He's in and he's out

Openly gay designer Jay McCarroll talks about making his way past Wendy Pepper's mind games to become the winner of Bravo's Project Runway. It's been quite a trip for a boy who came out before age 14 in a small Pennsylvania town.

BY Dennis Hensley

March 01 2005 1:00 AM ET

When Project
Runway
host Heidi Klum informed Jay McCarroll that he
had just won the show's grand prize on the February 23
finale, the first words the out fashion designer could
produce were, "That's nutty." It's one of the only moments of the series that
he's not 100% thrilled with. "It's like, have I ever
fucking said that in my entire life?" asks the
30-year-old Pennsylvania native, who just a few years ago
made his living working for a straight Internet porn
site. "Now, it's like my quote. Horrible. Can we say I
said, 'It's fucking amazing' instead?" For you, Jay, anything.What was that moment like when you found out you won?Let me go into my stock mode. I'm kidding.
[Laughs] I don't even fucking remember. I was
kind of lost because I just kind of expected Kara Saun
to win. Even though I thought my collection was fantastic,
you never know what the judges are looking for at that moment.You were king of the sound bite. You could host a
show if you wanted to.
Well, we're working on it. I would love to blend the two
together--entertainment and fashion. For some reason I feel
like fashion is the thing I'm going to fall back on,
because I'll always have it. With the entertainment
thing, I have to strike while the iron is hot.I think my favorite quote from you was when you
remarked that Wendy should have worn lipstick to the
last elimination.
My favorite as well.Speaking of Wendy, I watch a lot of reality shows,
and the tension between Wendy and the rest of the group
seemed like a different kind of hate than usual.
There was no, "Well, that was when we were on the
island, but now we get along fine." People loathed her.
What about the final episode? The fights were fantastic!
They cut out my favorite line of mine which was, "God,
if I wasn't on this right now, I would totally be
watching this shit." I was just watching those two
[Kara and Wendy] like it was on television. It was
fantastic.

I loved the colored headphones that you put on your
models. Did that feel like a gamble? What if the chick
from Elle had hated them?
Who fucking cares, man? I don't think about those people
when I design at all. I do whatever pleases Jay. I've
done that my whole life, on whatever level. I was
thinking of creating a well-rounded, innovative,
interesting, artistic collection.That's what the judges responded to.And you know what? I'm so excited I won, just for the
validity of the show and for the validity of reality
television in America right now. For someone like me
to get on a show like that, it's kind of liberating for
my brand of gay man, you know.What do you think of the state of gay people in pop
culture at the moment?
God, I hate gays. [laughs] Can I just talk about
that for a minute? For a community that celebrates
diversity, I have never been accepted until I'm on
Project Runway. And I have tried. I'm just a
bizarre person, I guess. I'm not fucking Brad Pitt. Maybe if
I had time to work out. I don't know, I just look at
those people, I'm like, "Where do you find time to do
that?" That's the time where I'm watching Gastineau
Girls
or, like, ordering Chinese. I don't understand how
the gay community and culture has become such a clonefest.
It's horrible for me to watch. When I was young, there
was that guy from Are You Being Served? and Boy
George, just flamboyant, kind of interesting gay men.
Then you grow up and you're 30 and you walk into a bar and
everyone looks the same. Oh, I hate it. Not that I
want to date a freak. When guys look at me, I'm like
"Notice the inside," but then maybe I just notice the
outside. So I'm a hypocrite, but, oh well. I just don't understand gay culture. I'm not an
activist. I auditioned for Queer Eye for the
Straight Guy
back in the day. After seeing the
show come out I'm like, Thank God I did not get on
this, because if I had to go down to Gay Street next to
Straight Street and have to be a part of the Fab
Five and say "Cheers Queers," I'd kill myself.

