Rubbernecking Recap: <i>Project Runway</i> Season 9 Premiere, "Come as You Are"

We're back here once again, watching Heidi, Nina, and Michael Kors blithely destroy young dreams.
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I know, I know, amazeballs. We're back here sitting by the hearthfire AKA flatscreen once again, watching Heidi, Nina, and Michael Kors blithely destroy young dreams. At the end of last season (sob! Mondo! sob!) I swore I would not continue to recap this show since they broke my heart by crowning Gretchen Jones the winner last year (and by the way, where is GJ these days? She's been conspicuous by her absence on the scene... by which I mean any scene). I couldn't even bring myself to recap last season's finale, I was so annoyed and frustrated.

However, I have to admit that once I heard there was a contestant by the name of Gunnar Deatherage I was immediately back on the train. Heavy sigh, he turned out to be one of the four that were ousted during the premiere. But I am getting ahead of myself. So let's begin.

Opening night started with the usual over-the-top takeover of real estate on Lifetime, with a Road to the Runway special narrated by (swoon) Tim Gunn, followed by the 90-minute premiere entitled "Come As You Are." RTTR concerned itself with the finalist-choosing process, with an audition panel peppered with past winners and/or stand outs (Seth Aaron, Laura Bennett, Nick Verreos, and -- wait for it -- Mondo, looking as fierce as usual). We learn that platinum-haired Becky Ross was raised in Michigan in the heart of a fundamentalist Christian cult. Bryce Black got death threats when he came out at age 17 in high school in Twin Falls, Idaho. Rafael Cox -- who looks like the bastard child of Prince and Russell Brand -- calls Rihanna his design inspiration. Anthony Ryan is color-blind, and is a survivor of testicular cancer. The aforementioned Louisville, Kentucky-based Gunnar Deatherage designed a dress that was the must-have dress at the Kentucky Derby. One of Fallene Wells' dresses was inspired by Terry Gilliam's fanciful The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Serena da Conceicao admitted to being obsessed with Tim Gunn and wanted to start a band called Yum Yum Tim Gunn (with their first album to be entitled Made It Work).

If you're anything like me you're wondering who the Gretchen of Season 9 is -- I hereby nominate Laura Kathleen for this role. She's a blonde from St. Louis who is way full of herself: "you need a privileged pretty girl" she says to camera, and "I've actually started seeing a therapist because I'm too competitive." I already know who the Epperson is -- that would be Bert Keeter, age 57, from L.A. He graduated from Parsons in 1977 and has worked with Bill Blass and Halston. And so far I don't see a Mondo in this bunch -- but it's early days yet, so hope runs high.

One of these scary looking people is apparently Laura Kathleen. Hey, is this Project Runway or Toddlers and Tiaras?

Season 9 opens with the usual convergence on NYC of 20 designers, but the producers decided to shake it up a bit by having the judges (Heidi, Nina, Michael Kors, and Tim Gunn) interview them in person and examine their clothing racks to whittle down the group to 16 before the first challenge is given. Kimberly Goldson, 35 years old, White Plains, MD is first, laughing nervously as she rolls in her rack. Michael Kors asks her who her customer is, to which she replies, "she's urban... I work out in a sequin tank top." MK: "I love a girl who works out in a sequin tank top." The judges all chortle at this. Next up is Bryce Black, who currently lives in Portland, OR. He almost knips when Heidi jumps up to strut her stuff right then and there in his short black feathered cape. Anya Ayoung-Chee of Trinidad, aged 29, is next, a former 2008 contestant for the Miss Universe pageant. She's drop-dead gorgeous and has a delicious accent. She has been designing for 2 years, but only learned how to sew 4 months ago. The judges are impressed by her work but skeptical that she can keep up in the competition.

Other standouts: Olivier Green, 22 years old, from Manhattan. They're all in love with his clothes, his look, his accent. When Joshua Christensen, aged 29 from L.A., comes in, Heidi actually sings out "Joshua! Come and show us what you've got" as Tim looks down, trying not to lose it. (Girlfriend has a nice voice, by the way. Who knew?) Josh had been a banker for six years and is dressed the part in white shirt, vest, and tie. He holds up a red dress that kind of looks like a science experiment. When Laura Kathleen comes in, she is absolutely babbling. Nina starts to say something and Laura talks over her, CU Nina's face, which is not especially amused. Julie Tierney, aged 25 from Grand Junction, CO, has a collection that kind of recalls Gretchen of yore if all she did was outerwear (except Julie's stuff I like, and Seth Aaron dubbed it trucker hillbilly in RTTR). Fallene Wells, aged 29 from Denver, is clearly the show's gamine with her tats and smart sassy clothes. She likes to make men's apparel for women. She's my new Valerie. Hopefully she won't crash and burn out like Valerie did.

