Move over, “I’m not here to make friends.” “I’m not a team player” and its various incarnations could be the new most frequently uttered phrase on reality TV, especially after the new season of Project Runway (premiering Jan. 24). In season 11, every challenge will be a team challenge, much to the designers’ displeasure — the individualistic and often fiery contestants of seasons past have always dreaded team challenges.
But Runway mentor Tim Gunn assures EW that we’re not in for another dreary season full of cranky designers. “Coming out of season 10, which Heidi [Klum] and I refer to as the ‘season of the rain clouds,’ season 11 became sunny again,” he says. He credits the revitalization to the contestants’ genuine desire to win and advance their careers, which he believes was lacking last season. If the below preview is any indication, we’re in for a passionate season, full of drama, great looks, snark from new judge Zac Posen, and of course, fashion disasters. Also see below for more info on the cast that has Tim so excited.
Amanda Valentine, 31 - Hometown: Nashville, TN; Resides in Lincoln, NE
Right out of college, this wardrobe stylist and costume designer scored a big A-list client: her brother’s band, Maroon 5. She helped style their music video, “Harder to Breathe.”
Benjamin Mach, 35 - Hometown: Sydney, Australia; Resides in London, England
This six-foot-three Aussie designer is one of the most “polarizing” contestants on the show and a bit of a “bossy-boots,” according to Tim Gunn.
Cindy Marlatt, 59 - Hometown: Kent, WA; Resides in Kent, WA
The oldest contestant of the season is perhaps also the least typical — she was a funeral director for over 20 years and drove a UPS truck in the 80s.
Daniel Esquivel, 48 - Hometown: Austin, TX; Resides in Austin, TX
Curly mustache and all, Daniel is a true individual who’s never been to design school but has been making clothes since he was 16.
Emily Pollard, 24 - Hometown: Richfield, OH; Resides in Falls Church, VA
The Savannah College of Art and Design may be one of the younger designers, but she certainly doesn’t lack confidence. She thinks she’ll win because she’s not afraid to try new things and is willing to take chances.
James Martinez, 29 - Hometown: Dallas, TX; Resides in Fort Worth, TX
This superhero and ninja lover was named one of the Top Ten Texas Next Top Designers.
Joseph Aaron Segal, 30 - Hometown: Framingham, MA; Resides in Providence, RI
Joe has no shortage of eclectic interests, including painting, antiques, and rocks. He currently teaches knitting design at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Katelyn Pankoke, 22 - Hometown: Eau Claire, WI & Tallahassee, FL; Resides in Chicago, IL
The youngest designer in the competition started her own bridal line, Elaya Vaughn Bridal, fresh out of college.
Layana Aguilar, 27 - Hometown: Valadares, Brazil; Resides in New York, NY
Tim Gunn singled out Layana for the inherent “sexiness” of her designs and also her ability to create New York sophistication.
Mat Arthur, 30 - Hometown: Hammond, LA; Resides in New Orleans, LA
This former journalist is inspired by New Orleans street culture.
Michelle Lesniak Franklin, 34 - Hometown: Portland, OR; Resides in Portland, OR
Tim tells EW that Michelle is a designer to watch. She’s one of the most driven and passionate competitors Project Runway has ever seen.
Patricia Michaels, 45 - Hometown: Taos, NM; Resides in Taos, NM
The first Native American to appear on Project Runway may dazzle you with the history and culture evident in her work and also her ability to talk Tim Gunn’s ear off.
Richard Hallmarq, 40 - Hometown: Sacramento, CA; Resides in Sacramento, CA
Wearing bold prints and loud patterns, Richard looks like a designer, but he actually works as a Director of Marketing by day.
Samantha Black, 28 - Hometown: Bronx, NY/ Fairfield, CT; Resides in Brooklyn, NY
Samantha describes herself as a “tenacious competitor” with a “fiery temper.” She was named a designer to watch by both Essence and Ebony magazines.
Stanley Hudson, 45 - Hometown: Pomona, CA; Resides in West Hollywood, CA
He may share a name with the lovable grump from The Office, but this Stanley Hudson is full of energy and confidence. He has worked as a costumer and stylist in film and television.
Tu Nakchat, 26 - Hometown: Chacheangsao, Thailand; Resides in Springfield, VA
Hailing from Thailand, this art lover has a haute couture aesthetic.