People don't often consider the [Runway
competitor] Austin Scarletts of the world or the Jays of the
world. I think that's been really liberating for me,
that response now from the gay community of "Maybe we
should accept people like him even though he's a freak
and shaped like Buddha." That German model on the show
cracked me up. She called me Buddha. Anyway, I hope I
can somehow affect something and break a stereotype,
because it's hard for people like me out there.Were you consciously trying to be a role model?Oh, I don't think about that at all. I just feel like
all the soul searching I've done the past 20 or 30
years of my life has all kind of culminated. If I was
21 and going through this, who would have wanted to
watch a sloppy, drugged-out fag? That was me. Now I'm just a
sloppy fag.I liked that the show was really about talent,
about who's got the goods.
...and then you got to Wendy.What's your opinion of Wendy now that the show's over?I would love to have lunch with her in a year. I want to
know Wendy as a person. For some reason, there's
something about her that makes me want to know her as
a person...because she was in the Peace Corps and she
lived in Tibet. She's kind of bipolar, I think. One half of
her is very interesting and cultured and a mother and
a daughter, and I can relate to all that shit. But the
other side is such a product of insecurity about age
and fashion and what she's supposed to be and what she's
not. She seriously is delusional. I had such an
overwhelming sense of pain for her watching the
finale. I just really felt bad for her. She was playing the
game she thought she was playing, and she obviously didn't
see how she should have been playing it. But that's
the way she got to the end. I'm 50-50 on the whole
Wendy situation. I like her but I can't fucking stand
her either. [laughs]I liked when you shared a smoke break with her mother.People love that moment. I thought I looked like a
psychotic clown character.Are you getting recognized a lot?Yeah, I'm able to make out with cute boys at bars.That's what it's all about.It's true. Getting recognized is creepy but still very
exciting and cute. All kinds of people come up to me
and I talk to their girlfriends or their boyfriends.
Middle-aged women, gay guys, black, white, Asian,
young, old. Loads of white-trash people love me, some gay
guys, lots of weird 300-pound drag queens who, you
know, somehow identify with me.I related to you growing up in a small town. How
big is Lehman, Pennsylvania?
Probably a couple hundred people. I'm two hours from
Philly, four from New York.Have they named a street after you yet?Eww, they better not. I have a little bit of a hard time
dealing with the fame thing. I don't understand why
people want my autograph. It's my signature and I've
been signing it that way for years. Why all of a
sudden is it important for you to have? I think probably in
another year when I'm a complete product, then maybe
I'll understand a little bit better. [laughs] I
don't want that to happen at all. I'm not a vapid
human. The hardest part of this process is going to be
remaining levelheaded and grounded and true to myself.
I can see how fame is addicting, and I can see how
people just love it, but I really need to sit down
with myself and figure out how to be me.What's next for you professionally?I'm moving to New York. Right now I want to be a good
business person. I don't want to jump into this at
all. I think I can really fuck up my career if I
launch a line straightaway. I'm just trying to take my
time, figure out who I am, figure out how I need to approach
this from a business standpoint, how to be smart with
money, how to set up a valid business.Where did you go to school?Philadelphia University, then I studied abroad in
London, then I lived in London and Amsterdam after
college, then back in Philly for eight years. And
then, you know, the porn thing happened, and after that
I moved home.The "porn thing" was mentioned in one of the first
episodes. What exactly was your job?
I worked for a live sex Web site where girls masturbated online.And you moved home after that?Yeah, I lost my mind because I was working with girls
whose boyfriends would beat them with shovels. It was
completely hard-core. It was very innocent and very
funny when I first got into it. I was like, "I'm
working in porn!" and I'd have my high school friends come
to cocaine parties. And then I got really, really into
it to the point where I wasn't designing anymore, and
I was making gobs of money.What tasks would you perform there?I was monitoring the chat for guys and then I graduated
to manager where I was hiring girls. They'd come in
and take their panties off, and I'd take Polaroids of
them, and I was writing scripts and filming movies at
the local Marriott. Being on the bed during orgy scenes and
come shots and girls taking off their panties and
masturbating with cigars in high heels.Do you still have friends from that time?I do, but they were chat operators. Two of them were
models. One of them works at a thrift store now and
has a baby.Was there a particular breaking point for you?Yes. I was sitting one day, and I looked around and I
realized everything I purchased in my apartment was
bought with porn money. And I looked at my cat and
realized all the food she's been eating was bought
with rape-fantasy money. And I lost my shit. I called my
mother and I'm like, "I gotta move home now." This
was, like, two-and-a-half years ago. Within a week or
so I moved all my shit, threw stuff away, and was in a
depression for a couple months. It was just an awful time
and I realized so much about greed and how anybody can
be bought and how people will buy whatever. Awful,
evil, blah. I was so angry. I just got so numb to life,
and I saw how people operated. But then I moved home, and I
discovered yoga and meditating. I was trying to figure
out what I was doing, as anyone does when they're
fucking 27 years old.