Here's a photo from Fallene's past. Definitely Valerie material.

Rafael Cox, aged 27 from Atlanta, is ... shall we say ... rather full of himself. "Nina and I are clearly talking sex with our eyes," he says to camera about the judges' panel. Bert Keeter tells the camera he is 102 years old and I'm sure he feels it next to the others, who could all be his kids... and a few, his grandkids. Heidi really likes his stuff but feels he needs to turn up the volume to 10. He had taken a break from designing and recently came back to it. Anthony Ryan, 29 from Baton Rouge, comes in wearing a high gray scarf around his neck that Heidi immediately gloms onto and wants for herself.

Anthony and The Scarf

Young Anthony with a different sort of scarf

After the show and tell, the contestants all sit quietly together in the room of doom waiting to hear their fate, which is delivered by Heidi and Tim. "Alright," says Heidi, "it's time to find out who is in and who is out" as the screen chryon reads ominously: FINAL CASTING ANNOUNCEMENT.

Room of Doom

Sent on their way: David Chum (waiter from Boston), Amanda Perna (squeaky-voiced girl who showed a romper as her signature look), Serena da Conceicao (who postponed getting married in Iceland to try out for the show -- and had tried out and been turned down ten years ago, ouch), and (bummer!!) Gunnar Deathearge (I was going to have such fun with that name). The survivors hoist the traditional champagne toast with Heidi and Tim and move into their new digs at the Atlas.

Gunnar, we hardly knew ye. Since's he's not going on this glorious journey with us, here's a baby photo of him. Maybe next year, Brave Sir Deatherage.

And sew it begins! The next morning they're slumbering peacefully away at 5am when Tim Gunn walks in to tell them to come downstairs as they are -- in PJ's -- and bring one sheet with them. "We're having a Come As You Are party!" he chirps. He walks the gang past Bryant Park, through Times Square and over to Parsons wrapped in their sheets and bleary-eyed. It's so early they can't even get coffee at Starbucks.

Tim Gunn as the Pied Piper of Half-Asleep Designers

As they enter the workroom for the first time, Rafael muses, "it's like you can feel the energy of everyone that's been there before you almost like the continuation of a legacy" (Hold that thought, guy with the weird goatee whose name we will mostly surely be forgetting...Spoiler Alert.)

Rafael channels the Ghost of Michael Drummond

So the first challenge is... to create a look with the pajamas they wore to bed and the one sheet they were allowed to bring. They're all given a pair of scrubs to change into. Tim explains all the rules and tells them there are dyes and fasteners they can use to manipulate their garments, they'll be assigned models randomly, and with his very first "Make It Work" of the season, cheerily leaves the room (no doubt to go back to bed as it is probably around 6am at this point).

Personalities start to emerge. Kimberly casts a jaundiced eye at Bert's sleeping outfit, which was basically a t-shirt and boxer shorts, and references nut juice in relation to the shorts. Everyone is throwing up in their mouth at this one. When Tim arrives for his check-in, Fallene's dress form is emblazoned with a patch from her pajama shirt of a clown puking rainbows. Tim: "is that a toilet?" As for Rafael, Tim evinces a very sincere concern as his look is, shall we say, unfinished and not thought out. Tim feels it's time for some tough love and tells him he was almost sent home yesterday, "I feel like you needed a dose of Tim Gunn medicine." Rafael: "Very strong and I love it." (hmmm) When Rafael's model comes in, he immediately asks her what her zodiac sign is. "Gemini," says the model. "Okay, you're cool."

"Did you really say nut juice?" the model appears to be asking Laura Kathleen

The next morning we're off to the workroom for final fittings, styling, and the runway show and judging. It becomes apparent Bert is a little out of his depth in the styling department. Everyone else is quite clear about exactly what their model's makeup and hair should be, but Bert goes with a kind of 1970's Charlie's Angels kind of look that doesn't serve his outfit (or any outfit after 1980) at all well.

The designers are given the rundown of prizes by La Klum after which she introduces the judges -- our old favorites, Salty MK, Frank Nina, and celebrity guest judge Christina Ricci "soon to be seen in ABC's Pan Am," chants Heidi. The show begins.

Joshua McKinley
Seriously -- snore... but then, it was a pajama-based challenge.

Laura Kathleen
Not great, but okay. I'm not down with those pants.

