Design Star: Next Gen Finalists Open Up About The Show, Design, And More - Exclusive Interview

It's been eight years since Design Star was on the air, and now it's back — bigger and better than ever. With an enormously large Wayfair showroom that contestants can peruse and the high stakes of winning $50,000 and your own HGTV show, Design Star: Next Gen is this generation's new go-to design competition.


If you thought watching from your sofa was stressful, it's nothing compared to what these contestants were feeling at the end of each challenge. After weeks of watching, what began with eight extremely talented designers has now turned into three finalists: Eli Hariton, Carmeon Hamilton, and Chris Goddard.

We got the chance to chat with all three of them. In an exclusive interview, this insanely talented trio talked all about what filming was like behind the scenes, what they envision their own HGTV shows would look like, and some of their hilarious stories of how they got casted on Design Star: Next Gen.

Their reaction to finding out they were in Design Star: Next Gen's top three

Congrats to all of you guys for making it to the finale! I was watching all the episodes from home stressed out of my mind, just sitting on my couch, watching who will get eliminated at the end of each round. What was going through your heads when you found out you were in the top three?


Eli: Oh, boy. Well, I went onto the show, like — when I remember when I was doing the initial interviews, they were like, "You know you're going to be up against people [who have years of experience] already." ... And they were just like, "How do you feel about that?" I was like, "I don't know, like maybe, maybe I can teach an old dog new tricks." I don't know what's going to happen, but I was definitely thinking I would not make it this far. No chance. I'm so green to the game, so I was pretty humbled and pretty excited, especially being in the top with these two. That was — I feel quite honored.

Carmeon: Making it to the top three — so of the three of us ... Eli was the only one that was a shoo-in for the top three. He won the previous challenge, and so Chris and I had to go through the whole process of potentially being eliminated before even understanding that we could make it to the finale, so it was nerve racking. And I, I personally had taken a couple of risks the two previous challenges, and I think the whole entire season, I was just "do you, but make it to the next challenge, just make it forward," and I hadn't won a challenge up until that point. And I made it! Apparently, you don't have to win the challenge to make it to the finale. [Laughs] So I was just glad I had done enough to get there, but by the time I walked through that door of the previous challenge, I was like, "No, I'm here. I'm going to the finale. It's, mine for the taking, like I have to step it up and shoot for the stars this go around."


Chris: Well, having been in the bottom and the top, that is the scariest experience ever. And we can all agree that going to that doorknob ... There's a major reality check. Nobody really understands how scary it is. Getting through that door when it opened for the finale was this huge relief, because, honestly, you don't know — you don't know what the judges are looking for. You don't know from time to time. I mean, I'm the oldest, as it's been pointed out many times [laughs] but also I was the most scared, because, you know, I was in the bottom. I was in the top. I was in the middle. We were all there, so none of us really knew.

Also, it's kind of bittersweet, because we would want to share that experience with all the people, because we became so close with all our castmates. So it was a real high and a real low, because we all want to compete against each other, and we all want each other to win, I think, in the end. So it was a big relief and it was just super exciting. I can't believe I made it to the finale. A total roller coaster.

What the casting process was like for Design Star: Next Gen

How did each of you find out that you were cast in the show?

Carmeon: The process was so long. I know it started back in January or February. It was February. It was my first call, and I know they had plans to start shooting back in May, but, of course, COVID happened, and there was just this huge moment of silence with delays. Like, we didn't know if it was still going to happen or if it was moving forward, but I got a phone call. I didn't recognize the phone number, so I didn't even answer it. And I checked my voicemail, and it was Dean [Ollins], the executive producer, and he was like, "Hey! It's Dean. It's been a while — just letting you know it's happening now, so we want you on the show. It'd be great if you could call me back. Can we talk?"


And I was like, "Dean? Show?" It took a while to register, but it's like, "Oh, okay." And that was August. It took months for it to really come to fruition, so when it happened, I was like — and by that time, I didn't even know if I still wanted to do the show. Okay, a lot has changed over the last six months, but my husband and best friend had to convince me to do it. "No, you got to go. You're not going to get this opportunity again."

What was your hesitation?

