This week, Lifetime unveiled their fifth attempt at a direct Project Runway spin-off since moving to the network in 2009. Project Runway: Junior is now their second attempt at an underaged version of the sewing competition, replacing last year’s Project Runway: Threads. Unlike Threads, which featured a different crop of kids every week doing a single challenge, Project Runway: Junior will follow the regular Runway format, with twelve contestants over the course of the competition.
The “junioring” of reality series is nothing new–reality series have been attempting to do “younger aged” versions of their shows ever since the craze took off in the early aughts. (Does anyone else remember American Idol‘s American Juniors?) But the timing wasn’t right back then, and to be fair, many of the formats to the popular shows of the time did not lend themselves easily to the younger set. Idol, for example, was partly as popular as it was because of Simon Cowell crushing the dreams of the deluded. This did not go over nearly as well when the deluded was an 11-year-old instead of a 41-year-old. Shows like Survivor require the artifice that the cast is left to fend for themselves on an island. That does not work when parents have to be on set as part of union rules.
It wasn’t until Master Chef: Junior came along a few years ago that the format to have kids on as contestants finally found it’s groove. One of the reasons that the “Junior” concept has begun to resonate with audiences is the turn to a more positive, happy reality type show. (Great British Bake Off, the most humane reality show ever conceived, is a hit while shows that made their bed on cruelty, like Idol are out the door. This isn’t a coincidence.) It’s not surprising either that the reality show that made it work was also one where the challenge was one that could be scaled down to be handled by teenagers. Rachel Ray’s Kids Cook Off followed soon after, and this year saw the début of Chopped: Junior after several teen-aged specials of the program ran to great success. The reason for this? The kids are fresh-faced. They’re not desperate. They may say things like “I’ve never wanted this more in my life” but when you’re fourteen that’s what, five years at most? When you’re 50 and saying that, it’s a lot more serious.
Project Runway was the first to attempt to adopt the format outside the food genre last year with Threads, but they got nervous about bringing on kids and having them film for a full 12 weeks, which is why the format wound up being 3 different kids competing every week, with eight winners altogether over the two month run. But that didn’t bring in the ratings they were hoping for, which is why the format has now been tweaked to follow the more traditional one. Twelve teenagers, between the ages of 13-17, are competing. Of the judges, only Christian Siriano remains from the Threads cast, joined now by Kelly Osborne, who is a regular guest judge of the other iterations of Project Runway, not to mention out of a job since quitting E!. The third judge is the “Nina Garcia” stand in, except instead of the editor of Marie Clare, it’s the editor of the more age appropriate Seventeen Magazine and Cosmo, Aya Kanai.
Also, recognizing the success of the original iteration of Project Runway relies on certain continuing presences, Junior has tapped Tim Gunn to do his usual mentor thing. Unfortunately, Heidi could not be convinced to turn up on camera, so model Hannah Davis is standing in for her. It should be noted how much more cheerful Gunn seems filming in the première episode. He was blunt, post finale last week, that Season 14 was “lackluster” (a feeling I agreed with after seeing the final lines.) Working with the kids and their positive attitudes and cheery innocence on Junior seems to have refreshed an invigorated him, much like the show is hoping the kids will do for the audiences watching at home. Gunn did admit in an interview that the kids weren’t total innocents though, they can’t be in this day and age, and more than once I could hear what he meant, as the kids spat out reality show style soundbites like they were preprogrammed to do so by society.
But of course, the question is, as always, how did the clothes look? Can the kids sew and sew well in the time allotted?
Hannah Davis isn’t a bad Heidi replacement, though she’s definitely more bubbly. Christian is definitely trying to channel Michael Kors more than he is Zac Posen. Though we should note, he’s really more inclined to the later, simply by age and experience. Kelly already talks too much. Oh, and the theme was supposed to be their first impression of New York.
Bridgett: Zendaya goes to NYC
Jesse: Origami Swan neck.
Matt: The gold accessory is the only interesting thing, and it’s not interesting.
Peytie: Didn’t Dom make soemthing like this during her winning run in Season 12? (Yes.)
Ysabel: The neck is ok, the hem is too short.
Zachary: Over designed, over flounced
Jaxson: I love the “day to night” skirt. That’s really clever. The rest of the judges do too, noting the colors of the back “night” skyline are on point too. If I had to chose, I would have given the win to this.
Maya: That back. The rest of the jumpsuit has sewing issues that need massive overlooking, (and the judges admit that) but the concept is so great. Kelly calls is “Modern day Scarface.”
Samantha: She grew up in New York, which is why she nailed the current style. She wins the challenge, which I’m not sure if I’d give it to her over Jaxson, but I’m not that offended by her winning either.
Zach: Prom? No.
Victoria: It’s way too much. She’s a kid who needs to learn her editing eye.
Sami: The one kid who clearly couldn’t handle the time constraints. The judges try to be nice about the fabric, but this dress is clearly the worst of the group, construction and designwise, and should be the one to go home.
One thing Project Runway: Junior isn’t willing to do is be unfair to the kids, and play games like they do in the adult version. After all, this is supposed to be the kinder, gentler more positive version of the show. Sami is the worst of the group, therefore she’s going home.