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TV Recap: Project Runway – Season Five, Episode Six

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Who’s more of a diva than the Statue of Liberty? She crossed the ocean at a young age to become a star known the world over. Girlfriend’s remained fierce for over a century, but doesn’t look her age. Sure, she’s had some ‘work’ done, but you can’t really tell. Her robe? Classic. Her stance is all about "look at me." Yet she has compassion in that big tin heart of hers. As any true diva knows, real beauty is from the inside. So it’s only fitting Miss Liberty, Queen of New York, is the diva that Project Runway’s producers drag out to open this episode. But more on that in a moment.

At least that scary Elle cover doesn’t make an appearance in this episode. I was beginning to have nightmares about that thing. Nope; instead, a few of the competing designers rise to greet the dawn with sleepy eyes and bitter mouths. Stella looks disarmingly cute in a full-on Grimley. Or maybe she’s still thinking of herself as ‘cave girl’ as she said last week. I suppose that top-knot ponytail could be her imitation of Pebbles Flintstone.

Joe gripes and grouses about last week’s winner. Joe, you seemed like a nice guy at first. But maybe that was editing. Now you just sound like a guy that eats bitter herbs for breakfast. No one likes a sore loser, Joe. Keith, meanwhile, at least is a gracious winner. He’s just quietly sitting on his bunk. Hope he can’t hear Joe mocking him. He’s taking it in stride if he does.

Assembled at Parsons, the group of designers watches as a large lady in a Viking helmet appears in silhouette behind the scrim. Whether this is not a surprising sight in NYC, or they are still half asleep, they don’t say a word. Then Chris March walks onto the runway. Chris was a designer competing last year on Project Runway. He didn’t win but was fun to watch. His main expertise was, and apparently still is, designing costumes for drag queens. And Chris is appropriately in full drag. Never mind he has a full beard and mustache; he also has a blond braided wig, huge metal-plated bosom, and enormous Viking helmet complete with horns. He and Heidi Klum air kiss and she remarks, “Ach! Your boobs are so big!" I wonder if that is the standard model greeting? It sure beats "how was your day" for novelty.

Chris explains the next challenge as Heidi shows a huge frozen smile. The designers will create an outfit for a drag queen. Terri states, “I love drag queens!” in her vlog. Chris calls for the group of drag queens/clients to parade onto the runway. These gals are no stranger to the runway, I’m thinking. This should be an entertaining episode.

And here they come! A Marilyn Monroe, someone in a pink beehive, and various others… blonds, brunettes, huge wigs, and spangly outfits in all descriptions. Korto interviews in her solo clip how “ginormous” the ladies are, and there’s a cute shot of Stella with her mouth hanging wide open. Stella. You haven’t seen a drag queen before? Well, maybe she has but just not so many in one place. Who knows. “This is a real tough one,” she remarks under her breath. Maybe because of the yards of fabric she’ll have to sew? The styling complete with cha-cha heels (see: Kinky Boots, good film) and huge wig? The diva client? Or maybe just because there is no leather mama in the bunch. Maybe if the challenge had been to design a new outfit for a leather daddy she’d have been completely at ease.

The ladies begin introducing themselves. All of the names are evocative. Many are phonetic puns – like Farrah Moans, Miss Understood, or Hedda Lettuce. Annida Greenkard. Drag has an element of wit, I think, or it isn’t drag. You never want drag to be a drag in the bad sense. Hope the designers know that and keep it in mind. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. After the Queens introduce themselves, Chris March tells the designers they are encouraged to be as “theatrical and over the top” as they wish to be.

Keith gets to choose his Queen first. “I like a great set of legs,” he says, so he chooses Sherry Vine. Sherry saunters off the runway. “Ooh! She does have a great set of legs!” Heidi gasps. Sherry could’ve passed for Heidi herself from the back, actually. Most of the Queens are much huskier or burlier, though. More extreme. Heidi begins choosing buttons from the ubiquitous velvet button bag. Daniel’s name is out first and his choice is Annida Greenkard. In his vlog he gives a reason: they share a love of “Spanish aristocratic style.” Huh?

