HGTV Design Star Season Premiere Recap: Who's Your Early Favorite?

Trying to pick the winner of HGTV Design Star based on its Season 6 premiere would be kind of like envisioning an entire bedroom overhaul by flipping through paint chips at Home Depot. Most of what we got from Monday night’s hour were fleeting impressions of our 12 designers, but even some of those early opinions were upended by the time the credits rolled.

Among the random thoughts that went through my head as we met the contestants and watched them shoot 30-second introductory spots under the tutelage of mentor and fabulous Season 1 champ David Bromstad:

* I had an immediate positive response to the name “Blanche” and a negative one to the non-name “j.” Yeah, I know, what’s a moniker got to do with it, but who wouldn’t want a designer with a name that recounts both The Golden Girls and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Hrmm. On second thought…)

* Mark put me in immediate eye-roll mode by gruffly declaring his “aggressive passion towards edgier design.”

* It was pretty clear the producers weren’t setting us up to get attached to the aforementioned Blanche when she was introduced with a shot of her high-heeled boot stepping out of a cab, then quickly lobbing questions about her competitors’ credentials, like “Do you have certification or licensing?”

* I’m not usually one to identify with Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders chic, but I kind of loved Leslie’s black leather jacket with silver-ring punchouts down the sleeves. And girlfriend sealed the deal of my fandom by doing pushups before her promo spot, then hilariously dropping an s-bomb at the end of a message about her goal of creating a peaceful home.

* Kellie high-kicked like Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher when she found out Mr. Bromstad would be the Season 6 mentor, so how bad can she be, really?

* I agreed wholeheartedly with David that Meg’s concept of identifying and remedying “design crimes” was completely HGTV-ready, although Cathy’s Passport to Design idea — which marries travel and home decor — is probably the one I’d be most likely to watch.

* And I know some of his competitors were impressed by his intro, but Doug’s whole bit about a room having only seconds to grab your attention seemed awfully gimmicky. I mean, design is something to be lived in and lived with; it’s not something you whiz by from the back of a taxi cab, right?

Once the intros were completed, the designers were divvied into teams of two and asked to redesign one of six rooms in their new apartment complex. I was surprised no mention was made about what’s going to happen with the less successful renovations — will Kevin and Bret be forced to sleep in the scattershot bedroom they coughed up or will it get another overhaul? — but overall, most of the mishaps seemed to be a product of poor time management rather than lack of talent.

* Kevin’s early war cries of “teal!” and “tangerine!” gave me a new appreciation for basic beige — not because I’m afraid of color, but because dude seemed to gravitate toward loud hues without any actual clue what to do with them. Bret’s “RELAX” cutout, meanwhile, drove home the perils of literal design elements; if they’re not executed flawlessly — and in this case, the unfinished, raggedy block letters certainly weren’t — they can wind up looking hokey in the extreme. By the time they’d finished, Bret and Kevin’s bedroom resembled a messy dorm from a gay fraternity house, and I found myself laughing out loud when judge Candice Olson (looking fierce, btw) remarked that the plaid suitcase on the bed seemed like foreshadowing that one of the designers was headed home.

* The two teams with squabbling designers managed to turn out relatively impressive finished products. Cathy was certainly the more outspoken in her partnership with Leslie, but the latter woman’s choice of a two-toned table and a fantastic chest made from recycled tires played the bigger role in the success of their great room. And while my own personal home aesthetic is heavily influenced by the places I’ve traveled, I couldn’t help but feel like Cathy was overreaching when she droned on about her camel-colored velvet pillows being reminiscent of South Africa’s wine region. What’s more, Cathy needs to remember the cameras are still rolling when she screeches instructions like, “Leslie, for the grace of God, just leave it!”

Doug and “j” immediately clashed, too, but luckily the former designer wasn’t thwarted in his quest for a geometic-papered wall with corresponding mirror to add some drama and open up the space of their “tissue box” bedroom. I’m not sure what “j” was going for with those giant swaths of gray fabric behind the beds, but it certainly didn’t match her stated vision of “modern and clean,” let alone “upholstered headboard.”

* I had my doubts about Karl and Kellie’s bonus room, especially when he declared his intention to paint trees on the walls, and she ended up spilling white paint on the floor, the couch, and her own cleavage, but somewhere between my horrified first impressions and the end of the episode, the likable duo pulled their room together with panache and playfulness. Judge Genevieve Gorder was right: Karl’s abstract branches made the ceilings look surprisingly high.

* I got all kinds of good vibes from Meg and Tyler’s personalities, but moments after their bedroom reveal, all I could remember were their sad, sparse rows of white shelves.

* As for this week’s evictee Blanche (and her partner Mark), well, I’m not sure I ever quite understood the point of those giant frames she was building to house huge swathes of gilt-trimmed wallpaper, or her placement for that cluster of tea lights, but the designer herself admitted her execution didn’t live up to her vision, and she took her eviction with grace and good spirits. Personally, I’d have kept her around just for feeding us the words “glam,” “zhuzh,” and “luxury” in the same sentence, but I suppose when it comes to delivering divine disasters as the season progresses, Kevin’s probably the safer bet.

* And I may live to regret this, but here are my totally uninformed, incredibly premature early picks for the Final 3: Leslie, Doug, and either Kellie or Meg.

How about you? What did you think of the HGTV Design Star premiere? Who’s your early pick to win/make the Final 3? Who’s already working your last nerve? Sound off below, and for all my reality recaps, news, and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Dryden says:

    I love David Bromstad, though the original Color Splash is way superior to the Miami version.