Carmeon: Well, my own design business took off over the summer. I've had my design business for years, but I had just left my corporate job at the end of 2019. So six months after that, and my business exploded, and I was at the height of my own personal career, and I would have had to leave everything behind and shut my business down to go and shoot. So, I don't know if I want to do that for the chance to win something like a competition. I don't compete for anything. I don't want to go compete and risk losing my business on top of this. So yeah, I was like, "Nah, I don't, I don't want to do that," but I did.


How Eli and Chris joined the Design Star: Next Gen cast

What about you, Chris?

Chris: Actually, I thought it was a prank, because they kept calling my office, and my office manager kept saying, "Somebody keeps calling about a TV show," and I was like, "Oh, that can't be real." And then after they called, I don't know after how many times, I actually Googled who it was, and she said, "I think this is real. You ought to take the phone call."


I called and visited with Dean. And he was like, "Hey! We'd love you to be part of this show." And much like Carmeon, I was kind of torn. Is this something I really want to do? Because, I already have a pretty successful, big firm and thought about it and thought about it. And Dean kept calling, and okay, what the heck?

I really, really wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I think it's kind of important to kind of tear yourself down and start over, you know, as a designer and a creative. And it definitely tore me down. I mean, I — but everything came back to me really fast. I mean, it had been 20 years since I had painted or wallpapered or done anything other than points or all designer managed, so it was, it was very humbling, but it came back to me like riding a bike. I think everybody looked at me and probably didn't think I was going to make it past the first one, but I hung in there, and everything just kind of came right back to me.


And honestly, it was the best experience. I felt more creative, more energized, and more excited about the creative process after I got home. So it was something that I will never, ever regret doing.

Eli: Similarly to Chris, I thought it was a joke. This dude that was not Dean — I didn't meet Dean for months — was hitting me up. And he — I was skiing, and I was just like, "Who is this guy?" I'm like, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and it was the same message. And it was just like — it wasn't even like, "Hey! We're casting the show. I think you'd be a good fit for this." It was just, "I'm doing a TV show. Do you want to be on it?" That was it. Get out of here! No, this is — this is not real, so I just brushed it off.

And then I'm at a photo shoot later in the week, and my boss calls me, and she's like, "Hey! Do you know this guy who's been trying to, like, reach you?" He said — and he wrote her a big, long email, and she's like, "Alright, it sounds pretty legit. Can you look the guy up and maybe give him a call back?" And I'm like, "Sure." And it's like, he's legit. The company he was working for was legit, so I called him, and he was just like, "Yeah, we're doing this show." I actually was just like, "I mean, I got like 800 followers on Instagram. I've been doing this for about four years professionally. Other than that, I was designing restaurants. They were my own restaurants, I don't know if I have the experience for what you want. Why don't you talk to other people at my firm?"


And then he listed all the people at the firm and he goes, "We want you." Alright, I guess that's — that's very flattering, but maybe it's just, I don't fit the mold of your average interior designer: straight, white, bearded mountain man who likes design. I just don't think I fit the mold, so maybe that's why they wanted me.

The designers reveal what being on Design Star: Next Gen is really like

Was being on the show what you guys expected it was going to be like once you were actually there?

Carmeon: Not at all.

Eli: Not even close. [Laughs]

Chris: I think that I had so little knowledge of actually what was going to happen that I went into it treating it like I do all my design projects. As you see in the first episode, I'm actually in there spackling walls and putting [in] baseboards and door moldings 'cause I took it like I was actually doing a design project. It really didn't hit me it was a TV show and how naïve I was to the process. It's just mind-boggling to me once we got into it. It was so not what I thought it was going to be, and so much more, I think.


Carmeon: Yeah, and I had watched it — every season of Design Star before going. I watched it in real time 10 years ago and right before going on the show. And so even when they called me, "We want you to do this show." I was like, "Do I have to live with everybody?" It like — I was like, "What — what channel is this on? Is this Bravo? Or what? Like, I'm not — I don't do drama. I don't want to live with people. Like, I'm not doing this if this is what it's going to be," so I was really nervous about, like, the non-design aspects of previous Design Star seasons.

