Barbara Nitke/Lifetime
Dalene Rovenstine
November 13, 2015 AT 03:27 AM EST

Project Runway family, I have to be honest with you: I did not have the highest hopes for Project Runway Junior. I watched a few episodes of Project Runway: Threads last season and found myself rooting against the kid designers. There was a new crop of designers each week, and the way they bossed around their parents as “assistants” was just uncomfortable to watch.

I’m happy to report that Junior is nothing like Threads. I’m not sure where casting found these 12 teens, but I’m already in love with them all. They are smart, talented, and incredibly mature, but still kids — they squeal with joy when Tim Gunn walks in the room and take selfies when they’re supposed to be taking pictures of the city for inspiration. After a few seasons of contestants who don’t seem to be “hungry,” it’s refreshing to have an entire room full of designers who care less about being on TV and more about their passion: fashion.

Tim seems to be enjoying the change as well: He clearly is able to get back to his teaching roots and actually make a difference during critiques. These young minds are eating up everything he has to offer, and that’s yet another significant change from what we’ve seen recently. Anyway, I’ll stop talking about it so we can actually TALK ABOUT IT. Here are our inaugural Project Runway Junior contestants:

Zachary, 16, California: He has been sewing since he was 6 and is fast — the “new Kini” according to his fellow designers.

Peytie, 15, California: She’s a Cali girl through and through; she has a bohemian style with just a touch of sophistication.

Jaxson, 15, Kansas: He’s from a small town and has five calves and a bunch of farm cats. He designs for the “BA” women — which is short for “badass,” something Jaxson is kind of uncomfortable saying. It’s adorable.

Zach, 15, Kentucky: He goes to a performing arts high school and likes luxury designs.

Samantha, 16, Queens, New York: She loves to design streetwear and had never been on a New York rooftop…until this episode.

Maya, 13, Ohio: Yes, you read that right: 13! She’s the youngest of the group… She loves making other people happy with her designs, and she’s so sweet.

Sami, 15, California: She’s the president of her school’s fashion club, which is apparently a thing now? (When I was in school, we had Home Ec, and we made a pillowcase and, like, a pair of pajama pants.)

Matt, 17, California: His design style is not for the faint-hearted — and neither is his love for Tim Gunn.

Ysabel, 17, California: She’s on the show.

Victoria, 17, Ohio: She’s on the show.

Bridget, 15, Massachusetts: She’s also on the show.

Jesse, 16, Massachusetts: He’s on the show, too.

The designers meet on — where else? — the Gotham West rooftop for their first challenge assignment. Host Hannah Davis (who gets a much-less enthusiastic reaction from the kids than Tim) tells them they will be doing a First Impression Challenge: Using New York City as an inspiration, the designers have to create a look that shows off their style.

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The teens are able to snap images and sketch on the rooftop that evening, and they reconvene at Mood the next morning. Around this time is when I started thinking they might get a bit more coddling, but nope: They still get only 45 minutes to shop, $200 to spend, and a day to make it work. And to my surprise, none of the kids seems to have a problem keeping up. If anything, they are trying to do too much. Jaxson wants to make a miniskirt with a detachable mermaid skirt over it, and Zach wants to do a mermaid ball gown.

But Tim Gunn can set them all straight with his critique. He tells the designers — and us — that the workroom is sponsored by FIDM in California and the sewing room is sponsored by Brother. No word about the accessories wall — how will they know how to use it thoughtfully!? Anyway, Tim’s critiques go surprisingly well (again, so many surprises with this show!). He doesn’t hold back; he’s honest, but the kids all seem to appreciate it and take it to heart. It also yields a few adorable exchanges, including my favorite (Maya not understanding the word “disinclined” and whether Tim likes her fabric color or not) and my least favorite (Sami telling Tim she’s designing for “an older woman, maybe like 30s”).

NEXT: A not-so-Junior runway

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