Finally. After all the tears and recriminations and further tears, the deciding episode is upon us. Or is it? When Heidi Klum says, “After tonight, there will be less than five of you left,” we started to suspect that the final, Fashion Week–bound group might not be whittled down to three just yet. Why so vague, Heidi? Because, as we’ve seen in the past, the judges like to extend the competition by keeping their options open with a fourth designer, and this year was no exception. That one lucky designer will have yet another chance to prove himself before the finale is hardly surprising. What was surprising, though, was the ease with which Michael C. made it to the top four — and amid overwhelming praise from the judges, to boot. But more on that later.
Last night’s episode opens with Heidi telling the remaining five designers, “We want you to relax tonight.” Uh-oh! Never trust Heidi when she endorses relaxation. That’s how you end up ambushed with a challenge that involves tearing a beloved outfit to shreds. But this time, she’s for real — Andy, Mondo, Gretchen, Michael C., and April are treated to the presidential suite at the Mandarin Hotel where they can sit back, drink Champagne, and make one final self-important pitch to each another about why they each deserve to go to Fashion Week. This is a breeze for Gretchen, who’s been pretty chuffed on herself all along: “I wouldn’t be here with you guys today if I wasn’t supposed to be here right now. But I believe that’s because I set the intention to do what I am passionate about for the rest of my life.” Set the intention? The Champagne might have been doing some of the talking here, but Gretchen suffers for some of her insufferability in the end when the designers are forced to reveal which two competitors they’d like to take with them to the finale (only April names Gretchen). Speaking of, April reminds everybody that she’s only 21 — which she seems to think makes her an interesting candidate, but it also highlights how green she is. Other pat statements follow, and Andy sums it all up perfectly by saying: “Every one of us had their own story and their own struggle to get here.” Yes, and we’ll surely hear more on that next week.
On to the challenge: Mayor Bloomberg joins Tim Gunn in instructing the designers to find inspiration for their next look from New York City. Really, Project Runway? This, the last chance for the judges to be wowed, and it’s just a variation on what we’ve seen in seasons past and another in a long line of weak challenges? Equally dull are the designers’ inspirations: both Mondo and April opt for the Brooklyn Bridge, Gretchen settles on the Lower East Side, Andy picks Central Park, and Michael C. goes for … the Statue of Liberty. Dude, come on. She’s already wearing a dress (technically, robes)! His choice was so wildly unimaginative that we immediately assumed it would bring on his downfall. His difficulties in the workroom and his unspecific, generic directions for the stylist — “editorial and high-fashion” — all but confirmed our suspicions.
Meanwhile, Andy struggled with criticism from Gretchen, who told him that his little black dress looked like something a high-class hooker would wear: “I gave birth to a Chinese prostitute,” he frets. To the camera, she elaborates that Andy’s style is “just this side of slutty” (though we’re not sure which side of slutty she means) and adds that Michael C. “reminds me of what I was like five years ago. I replicated dresses I liked because it was the only way I could learn.” You’ve got it all figured out, don’t you, Gretchen? Except she doesn’t. Her Lower East Side ensemble is turning out to be something nobody in the Lower East Side would be caught dead wearing. When Tim drops by for his critique, Gretchen earnestly thanks him, adding, “It’s really been an honor to get to know you.” A humble Tim responds, “Oh please,” but what he probably meant was, “Oh, puh-lease,” since Gretchen’s attempts at sincerity come across as ass-kissing. April labors away on another asymmetrical, black-is-the-color-of-my-world number. And Mondo, seemingly so confident about his three wins, uses a few hours of work time to take a catnap.
The end result was a lot of monochromatic outfits that barely represented their source of inspiration and yet were very representative of each designer’s aesthetic, for better and for worse. How did the judges — and Season 4’s Christian Siriano — react? Let’s go to the runway!