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Premiering this Sunday, HGTV Star, an interior-design reality competition, will feature a familiar face. St. Louis designer Jessie Miller will be one of 10 contestants vying for the title of HGTV Star and a show on the popular home and garden network. Miller started her career as a real-estate manager, and after she lost her job in 2011, decided to focus on a full-time career in design. Last month, we spoke to Miller about her experience on the show, what surprised her about reality TV, and her design aesthetic. Find out more, including Miller's favorite places to shop in St. Louis, in the fall Design issue of St. Louis At Home, on newsstands in August.
What was the process of getting on the show?
This season was actually the third season I auditioned for. When I first auditioned, it was really spur of the moment. I felt like it was really difficult to translate your personality; however, I did make it through the finals, and they flew me to New York for the final selection, but I got eliminated. Later on that summer, the casting producers were in town, and they remembered me and auditioned me. I made it to the finals again, and then I got cut again. They asked me to do an episode of the White Room Challenge, and after they reassured me that it wouldn’t hurt my changes of getting on HGTV Star later, I decided to do it. It was awesome. When I auditioned for the first season, I had lost my job right before I did it. I was in panic mode because the real-estate market was crashing, everybody’s homes were depreciating, and getting work was very difficult. I just had this vision, and I felt like it was meant to be. I really went out on a limb with it. It was hard because I really put myself out there, and to be rejected so many times was difficult. But I feel like everything’s meant to be, and I’m really glad that I got on this season.
What are some of the behind-the-scenes parts of filming a reality show that people might not know about?
You lose all communication. It’s hard for everybody, but I found it to be very difficult. You’re only allowed to have contact with two people. I had my mom and my boyfriend, but my boyfriend is in Afghanistan, so technology like Skype and email is really the only form of communication we have. I was having a lot of anxiety about that. They take your phone, your laptop, anything that has Internet capabilities. They also take your wallet, your driver’s license, all your money, credit cards—you have nothing. You’re locked in your hotel room the first night, and they don’t even give you keys, you can’t leave you’re room. You really have to trust the process. It’s hard.
When you were filming the show, was it stressful? Was it exciting? What were some of the emotions you were going through during the process?
They really don’t give you a whole lot of information about what’s going on, so you pretty much feel permanent anxiety that never really goes away. It is really stressful because it’s hard to follow your gut instincts, especially when you have to collaborate with other designers or when you’re getting judged by a panel. You’re always thinking about what other people are going to think. It’s completely different than a real-world circumstance. The time restrictions for me were the most challenging. Being in Los Angeles and trying to source in L.A. was tough. We only had a brief list of approved shopping places that we were allowed to go to. Since we didn’t have any Internet capability, there was no going online to check out inventory or anything like that, so it’s a real shot in the dark. You have to choose your paint colors before you even begin designing, which is completely backwards compared to the real world. It’s difficult to follow your gut because you don’t know what the sources are going to be. It’s just very challenging. It was more challenging on a human level than a design level. It sounds terrible, but it really is an awesome experience.
Do you feel like you’ve become a better designer after filming the show?
I do because I feel like when I follow my gut, I’m the best designer. That does translate into the real world, because when clients are paying you money and it’s your livelihood, you want to make your client happy and you tend to conform. I’m learning that when I follow my instincts and am a little more stubborn with my vision, it always turns out better. That’s why I was on the show, that’s why they cast me, and that’s why my clients hire me. It really has given me a little more confidence to stick with my vision and not compromise creatively.
Did you have any favorite mentors or judges?
I don’t have a favorite judge, but being with David Bromstad, the mentor and the host of the show, was amazing. He’s landslides more relatable than the panel. He’s really the only one there who has gone through what we’re going through. He was the first Design Star winner, so he started from a nobody and went through this process and was successful and was able to carry that through into a successful career with HGTV. He gets it. When you get there and you’re doing the challenges, you really have no resources and no time, and he really understands that. He was by far my favorite person to be around.
Did you have a favorite episode?
I can’t get into specifics on the episodes, but the first episode was the most exciting because that’s when you get to meet the other contestants. We weren’t allowed to talk to each other before they started filming the first episode. We only had 10 cast members, and in past seasons they were 12. We were a little bit more intimate right away than any other season, competition was stiffer. There were more opportunities this season where we got to show our individual styles, and it was really fun to see what everyone else did. Everybody there was really talented.
Is there anything else that's particularly different about this season?
Sabrina Soto was on the panel this year, and that was new. Having 10 contestants instead of 12 was new. We were also in L.A., and they’ve filmed in a lot of different areas. They didn’t film us in the house, so we had a lot of fun off camera. We cooked dinner every night, and after every episode we had an off night, so we would all go in the hot tub. We stayed in this really amazing place, and they let us use the amenities a little bit. It was great, but it was a double-edged sword because we got really close, and I was not expecting that. One of the things I was not prepared for was competing with people you became so close to and really cared about, and that was very difficult for me.
How would you describe your design style?
I call it “urban regency” because I do have a very traditional Hollywood Regency style. I like very traditional furniture, symmetry, and architectural details in a home like crown molding. I’m really into traditional bones, but I also have an urban flair. I like very provocative artwork, saturated colors, bold color palettes—I use black and white a lot with subtle color pops. I mix a lot of traditional with mid-century modern. I source a lot of vintage things, and I shop in St. Louis a lot. I’m kind of like a hoarder with my vintage. It’s kind of obscene. I have crazy archives. I always like something a little off in a room. I like a symmetrical floor plan, traditional furniture lines, then something just a little bit quirky to throw the room off. I like adding a little playful element to it.
Do you have a favorite source of inspiration?
It’s hard because when you work for yourself, you’re alone a lot. And that was something that I loved so much about being on the show, just being around all of those people. My biggest inspirations are probably fashion because of the colors and fabrics and layering aspects, but music is up there as well. I listen to all kind of different music, which makes me visualize different things. I have different stations that I listen to for different clients.
What are your favorite spaces to decorate?
I love dining rooms. I love to entertain and I love the feeling of old-school lifestyle. I like formal spaces and formality to rooms. I feel like the trend is so casual. I have these clients who pay a fortune for furniture that’s reclaimed and looks distressed, and it’s all mass-produced. It’s just not my thing. I like more formal, old-school kind of living, and that’s what dining rooms are all about. It’s a place where people used to entertain and have formal dinner parties. I love it. It’s the easiest room to space plan, and then you can just get crazy. I love wallpaper and crystal chandeliers and the whole thing. I like when people use their dining rooms and have people over and set a beautiful tablescape.
Are you nervous now that the show's about to air?
It’s definitely going to be another round of anxiety when the show starts airing. I have a terrible mouth, and I don’t know what I’m talking about half the time. I say some pretty crazy things sometimes. HGTV is a great network—they don’t out of their way to make you look terrible. I signed up for it, so I can’t really complain about it now.