Blayne chooses Miss Understood. Kenley giggles: “Farrah Moans”. Joe chooses Varla. Korto says she loves sugar so she chooses Sweetie. Suede points to his blue fauxhawk and feels a kinship with the green streaks on Hedda Lettuce. Leanne chooses Sharon Needles. Jerell chooses LeMay, who had mentioned a “love of vintage fashion.” Terri chooses Acid Betty, who had called herself a “hybrid drag queen.” The last designer and drag queen, Stella and Luisa Verde, are paired and that’s that.

Upstairs in the workroom, Tim comes in to remind and urge the designers to parlay each Queen’s unique personality into something special. He repeats Chris March’s encouragement that their designs be “theatrical and over the top.” They will get 30 minutes to consult with their client, then two hundred dollars to spend at Mood. They will each have the rest of this day as well as an entire workday ‘tomorrow’ to complete their work. Later, each costume will be auctioned to benefit the charity "Broadway Cares: Equity Fights AIDS."

Hedda Lettuce is the first through the door and she enters most theatrically. She’s more Tallulah Bankhead than Hedda Hopper (the only Hollywood Hedda I’m aware of but perhaps I’m being too literal) but she is certainly theatrical! Joe actually grimaces as the Queens file in. Joe, I still haven’t forgotten your “too many queens” comment from last week’s episode. Actually, though, in a sense it’s hilarious that this week, you get to spend two whole days working on a drag outfit. Heheh. Put that in your phobia and smoke it.

The clients and designers confer. Some want a more subtle look; others want extreme, fiery, pop glamour. And oh no, Stella’s threatening to grommet her client. Her client actually seems a bit shy. Daniel wants to make a flamenco couture outfit. Oh, this I want to see. The thirty minutes’ consultation time is up. Tim tells the designers it’s time for Mood, and they file out. I’m thinking there will be plenty of Mood-iness before this day is done. As the ladies file out, one calls over her shoulder, “Tim, call me!” Tim just laughs good-naturedly. I wonder how often he hears that in a given day? But probably not from someone in a huge green wig. Then again, never assume!

At the fabric store, jewel-tone colors and feathers are snapped up. Stella’s going pink plaid for some reason. Grommets and pink plaid? I’m dubious. Back in the workroom, designers are right into their work, although there is some clowning around with fake bosoms and real feather boas. Turns out Terri has done drag costumes before. She plans to make a kimono for her client. Glimpses of the work tables reveal pastel tie-dye and some pink sequined fabric. Blayne roams around with pink netting over his head, and once more he trots out the tired “licious” language. Had you almost forgotten that drinking game? Well, chug away. He takes “licious” through several permutations: “neon-licious, love-alicious, girl-icious, boy-licious, booty-licious” – prompting others to offer “annoy-licious” and “barf-licious.” It isn’t funny but it did get him some camera time — so purpose served? “Blayne-licious” gets a “shut the hell up” from Jerell. That’s plain-licious, isn’t it?

Day two. The workday begins amid some very bright colors. The designers do have a difficult task: over the top, theatrical, but not cliched. They have to make their client feel beautiful, and special, and not cartoonish. But not dull or boring either. Talk about not boring — Suede has a daydream in which his grandfather tells him to sprinkle seeds on his design for Hedda Lettuce. In Suede’s vision, he sees small Bibb lettuces pop up all over the garment. Suede plans to listen to his dream, and implement this into his design. I’m not sure but this may be too literal – it all depends upon the amount of subtle wit perhaps. Suede’s fairly overt in everything he does on this show, though. I hope his client – and the judges – don’t hate it.

Jerell tells Suede he likes the whole outfit he’s making. Suede privately interviews that he still misses his late grandpa. He blows him a kiss. Aw. The next shot is of clouds floating by outside. Keith is making ‘fringe tiling’ for his client. Kenley nasally interviews her critique of Keith’s work. Does she have anything positive to say about anyone’s work? Ever?

