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Atlantans Kenya Freeman, Kudzanai Karidza on 'Project Runway' season 16 August 17

This was posted Saturday, July 15, 2017 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

For the first time, two Atlantans are vying for the "Project Runway" crown in the same season: Kudzanai Karidza and Kenya Freeman.

The 16th season of this sturdy reality competition show on Lifetime will, for the first time, feature regular models ranging in size from 2 to 22. ("One size does not fit all," host and judge Heidi Klum proclaims in the first episode.) And the models, who are typically seen and not heard, will talk about the designers on camera. The show stylistically feels different from years' past. The series returns Thursday at 8 p.m.

No Atlantan has ever won the show though three men have made it into the top five: Mychael Knight season three, Anthony Williams season five and Edmond Newton season 14.

Here are thumbnail sketches of the emotional Kenya and more low-key Kudzanai. Based on the first episode, both could go far in the competition.

Kenya Freeman

Age: 37

Originally from: Norfolk, VA

Residence: Atlanta

As a teen: "Fashion was something very easy for me. I had this thing in high school: if I didn't have something fabulous to wear, I didn't go to school. I wouldn't leave for school until I had my hair done. I was such a rebel kid! I would sometimes get put out of school because my skirt was too short. I didn't make it to 11th grade." (She took had to take special classes to graduate.)

Coming to Atlanta: Her mom convinced her to attend school at AIU in 1998. "After the second semester, I knew fashion was what I was supposed to be doing. A light bulb came on. This is where I'm supposed to be fashion wise. I just went a thousand percent head on."

Jobs, jobs, jobs: She landed a gig at Nine West and spent five years there, eventually becoming a manager. Then she got into real estate. After the crash, she waited tables while working on her fashion. In 2014, she finally decided to work her designs full time.

Why "Project Runway"? "I had always thought about it. I didn't think it would be a good fit. I don't sew really fast. I'm very intricate in how I create things. I was realistic. For a time, I didn't think I was mature enough to handle it. I used to be a bit of a firecracker. I'm now a lot calmer. I'm like an old lady."

Her experience: "It's a magical experience thinking how many people would love to have been there. Overall, I'm grateful for the experience. It was very trying on my soul."

Point of view: "I am everything classical. I am women's ready to wear all day."

On different model sizes: "I actually loved it! Of course, we were super shocked to have plus-size models. Me, I was excited. Being a woman of size, I said, 'Bring it on!' "

Kudzanai Karidza

Age: 32

Residence: Atlanta

Graduated: McEachern High School, Powder Springs; AIU

How he got into design: Took a sewing class in high school and began making his own clothes. "People made fun of stuff like that," he said, since's a dude. "It didn't affect me in a negative way. I knew what I wanted to do." And at AIU, "I spent more time in the library researching than learning from instructors. AIU is more of a business school."

Personal shopping: While working at a shoe store in Little Five Points at age 22, he met Lil Wayne and began shopping for him and then other celebrities. Over the years, he has also done marketing and brand ambassadorships.

Point of view: "My aesthetic is different from the typical 'Project Runway' designer. I have influences of street wear, influences in hip hop, just the Atlanta culture. I want to be as innovative as possible. I don't want to go out there and be safe."

Working with different sized models on the show: "I've worked with plus-sized girls before and my model for the first challenge was a size 8."

What he picked up from the show: "It was fashion boot camp, a great learning experience. You can't leave there and be the same person... It was all extreme emotions. You're trying to keep from being sick. Everybody was getting sick left and right. We pushed through a lot of different things."


"Project Runway," 16th season returns Thursday, 8 p.m., Lifetime


Free "Project Runway" viewing party with Kenya and Kudzanai, 8 p.m. at M Bar, 186 Auburn Ave N.E., Atlanta


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.