As we reach the halfway point of "Project Runway," Atlanta's Kenya Freeman remains very much in the running for the coveted crown for season 16.
She faces plenty of competition, though. The judges are truly smitten by Brandon Kee's work. He's the only contestant to date who has won twice and after eight challenges, he has yet to finish in the bottom three.
Kentaro Kameyama is a finalist contender, too. Over the past three challenges, he has won once and finished in the top three twice.
Kenya's journey so far has been interesting. The judges only highlight six outfits per show, the top three and bottom three. In the early going, many contestants end up not getting critiqued. Kenya has managed to be either top three (five times) or bottom three (twice) seven out out of eight times. In other words, the judges have spent more time with her work than anybody else's.
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To date, she has shown wonderful craftsmanship and knows how to ensure her dresses fit her models perfectly. The judges haven't always liked her fashion choices but overall, she's shown a predilection for working both creatively and efficiently.
Oddly, she has yet to win a challenge. "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride," she said.
We spoke for 40 minutes about the show yesterday. Here are some highlights:
The models talk! For the first time, the show is allowing the models to provide feedback. Kenya said she had no idea that was happening until she watched the first episode. Normally, she said, models are paid to wear whatever you give them, no questions asked. "To have them say what about it can be scary," she said. "You don't know what they're going to say." Good news for her: none of the models have complained to the cameras about her outfits. And she goes out of her way to ensure the models are comfortable because if they aren't, it might show up on the runway.
Out-of-body experience: She has a hard time sometimes reconciling who she sees on TV and herself. "Sometimes I watch myself and I can't believe I pulled that off. It must be adrenaline! I'm all about fit. I'm not over the top. I create simple looks that have to be very tailored... I am watching this like I don't know how it's going to go down!"
The sleepwear challenge: The fourth challenge where she had to create sleepwear for Heidi Klum was rough. She found the silky materials they were given difficult to maneuver. "I freaking panicked!" she said. "I don't dye. I don't do prints." She didn't think the final product was that bad. Interestingly, all the outfits are auctioned off for charity and a fan purchased her sleepwear outfit and tagged her wearing it.
What happened to Aaron? During the fifth week "good and evil" challenge, Aaron brought out one of the ugliest, poorly constructed outfits ever. 'He kept second guessing himself," Kenya said. "He panicked. I think he did most of that at the last second. I felt bad for him. It's hard to stand there and have your a** handed to you." He was eliminated with no questions asked.
Her favorite look: During that same "good and evil" challenge, Kenya came in top three for her sharp red "evil" outfit, but Brandon won. This was her favorite dress to date. "I thought I had that one," she said. "I put so much work into it. I really loved that outfit!"
On Michael's walk out/cliffhanger to be concluded tonight: "I don't think anybody wanted Claire to have $25,000. Nobody did. I like Michael. He and Margarita are really really close. I think he did that on her behalf."
Her takes on each of her competitors:
Amy Bond: "Being a fashion professor, I thought, 'Why did they let her come on here?" Her pattern-making skills are so amazing. She's going to kill us all. She's created some stuff that may not read so well. Some of what she creates is freaking genius."
Ayana lfe: "I like some of her stuff. I think if it's marketed correctly, she could make a killing. The last one she did with the crew members, she showed some leg. I was totally shocked! This girl has been sewing since she was a kid. She's no amateur. She can rise to any occasion. She's very talented. She's been riding that middle so far."
Batani Khalfani: "I love Batani. I was kind of sad for her on this last challenge. It was a print challenge. She's all about prints. She loves African prints. I personally thought she was going to take it. A lot of people's prints didn't come out the way they wanted. It affected some people. They had to change how their looks were. It hit her the hardest."
Brandon Kee: "Brandon can do no wrong. He can create elephant ears and they'd say it's the most beautiful ears they've ever seen. I do give him credit. He comes from menswear and he has been able to tackle every challenge and make something great in women's wear. I don't do menswear. I don't know where I'd be if we were dressing men. He's not my aesthetic. I don't love all of it. But it's him. He's been 100 percent himself. I give him a lot of hell in the workroom. He's a really nice guy, a truly nice guy."
Kentaro Kameyama: "I do like Kentaro. He's really really good at pattern making and execution. He and Brandon have this brother thing going. And he has this obsession with the lint roller. 'Dude! You're going to rub the color off the fabric rolling it so much!' He's a really really good designer. I have a lot of respect."
Margarita Alvarez: (long silence before she spoke) "She's a little too passive aggressive for me. You talk tons of crap about someone, then when given the opportunity to explain yourself, you don't have anything to say. I don't understand that." [Margarita was upset with Claire for stealing her look but never said it to her face or to the judges, only saying she didn't want to throw anybody under the bus. In the end, Claire's top didn't look like Margarita's challenge seven look.]
Michael Brambila: "He has some of the passive-aggressive ways like Margarita. I do like how he creates things a little bit outside of the box. He comes up with some really cool ideas. He does a play on menswear that's androgynous."
On how annoyed she got with the twins Claire and Shawn: "I have no poker face. I'm bald. All I have are my eyebrows. You see every freaking expression. They were accurate. My eyes are always rolling in my head. The twins didn't talk to me so much. But they were always running around during crunch time like it was a skating rink. It was crazy. I don't get how freaking out will get you finished any faster. Challenge after challenge, it became funny after awhile, it became so ridiculous. Poor Claire must have had marks on her legs. She'd bump into everything!" Bottom line: "I don't hate them. I just found them annoying." She does wonder if all the negative social media feedback will hurt their ability to garner any business after the show is over.
"Project Runway," Thursdays, 9 p.m., Lifetime