Now it’s time for the fittings. The drag performers come back — except they are no longer in drag. They look like regular men, in t-shirts and jeans. They are mostly unrecognisable, even to the designers who worked with them the day before. As the various costumes are fitted (only Vegas has seen this many sequins in one place) the clients give their unsolicited advice. Take something in here, open up the collar there, take this from Elvis to Elvira. Joe’s made his client a pink pant suit; he obviously hasn’t thought about ‘tucking’, and I don’t mean seams. The client suggests Joe change the suit into a sailor suit. So far the clients seem to have more creative ideas than the designers, but then again, the clients really are designers themselves.

Suede’s client isn’t happy. At all. Hedda Lettuce doesn’t see witty lettuce themes in the outfit — she sees Godzilla. Nor is Hedda happy with what Suede has sewn. The outfit has no sleeves and Hedda asks Suede if he’s lazy. Some other designers hear that and crack up, especially Terri. “Oh no she di-n’t,” Terri smiles. Suede is just annoyed that Hedda is asking for so many changes in the outfit. Hedda’s hilariously sending up the diva persona, but at the same time being firm. “Whatever I am saying is out of love. Unconditional and pure,” she intones. Then, “Just get it right!” she growls. Well, we’ll see. Whoever wins or loses, it’s been fascinating watching the performers come in as their alter egos, or, usual selves… whichever it may be.

Seven working hours left. Suede is thrown by Hedda’s criticism and is “nervous.” Stella advises him to “fight for his right to be there” and Jerell says if Hedda is a problem on the runway, “read her ass right back.” They all conclude that Hedda is just “soggy lettuce.” Six hours left. Chris and Tim share the Tim Time. First they approach Korto. She says her theme is “Woman in Heat.” Chris likes Korto’s costume. Tomato red, it has a full taffeta skirt, sequined bodice and some sort of curly appendages flowing down from the bustline. It’s exaggerated yet it is not ugly. Chris suggests Korto make the skirt detachable for a moment of drama in the runway show.

Blayne is still in love with his ‘pastel neon’ 1980s color scheme. Unfortunately that love is unrequited. He’s made a sleeveless blue and hot pink sequined tube dress. He’s placed triangular ‘wings’ on the back. The wings have pink and yellow streamers hanging off them. It looks like the dress dummy has backed into a kite. Tim has much scorn. “It looks like a pterodactyl out of a gay Jurassic Park,” he quips, and Chris falls out laughing. Blayne looks puzzl-icious.

Chris and Tim love Joe’s pink sequined pseudo-sailor suit. They also like Suede’s outfit, including the bibb lettuce bedecked opera length gloves. The duo counsels Suede to “make her wear them anyway. Just tell her, ‘I’ve been to a different rodeo, sister. Don’t you know what with me.’” I love the demure way Tim echoes Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. Tim’s too much of a gentleman to ever actually say the F word perhaps (at least, on television?) but he got his point across nonetheless.

Tim expresses worry about time constraints and Chris manages a tactful “it’s definitely different” about Keith’s shredded black and white mini. Keith may be banking too heavily upon last week’s win. He doesn’t have immunity, but he seems to feel immune nonetheless. Not everyone liked his chiffon shingles last week and I’m thinking his black and white cut strips may not do as well as he thinks this week. Then again Santino’s turkey dress passed muster a couple seasons ago. So anything is possible.

Daniel’s creation is gorgeous as far as the skirt portion. He’s chosen a bright yellow and orange tie-dye looking fabric. Looks like chiffon. He’s tiered the skirt in an echo of the red ‘flamenco’ inspired gown his client wore to the introduction. But, both Tim and Chris express concern about the “plain” bodice. This is Drag, after all, not the red carpet. Daniel perhaps has not quite understood the challenge. “Be exuberant!” Tim cautions. Unfortunately Daniel tells us in his video monologue that he is not worried about what Tim has said. He thinks his design is beautiful. Oh, why, oh why do they never listen?

