SONORA — Jeribai Tascoe was sitting in his first home in Sonora a few years ago watching the HGTV reality/competition show "Design Star" and thinking out loud as his wife overheard.
"She heard me watching it and I was like, 'I can do this, I should try this,' " he recounted in a phone interview last week. "And my wife, was my biggest advocate, saying 'Honey, you should do that, don't forget to try out for that show you can do it.' "
Turns out, they both were right. Very right. Not only could Tascoe do it, he has done it being selected for and making it to the finale of this season's renamed version of the show, "HGTV Star." He vies against two other finalists tonight to win it all.
Back when his wife, Michelle, overheard his confident declarations to the TV screen, Tascoe, 33, didn't think he had a big enough interior-design portfolio to submit for the show, which rewards competitors with their own design-based series on the cable network.
But the freelance, self-described jack-of-all-trades quickly built up enough work to apply work that earned him one of 10 spots in the contest that's been airing this summer.
Jack-of-all-trades seems a particularly appropriate description for Tascoe, a father of two boys Angelo, 4, and Christian, 3 who was born in Redwood City but grew up in the Twain Harte area. He not only is a self-taught interior designer with a client list that stretches from his foothills home base throughout California, he's dabbled in everything from personal training to drumming, to construction and carpentry, to graphics and web design, to clothing design and branding.
That varied, often hands-on background came in, well, handy during the "HGTV Star" competition, which has found Tascoe excelling in tasks from creating his "branded" wallpaper to personally installing a kitchen backsplash, refinishing a huge dinner table and turning a gutted school bus into a "boxer's lounge," complete with a training space.
Long history in Mother Lode
Tascoe graduated from Mother Lode Christian School in 1998 and attended Columbia College. Although his design work takes him on the road to the Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento regions, being based in his home studio allows him to stay grounded in the Mother Lode area.
"Because I've always been in technology, I've been working in web design and graphics design, I didn't have to move for my job," he said. "Honestly, I never really had a desire to move to any big cities because I could do the work up here."
His sister lives in Hughson, and his father, a pastor, and mother have moved to the Stockton-Lodi area. Tascoe is an active member of the Word of Life Fellowship in Mi-Wuk Village, where he's received consistent support during his stint on "HGTV Star."
That stint has been thoroughly enjoyable, he said. "This was one of the most incredible, creative, dynamic, exhausting experiences I think I've ever been on in a creative capacity," he said. "For me, it was like going into school, because I'm self-taught and oftentimes my critiques are from my clients. I believe sometimes clients are a little easier to please than seasoned pros."
Those pros are the judges HGTV veterans Vern Yip, Genevieve Gorder and Sabrina Soto, who didn't hold back on their critiques.
"They're being very objective, but they're getting down to business as far as what you did well, what you didn't do well, or what you kind of did OK. They really know what they're talking about, especially in terms of design for TV, because that's very different than design for somebody's home that's not going to be on TV."
A surprising challenge
One of the biggest surprises to Tascoe was that the weekly camera challenges short design tip snippets filmed and judged for their content and hosting style did not come as easily to him as he expected. Because he grew up performing (he began drumming at age 3), having cameras follow his every move wasn't the issue.
"I've gotten really used to being in front of people, in front of cameras and performing, so I was never nervous, I was never weirded out, like 'Oh, there's a camera on me.' "
But that calm demeanor made those individual camera challenge snippets surprisingly harder.
"I'm, by nature, a pretty relaxed kind of guy," he said. "I don't get butterflies, I don't get shaky, I don't get any of that, I'm just ready to go but I was too relaxed. It was almost like I had to hype myself up to look more energetic on camera."
Viewers know that those camera challenges didn't come easy to most of his fellow competitors, either, people he enjoyed getting to know. He said there was none of the typical reality show animosity or backstabbing among them. "We all genuinely got along."
That was a good thing, because they had to live together in a condo in Los Angeles for five weeks during filming. Past seasons have filmed competitors in their temporary digs, but that didn't happen this time, allowing them to relax after challenges and making the experience like "summer camp for creative kids," he said.
Filmed at the end of January and into February of this year, Tascoe returned home after the show's finale was shot in Palm Springs. He's watched the experience unfold on TV with less of an insider's perspective than one might think.
"It's just as much of a new experience watching it as everybody else, even though I was there, because you don't know what's going to make the cut," he said of the show's editing.
Then again, Tascoe does know what most viewers are not privy to: who wins Sunday night.
So, if he does win, what will his show be?
"It would be called 'The Family Brand,' " he said, a show that melds his branding background with his design skills. "It will be finding the identity of a family what really kind of encapsulates them and then designing a room from that capturing the vivaciousness of the family and translating that into the color and the texture (of the home)."
And if things go the other way, you get the feeling that's just fine, too, for the personable Sonoran with an engaging smile. "Moving forward would probably look like what it looks like now," he said.
"I'm interested in continuing to get my design out there, definitely push the interior side of my design studio," Tascoe said. "And I like TV, too. This whole experience gave me more insight into the making of TV shows and the hosting aspect of it. I really like doing that."
Getting back to that evening a few years ago watching "Design Star" from his home, Tascoe admits his initial confidence was a bit naive.
"When I was first watching the show, before I was a contestant, I was an armchair designer," he said. "I was that person. Now that I've been on the show, you all don't know what you're talking about!" he said, laughing.
"It's easy to be an armchair designer, it's a whole other thing to actually do it."