And then also designing a room in two days with $500. That's not — that's — you can't do that now. And that's not what I do. That's not my business model. That's not what I promote on social media. I was just really concerned that they were trying to pinch us into something that wasn't realistic or entertaining or something I wanted to participate in. And then we get there, and it's this monstrous production in the most beautiful location, and this warehouse of furniture, and 50,000 cameras. And I'm just like, "Oh, my God. What did — what did I just sign up for?" [Laughs]


Chris: It was very overwhelming, to be honest.

Eli: It totally was way bigger. It was so much bigger than anybody could have expected. And I remember just — I still didn't think it was real. My friends are big pranksters, and no, I'm not kidding. I have a prank that's still running for over 15 years, and I still don't know who it is. I know it's them. I just don't know which one or all of them, but I literally was expecting to get on set, and one of my friends was there, and it was a big joke, but things started to progress and things got bigger. And I remember — do you remember the first time we got out of the cars and there were 20 cameras on us, and I'm like, "Are you kidding me with this?" My heart was just racing. What — what do I even do? And then everybody proceeded to trip over the same obstacle when we walked in. This is a disaster. Why did I come here?

Chris: I think we went into survival mode. I think, basically all of us, 'cause we did. It was so overwhelming and scary, but all those cameras — I mean, that was like nothing we don't — any of us had seen. We were just in shock, I think.

Eli: Totally. Totally. And it's amazing, also, how they just disappear very quickly once you get used to it. You're just, like you're so laser-focused that all of a sudden you tap into a side of yourself that, I guess, I didn't know. I never thought I would be on a TV show, and then when I was there — I'm never going to be able to get over the fact that there's three cameras on me watching me do everything at any given time, and you're mic'd up, so it completely changed your brain, but it was amazing how we all were just kind of like, "Well, whatever." We're all mic'ing ourselves up in the morning, and we were ready to go. It was totally different.


What the cameras don't show us on Design Star: Next Gen

Out of your entire experience, there's a lot that the cameras don't show all of us watching at home. Is there something that wasn't a part of an episode that you wish we could have seen?

Carmeon: I wish that they were able to edit in more of our interactions with each other. I was one that made it a point to go and visit everybody during the process. I wanted to see what everybody else was doing, check in, see what their designs look like. Also, check on their mental state. It was a recon situation for me, but every time, the banter between all of us — because we truly liked each other. Every experience was one filled with laughter and one-liners and jokes. And it would be things that we would talk about for days. But I wish we got to see more of how we got along and how funny everybody really was because, oh my God, 99 percent of the cast is hilarious.


Chris: We spent a lot of time laughing.

Eli: That's what got us through.

Chris: We laughed a lot. And also, I wish there was more of the design process and how much work went into our actual design. I think it goes by so fast. You don't see how much thought and effort went into making those rooms happen in that short period of time. And as designers, our process is really important to us and I think a lot — the audience missed a lot of actually all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into it, 'cause it — it goes by so fast.

Carmeon: Yeah.

Eli: Yeah. There were also just so many great moments, even the trash-talking was just hilarious, because Chris [was] being [like],"It's lonely on the top," just yelling at everybody, and Arianna was — was digging up her outdoor space, and I just won two challenges. And Ariana is out there digging up her outdoor space, and they're like, "What are you digging?" She's like, "Eli's grave." [Laughs] Just like the trash-talking that everybody had was so funny, because right after, it was like, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it," because we all got along so well.


After the show or after we were done filming, most nights, we'd go out for dinner, especially on like the third night after elimination — just showing how in previous seasons, like Carmeon was saying, people just were not getting along at all, and they were at each other's throats. And for all of us, we were everyone's cheerleader. Nobody was, like, trying to screw anybody over. It was so supportive. I think that, like, what Bill Godsmith said, he was just like, "You were like the most millennial generation of reality TV we've ever seen," which is, like, kind of spot-on. [Laughs] Even you, Chris.

Chris: I will have — I think more than like Design Star, we became "Design Family." And I think that was the big takeaway that all of us were so different, but so alike and connected by our creativity. And we actually created a design family, and that's going to go on way past the show. And I think that's the biggest takeaway for me that I've made — a huge group of friends that I hope to have for the rest of my life, so I think that's huge. That's the big one.