    • Amanda says:

      Agreed! I miss Ian!

    • Rose says:

      The original Color Splash was better. Ian and Danielle had good chemistry with David. The original show actually gave good pointers on how to do things, like different painting techniques. There was also a bigger variety in the types of designs people wanted.

  2. Karen says:

    My early favorites are Leslie and Meg. I think both would be good on tv and both have good design ideas.

  3. DW says:

    I had no idea this was premiering tonight. One question: Did they go back to the old format yet, or is the show still Mark Burnetted into the ground? Wasn’t a fan of the changes last season.

    • Alison says:

      I believe Burnett is out and the folks behind Next Food Network Star are in.

    • DotDotDot says:

      I agree! I hated last season. I’m giving it a few episodes to see if they’ve changed it.

    • Rose says:

      I didn’t watch yesterday because the memory of last year’s horrible series. Mark Burnett ruined the show with inane challenges, turning Vern into Donald Trump, encouraging bickering and backstabbing among the contestants, and dumping Clive Pearse.

  4. Matt says:

    I thought this opening was already a huge improvement over the disaster that was last season. Getting a host back and limiting the judges to just judging was a big step in the right direction, plus they specifically pointed out that the winner needs to be easy to get along with, which should hopefully keep us from having to put up with another Nina. Now so long as we don’t get any “pick your inspiration object from this box of random crap” moments I’d say Design Star is truly back.

  5. Lea says:

    I’m glad they went back to a host for this show. For whatever reason, an anchor really helps. I will miss Clive, but Tanika is fine. I do dislike that we still don’t hear why the judges pick the winners and losers. As the season goes on, it gets more and more subjective, and I’d really like to know why certain people, ideas, etc are considered better than others. Project Runway is very subjective, but that show manages to edit down hours of judges’ conversations to a few helpful, informative minutes. I wish this show would do it as well. Many of us are watching to learn. But I am thrilled to see David Bromstad as the mentor. Too many past contestants have lost their way and no one is there to remind them to be award winning designers. Too many neutral rooms with “pops” of color–yawn. Too many chairs nailed to ceilings in the name of “art”.

  6. M~ says:

    Yay . . . you’re going to review and recap a favorite competition and by one of my favorite reviewers! Good news, Michael!

  7. Bobbi says:

    Amanda, I’m with you. Definitely not a Tanika fan. But the show needed a host. Just wish they’d brought Clive back.

    They really do need to make it much more clear why a particular designer gets chosen to leave. Blanche and Kevin’s errors seemed to be pretty much on a par to me last night and I couldn’t say why she went and he stayed.

    Supposedly there will be a lot more individual challenges this season, which will be a big improvement.

    So glad you’re recapping this show!

  8. LauraHolt says:

    You still owe us the Casey abrams Interview.
    You should have given Platinum Hit more of a chance the songs are really getting strong you’re missing out especially if you are only checking them out on itunes, the live performances are where it’s at.

  9. Richard says:

    Much better than last season. I haven’t picked a favorite yet, the white room challenge is usally the place where the designers truly show what they are about, so next week’s episode should reveal the front runners.

    • Lisa says:

      The white room challenge will be where we separate the good from the bad. Last night I decided my early favorites were Kellie and Mark when I first saw them, but as the challenge went on I started liking Karl and Leslie. Did anyone else think Cathy reminded them of Michelle Obama?

  10. Barb G says:

    At least we’re getting at least one white rooom challenge back!

  11. Rose says:

    I decided to wait until I read some reviews before deciding to give it a try this year. Last year was so bad I didn’t want to watch if it was going to be more of the same. After reading the above, I’ve decided to give it a try. I’m still not happy that Clive isn’t back, or that mediocre designer Genevieve Gorder is still a judge.

  12. bobbyjoe says:

    Looks like they listened to a lot of the (many, many) complaints viewers had about last season. It almost feels like its back to the old show, though I still wish we had Clive and “Your show has been canceled.” This show had one of the greatest dismissal lines ever, and they got rid of it for some reason. (What, did Clive have the phrase trademarked or something?)

  13. Buggu says:

    Slezak ,
    SO glad you are writing the recap for Design star ..Hope our favorites match this time also ..just like Haley and Vicci …

  14. zanneash says:

    Genevieve + pants = camel toe

  15. designmodyes says:

    I liked the Chicago people (I’m biased, perhaps). At least Kevin knows he struggles with editing. Perhaps there is hope for him yet. I liked Karl’s modesty about his opening TV challenge followed by the tenacity and drive to win the following one. But, I really think that Meg is the dark horse here. Clearly her personality is vibrant and magnetic. It seems as though besides being talented and flexible, she radiates the ability to make clients comfortable and happy. But, it looks like she cries a lot in the next episode; so maybe she’ll be out before we can say Design Crimes? Somehow, I doubt it. I’ve got my eye on Karl and Meg.

  16. Dave in Alamitos Beach says:

    I just watched the opening episode last night because I too was pretty burned by last year’s show. It was epically awful, and they were just lucky they had a “nice pretty girl” in there to win it and not embarrass themselves.

    But anyway, I’m not straight on all the names yet, but I completely agreed with the person they kicked off first. To me there was no question. The difference between her and the other “potential loser” was that even if her designs had been executed perfectly, they were still awful design choices. Wallpaper in frames? Tacky doo-dads on the wall? No thanks. The other guy had problems with execution and styling – far lesser crimes in my book.