On the first day of shooting HGTV’s interior design reality competition show ‘Design Star,’ Danielle Colding and Hilari Younger — the only Black women contestants on the show — made a pact to support each other, no matter what. Conscious of the negative stereotypes of Black women on reality TV, the two were determined not to fall into those stereotypes, and ended up becoming true friends, on- and off-camera. The competition started out with twelve contestants; these sisters have made it into the final three.
In an interview with EBONY.com, Danielle and Hilari shared the how they formed their special sisterhood, how they deal with negative stereotypes and how their unusual paths to interior design were exactly what they needed.
EBONY: Danielle, let’s talk about your transition into interior design. You’ve got a degree from Stanford in anthropology and you are a former professional modern dancer and then you went back and got an associate’s degree in interior design from the Fashion Institute. What inspired you to make these transitions in your life?
DANIELLE COLDING: Dance was something that was always there. I danced in addition to going to school my entire life. Stanford didn’t have a dance scholarship, but when you get into Stanford, you’ve got to go! So, I let the road take me where it was going to take me and continued to dance throughout college and studying what I really enjoyed learning about: anthropology and African American studies. I helped Robert Moses start the Kin Dance Company in 1995 and I danced with that Company for 4 more years after college. I had to do everything I could to keep my head above water financially; I taught dance classes, was a Pilates trainer, and waited tables so that I could dance. I was also a first grade teacher in Oakland, so I was literally working 7 days a week and was really just burnt out. I was making $20k a year. So I needed another career.
My mother always taught me to do what I love to do, so when I was rethinking my next steps, I kept that in mind. I’m a good problem solver, I’m good with people and I’ve always been a great shopper who loves beautiful things, so I enrolled in the L.A. campus of the Fashion Institute and now I’m on ‘Design Stars!’ It’s all been a very natural progression.
EBONY: Hilari, you also took a non-traditional progressed into interior design, as well.
HILARI YOUNGER: I totally stumbled upon interior design. It was never anything I wanted to do long term. But my roommate after college worked for [architecture firm] Charles B. Smith and he told me that interior designers were redesigning the firm’s renovated properties that summer. He said,
“Our apartment is amazing, you have impeccable taste, everyone always wants to know who decorated it. Why don’t you join the team?” And that’s how I stumbled into it.
I stumbled into ‘Design Star’ the same way. I’d never seen the show before, but a friend of mine was auditioning for the show and asked me to come with her. I got it and she didn’t and I couldn’t tell anyone. I completely fell off the map and people started texting my husband asking, “Is Hil in rehab?” [Laughs].
But [interior design] just works in my life and I’m great at it. I find beauty in everything. I am bold. I like to do everything big. I’m just a lover of all things beautiful, fantastic, fabulous and amazing. I didn’t plan for at all, I just went with it.
EBONY: Hilari and Danielle, you’ve been partnered with each other on the show for certain challenges and you work very well together. What’s it like working with each other?
DC: Hilari is great. We instantly bonded. She’s really one of the funniest people. I recently lost my mom coming into this competition and that’s been very emotional for me, but Hilari’s been there for me. She’s been amazing and supportive and it’s weird for that kind of bond to exist in a competitive environment, so working with her is a joy it was a real pleasure. We come from two different perspectives [design-wise], but we were able to compromise.
HY: And working with Danielle was a treat; we definitely had that sisterhood feeling going, instantly. And for me, to be her rock when she was going through difficult situations when generally I’m the person who needs someone, I found myself saying, “Oh my God, Hilari! You’ve grown so much!”
But I definitely want to make a declaration about sisterhood and Black stereotypes on reality TV. All of the Black people on the show [Danielle, Hilari and fellow competitor Mikel Welch] came in and said “Look, it is important that we make this statement in America that we’re not going to be stereotypes, because it’s not real.” We came in and decided that we didn’t want to be depicted on television as angry people with attitudes, “b*tches,” or pot-stirrers that can’t get along with anyone. That’s not my personality anyway in real life, so I definitely didn’t want that label put on me. We were tired of the generalizations and the stereotypes and we made a pact that we were not going to single-handedly take the Black community down, whether we got along off-camera or not. But thankfully, we all do really get along! We are really friends. I called Danielle up this morning and I look forward to working with her in the future.
DC: As a culture in general – and I’m really experiencing this now, being in the spotlight — people are are snarky and mean. We come from a very judgmental culture and we are very hard on each other and our TV world reflects that. Ratings come with negativity. It’s frustrating for me. I have so many positive amazing Black women who have my back and I wish those kind of shows were more frequently on the air and getting high ratings. That’s why I love HGTV. I am so happy they showed me and Hilari hugging at the end of the challenge we worked on together, because that’s what it was really like. There’s definitely an issue with showing Black people as complex. The complexity of our culture is not shown, and that is a shame.
EBONY: So how do you deal with these negative stereotypes?
HY: Well, when we were shooting the first episode, [one of the contestants] said to me, “I thought you were going to be the b*tch.” I thought, “Wow! That’s really ignorant. You just met me and you instantly decided I was crazy.” But, I have a really strong foundation and a very sound sense of self. I’ve been around long enough to realize that some things have not gone away and they’re not going to go away that easily. I’m not quick to anger. I realized that instead of getting angry, you can make progress a lot sooner if you take everything as an opportunity to teach and shed light when you can. And when you can’t, you step away from it and you pray that they find the answer they’re looking for.
EBONY: What’s your biggest take-away from being on ‘Design Star’?
DC: The number one take-away for me is just going with my gut. This show forces you to make decisions in an instant I usually work on projects for at least a year. There’s something to be said about going through something so devastating as losing my mom, my number one supporter that just allows you to lose all of your fear. There’s no more fear, there’s no more editing yourself. You can throw caution to the wind and whatever happens, happens, because the worst has already happened. So, I have confidence in my skills and I know I’m a sound designer. And If I can wake up in the morning and do what I love doing, like my mom always taught me, and just be happy, then I’ll always be successful.
HY: ‘Design Star’ was an amazing experience that was so much like the excitement of freshman year of college. You leave home and go live in a dorm and you never know what to expect, but you end up making these wonderful life-long friends and develop and cultivate your craft. I lived with 12 grownups and we went through this crazy transition in life together. So, I’m definitely taking away from this experience friendships and the knowledge that the world is always going to be my oyster and whatever opportunities arise, I should optimize, pounce on it and roll with it as far as I can. I’ve just got to make it happen. I know interior design isn’t curing cancer, but to be able to create a space for someone that truly reflects who they are and brings them peace and joy, that is amazing and fulfilling. I’m blessed.
Brooke Obie writes the award-winning blog DistrictDiva.com. Follow her on Twitter @DCDistrictDiva.