Every year it’s the same thing. The Project Runway season premiere airs, I watch it live and then I suffer an endless barrage of insults from my roommates.
“You know how I know you’re gay? Because you watch Project Runway.”
“On a scale of gay to gay, you are Liberace right now.”
“Do you want me to tell your parents for you?”
Or god forbid it’s a season where I have a girlfriend, who of course will be anxiously watching it with me.
“Kristin, are you aware that your boyfriend likes dudes?”
“Ashley, how exactly does it feel to be a beard?”
“Allison, just so you know, I watch Entourage and 24.”
This usually lasts for about thirty five minutes of the episode, but once the runway walk starts? The comments start to change.
“Yo, that dress is disgusting!”
“Ooooh I actually like the back of that a lot.”
“I could see that at the Oscars.”
“Naw bro, those pleats are ugly.”
So why? What is it about Project Runway that can turn a straight dude into a fashion fiend for an hour? Is it the hot models? The bevy of gays to ridicule? Heidi Klum? No. In a word, it’s talent.
Yes, the fashion industry is largely dominated by women and gays and no, the average straight male doesn’t give a shit about couture or smocking. But the thing is, there is an innate ability in everyone to judge what’s good and bad, and to appreciate creativity in all its forms.
That’s why Project Runway works, and has continued to work for so many years. The challenges get more and more bizarre: dresses made out of produce, dresses made out of trash, dresses made from car parts, dresses made for drag queens, the list goes on. But every year the contestants rise to the obstacles set before them and produce some truly amazing pieces.
As you watch them hum along with their sewing machines, trying to stitch together something as a deadline looms mere minutes away, then having the world’s most famous super model call their dress “fabulous,” it’s inspiring.
Conversely, if you watch a loudmouth brag about how awesome their clearly hideous dress is, then watch as it’s torn apart by the judges, there’s something very satisfying about that as well.
It’s a formula that’s often copied, but nearly never duplicated. To date, only one other show besides Project Runway has grasped the appeal of rising unknown tangible talent, and the ability of the audience to judge it, and that would be the decade defining American Idol.
Some shows get close, Dancing with the Stars contestants have some pretty good moves, but one half of the team is a pro, and the other half isn’t an unknown but a celebrity. Top Chef is good enough, but you can’t taste the food, you can only see how it’s made and presented.
So Idol and Runway stand alone for the most part, as two shining beacons in a reality TV cesspool. It’s not about straight, it’s not about gay, it’s just about talent, and that’s something the public will never get tired of watching.