Vern Yip, the Atlanta interior designer who began his TV career on “Trading Spaces” 11 years ago, has been the single on-air staple on “HGTV Design Star” since it began in 2006.
“I am the old relic,” he joked in a phone interview last week while he was at the airport awaiting a flight from Knoxville (home of HGTV) back to Atlanta.
“I have a great time on the show,” he said, more seriously. “I love the concept of the show. I’m a fan of this kind of television.”
And for the third time, the show will be based in New York City.
But there are some changes. First of all, the show moves to Monday nights at 9 p.m. from its usual perch on Sunday nights. Last year, the show lost about 20 percent of its audience on a very competitive Sunday night, its first year without an official host and the only one under the auspices of Mark Burnett’s production company (”The Voice,” “Survivor,” “The Apprentice”).
This year, the show has its third production company (CBS Eye Too Productions, the same one that does “Next Food Network Star”) and a new host: Tanika Ray, a former “Extra” correspondent and frequent panelist on HLN’s “Showbiz Tonight. She’s also a Spelman College graduate.
Plus, another somewhat new face pops up as a mentor, the first time the series has brought someone like that in: David Bromstad, the first and most successful “HGTV Design Star” winner to date. It’s kind of like bringing Kelly Clarkson in as a mentor on “Idol,” something that show has never done.
But the judges’ panel is the same for the third season: Yip, Candice Olson and Genevieve Gorder.
Yip said this is the most talented cast ever, something he has said before but he feels the casts do get stronger each year. And he has seen the best room ever as well. “The longer the show has been on, the more established it is, the more you attract folks who understand its legitimacy. It has produced some real design stars.”
He thinks Romstad’s presence helped the contestants and that they soaked in his and the judges’ advice to heart. (Not every contestant has done so in the past, though he didn’t name anyone specific.)
And Yip loves New York City as a home base. “I just think you can’t help but feel inspired when you wake up and see the skyline out your window,” he said. “There’s a very special creative energy there.”
Among the guest judges: Savannah’s own Paula Deen (”She knows what good kitchen layout is”) and “Oprah” designer Nate Burkus. He naturally praised the new host Ray, who effectively replaces Clive Pearse from the first four seasons. “She’s a design junkie,” Yip said. “I don’t think it hurts that she’s a super fan of the show. She brings really good energy to the show.”
Doug Hines is the Atlanta representative on this year’s show. “He’s very indicate of the level of competition this year,” Yip said.
Hines is originally from New York City where he attended the High School of Art and Design so he felt at home being there on the show. And the view from their $7.2 million penthouse in Brooklyn Heights was surreal, Hines said in an interview last month.
“Design is not something that is supposed to be intimidating,” he said. “It has a snooty connotation. I want people to be comfortable and have fun.”
In the first episode, which I screened, Hines comes off competent and confident, but not arrogant. “There are personality clashes,” he said. “People react differently under pressure. I just rolled with it. I’m a very lighthearted fun person. I never let that kind of thing bug me.”
Hines originally was a graphic design specialist and when he moved to Atlanta in 1998, he opened an art gallery in Buckhead.
That led to his interior design firm Freshmaker Designs. He is hosting a viewing party at Ikea Monday night starting at 8:30 p.m.. “Design Star was always an automatic draw for me,” Hines said. “I’ve watched every season, every episodes, always been a fan of the show.”
And like a lot of reality shows, it’s a lot harder than it looks on TV, he said. “If you have to paint a room in 10 minutes, you actually have to do it,” Hines said. “It’s an eye opener.”
Getting back to Yip, keep your eyes open on HSN, the Home Shopping Network, on July 26. His new line of furniture will be featured throughout the day. He will be there doing live TV to sell his goods. And as a parent of two adopted kids, he and his partner Craig Koch are just thrilled their four-month-old daughter is now sleeping through the night.
“HGTV Design Star,” sixth season begins July 11, 2011 at 9 p.m.
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog