ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" Emmy-award winning head costumer Randall Christensen was tailor made for his job. He's a former competitive ballroom dancer who has been stitching sexy, glitzy costumes for more than two decades.
He was already one of the most sought after costume designers on the international ballroom circuit when he joined "DWTS" during its second season. "Talk about luck," he says. "Who knew being a ballroom designer could lead me to something like this."
As he prepared costumes for Monday's live show recently, Christensen described a design process a bit like a jive; fast and frenetic.
StyleList: Ballroom costumes are so over-the-top. Do you think viewers get that excess is part of its tradition?
Randall Christensen: We've been on for so many seasons [nine] that I think the audience has learned a lot about ballroom. They understand the costumes are part of the drama of the performance. At first, I think they were probably saying, "What's up with that crazy costume?," but I feel like they've grown with us. They are in on it now. They want to see what we're going to do next. Not some simple black cocktail dress.
SL: Your weeks must be crazy right now. What goes into getting the costumes ready for each live show?
RC: It's a blur. On Tuesday, right after the live results show, the couples get their music from the producers and have to come see me and two of my assistants right away. We come up with a concept in a few minutes.
A lot of the input comes from the professional dancers, who I really consider part of my team. They understand their partners and what they want to highlight. They might tell me to draw attention away from the hips or highlight their arms.
Wednesday morning we shop downtown. If we can't find a color fabric we want, a concept may be changed a bit, but it all has to be done that day so we can start to sew. On Monday, the dancers get their costumes a few hours before dress rehearsal. If there is a problem, we have to fix it right away. That can be pretty crazy.
SL: Any of the celebrities being divas about what they wear?
RC: I would not call anyone picky -- we have one of the nicest casts of any season -- but the celebrities have had input. Macy Gray was understandably concerned because she is a larger woman and she wanted her costume to flatter her.
Kelly Osbourne really doesn't want to go out there looking like a hoochie mama. She wanted an elegant look that didn't show a lot of skin and we supported her in that.
SL: Kelly Osbourne looks great. (Osbourne told viewers she wants to stay on show just so she can keep wearing Christensen's costumes)
RC: She does and I am flattered that you mentioned it. We are thrilled about any part we played in that. She is just looking so elegant.
SL: No complaints from the jocks?
RC: The male athletes have been my biggest surprise. It must have something to do with the competitive spirit, because they are completely into their costumes. They want to win.
If a costume is going to help them win then they are game. [Football great] Michael Irvin asked for rhinestones the first week. He was up for the hot pink shirt [the following week]. I don't think he actually likes the stuff. He just wants the mirror ball trophy. Emmitt Smith [Season 3 champ] was exactly the same way when he won.
SL: You've had a few wardrobe malfunctions over the years. I'm surprised you haven't had more considering how skimpy the costumes can be. How much do you worry about things popping out?
RC: We try everything we can to prevent it. We have a costumer at the dress rehearsal on Monday who's job it is to spot a potential problem.
We have some tricks: The guys wear sort of a body suit. We fasten their shirttails together and pin them to biker briefs to keep them from popping out of their pants. We also manipulate their sleeves so they can lift their arms easily. That would be really hard to do in a normal dress shirt.
We can't use double stick tape with all the bronzing cream the ladies wear. So they all wear breast petals just in case something pops out. We also have to be really fanatical about the fit of the ladies undergarments because their skirts can fly. Sometimes things happen no matter how hard you try.
SL: We're convinced you dress [professional dancers] Edyta [Sliwinska] to show off her abs and Cheryl [Burke] to show off that back.
RC: Edyta has the most amazing body of any women I have ever dressed. Cheryl is amazing too. What's interesting about both of them is that they are dancers who have kept their curves while being in top dance shape.. That is so rare in the dance world. Dancers usually lose their curves and I have to create them as an illusion.
"Dancing With the Stars" airs on ABC Mondays at 8/7c, and the results show, Tuesdays at 9/8c.