AN EMPTY RUNWAY: A hit reality series seems to have been hit with a hard slap of real world type reality with news of disappointing turnouts for their auditions in key U.S. cities. According to a New York Post story, auditions for the next season of Project Runway in the fashion capital of North America were as sparsely attended as ones held in Los Angeles a week earlier, when the show’s producers were forced to hit the phones and scare up a few more designers to show up, and the Miami Herald also reported that tryouts there only attracted some 55 wannabe contestants.


The show got some good news late last week when fashion mentor Tim Gunn announced that he was definitely returning to the show, and Gunn was apparently on hand for the Miami auditions, where he pronounced one hopeful’s work “just dreadful.” The Post reported that just 14 prospective contestants were waiting in line to be critiqued in a Times Square hotel, where Gunn reflected that “more people have been self-selecting themselves out ... They've realized, 'I'm just not ready to do this,' and decided not to subject themselves to the audition process.”

Worse than that, the Post speculates, is that the less-than-stellar performance of the show’s three winners so far has diminished the show’s reputation as a launching pad for a career as – in the show’s own hyperbolic phrasing – “America’s next top designer.” Last season’s winner, Jeffrey Sebelia, is currently designing wardrobe for an upcoming movie featuring the Bratz, a slatternly variation on Barbie dolls for little girls with budding self-image issues, while season one winner Jay McCarroll has devoted much of his energy to a reality show chronicling his struggling career.

Chloe Dao, the controversial winner of season two, is back in Houston, designing for the moneyed matrons who were her clientele before she appeared on Project Runway. In Gunn’s flawlessly diplomatic words, she’s “being Chloe Dao really well and really responsibly.”

Obviously in a truthful mood when he spoke to the Post, Gunn said that “with precious few exceptions, there are no fashion prodigies.” Few careers in the business have been made overnight, never mind at the instigation of some televised talent search, and while some real talent has been in evidence on the show – Austin Scarlett, where are you now? – it’s not like the pool of designing talent being tapped is nearly as large, or as regularly renewed, as the one for singers and dancers that So You Think You Can Dance? and Idol’s regional iterations can rely upon.

The worst we can expect from the next season of Project Runway is that it’ll resemble the current season of its British spin-off, Project Catwalk, currently airing here on Slice. Real talent is thin on the ground in the Kelly Osbourne-hosted show, and while the bitchiness factor is high enough to be entertaining, the runway shows are watched with a sinking heart, and the winner will likely be the best of a poor lot.