CLEARWATER — For 12 straight seasons, Andrea Fisher has religiously tuned in each week to Project Runway.
Comparing notes by phone with her mother in her native Buffalo, N.Y., Fisher marvels (and sometimes cringes) right along with the judges at the designs that the contestants are so artfully able to transfer from their imaginations to sketchbooks to the runway.
But even the most dedicated fan in the world couldn't answer certain questions: Is the runway really as long as it looks on TV? How tall is host Tim Gunn? And is the looming Mood Fabrics store as gush-inducing as contestants say?
No more wondering.
Fisher is one of eight women recently invited to take a behind-the-scenes peek and literally walk a mile in a supermodel's shoes during an episode dedicated to "super fans."
In a competition informally dubbed the "real women challenge," contestants took the fans' ideas and incorporated them into strut-worthy new looks that the fans modeled during the Sept. 19 airing.
"I was just too happy," said Fisher, 42, of Clearwater. "I was just cheesing through the whole thing."
The journey began this spring, when Fisher received a preseason email asking viewers to send audition videos explaining why they were the biggest fan and best candidate for a Project Runway/L'Oreal Paris makeover.
In June, a show rep called to say Fisher was a finalist. Three days later, her husband, daughters and niece saw her off to a six-day whirlwind of sightseeing, pampering and all-around "mini celebrity" treatment in New York City.
Fisher, a fashion-forward "diva" who "can take a $20 outfit and make it look like $100," works in accounts receivable at Duke Energy.
But for many years, she worked outdoors as a service technician at three different utility companies around the country, turning customers' natural gas on and off, repairing emergency leaks or gas appliances and operating backhoes.
So when contestant Alexander Pope asked Fisher what she didn't have in her wardrobe, "the first thing that came to me was I . . . have all the business clothes in the world — shirts, skirts, blouses — but I don't have a nice little power suit," she said.
Pope set out to create an earth-toned number with a tailored skirt and black colorblocking.
However, Pope was visibly distracted by an argument caught on camera with another contestant. He didn't complete the outfit and was nearly eliminated.
But Fisher said she wasn't bothered by the judges' critiques (which, she said, takes several hours more than the few minutes that are edited for TV) or Pope's placement in the bottom two.
Fisher said all of the contestants were so gracious. She was delighted to have survived her nerve-wrecking trek down the runway before the watchful eyes of the judges and studio crew. The experience turned surreal as Heidi Klum and the other judges she's watched countless times reached out to examine her outfit up close.
The super fans, she said, were oblivious to the contestants' drama, and in hindsight she would have chosen an easier garment to construct.
"They could've made me a paper bag and I would have been happy," said Fisher, adding that she loved the new haircut and makeup tips she received.
Fisher says she's now been bitten by the modeling bug.
"It's something I'll never forget in my whole life. It's something I want to show my grandkids," she said. "If I could do it all over again, I'd do it in a heartbeat."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.