Eli: You still are always — we are all in either a group thread throughout every week, or, like, I went to Aspen, and I was messaging Chris. Chris has a place in Aspen just last weekend in Silverton. I saw the exact same caboose in Silverton, so I sent that to Carmeon, like — we all talk. I probably talked to Tony almost every single day on Instagram. We send each other so much weird stuff, so we are always talking, whether it's about the show or not.


The trio shares what they envision for their own HGTV shows

The winner of Design Star: Next Gen gets their own HGTV show. What kind of television show have you all envisioned having for yourself? And have you always wanted to have your own HGTV show?

Carmeon: Well, I am one — of the three of us — I am the one that's been most public-facing, especially on social media and being a blogger and content creator, so I've treated my platform like having a show, and I've gone through — I've gone through casting for shows for years — the last three years. I mean, I've been hit up by casting directors, and for every single one of those opportunities, [it] always ended in nothing. I was too different or a little too outside of the box of what they were looking for.


And that really is what pushed me to create the content that I create because I'm like, "You guys aren't going to see this on TV. There's nobody that looks like me on TV. There's nobody that designs like I do on TV," so I'm just going to monopolize the digital space to give the content that people — that I wanted to share with people, and so I really kind of let go of the whole TV thing, because I've been told I'm not quite what you're looking for for so long, even though I was the one being approached. I wasn't pitching myself, but they were approaching me.

So when I became a part of this show and they asked me — I think they asked all of us close to the end, "What would your show be? What do you want your HGTV audience to see?" And I mean, truly my idea was — I called it Hometown Hope, where you would see me in the city of Memphis redesigning homes in undesirable neighborhoods where people are still really gung-ho about where they live and their — their neighbors, but really adding value to those neighborhoods and being able to sell homes to people where they could still afford them while also bettering those communities. And just a true love letter to Memphis and my love of Memphis and everything that's here. So that was — that was my show pitch, and I was like, one day, I'm going to be doing this, anyway, whether it's on camera or not. So [it'd] be great if you guys could just come along for it. So that's how I pitched my show to the producers.


Eli: That's great.

Chris: Yeah. I just always never really thought about it. And then when the opportunity came along, I thought, "Well, this could be really fun. This is something new," and I'm always about, kind of, pushing myself way outside of my comfort zone. And my show, I kind of wanted to do for design what Anthony Bourdain did for food. I'm big on showing the process and shining a light on the people that don't get credit, so I really wanted to go out and interview all the people that make us as designers look really good and teach everybody about the process of design and all the parts and pieces that it takes to make that one perfect room or that one perfect photograph people see on television.

So I'm going to call my show Oh my Goddard. That was kind of like OMG; this is all the stuff that really happens behind the scenes, because creatives don't get a lot of credit. I really wanted all those people behind the scenes — so woodworkers, the welders, the artisans, everybody that creates every object in the room to get their 15 minutes to kind of shine, so that was kind of my whole drive for the show, is to kind of shine a light on the people that don't get a lot of shine.


Eli: My show idea was — for a lack of better name, 'cause I don't think it's that creative, but it does get the point across. ... So it was Motel Makeover, and the whole idea was focusing on picking different routes that you would do any direction through the country, getting to any number of states and looking at those routes and renovating some of these old, sometimes decrepit and gross motels along the way.

And much like you would go to a city and try all those food spots, you can have a more exciting road trip. That's not so much about just like getting to your destination, but you have these stops along the way where you can stay in these funky, cool either high design or, you know, just weird portals to another dimension like Meow Wolf or something where you're just staying in these funky little places along your journey. Your fun doesn't have to stop — from just like maybe you plan some little sightseeing things, but once you turn in for the night, usually you just want, like, a cheap accommodation, and then moving on to the next day — just got to recharge your battery. So I thought it would be fun to just play with the journey of the experience or the experience of the journey.


All those shows are unique. You don't really see much of those on TV right now, so I would love to see any of those!

Eli: Let's make it happen!

The HGTV star these designers admire the most

Is there an HGTV star right now that each of you admire?

