'Project Runway All Stars': Alyssa Milano Previews Season 3, 'Difficult' Judging Deliberations and Sleepless Nights

"The stakes are so high that the emotion is just really, really raw and just out there," she says of the Lifetime fashion-design competition.
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Alyssa Milano

Alyssa Milano says she wasn't prepared for how intense her role as Project Runway All Stars host would be.

"You spend a lot of time with these people in a very short amount of time and then all of a sudden it’s over," she told reporters in a recent conference call, adding: "The stakes are so high that the emotion is just really, really raw and just out there. You know, so for me I think that was probably the most surprising thing being an outsider coming into a reality show not knowing what that really meant with how real reality really is."

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Milano added that one of her biggest challenges was putting aside her opinions of the designers based on their past seasons and to judge them solely on their work in the current season. A longtime fan of Project Runway, Milano also wasn't expecting for it to be so difficult to eliminate the designers.

"There were nights that I went home that I couldn’t sleep because of who went home, which by the way I did not expect at all," she said. "I did not expect that to be part of my experience. When you are sending someone home, you are basically shattering their dreams."

Milano joined Project Runway All Stars as host in its upcoming third season as well as judge alongside returning judges Isaac Mizrahi and Georgina Chapman. The Mistresses actress, who follows in the footsteps of previous hosts Angela Lindvall (season one) and Carolyn Murphy (season two), says she got involved in the show in "a very backwards kind of way." She says executive producer Harvey Weinstein, who also is married to Chapman, saw the episode of E! Entertainment's Fashion Police that Milano co-hosted, and he and his wife thought she would be a good fit.

"It was a very big surprise when I got that phone call," she says. "My initial response was excitement, but I wanted to make sure that we were on the same page. So I went in for a meeting with Lifetime and people from Harvey’s company from Weinstein. And I basically just said, I love fashion. I do not want to come across like I am trying to be a fashion expert, but really I want to be the voice of that audience member that might love fashion, but that isn’t an insider.  And they were all on the same page with that."

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Milano isn't the only new addition to the series: Marie Claire senior fashion editor Zanna Roberts Rassi is taking over for former mentor Joanna Coles, who is now editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan. Meanwhile, in an All Stars first, three past winners will compete for another shot at the crown, which this season features the largest prize package in Runway history, worth almost $1 million.

Milano added that the level of competition this season is high and that the judges are harder on the designers because they are "all stars."

"Because they have such experience they’ve been at this for so much long there is never a piece that walks down the runway where you are like, 'Oh, we got to send that guy home, or we got to send that girl home' because the pieces are just all beautiful," she said. "So the deliberations were very long, very lengthy and very, very difficult. And you know, sometimes it came down to who just didn’t get the challenge at all."

She added that of her two fellow judges, she agreed more with more with Chapman and less so with Mizrahi (yet the two are friends now). Milano, who didn't have a chance to seek any guidance from Project Runway host Heidi Klum before filming started, said she was a bit intimidated at first, but "the more comfortable I became the sort of more loud I became."

Milano, of course, has a background in fashion. Her mom was a fashion designer who sold her clothing in Bloomingdale's and her own Brooklyn-based store, Me and We. Her grandmother also was a successful milliner. And Milano also has own clothing and jewelry line, Touch by Alyssa Milano, featuring pro-sports-themed apparel for women.

"I don’t really remember a time that I didn’t love fashion," she says, describing her style as "eclectic." "I really like fashion that is innovative and yet wearable. I like people that take risks with fashion. I like designers that take risk. I like clothes that you can put on and tell a story with depending on how you feel that day."

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Meanwhile, Milano also gave a preview of the season's challenge. The premiere, in which Debbie Harry serves as guest judge, finds the designers tasked with creating a punk-inspired outfit, with Harry wearing the winning design on tour. And the unconventional challenge will take the designers to an elementary school in New York where they have to create garments using only materials found in the classroom. The series finale will feature the finalists designing a collection inspired by their country of origin.

Season three of Project Runway All Stars premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday on Lifetime.