One of the best parts of watching Project Runway is picking my favorite designers and waiting with baited breath each week to see whether or not the judges agree with me. (I have, on occasion, been known to shout at the TV when I see my favorite contestant get eliminated.) The contestants for Season 14 of Project Runway come from a wide range of backgrounds — some have attended design school, while others are self-taught, and they all cited different strengths and weaknesses when questioned. Basically the only thing they all have in common is when asked if they think they can win Project Runway, almost all of them answered "absolutely!" or "definitely!"The theme of this season will be New York, and it will serve as the designers' inspiration. Once again, Tim Gunn will have an opportunity once during the season to "save" a designer from elimination. This is still a fairly new practice for the show — it wasn't introduced until Season 12. But, it has worked well, and it makes perfect sense considering Gunn serves as mentor to the designers and he is privy to all the hard work and changes that occur throughout their creative process.
As always, the stakes are high — the winner of the show will walk away with $100,000 to start their own line, as well as a year's worth of beauty products for their fashion shows. And, as usual, the winner will receive a spread in Marie Claire, where judge Nina Garcia is Creative Director. Before the premiere airs and we form our first impressions, let's take a sneak peak at the 16 contestants who will be competing for top honors:
1. Amanda Perna
Perna, 28, is from Delray Beach, Florida. She studied at The University of Alabama, where she won numerous awards for her designs, and later interned for Oscar de la Renta. Perna was recently one of three finalists for "Best New Business" in Delray Beach.
2. Ashley Nell Tipton
Tipton, 24, is from San Diego, California. Her dream is to become America's best plus-sized designer.
3. Blake Patterson
Patterson, 24, is from Los Angeles, California. He cites his strengths as fabric selections and craftsmanship. When asked about his weaknesses, he responded "not applicable," so I think we can assume that self-doubt is not going to be his downfall.
4. Candice Cuoco
Cuoco, 27, is from San Francisco, California and she credits the city with helping launch her career. Cuoco won the award for San Francisco's Best Emerging Designer in 2013, and she was nominated for Designer of the Year last year. Cuoco believes embracing her emotional side has made her a stronger designer and human being.
5. David Giampiccolo
Giampicollo, 31, is from Hollywood, California. He describes himself as a customer-oriented designer who loves to create fashions that combine street wear with couture.
6. Duncan Chambers-Watson
Chambers-Watson, 25, is from Auckland, New Zealand. He acknowledges that his biggest weakness at this point is his inexperience, but he doesn't want to risk never realizing his potential.
7. Edmond Newton
Newton, 37, is from Atlanta, Georgia. He prefers designing evening wear and high fashion and notes that his weakness is everyday attire because he finds it boring. Newton has auditioned for Project Runway several times before, and he says he has learned something new about himself as a designer during each audition process.
8. Gabrielle Arruda
Arruda, 27, is from New York City and she has studied fashion design at Parsons and Central St. Martins London. Arruda has a strong voice and confidence when it comes to designing, but is working on the skill of standing up for herself because she recognizes it is necessary in the fashion industry.
9. Hanmiao Yang
Yang, 27, is from New York City. She placed in the Top 6 of CCTV-6's Creative Sky in Season 4. Yang says her strengths are time management and the ability to work well under stress — skills which will be essential to winning this competition.
10. Jake Wall
Wall, 36, is from San Francisco, California. He didn't pursue fashion design until five years ago, and has already wracked up an impressive number of awards since then. Wall doesn't have traditional fashion schooling, but he has learned on the job and knows to follow his instincts.
11. Joseph Charles Poli
Poli, 37, is from Las Vegas, Nevada. At age 28 he returned to school to complete his design degree because he finally recognized his potential to succeed in the industry. He thinks his strength are silhouette, fit, and tailoring, and he would like to work on use of volume and color.
12. Kelly Dempsey
Dempsey, 31, is from Boston, Massachusetts. Her career highlight thus far has been showing her work at the 13th Annual New York Chocolate Fashion Show in New York. Dempsey is a self-taught designer who prides herself on her creativity and individuality.
13. Laurie Underwood
Underwood, 29, is from Chicago, Illinois. She was awarded "Best In Show — Graduate Portfolio" at the Illinois Institute of Art in 2006. Underwood loves to design clothes that make a woman look eye-catching for the right reasons.
14. Lindsey Creel
Creel, 28, is from Austin, Texas. Her grandmother and great-grandmother taught her to sew as a child, and she launched a fashion line as a tribute to her great-grandmother after her passing two years ago. Creel won the Austin Fashion Week Fashion Fund award in 2014.
15. Merline Labissiere
Labissiere, 32, is from Savannah, Georgia. She was initially an architecture major at SCAD, but switched to fashion design sophomore year. Still, her architectural background comes out in the way she designs — Labissiere notes that patterns have a lot in common with floor plans.
16. Swapnil Shinde
Shinde, 34, is from Mumbai, India. He has won three "Young Achiever in Fashion" awards and cites his main strength as patternmaking, while his weakness is menswear.
This talented cast will surely make for an intense season.
Images: Barbara Nitke/Lifetime (17)