If Oprah Winfrey and Bob Villa had a kid, their offspring could be Norma Vally, the Discovery Home Channel’s “Toolbelt Diva” who wants to empower women — with power tools.
She became familiar with unwieldy weapons of mass construction while renovating 100-year-old homes for her cousin’s contracting business.
On her show, Vally guides a female homeowner — sometimes knowledgeable, usually not — in painting, sawing, nailing and demolishing in the name of home improvement.
Typically, the first pull of the nail gun’s trigger incites a cathartic squeal in the homeowner.
Unlike the “Trading Spaces” troop of revolving designers and carpenters, Vally is the sole on-camera craftswoman (although she does have off-camera help).
“Toolbelt Diva,” whose 12-week run began last week, is more do-it-yourself than surprised-by-strangers. And that’s the way Vally likes it.
“It’s not a design show,” the 39-year-old Brooklyn native declares in her chunky New York accent. “This is real stuff. There is a design element to it, but it’s more practical.”
The show’s projects are small and manageable. Each is doable with a free weekend and a trip to the local home improvement warehouse. In one episode, Vally helps a soldier’s wife transform a backyard ditch into a peaceful pond. In other outings, she constructs a fence and builds a desk.
“We really get the job done in two days and take it from start to finish,” says Vally, who peps up the otherwise dull projects with her zesty personality.
She’s not afraid to goof off, either. In one show, Vally slides into a white sequin gown found in a closet she’s remodeling. Such foolery seems natural, not forced.
“I’m a New Yorker,” Vally says. “There’s no hiding that. People tell me they love my straightforward approach. I have a little bit of an edginess to me.”
Girl powerVally pushes her girl power doctrine every chance she can — on the show and off — transforming the home improvement term do-it-yourself into a Xena-like war cry for women. There are other female-friendly home improvement shows like Lifetime’s “Merge” and WE’s “She House.” But none are as feminist-friendly as “Diva.” Vally says “Toolbelt Diva” is much more than just another home improvement show. This one’s got a message.
“Say goodbye to ‘honey-do lists,”’ Vally screams in the “Diva” promo, “because on my show, honey, you do it yourself.”
In true Amazonian spirit, men are nowhere to be seen on “Toolbelt Diva” until the end when Vally and the female homeowner show the man of house what they’ve been up to for the past two days. Sometimes, the men barely react to the transformations. But a man’s approval is hardly important.
Vally says “Toolbelt Diva” is her “destiny,” but she didn’t come up with the name herself. That credit goes to the show’s producer, Liza Keckler.
The road to “Toolbelt Diva,” which airs Fridays at 9 p.m. EDT with replays throughout the week, goes something like this: After 10 years in and out of the construction business, Vally’s cousin told her she could bring to home improvement shows what Emeril Lagasse brought to cooking shows. So Vally made a demo tape and got an agent who landed her auditions for Discovery’s “Trading Spaces: Boys vs. Girls” and “Rally Round the House.” Vally became the construction expert on the latter.
For 50 episodes, Vally worked outdoors with a designer and landscape expert, making over yards while the homeowners were locked inside. For Vally, “Rally” was an excellent “Diva” training ground. She tackled outdoor construction — Vally’s experience was mostly interior — and learned how to act in front of the camera.
Vally, who’s been a lingerie model, personal trainer and English instructor, hopes “Diva” is picked up for more than the 12 finished episodes and is peddling her fix-it book “Chix Can Fix” to publishers.
And after that? This diva wants to create her own for-woman-by-woman toolbelt.
“I’m sick of toolbelts that don’t fit right,” Vally says. “Women have hips.”