When Season 12 of
launches Thursday (July 18), look for more second-screen engagement and more
to give their opinions as the designers present their work each week. Their comments will be flashed on screens during the show. Fans can vote in real time, but decisions still rest with the judges,
Nina Garcia and
Gunn, however, will not be writing to fans during the show.
"I had to do live texting last season, and I almost went to an ER," he tells
. "Fans will be interacting with each other."
Gunn shares other new additions to the fashion contest.
This season, he will be with the judges during the runway show, and will talk about what happened in the workroom. Gunn will also have the opportunity to save one designer during the season, when he feels someone has been unjustly dismissed.
"I think people know I am there during the runway show, but no one ever sees me," he says. "They don't see me again until I ask them to clean up their space, and now I sit with them during their runway show.
"The designers go away and I come before the judges -- not on the runway but on the carpet with six models and present to the judges," he says. "They look at the stitching, and have this intimate experience with the designs, and I get to have my own word. My role in the show is like church and state. I say hello and goodbye. I usually don't get to say goodbye because I am mad. And my role, the one I wanted to have for eons, is to be an advocate for the designers."
Another change this season will be how the runway shows are presented, Gunn says. Judges will not have designers' names on cards in front of them, so they will decide based strictly on clothes.
Designers will also switch up their models, he says.
"In past seasons the designers have loved having this muse, a model they didn't want to give up," he says. "This season that's considered a curse, which is great."
After years of giving designers wacky challenges and the format not changing a lot, how will Gunn keep a fresh perspective?
"I look at this as analogous to 29 years of teaching," Gunn says. "Every year is different; different students, different DNA, different points of views. It is always inspiring and invigorating, and we kept the experience from being a snooze fest every season. It is a whole new crop."
Gunn went to all of the auditions for this season, except in Atlanta because of a scheduling conflict. But he saw promising talent in Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
It was where he lives, in New York, that Gunn had a bad experience during an open call audition.
"I am not proud to share this with you," Gunn says. "I didn't even last through the first one. I was so frustrated by the young man. I said, 'I can't take it anymore' and exited through a back curtain. I was not expecting my response to be so dramatic. In Season 1, I wasn't even on the panel, I was in the courtyard doing the prescreening, determining who could go in."
"Project Runway" premieres at 9 p.m. ET Thursday on Lifetime.