Vern Yip says Antonio Ballatore won Design Star because of his “distinctive voice”

On Sunday, Antonio Ballatore won HGTV’s fourth Design Star, beating Dan Vickery. After three seasons of letting viewers select the winner, the show dropped viewer voting and let the two new judges and Vern Yip decide, and they picked Antonio because he “has such a distinctive voice as a designer,” Vern Yip told me a few minutes ago.

Vern said that “even if I had been picking in the first three seasons, this still would have been by far the toughest decision” because “neither one of them erred in any way, and they both were incredibly strong throughout the competition.” The show has never had someone with Antonio’s “breadth of experience,” as he “honed his eye through all those years of experience building those sets with” well known photographers, gaining an understanding of color, proportion, scale, and balance, Vern said. Plus, Antonio was “not afraid to be himself.”

Overall, he said, “I’m really proud of season four” and the “smartest and most dynamic group of contestants we’ve ever had,” and “the final two really demonstrate how intense the competition has become.”

Vern is currently working on a new HGTV series featuring the network’s designers serving as mentors for “superfans transforming a space” for someone else, and he told me that giving the judges all the power instead of handing the last decision over to viewers has “advantages and disadvantages. As a judge, we get to see a little more than what the viewer gets to see how they are outside just the edited version of the show,” and that “little bit of additional insight” can be helpful. (Viewers can still vote for one contestant to win an online show.)

The new judges, Genevieve Gorder and Candice Olson, replaced Cynthia Rowley and Martha McCully, and Vern said his new colleagues “understand not only interior design, but what it means to have your own show and the kind of pressures that come with it.” Being a designer in the real world and on television are “really different,” Vern said, because there are “much more extreme circumstances.”

Still, Vern told me that design is the most critical part of judging. “For me, design is the much more important component. It’s important to have those design skills. … All of our contestants know how to design, they just don’t handle the pressures of time and budget of television as well.” He said that having one’s own series is “much more difficult than what the contestants endure,” and while “hosting is really important to explain your designs,” “I feel like those things can be more easily taught than the inner design voice that I don’t think you can learn in school.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.