Two hours until the end of the work day. Stella pounds in some grommets (which seem nonsensical on a pink plaid outfit). Daniel asks Blayne to try Daniel’s gown on. Jerell says Blayne looks “sun kissed” in it. Jerell fusses over his own creation but says his client does not “love it.” I don’t see much to love there, honestly. Despite lime green with sapphire sequins, it is strangely plain. Early the next morning the clients arrive in drag makeup. They try on the finished outfits. Some outfits still have no pizzazz. Blayne’s client looks good though. The bright pink is emphasized by her wig of the same color. At least it looks like drag, which is more than some of the other designers can claim.

Suede has a ‘moment’ in the sewing room as he confronts Hedda Lettuce about her “are you lazy” comment the prior day. Suede tells Hedda that he made some changes but kept other things and needs her to “be on board.” Hedda dramatically begins a monologue that could go either way — accepting or bitchy. In the end, they kiss and “let it go” as Hedda put it. Which is a good thing because at this point, Bitter Lettuce is not what anyone wants to see. Now it’s time for the ladies to get their heels over to Tresemme. I could watch a whole hour just devoted to that. Feathers are applied to eyelids. Luisa Verde catches her reflection and says, “I look like Liz out of rehab.” Liz Taylor? Not a bad comparison at any age. Yes, even out-of-rehab Liz. This is drag, after all! Anyone else remember those horrible tabloid photos of Liz eating a hot dog outside Studio 54 at 3 AM? No? Doesn’t matter. Liz at any age is good drag, trust me.

Preparations are over and it’s showtime. Ms. Klum-Seal strolls onto the runway in a sleeveless leather sheath. Her hair is blown-dry silky, waving into a slight pageboy ‘do. Heidi introduces Michael Kors and Nina Garcia, the usual judges. The guest judge is none other than the fabulous drag diva RuPaul. How appropriate! Heidi repeats the watch phrase of the episode: “theatrical and over the top.” She hopes these designs will be. Well, we already know some will and some won’t.

First down the runway is Kenley Collins’ creation. Farrah Moans models a classic silver sequined evening gown. It’s slit very high up one side. There are huge black and white feathers emanating from the sides at the top. It reminds me of Mae West in Myra Breckenridge – a film which another Farrah – Fawcett – was actually in. Now that film was chock full of divas. So the image is at least in the realm. RuPaul is smiling widely as it walks down the runway. Blayne’s design is up next. Unfortunately one of the little kite-shaped wings is drooping. Otherwise, not bad. At least it’s brightly colored and, well, memorable. A bit lacking technically perhaps.

Varla’s pink pant suit looks good on her. She seems to think so too if her sashay is any indication. She wiggles her butt and salutes. The ‘problem’ has been solved by a strategically placed belt buckle in front. Stella’s gown for Luisa Verde looks like a vinyl tablecloth. It’s unfortunate and none of the judges are smiling. Hedda Lettuce is “flying and floating down the runway” just as Suede observes she is. But somehow I gather it’s out of a hatred for what she’s modeling, and a wish to be publicly seen in it as few moments as possible. The judges take it as showmanship though and are smiling. The outfit really isn’t that bad. It’s a green skirt suit. I kind of wish Suede had made a lettuce hat for her. But maybe Hedda didn't deserve it. With that attitude she was more like Lettuce Alone.

Daniel’s lovely but not necessarily “over the top” yellow and orange evening gown appears to frozen smiles from the judges. Daniel, in a voiceover, thinks they are pleased. And here is the showstopper. Now I know why we have not seen this on a dress dummy and the show has not hinted at it at all. (I have noticed the show sometimes does this when a winning garment is being made.) To have seen this being assembled may have lessened the impact. Terri has made a kimono for Acid Betty. It goes perfectly with Betty’s near-Kabuki makeup and severe hairstyle. Betty knows just how to model it, too, with her arms spread-eagle to show off those huge kimono sleeves. It’s a white kimono with a red beaded corset, blue and silver stripes on the sleeves, and bright yellow accents.

