So imagine his staggering surprise when his Dior-loving buddy, Seth Aaron Henderson, stole his sash, crown, prize money, and the affections of those picky judges.
Here, StyleList recaps how Henderson, a tattooed suburban dad, pulled an upset on the narcissistic (but undeniably talented) Sosa.
The Challenge: Sosa, Henderson, and fellow finalist Mila Hermanovski must present 10 ensembles at a New York Fashion Week show before celebrities, fashion press, family, and friends. They are given four months and $9,000 to complete the task.
The Workroom Drama: Sosa continues to spar with design mentor Tim Gunn, who has never been sold on Sosa's finale collection or his signature "I Love Emilio" prints. Gunn does not think Sosa is being innovative, but the theatrical costumer flat-out does not care.
Hermanovski tries to heed the judges' advice to "rough up" her runway looks and picks "rocker-girl models" with caked-on eyeliner courtesy of the L'Oreal makeup team.
Henderson ponders the sacrifices that his wife, Tina, and children, Seth and Megann, have made at home in Washington while he's been competing, then shows up in New York with 26 outfits he must "edit" before showtime.
The Runway Show: Inspired by 1940s Russian/German military women, Henderson's collection is heavy on drama. "My girls are strong and they are going to kick ass," he tells the audience. And pow! -- they kick it all the way to the Kremlin. His models have pom-poms affixed to their foreheads; sleek high boots, black-and-white stripe tights, and many wear leather coats. The excess almost distracts from Henderson's clothes, which are beautiful on their own
Hermanovski presents a collection inspired by shadows, and no surprise, it's heavy on her signature black. She promised color in the form of aubergine, but we don't see much of it. Her outerwear is noteworthy for its off-the-rack qualities, but the collection is short on evening looks. Her one foray into formal is a scaly metallic dress that makes us want more!
Meanwhile, Sosa presents "Color Me Bad," a tailored feast of turquoise, mustard, red, and prints. His collection is also heavy on outerwear. The coordination makes us think he's already planning "E. Sosa for Target." The whole thing reads very commercial until his final model comes out in a jaw-dropping gold evening gown. It is, undoubtedly, the best of show.
The Guest Judge. Singer/actress Faith Hill, appropriately dressed in all New York black, joins the judges.
What the Fashion Week Crowd Thinks: Season 6 winner Irina Shabayeva is big on Hermanovski's collection, which makes sense because StyleList thinks their aesthetic -- and love of black -- is so similar. Our favorite season 7 designer, Anthony Williams, is awestruck by the refinement of Sosa's collection. "America's Next Top Model" judge Nigel Barker is mad for Henderson's stuff, as is model/actress Beth Ostrosky.
The Deliberations: Regular judges Nina Garcia, Michael Kors, and Heidi Klum say this is one of the hardest finales ever. They are mad for Sosa's work but feel it looks too commercial for the runway. "It's as if he produced a line, not a collection," Kors says.
They are pleased that Hermanovski stepped out of her comfort zone and heeded their advice to go grunge with her looks, but did she do enough?
Henderson has taken his signature dramatic style and amped it up, but all of the judges hate an odd purple dress, which reminds StyleList of a squeezed toothpaste tube.
The judges say their decision comes down to choosing between two polished, commercial collections or one that displays more imagination.
Who's Out: Hermanovski gets the first "auf-ing," being told her collection was polished and professional, "but we wanted more."
Henderson Wins: We don't know what's more interesting about this moment, Henderson's shock or the look of utter disbelief on Sosa's face. Backstage, Sosa sobs, while onstage, Henderson weeps and shares poignant embraces with his family.
Sosa borrows Williams's terrific parting line from earlier in the season, saying, "You don't have to have the crown to be the king."
Henderson says his victory proves something to his children: to embrace "hard work and love what you do."
What We Thought: The judges got it right.
When we sat through the Feb. 12 Fashion Week finale show, we weren't sure who the finalists were because 10 of the remaining season 7 designers presented collections to serve as decoys. Truth be told, Sosa's collection, save for his stunning gold gown, did not read "contender" to us, and Hermanovski's more subdued looks got lost in the crowd.
While we did not love every piece, we were captivated when Henderson's creations appeared -- and isn't that the point?
Stay tuned for our exclusive one-on-one chat with this season's winner and read our exclusive interview with season 6 winner, Shabby.