I had a chance to catch up with Torie Halbert, the latest designer to be eliminated from HGTV’s Design Star. Torie was embarrassed of her Texas accent until she heard my twang. Then she didn’t feel so bad.
Knowing that Amy got the boot as team leader, why did you volunteer to be the team captain on this challenge? For a few weeks I was playing it safe and just kind of thought, why not? I do exteriors but not so much the landscaping. I select stucco finish and stone, front doors and windows, roofing, all of that—I make all of those selections with my buyers. I was hoping that would come into play. I just stood up for it and said I’m gonna sink or swim.
It looked like Dan was going to own up to his little gaffe but then he threw you under the bus. Were you surprised by that? No one wants to own up to making a purchase like that. It was something that he decided on his own and I just don’t think he wanted to take the blame for it.
Did you think that Antonio usurped your role as leader? Antonio has a lot more experience doing those backyard projects. I don’t necessarily spec sod, concrete, or plants. Antonio had more experience with that and he did take the lead on a lot of it but I kind of knew that was going to happen. It wasn’t quite the way it was portrayed on TV–like I was just following him around. Everyone was talking and had input.
It appeared that you were more nervous during your hosting segment than you were when you were presenting Carina’s room in the last episode. What made you more nervous this time around? For one, I had completely lost all of my endurance. I had no energy. After we finished the entire yard, we took turns doing our hosting. I tried and tried to have energy and be myself but it didn’t come as easy to me as I would have thought. We had 45 seconds and three chances to get it all right. That’s a lot of pressure!
During your exit interview, you said you already had your show mapped out, down to the font you’d use for the logo. Tell me about it. It was really just Dan and I who talked about the big plans we had. We’d planned the music, how it was going to be, and where we were going to do it. My show was going to be about taking design elements from million dollar homes and showing people how to achieve those ritzy, upscale finishes on a budget. I wanted to call it “Designing to the T.”
And since you already knew the font you wanted to use for the show, what was it? I love Papyrus. I use that on my signature on my emails and my company letterhead. (Ouch. Thousands of graphic designers around the world have just emitted an audible groan.)
So you think you two were the only ones who really wanted the show and the others just wanted the opportunity to be on TV? Absolutely. I think Dan and I wanted to win more than anyone. Hopefully Dan did win…I don’t know. I think he’s really talented and I’m really impressed with everything he does. I think he’s a great designer and has a lot of potential. I hope he wins. (Antonio’s the only one I would actually tune in to watch. I know, surprise!)
Let’s go back to the beginning of the season. At what point did they tell you that you were going to have to face off against two other designers for a shot at the show? I had been in LA for four days doing the shots that you see at the beginning of the show. They came to my room the night before our first day of taping and said, “Here’s the deal. You’re not on the show.” I thought, “Is this some kind of joke?” They said, “You’re going to have to be voted in against two others,” and I said, “If it’s all the same to you guys, I’ll just go home now.” I didn’t feel like I was going to be the one voted in. They encouraged me to stay and show the rest of the cast my personality. (So as not to let all that expensive photography and show intro taping go to waste.) I didn’t want to go at it like, “I’m the best and I’ve done everything,” because I haven’t done everything, really. I design custom homes and model homes, but I had no idea who I was up against. I tried to show them I’d be a team player, that I wasn’t there to push everyone out of the way. I didn’t want go home and tell everyone I didn’t even get into the house! I got all but four votes—that was pretty cool. I was really surprised, it was truly surreal. (I’d call that whole trickster thing borderline abusive. I guess HGTV is fully embracing the dark side of reality TV, which parallels Genevieve Gorder’s experience with TLC.)
How did they feed you? (Weird question, I know. But I’ve never been one to shy away from being weird. ) Before we all went, we were asked to make a list of our favorite foods and everything we loved to eat, specifically. When we got there, that kitchen was jam-packed with so much food, you could not imagine. We had anything and everything our hearts’ desired and if there was anything we wanted that wasn’t there, all we had to do was write it on a list and when we got home that evening, it was there. So after about a week or so, we all got pretty smart. We started asking for inch-thick ribeyes and really good stuff! Especially Jason, he was like, “oh heck, I’m making the list today!” Jason and Lonni cooked up some great dinners. We actually ate in that dining room a lot.
I was going to ask who your favorite designer was, but I guess your answer would be Dan. Dan’s my favorite, but Nathan is probably next to him. He is the most genuine person on the show. I loved him from the first day. He came up to me and said, “I voted for you—I was a fan!” I thought a lot of him. I think he’s going to go far. (Me too!)
How did you survive being cut off from the world so long? That was hard, because I have a thirteen-year old daughter and I’m a single mom. I missed her very much. Most of the time, you’re focused on what you’re doing and what’s coming next. I didn’t get to talk to her on Easter and that bothered me. Not knowing how she was and what was going on was hard. When I was in home improvement stores, people noticed my accent and asked where I was from. I’d tell them, “Houston, Texas,” and then ask, “So…what’s going on in Houston?” I got really upset because one guy said it was storming and flooding there horribly—the worst flood they’ve had in years! I was automatically envisioning my brand-new home under water. I went to the producers and asked them to call my family to check on everything. We’d just ask people in stores for information, because…how else were we going to get it?
That’s really smart! We didn’t know anything that was going on. When I got eliminated and flew out of LA the next morning, I had a three-hour layover in Phoenix. I was watching TV in the airport, and they were talking about swine flu. I’d been gone over a month when all of that came out, so I didn’t know anything about it. I asked the people sitting next to me, “What is this swine flu? Do you know about the swine flu?” They looked at me like I was crazy. They were like, “Where have you been, in a cave?” (I would’ve been inclined to say, “I’ve been incarcerated.” With the lockdown they put on these folks, it’s not far from the truth.)
Did anyone attempt to fix NataLee and Tashica’s bedroom after the first episode wrapped and you were just living there? Oh no, girl—it stayed like that! Dan, Lonni, Nate and Tashica all slept under those comforters that were cut up in half! I was so happy to be in a finished room that had carpet and was comfortable! Antonio and I shared a room the whole time. He actually asked to share a room with Jany and I. Jason had a double bed, so when he left, Antonio called dibs on Jason’s room. He wanted that big double bed! But yeah, we were roommates. He washed my clothes for me and he was a pretty good roommate, actually!
Tell me about the pageants. When did you start, and what was your crowning achievement? I was in my first pageant when I was almost five and I won Little Miss Fort Worth. I did pageants until I was 23, mostly in rodeo pageants. I won Miss American Rodeo, Miss Southern States Rodeo. I competed in Miss Texas USA. I won Miss Texas Elite. My daughter’s won unbelievable pageants. She’s met Kenny Chesney four times, George Strait, Clay Walker (who?), Rascal Flats…so she’s gotten to do a lot of stuff with the rodeo pageants she’s won. I loved it. Mom never pushed me. I’m glad I did it. I got a lot of scholarships. (I can’t help it, I’m still skeeved by that whole thing. But I never looked this good in an evening gown…)
What are you working on these days? I’m working on a $1.2 million home in South Houston. I have another $1.7 million home I’m working on for a European ambassador. So those are keeping me busy. I have my own company, but I primarily design for a custom builder in Sugarland. I’ve been really busy with shows and stuff. I’ve been on Great Day Houston three times, did the morning news. I’ve done some write-ups for the Houston Chronicle. I just found out yesterday that Houston Modern Luxury magazine has named me one of Houston’s Most Dynamic Women for 2009. There will be a spread in the October issue. Calling me yesterday couldn’t have come at a better time, after getting eliminated from Design Star!