TV or not TV: After an episode of Trading Spaces featuring her home aired this past Saturday, Westword contributor and burlesque star Michelle Baldwin offered this first-person report:
I have realized the greatest dream of every attention-starved American. I was on reality TV.
It wasn't MTV's booze-fueled LoDo soap opera, but rather the home-improvement show that refuses to die: TLC's Trading Spaces. The episode taped way back in August, but a heavy clause in the contracts prohibited me from talking before it aired. Now all bets are off.
I'm not a raving Trading Spaces fan -- I don't have a TV and had just seen a Thanksgiving weekend marathon of the show a few years ago -- and applied purely for the novelty of being on TV...and because I thought I might get some cool free stuff. I was a little nervous about looking like an ass, but luckily, Doug Wilson was my designer, and he took on that role. Doug is famous for doing the opposite of what a homeowner wants -- like covering a beloved fireplace or hanging a large picture of the scantily clad homeowner -- and making the homeowner cry. In my case, he ignored specific requests for concealed storage space and a fun, retro room. Instead, Doug took one look around -- at the art, collectables and books -- and declared it "craptastic," then removed all of my belongings and drained all character from the space.
Watching yourself on television is unnerving. I've now seen the episode three times, and I can't get over how enormous and white my teeth are. Watching my house on television was even worse, proof that Mom was right when she told you to always wear clean underwear in case of an accident. My mother had also told me that I neglected my landscaping and keep house poorly, and so I cringed every time the camera panned over the dirt farm I call my lawn. I was horrified when a scene was shot in my fire hazard of a basement, and my stomach flip-flopped when Doug shook out the blanket covering my couch and said, "Eeww, there's lots of cat hair...rowr."
Aside from Doug's insults, reality TV was nice to me: The crew was fascinated by my alter ego, Vivienne VaVoom, and had me teach the other designer, Leslie Segrete, how to do the bump and grind, explain burlesque and talk about my costuming -- as well as how I take off those costumes. The show wasn't as kind to my co-traders, Lee and GerRee Anderson. Though Lee had some of the best lines of the show, including "I'm not supposed to say Œcock' gun on TV," the scene of him cutting up Barbie-like dolls on the bandsaw was left out. GerRee, a writer, actress, wedding singer and host of the Bug's "Freak Train," had more screen time -- but her talent was buried by the weight of Doug's ego.
Trading Spaces invented The Reveal, and it's an effective tool for getting people to freak out. I cried when my room was revealed. Not because Doug covered my fireplace (although he tried) or hung a photo of me nearly nude (although he did), but because it was lovely. And I was relieved that there was no stripper pole, or feathers glued to the ceiling -- both design nightmares that tormented my partner for the show, Jeanette Wild, a neighbor and Trading Spaces junkie. But after everyone left, I sat on my newly covered couch, looked around at the mirrors on every surface and realized that, with seating that could only accommodate three or four and no storage, the room was completely impractical. It was the room of a person without shame or care, someone who could never get tired of gazing at his reflection (or giant portrait).
It was Doug's dream room, not mine.
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Most of my friends thought it looked like a character-less downtown lounge. The white fabric-clad bar covered in mirrors and candles, placed below the giant picture of me in pasties, reminded everyone of a shrine.
My roommate walked into the room, squinted at the light reflecting off the mirrors and said, "It makes me want to do coke."
The experience wasn't a washout: I got a great paint job, an amazing rug and a free couch recover. And our friends loved their remodel; four months later, the Andersons' room is nearly unchanged from its Trading Spaces state. But at my place, there's only a passing resemblance to what TV audiences saw when the show debuted Saturday night. I wouldn't say Doug ruined my room, but if I wanted to live in a LoDo lounge, I would have applied to appear on The Real World.