Did your family know about your porn work?My dad thought it was just fantastic. My mother hates it.What was it like growing up gay in a small town?I was over it by, like, 14. When I knew, I got adjusted
to it; I never hid from it. It's never really been an issue.Did you get picked on?I think everybody gets picked on, but, yeah, I was
totally different. I had velvet pants in eighth grade.
Every flamboyant creative character gets picked on in
their life, but that's how you grow. Without that, I
don't know, I'd be just, like, boring.As a kid, were you into design?I used to make costumes and dance around the front yard
all the time. My sisters were in the color guard so
there were always flags around, so I learned how to
twirl flags. I was probably such a fag to the outside
world, but I didn't really care. I made weird costumes and
I'd wear weird maharaja hats and pants that were
connected in the center so when I did a high kick it
looked like a skirt...total faggy shit. I was in the high
school band for seven years. I was a drummer. I got the
rhythms, bitch!How did you find out about Project Runway?I was involved in Gen Art. It's a nonprofit organization
that showcases young fashion designers, photographers,
and filmmakers from New York, L.A., San Francisco, and
stuff. It's where they find new talent. It's
fantastic. And I was a finalist for the Styles
[International Design] Competition that they have
every year.Did you think the show that we saw reflected the
true experience?
Totally. Everything was completely accurate. Except for
me saying about Kara Saun, "Miss fucking perfect,"
because I was merely quoting Wendy, but they made it
look like I said it. Overall, I was treated great in
that show. Come on, I have nothing to complain about.What was your proudest moment besides winning?The Chrysler Building dress is probably the pinnacle of
Jay. It's weird, because that's the farthest thing
from how I design. And it was a great test for me to
see if I had the strength.Parker Posey was one of the judges at the finale.
Are you a fan?
Of course. I love her. Beforehand, I was backstage at
the runway show and she's like, "Hi, Jay." And I just
looked at her like, "Why the fuck is Parker Posey
talking to me right now? How does she know my name?
That's fucking Parker Posey." I didn't know she would be judging.Do you keep in touch with other contestants?I talk to Kara. Well, I haven't talked to her yet; I
think she's mad at me about the finale. And I talk to
Nora about four times a day every day. And then I talk
to Mario and Kevin once in a while, and Austin. I go
to cocktail parties with Austin.I thought Robert, the straight guy, seemed like a
nice guy.
He's very nice. I just talked to him today. I heard that
Playgirl wants to do a photo shoot with him. I'd
totally buy it. He's dumb as a bag of rocks, but who cares,
because he's very, very, very genuine and sweet and
down to earth and he's a great guy.Are you dating anyone?I've been seeing a bunch of people. I'm not
relationship-minded right now; I have a career to
worry about.Anything else you want to say about the show?I instantly knew that it would be a great opportunity
for me, so I'm glad the production quality was great
and everybody that worked on it was so cool. Going
into it, I didn't know if it was going to be like fucking
cheeseville, but I really couldn't be happier about the way
it turned out.

AddThis

READER COMMENTS ()

Quantcast