Danielle Everine
Laura says sotto voce 'I want to steal her,' meaning the model, to which Danielle retorts: 'We'll see about that Laura.' Drama!

Viktor Luna
I love this one. Strong contender. I'm keeping an eye on this guy.

Becky Ross
Kinda cute but I wouldn't wear it.

Bryce Black
Very, very nice.

Anya Ayoung-Chee
Her first time ever sewing pants... or silk. Jeez frickin' Louise.

Julie Tierney
Oh HELL no. This is just wrong on several levels.

Olivier Green
Not terribly impressive, but certainly not the worst of the bunch.

Kimberly Goldson
Is it me, or is this beyond hideous?

Anthony Ryan
Quoth Anthony: 'I'm just thinking no ass cheek, no ass cheek, no ass cheek.'

Rafael Cox
Gag me.

Fallene Wells
Score! This is totes cute.

Bert Keeter
The Return of Farrah ... n'est-ce pas? Or a great book cover for a Jacqueline Susann novel.

Joshua Christiansen
Ouch! What the hell?

Cecilia Motwani
Love the colors, but the skirt is weird.

After the runway show, everyone except Anthony, Rafael, Anya, Julie, Bert and Josh C. are dismissed to the greenroom. Danielle proves herself to be possibly another good candidate for Gretchen 2011 as she pouts, "OMG I am not in the right place" to which another designer says, "you're in, you're safe." Danielle: "that's, like, not good enough." Meanwhile back on the runway, the models come out to join their designers, and the synthy music plays that we've all grown to love (at least I have...YMMV).

Anthony Ryan is praised for his creativity and Heidi allows as how first of all it's so interesting to see what you guys wear to bed. Rafael seems to have no idea, or is a really good actor, just how bad his outfit looks, which seems to me something someone with no taste would wear to go shopping in Walmart. Heidi says the scarf he used for an accent looks like a bib. "She's wearing like a Flintstone disco patch," pronounces MK in the first real Korsism of the season. Christina Ricci is the only one who's slightly kind, saying the shirt shows some craftsmanship. Julie is also pounded pretty hard. Heidi says she had high expectations based on her rack, "but it's just bad." Christina is "confused." Nina says the pants look weird. MK says, "it's an odd angle for a pocket... might be a very I like myself kind of pocket," and wiggles his fingers in a masturbatory gesture (I know... ew!). Josh C is told by Heidi that she doesn't know which is worse, his outfit or Rafael's. He grouses that he wishes one of the others had warned him it didn't look good, to which MK thunders, "it's not up to any of the other designers to tell you that you're going the wrong way!"

Anya on the other hand is roundly praised for her tailored shirt and pants (Could she be my new Mondo? The Magic Eight Ball says maybe). They're all amazed that it's her first time ever making pants, and they fit like a dream, especially the fit of the butt. I just have to show you how good the butt looks.

See what I mean?

Bert is also a big hit. The judges are pleased he took their advice and turned it up a few notches. I'm not down with the dress he made -- seems pretty pedestrian to me -- but the judges are oohing and aahing. "I am in love with this outfit," says Heidi. Nina: "Feminine, sexy, terrific." Christina loves the proportions. MK likes the asymmetry but hates his styling, "you need to bring her in to modern times."

The designers are sent to the greenroom to wait for their fate while the judges deliberate. Josh C. is shaken to the core, "I've just taken the beating of a lifetime. It is like someone looking into your soul and telling you everything bad you've ever done." Meanwhile back at the judges table, Christina believes that Rafael's shirt kind of saves his outfit a little bit, but no one else agrees. Nina doesn't think Rafael actually understands that the entire look is bad. They give it the worst label they possibly can: "fashion backward."

I guess I'm not surprised they name Bert the winner, based on their reaction to the dress he made (good thing they didn't hear Kimberly's nut juice comment). My pick would have been Anya, who is second runner up, followed by Anthony Ryan. The bottom three are Julie, Josh C., and Rafael. Julie squeaks by as does Josh C. Rafael and his weird goatee are sent home. Tim comes in to deliver his trademark line, "I have to send you to the workroom to clean up your space." Off goes Rafael to the place where he felt the energy of the ghosts of designers past to gather his things (The lesson learned here might be don't take Rihanna as your inspiration).

Next week: Petland! First ever outdoor runway show! And.... yes... Drama with a capital D!

Questions: Will we get to see Swatch, the dog? Will Swatch ever get his own challenge? Who's the Michael C of this season? Why are we still watching this show?

Project Runway airs on Lifetime TV Thursday nights at 9pm