deserved, you seemed to make the most of it and had a great time. I love your attitude!

    • April
    • This was a hugely enjoyable read, thank you for sharing your adventure with us! I’m glad that you had a lot of fun! I’m also very happy to know that you were treated well by the judges and by production, and that Tim is every bit the gentleman he seems to be. One question though: did you see Swatch?!? 😀

      • Susi
      • April. Thank you for coming! I DID see swatch! It was his birthday, and we sang happy birthday to him! (no joke) maybe if the Ken Therapy session had not taken over, they would have shown that moment of levity.

    • Gin
    • “We came out across the high part of the stage, then Tim Gunn came, got each one of us and gave us his arm down the stairs. Really Tim, you have impeccable manners, on and off camera.”

      Oh, Tim. Never change. Never let fame change you.

    • Meredith P
    • Thank you so much for sharing your story! It was almost as much fun as being there. And they couldn’t have picked a better, more deserving of the title “Superfan”!

    • NameJosie
    • Thank you so much for giving us the scoop on what happens behind the scenes. I watched the episode again last night with a different perspective. (Except you forgot “I want vodka.”) Did Ken choose the bracelet and the shoes? What does the Belk Accessory Wall really offer? No ones seems to use it much. Thank you, too, for reinforcing my love for Tim Gunn. From start to finish, you were great!

      • Susi
      • Josie, Thanks for visiting and commenting! Ken chose the bracelet and the shoes. But I have to say, I liked them very much. I think silver might have been better with the gray leather. But I like the jewelry. Ken chose the shoes too. But given the options, I don’t think they were a bad choice. I learned SO little about the wall. It was on the other side of the room from where our work space was, so I never really got up close and personal with it. Great questions!

        • Josie
        • You’re right – silver would have been better with the shoes, which came across as gunmetal leather. I asked because the shoes didn’t look very comfortable, especially if you had to stand in them for hours.

    • Lisa
    • Thank you so much for ‘taking us along for the ride’ on your adventure. You have a great narrative voice.I love to know the behind-the-scenes details.

      Were the designers only present for the final runway walk? They always show them commenting and beaming at their looks. Is that going on the same time that the judges are watching? Could you hear them? Or is that filmed separately?

      It looks like they are not lining the walls with the winning and losing looks anymore.Do you get to keep your dress?

      Thanks again for your awesome blog!!

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