The Juiciest Reality Shows get down to Business: HGTV Design Star


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There is something irresistible about a reality game show where the contestants are applying for a job. American Idol has had high ratings for 8 years now. America’s Next Top Model and The Apprentice also come to mind. These shows spend the big bucks looking for the next big star.

Then there’s HGTV’s version. This show looks like it costs $25 and a bus ticket home, for real. The contestants, many of them giddy for their big break, compete for their own show on HGTV. Who wouldn’t want that? Public humiliation for a shot at near obscurity?

But HGTV is raising its profile a tad. It’s getting designers from TLC’s popular show, Trading Spaces. And two of those designers, Vern Yip and Genevieve Gorder are judges on season 4 of HGTV Design Star. The third judge, Candace Olson, also has her own show on HGTV.

Design Star is much more emotional and energetic than anything else on the whole network. Generally, you watch HGTV for ideas on changing your house or whatever, not for tears and last minute deadlines. Most shows on HGTV are very quiet, slow and pedestrian. The hosts are pretty technical about design. HGTV Design Star has much more in common with Trading Spaces than with Decorating Cents, for example.

I mentioned Season 4 earlier. The budget has expanded a tad, as the show has moved to Los Angeles, and the design show hopefuls are given budgets in the tens of thousand range to decorate their room challenges. They’ve also picked up Sears as a sponsor, a la Extreme Makeover, Home Edition.

The result is much more spectacular successes and failures, and moments where you actually say, "DANG! I can’t believe they did that!" The judges are much pickier and have more distinct personalities, each having their own show already. So the quality of the Design Star has leapt quite a bit from the first couple seasons, is what I’m saying. You can catch all of season 4 on hulu right now.

Please click here for my rating system.

1. Host: Clive Pearse is so cool and nonplused by all the hysteria going on around him. His British accent is somehow soothing and anxiety producing at the same time as he blows his foghorn to announce that time’s up at the end of a challenge, then congratulates the contestants for finishing the job.  9

2. Premise: This is very good. These people are auditioning for a job. They are hired both for their designing expertise and their performance ability. It is hard to put yourself in their shoes if designing’s not your thing, though. I just don’t get what the big deal is with becoming a Design Star. 8

3. Contestants: This is the best part of the show. I don’t know where they get these nuts, but many of the contestants have their own slang and jargon, and are so full of swagger. When the judges rebuff them, many of them cry, and there’s rarely a dry eye during an elimination. 10

Total Rating for HGTV Design Star: 9

Want to draw a fun comparison? Download Design Star 101 from Amazon Video on Demand, and then watch season 4 on hulu. My, how far they’ve come.

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