Carmeon: I admire David Bromstad for being on HGTV for as long as he has — to be the first Design Star winner. And he's been on TV, on HGTV, for, like, almost 15 years. The guy is the most employable. I mean, outside of the Property Brothers, he's the second most-famous HGTV star. So considering his beginning is basically our beginning, he's one that stands out to me.


Eli: That was who I was going to say.

Chris: Me too, because he's the original Design Star.

Eli: He's just — he's the most out there. Like, I think everybody else — not to say that everybody else fits in their box, but — I think that he just doesn't represent HGTV in the same way that a lot of other people do. And, you know, much like the three of us here, I don't think we do, like, totally like everybody else, but everybody brings a unique sense of style and what they do in design. And that's what, I think, I really respect about him. He's just so out there.

The designers reveal the most difficult parts about being on the show

What was the hardest part of being on the show?

Carmeon: Definitely the time constraints, especially for me. I dwell on the details at the end of the project, but if everything before the end doesn't get to where it needs to be for you to dwell on the details, then those moments I would fall apart. I can't — I hang my hat on being the perfectionist at the end and [having] everything in its place, but when you have two days to do a kitchen, and you don't have time to style shelves and make it pretty, and that was the most stressful part, not being able to do what I know I can do to the level that I know I could do it.


Eli: Totally.

Chris: Yeah, and mine was probably the most obvious: the social media challenges, because this is something I don't do at all in my real life or my job or anything else. So it was — that was the hardest, most intimidating thing for me, because here I am on a show with people that are masters at this, and I'd never really done any of it than just post pretty pictures on Instagram. A real learning experience for me, and it was really hard. That was the toughest and scariest part for me were the social media challenges, because I didn't expect that on a design show. I thought it was just all about design.

The ultimate advice they have for other designers aspiring to be on HGTV

Any advice for other interior designers who aspire to be on Design Star: Next Gen just like you guys one day?

Chris: My biggest one would [be to] be your authentic self. I think it's really important, because as you see on the show, all of us are so different, but our one thread is we love design, and we're all authentic to our brand and what we do. So I would just say, be your authentic self, and don't try and be what anybody else wants you to be, because I think that's what got us all on the show, because we're really true to ourselves in the way we design them the way we believe. So I would just say, be your most authentic self.


Eli: I say: go for it. I think, don't play it safe. I think some of my favorite moments for me, which a lot of them aren't even on the episode, I was making nearly like challenge-ending mistakes, and getting through that hustle and fixing, overcoming my mistakes gave me so much more confidence.

So, like, I think everybody else would typically be so afraid to fail on camera. It's good. It's good to do that. I think failing in every capacity of your life is healthy, and it shows you you can do it. And it just — it allowed me to find my hustle and find myself, and then I was able to produce as hard as I could.

You know, sometimes to [fail to] the point where, like with Carmeon and I — like, I was just making mistake after mistake, but in the end we pulled it off. You know, we brought it together as a team and we did it. So you got to just go for it.


Carmeon: Yeah. Thanks to me. [Laughs]

Eli: [Laughs] You helped keep me in check a lot.

Carmeon: Yeah, I would. I would say if you're a designer that wants to design for TV, like hold on to your core knowledge of design, but throw out everything else you think you know about design, because designing for TV is a whole different horse. When it comes to being, capturing something that the audience can relate to, you're literally designing to be seen through a very small lens. So there's a lot that you have to leave to the wayside to get through completing a space for TV. Know the basics, but brush up on designing for photography before you sign up for the show.

Eli: Yeah, one of those tips that I want to back up. I want to back you up on one that — that used — you said, Carmeon, designing for TV. They told me kind of halfway through. They're like pull out — I think [designer and celebrity judge] Lauren Makk did. She's like, "Pull out your phone and look down the lens at these long shots and see. Take a photo, and see how it looks."

I was just doing a styling project, and I would've never done that. I was doing it last week. And every view we were just — doing the photos, and that I could not have had that skillset. Now that just little, little tidbit, if it wasn't for this show, that was such a piece that's already translating into my everyday life.


All episodes of Design Star: Next Gen are streaming now on discovery+.