Alyssa Milano became a household name as the Who’s the Boss? tomboy who graduated to smoldering roles in nighttime soaps like Melrose Place, Charmed and ABC’s summer hit Mistresses. But it’s her passion for fashion — and a bit of luck — that scored Milano her newest role, helming the third season of Lifetime’s Project Runway All Stars, which premieres Thursday at 9pm ET.
“That’s actually a really interesting story — and it just goes to show you that you never know what’s going to happen from something that you do,” Milano explains. “I guest-hosted an episode of Fashion Police and Harvey Weinstein, who produces Project Runway and Project Runway All Stars, saw it and thought that I’d be a good host for Project Runway All Stars. So I went in and had a meeting … and two weeks later I was in New York doing it!”
Milano, who has her own girlie sportswear line called Touch by Alyssa Milano, will also the join returning Isaac Mizrahi and Georgina Chapman on the judging panel. She says that making the transformation from avid viewer to jurist of a formidable field that includes past Project Runway winners Jeffrey Sebelia, Irina Shabayeva and Seth Aaron Henderson was an intriguing adjustment.
“I was a huge fan of the show before I signed on to do it, and we all have ideas of who we think should win a challenge and we put our heart into that basket and when the judges disagree, we get upset,” she laughs. “So imagine that tenfold when you’re actually one of the judges!”
Here’s what else Milano had to say about what surprised and delighted her about joining the Project Runway family.
What’s it like being tasked with judging the All Stars — especially when you have some established egos and big personalities to contend with?
AM: It’s an easy thing for me because I am naturally opinionated, so the challenging part was more to find a way to be opinionated without being hurtful — but still being impactful.
My approach was simply looking at the designs from a woman’s perspective. Even though I have a clothing line, I’m not a “fashion insider,” so I went into it as though I was going to be the voice for the audience at home. Georgina and Isaac have done runway collections, so they can look at it from that perspective. I really went into it wanting to be the audience’s voice, and I think I was able to keep that consistently throughout the season.
Tell me a little bit more about working with Isaac and Georgina.
AM: I love them both. From my perspective, Georgina is the kindest, most gracious woman — which I think is apparent when you watch the show. But also, she’s really funny, which was probably the most surprising to me. And her ability to give a critique without criticizing was really, really lovely.
Isaac, to me, is the absolute king of the sound bite. He is able to articulate exactly how he feels about a designer in a very honest way, but is able to do it in such a succinct way that it’s sort of impossible not to smile and love it, no matter how much he is criticizing you or your designs.
Isaac and I, of the three of us, had the most differing opinions. He and I went at it quite a few times about designs. And that I think is the beauty of the show — that everyone’s taste aesthetic is so different. That’s what makes the show so intriguing and makes a panel really click. But, also, what we like is really irrelevant to the audience member.
What surprised you most going from being a fan and viewer of the show to being an insider? Can you give us some behind-the-scenes insight on the true inner workings of the show and the interactions of the judges?
AM: I think what was also most surprising was how open the designers were to what I had to say. That was my biggest concern. Because I knew that Georgina and I were going to get along and have a great time and compliment each other well because we’re just so different from each other. But my biggest surprise, I think, throughout the entire season was how much the designers listened to and respected the advice I gave. You know, little things like I once mentioned what my favorite color was that I felt designers in general didn’t design enough of and the next week there were actually a couple of designers who designed their outfits in those colors — which I thought was really, really cool and respectful.
And I could not get over how real it all was, and how raw the emotion was. These designers really, really want it, so in a lot of instances you are either making dreams or shattering them as a judge. It was a lot of responsibility in that way. And I can tell you the tears are real, the emotions are real, and the motivation is founded in something that is organic.
Because you were working alongside, and getting to know, people that you’d watched in previous seasons, did that make eliminations more difficult? Because now you actually got to know the person in addition to the “contestant.”
AM: We get to know the designers at the same pace that the audience does. So for instance, in the first episode, the elimination wasn’t as emotional as, say, the last episode, because we didn’t really know that person, that designer, well. But as the episodes progressed and you spend more and more time with these designers, you really do become emotionally attached.
And being that it’s All Stars, I think that there is a certain perception that you go into about certain designers. Like for instance, Jeffrey Sebelia was my favorite in his season, and to meet him and get to know his process — he’s such a sweet, kind man. You become more emotionally attached, obviously, as the episodes progress.
Runway has its first transgendered contestant — Season 8’s Andy South will now compete as Ari South. Will the show provide an update or some backstory in that regard?
AM: We definitely applaud her bravery and are inspired by her story, but it is really like she is just another designer.
What sorts of challenges will the contestants face, since they’ve already run the Project Runway gauntlet, so to speak? Any surprises you can tell us about?
AM: I think the most surprising thing about the challenges is how little time they have to construct beautiful garments — and no matter what the challenge is, ultimately at the end of the day, it’s about a beautiful piece of clothing. Regardless of the specifics of the challenge, it’s about is this a beautiful piece of clothing? Was the execution done well? Maybe 10 percent is about the specific challenge.
These designers that we have are just really at the top of their game and smart and talented and sweet, so to actually see them evolve through the episodes — because they are such pros and they’ve had so much experience now — was really special.
You’ve got an incredible variety of guest judges as well — Abigail Breslin, Kristin Chenoweth, Gabourey Sidibe and Elisabeth Moss, Nick Cannon, Debbie Harry. Did anyone in particular surprise you?
AM: Gabourey was so delightful. She was really, really funny and had this incredible way about her where she would criticize and it would be pretty on point, but she would do it in such a humorous way. It’s hard not to love that woman.
Do you feel extra pressure to look fashionable every time you leave the house now that you’re a part of the Project Runway family?
AM: [Laughs] No. I’ve always dressed for myself and what I feel comfortable in and what makes me feel good. So I still do that. At the end of the day, I’m still the mom of a toddler and have very little time to put clothes together. I thank God for stylists!
Project Runway All Stars Season 3 premieres Thursday, October 24, at 9pm ET/PT on Lifetime.
Photos: David M. Russell/AETN