In October of 2014, Lifetime aired a "Project Runway" spin off with a group of fashion designer tweens and teens. The show was filmed at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles, was hosted by Vanessa Simmons (of "Run's House" fame), and featured designer Christian Siriano, YouTube personality Ingrid Nilsen and Seventeen editors Gina Kelly and Jasmine Snow as judges. Each week, a new trio of teens would put their design skills to the test for the chance to win a package of prizes, including $10,000 to Jo-Ann Fabrics and a scholarship to FIDM. Titled, "Project Runway: Threads," the eight-episode series was a flop. There were nuances that critics believed contributed to its poor response: its rotating contestants, a lack of showcasing the design process for certain challenges and the odd fact that these teens' parents served as their design assistants.
Fast forward to Thursday night, when "Project Runway Junior" debuted as a second attempt to make it work, featuring — you guessed it — contestants aged 13 to 17. Producers ditched its "Threads" format and mapped the new show off its original (and older) counterpart. The winning formula included model — and Heidi Klum carbon copy — Hannah Davis as the host, alongside judges Christian Siriano (mini-Michael Kors), Cosmopolitan's Aya Kinai (for an editor's eye à la Nina Garcia) and Kelly Osbourne, whose "good cop" feedback on "Fashion Police" makes her the perfect fit for this show. Lastly, a "Project Runway"-branded show is not complete without the Tim Gunn. Each episode will include a challenge to win immunity for the next round, as contestants inch closer to the final prize: a full-ride to FIDM, $25,000 to help launch his or her own line, a home studio provided by the sewing company Brothers and a feature in Seventeen. Whoa.
The first episode kicked off in New York City and we first met Zachary, 16, from Berkeley, CA, who started dabbling in fashion at the ripe age of six. (Note: Nearly half of the contestants are from the sunny state.) We then met Jaxson, who claims to design for B.A. women. According to him, "B.A." means "badass" — and this is only the beginning of a season's worth of catchphrases by the 15-year-old from Minneapolis. Matt, 17, who hails from Manhattan Beach, CA, admitted he was in the "presence of a god" when Gunn checked in on the contestants at work for their "First Impressions Challenge." Since the teens had to create a look inspired by New York City, immunity naturally went to Samantha, a 16-year-old New York native with a knack for combining streetwear and menswear with women's ready-to-wear, as seen in her simple, effortless white crop top and denim culottes. Maya, the youngest of the bunch at just 13 years old, quickly caught the judges' attention with her mauve-and-leather jumpsuit. Unfortunately, 16-year-old Sami (who also hails from California) and her paper bag-waist evening gown were the first to be sent home.
With the popularity of Fox's own young competition reality show, "MasterChef Junior" — which returned with its fourth season last Friday to successful ratings — along with the 14th season of "Project Runway" that recently wrapped this month with 2.5 million viewers and a boost in ratings, "Project Runway Junior" has a fair chance at getting the same positive response. Although the show doesn't immediately grab a viewer's emotional investment as, say, an adorable 8-year-old who can seamlessly bake a soufflé, it's inevitable to be in awe of 12 competitors who can sketch, source fabrics, create patterns and sew an entire ensemble fit to a runway-standard model in just one day. Collectively, the judges and Gunn didn't sugarcoat their criticisms, but the teens' talents definitely hit a soft spot. Near the end of last night's episode, Gunn said with tearful emotion: "I don't want you for a moment to doubt your talent and your future, because you have a fabulous, shiny future."
"Project Runway Junior" airs on Lifetime each Thursday at 9 p.m. ET/PT.