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Designers work on stage presence on ‘Runway’

The designers try to wow guest judge Bob Mackie with a showstopper number worthy of Christina Aguilera, and modest mouse Carol wins the big cheese.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

NINANINANINANINANINANINANINA! WELCOME BACK, FAIR LADY!

WOOOOOOOOT!

If last week I was jumping off the high-dive into my beer stein to forget the injustice of Epperson's elimination, this week I'm bustin' out the bubbly to celebrate the return of my favorite judge. Waaaaahoooo! Nina, you were sorely missed. It is positively splendid to have you back. What's more, in returning to your rightful seat, you did not disappoint. You threw icy glares, you worked in a killer remark (''That was taste...less''), and you summed up this week's batch of designs with biting accuracy: ''I am worried that everything I have seen here is something that has been done and seen before.'' Brava, Señora!

Now, I haven't been over the moon about most of this season's challenges (Macy's — cough, cough) but this one was pretty cool. Finally, a task meant to create some put-on-a-show drama, with costumes so BIG and DRAMATIC and (Heidi's favorite) SHINY that the folks in the cheap seats — nay, the little green residents of outer space — could appreciate every last little glimmer of glitz. The Sultan of Sequins Bob Mackie could not have been clearer: This is not precious fashion, kids. No need to bother with that tedious wearability bunk. Instead, he said, imagine you're designing for a ''goddess from some mythological kingdom.''

The sight of Mackie in the flesh, combined with the idea of ''international pop star and fashion icon'' Christina Aguilera as client, put everyone in a jolly ole mood. Then there was Nicolas, whose excitement was on another plane altogether. Guy needed Betty Draper's fainting couch. The hands! Fluttering over his face! The eyes! Nearly popping out of his head! Once he'd pulled himself together, Nicky launched predictably into self-congrats: ''This challenge, I am going to blast the industry with my knowledge.'' (BLAST! WITH HIS KNOWLEDGE!) ''You give me some sequins, some lace and some feathers and I will create you a couture garment.''

Irina, of course, needed little prodding to offer up assessments of her competitors. She dissed those with a ''deer-in-the-headlights look,'' which included Shirin. ''I just don't know why Shirin is still here,'' she sneered. ''Way better designers than her are out and Shirin is still here. Her design sensibility is very sort of bargain basement. I just don't even see her as a designer, even.'' Nice. Later, Irina sank her fangs into Carol Hannah, dismissing her material as ''some cheap, crappy-looking Halloween costume fabric'' and venting to her model: ''Carol Hannah, the little one, the blonde, annoys the f--- out of me. She's so mediocre. If you're mediocre, at least have a great personality.'' Hilarious that Irina is evaluating other people's likability, no? Props to Nicolas for this observation: ''Irina's actually a very good designer. The only problem with her is that she's a bitch.''

I don't agree with Irina's outright dismissal of Shirin — she did win the second challenge and has made some lovely designs this season — but I can't deny that the perky brunette was visibly overwhelmed by the Mackie-Aguilera extravaganza. Perhaps the Sultan of Sequins was giving her unpleasant flashbacks to last week's Cher moment (''HALF-BREED!''). It is, after all, impossible not to hear Bob Mackie's name and not think of that belly-baring porcupine get-up that the woman once married to Sony Bono wore to the 1986 Oscars. In any case, Shirin was in trouble. And she knew it. Tim thought her so-called ''Hollywood, 1940s glamour look'' was ''Guinevere meets Vampira.'' Then, after admitting he liked exactly zilch about her dress, he uttered the dreaded p word:''It looks like it's for a 16-year-old's really bad prom.'' Oh, how it burns!

Whatever creative blocks stymied Shirin, they were nothing compared to the tsunami of stress that plagued Gordana. Scurrying around the workroom in her cute black Pumas and bobby socks, last week's winner could barely touch her garment without scads of beads falling off. ''I'm just too frazzled!'' she said. I believed it; she looked exhausted. Gordana eventually decided to ditch her original design and reboot, but to little effect. The cream-colored gown she sent down the runway was a badly-boobed, matronly mess. And as her nerves frayed, so did her English. ''I have to work miracle on this dress,'' she said. ''Stupid dress. Sorry, I curse.'' You'd better believe Gordana was thanking her lucky spoons that she had immunity. I hope she polished them extra carefully that night.

I'm guessing Irina would also put…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… Sorry! I must have dozed off there before I could type Logan's name. Huh. Anyway, let me start over: I'm guessing Irina would also put Logan in the deer-in-the-headlights category, though that would assume he had enough of a pulse to actually feel fear. He admitted that he knew less than the others about Xtina, which he certainly proved with that busted zebra-print dress that made Kojii look abnormally long-torsoed. Ugh. I don't care how often the editors cue the sexy-times-bordering-on-porn soundtrack when he flirts with Carol Hannah. Logan has worn out his welcome. Sorry dude, but it's time to go bye-bye. Yesterday would have been good. Ciao.