Jerell’s model, LeMay, gives it her all as she models a dress she had expressed reservations about. It’s a cocktail length, sparkly gown with turquoise, moss green, and midnight blue panels. Jerell has made a collar that reminds me of a lizard’s ruff, but LeMay makes it look purposeful. She brings it from down to up with a snap of her wrists. As LeMay leaves the runway she flutters her fingers waving at Jerell. It’s a very cute conspiratorial touch. Korto’s model is next and looks like a tomato to me. Then again in drag that just might be seen as wit. The model detaches the full skirt to reveal a short, tight, red, sequined sheath dress. The judges love this and their faces light up. Keith’s voiceover says that his model, Sherry Vine is “very Tina Turner” in his creation. He’s chosen black and white and made the short dress out of myriad cut strips of fabric. Instead of a shimmery effect, it looks unfortunately like toilet paper clinging to half the dress. It also looks like a normal dress design. It might’ve been funny had he made the dress look like someone had TP’d a tree. But as it is, it looks like a mistake.

Leanne (hey! only one of you left, so I can finally get it right) has made a short dress that looks like a bat. It’s mostly in black, though it has a bright blue underskirt. The collar looks like bat wings in black and grey. It’s a strange number and it’s hard to tell what Leanne’s thought was on this one. Sharon Needles does not look happy in this confusion. And that’s the last of this episode’s runway show. Now it’s time to thin the herd. Blayne, Kenley, Suede, Stella, and Leanne are safe and retreat backstage. Some of them might have to fend off a Lee Press-on or two. Their models were not all happy.

The remaining designers now have to explain and sell their ideas if they wish to stay in this competition at all. And of course one of them will win this challenge. The various models stand by their designers. First, Terri and Acid Betty. Terri calls the look a “super samurai.” RuPaul loves the design. Because Betty is “a big gal,” RuPaul says, “you need a lot of stuff to fix the eye on where it needs to go.” RuPaul says the kimono has a “real Mahogany feeling, dahling.” Since RuPaul is an extreme Diana Ross fan, that is high praise indeed. Nina and Michael both love the outfit too. We see that Terri even designed matching boots. The footwear is as important to drag as the wig, right? That should net Terri some brownie points. Keith has to explain his design next. Heidi calls it “messy” and Keith says rock and roll can be messy. RuPaul cuts through the verbiage with, “Did a dingo eat your baby too, mate? Got a lot of excuses there.” Keith looks speechless. RuPaul calls the fringe “random.” Michael calls it a “sad grey moulting chicken.” Which probably isn’t good.

Joe explains that he wanted to show off “what she wants to show off” which apparently on his model Varla was her behind. The judges all chuckle. I think the best feature of this garment is the color. That hue of pink really brings Varla’s complexion to life. She’s just glowing in that garment. You can tell she feels attractive in it. She’s smiling and glowing  as if the pant suit is just a lot of fun to wear. Her joy wearing it is contagious and the judges seem to have equal fun watching her strut and show it off. “Fantastic” Nina says. “Your body looks amazing in it,” Heidi raves. RuPaul likes that it accenturates some parts while hiding others.

As for Jerell’s strange concoction, RuPaul has pertinent critiques. The dress does not direct the eye. It’s too long and too long-waisted. Michael Kors says it looks “normal” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie under the sea.” LeMay begins doing a sarcastic Charleston. “One of my aunts would have worn that dress,” Kors chuckles. Ouch. Jerell deflates and looks sad. Korto is asked about her creation. She said she gave her client the empire waist she wanted, and also made a short dress to show off her client’s legs. RuPaul noticed that the client “lived for this dress on the runway” and “the drag in” RuPaul loved that the skirt detached. Nina said she could tell that Korto had fun. Michael Kors said the design has exuberance but also that the shape is really flattering and is a “Heidi Klum moment — Victoria’s Secret is calling.” Heidi herself gives it a "three snaps up" hand gesture.