For the umpteenth week in a row, Christopher got lost in another atrocious concept: '''80s punk prom.'' When, oh when?! will the contestants on this show realize that unless you are designing specifically for a prom, all mentions of the rite-of-passage event for chiffon-covered high schoolers should be strictly verboten? What's more, there was nothing remotely ''punk'' about his design. To witness: juvenile, unsexy buttons. Wha??? Tim expressed disappointment in the ''primness'' of his multiple-piece outfit, adding, ''If you're going to have a reveal, it should be super-sexy slut or something.'' Woah! Never thought I'd hear Tim pronounce the word ''slut'' in my lifetime. Did you? And how funny was that foreshadowing, by the way, when the camera cut to Christopher's sketchbook covered in skulls with their eyes x-ed out?

For all of Irina's self-aggrandizing smack-talk, she sure does excel in creating supremely predictable garments: pretty dresses! Her navy blue mini dress had some lovely details, but it belonged on an Ice Capades rink, not center stage at an Xtina concert. We're talking about the woman who sang about how ''Dirrty'' she wanted to get while writhing around in ass-less chaps! I'd say Irina got a dose of comeuppance when the judges gave her mere passing grades, but that would assume she had an ounce of self-awareness. Or, you know, something other than the waters of Antarctica running through her veins.

I was pleased to see the judges praise Althea's long, silvery gown with an even longer train. Less jazzed that they raved about Neek-oh-lass' feathery riff on boudoir-ology. It too seemed to come straight outta the Nancy Kerrigan (or maybe Tanya Harding?) catalogue. Tim hit the nail on the head when he pointed out the unmistakable similarities between this mini dress and Nicolas' Ice Queen gown (''Good god, talk about déjà vu!''), but thanks to this season's complete and utter lack of judging continuity, no one on Thursday night's panel picked up on it. Instead, they talked up its movability and flattering silhouette. The shots of Neek-oh-lass smiling smugly backstage tested my gag reflexes. (I lost.) No way could I handle a second Toby win — especially for a shorter version of a dress that never should have earned him a win in the first place. All I could think was: If King of Costumes Chris March were around, he’d crush you and your silly feathers, Neek-oh-lass.

But lo! There was a happy ending after all. Snoopy-eyed Carol Hannah, who'd admitted she felt out of her league grappling with the va-va-va-voom-ery of Mackie-dom, won the night with her multi-textured black gown that Heidi, plucking Statement No. 1 from the handy Klum Book of Praise, described thusly: ''It does not look cheap.'' Well, good for you, Carol Hannah. You pushed yourself and were rewarded for it. And you wore an appropriately sparkly headband for your moment of glory! Snaps to you.

I've already covered the cavewoman zebra turd courtesy of He Who Is So Mind-Numbingly Boring It's Not Even Worth Typing Out His Name, so I'll just skip right on to the bottom two: Christopher and Shirin. It was Christopher's third consecutive trip to the Circle of Hell, and he fully deserved to be there. As usual, he blah-blahed a useless backstory, this time about how Xtina was covering a Cyndi Lauper song while wearing the atrocious overcoat adorned with WTF buttons, and how she'd rip it off just when she launched into one her own songs. Swell. Even worse than the lame-ass coat was what was underneath: a pair of silver hot pants and a black corset that had about as much pizzazz as a bottle of Metamucil. It was this ensemble that Nina rewarded with her scathing ''taste…less'' remark. And indeed, the whole thing reeked of amateurishness. ''I wouldn't put that on a chorus girl behind the star,'' said Mackie, who later likened it to the ''road company of the Pussycat Dolls.'' As Nina so expertly pointed out, all while proving her pop culture bona fides, it was a poor-man's revisit of Lady Marmalade — a pathetic retread of a past Christina moment. Here, instead of ''Hey sister, go sister, soul sister, flow sister,'' she'd be singing: ''Hey mister, tool mister, ain't got no clue, mister,'' followed with a little ''Kitschy s---ty tacky caca! … gonna choke-n-barf on this-a!''

Compared to the judges' takedown of Christopher, their critique of Shirin was pretty tame. Heidi called her black gown an ''upscale witch Halloween dress'' (broom and hat apparently not included), while Nina faulted the disconnect between the ''glimmer of promise'' top half and the ''Carmen Miranda moment'' bottom. The skirt portion was a dowdy downer for sure, but Nina seemed to be in Shirin's corner, mentioning her meticulous eye for craftsmanship. Surely that, along with the fact that she was in the top last week and has never, not once been in the bottom, would give her the edge against Christopher, right? No dice. The petite spitfire got the ax. Which I have no choice but to greet with a resounding boo. It should have been Christopher. And how cruel that the editors kicked off the hour with shots of Shirin practicing peaceful yoga … only to get her ass handed to her on the catwalk a day later.