Daniel explains his gown next. Basically they all think his gown is too tame. “If I were to do something more sparkly I’d feel like I wanna throw up looking at it,” Daniel is unwise enough to say in front of a bevy of drag queens — and RuPaul no less. RuPaul’s eyes widen and she looks angry. Uh oh, Daniel. Do not insult sequins in front of drag queens. You will Ru the day you insulted sparkle on this runway! RuPaul tells Daniel he has to help “these girls make their money. They don’t wanna be sellin’ no hormones up in Harlem to make their rent money.” Daniel isn’t even listening. A former boarding school kid? He has no idea what Ms. Ru is talking about.

The designers and models are all sent backstage. Now it’s time for the judges’ private conference. They all love Terri’s kimono — “a whole new kabuki” and “Diana Ross and Gene Simmons’ love child.” Terri can’t push the grin off her own face backstage. It’s almost as if she can hear them. They also bubble and laugh about Joe’s outfit for Varla. Michael likes what RuPaul said earlier about it “hiding the candy.” That strategically placed belt buckle was a “lifesaver” they laugh. “Showstopper … match made in heaven,” RuPaul admires. “It fit her persona,” Nina echoes. The judges also like Korto’s dress.

As to the three they dislike: Keith’s garment is messy and did not pay attention to the shape of the body; Jerell’s looks like a rental costume that didn’t fit right; Daniel’s dress did not have oomph. Nina points out that he’s missed the point of two challenges. He made a cocktail dress for the Olympic challenge and really, another cocktail dress for this challenge. (I disagree there; there are starlets who’d love this as a red carpet gown, but it’s an evening gown, not a cocktail dress.) Nina adds that Daniel gets defensive when criticised. Oops, I have a feeling that is the death knell there. Aside from unimaginative designers and designers who are inflexible (which is kind of the same thing in effect), the judges also dislike designers who will not listen. The judges obviously like to feel as if the designers respect their advice. So far, Santino from a past season is the only one I’ve seen go toe-to-toe with the judges and still land in the final three. But he’s Santino. He made that an art form. It usually outshone his designs.

Now for the final word this week. Who will be in and out? Terri is in and leaves the runway. Joe won. Joe won!? Well, maybe now he’ll feel grateful for the queens of the world, rather than intolerant and peevish. One can hope. His design did stand out, mainly because it suited his client so well. Varla was obviously very happy wearing it. Next, Korto is praised and excused backstage. Jerell is still in and also leaves the runway. Daniel and Keith remain. Daniel is scolded for playing it safe and giving excuses for it. Keith is upbraided for a “random, unpolished” outfit they have seen before. “We wonder if you have anything new to show us,” Heidi snipes. Daniel and Keith both appear stoic as they await Heidi’s final word. And… Daniel is out. Told ya, honey. Don’t dis drag when drag is what you did. You have to dance with the one that brung ya.

Daniel quickly walks up to Keith and gives him a sporting hug. Daniel looks ticked off. Keith, upon hearing he was still in, actually bowed three times in gratitude. Oh, if only he’d been wearing Terri’s kabuki kimono to do so. Daniel awkwardly exchanges air kisses with Heidi and waves goodbye, sniffling a bit. Backstage, he hugs everyone and sadly hugs Keith goodbye. Too soon, Tim appears like a spectre and sends Daniel upstairs to “clean up your space.” Somehow it sounds like some sort of zen metaphor. In Daniel’s vlog segment his face is red and tear-streaked. Every season of Runway has a crier. I guess Daniel is it for this season. He says he’s sad and feels like he’s let some people down. Well, maybe by now he has it more in perspective. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Daniel. There are always plenty of other people who will do that job for you. And ten to replace them. Daniel wasn't the only glum one this week, though. This season's group are so grimly competitive they forget to let loose. Have fun, guys, or else, what is the point?

Next week? Strangely the show is back to only hinting at what the challenge will be. We hear someone complain that the materials are hard to work with. Kenley wants to “collapse and give up.” And, hey! The judge is last season’s finalist Laura Bennett. Well the guys at Project Rungay will be thrilled! You know — the blog people actually read. Til next week, divas. Stay fierce.

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