Talking EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION with designer Leigh Anne Tuohy

You  may recognize Leigh Anne Tuohy as the woman behind Sandra Bullock’s Oscar award winning role in “The Blind Side” (hint: she’s the real life inspiration for the story about a family who takes in a young man destined to be a football star).  I know her from her current stint as one of the members of Ty’s team on EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION, which returns to ABC tonight after too long an absence.  For whatever reason you recognize her, there’s no arguing that she’s an inspiration to us all.  I had the chance to chat with Ms Tuohy about life on EM:HE, how it differs from her real life design world, and why this show, still after so many years, is a show that everyone needs to be watching!

Talking about EXTREME MAKEOVER coming back, and I said to my father – “Oh my Sunday cry is back!”
It’s been a lot of “where are y’all, what’s going on!”

What drew you to the show – how did you get involved?  You have a great story of giving back yourself – did that add to you wanting to get involved?
You know, they asked us last year to do the season finale. Sean, my husband could not do it; he was on a west coast swing with the Grizzlies, he does color commentary for the local NBA team, so they were on the road.  The three kids and I did it, and we were just blown away by what they did and how they did it.  We, obviously, had been offered every kind of reality show you can think of. You name it, we had been offered it.  They just did not correlate with what we did.  They didn’t correlate with our message, or our platform.  STRICTEST PARENT, SECRET MILLIONAIRE, all kinds of shows, it was like, no, no. When we did the season finale for EXTREME, it was like, this is in our wheelhouse.  This does what we do. This does what we want to do.  And they came back and asked me after the show was over, they asked me if I would be interested in being a permanent designer next season, and I was like, “are you kidding?”  Once again, it was very God driven, and we just absolutely believe this wasn’t by accident.  A better thing on our path, and it has been wonderful.  I have loved every show.  They truly do what we do, try to change one like and one family at a time!

Every episode, I find myself crying, they do so much, in such little time.  Does that put too much pressure on you as a designer that so much in done in so few days?
You know going into it that this is the deal.  This is how we roll, and this what we have to do.  I’ve been a designer for 30 years.  I know what it is to build a house like that.  I’ve done 100s of houses for clients; I’ve done 24,000 square feet for Scottie Pippen, all the way down to a little condo in Florida, to office buildings, so I know what goes into building a house, and sometimes, I’m in awe of how they do it!  It’s a very well oiled machine.  They’ve been doing it for years, they have it down to an art.  But yeah, you know hiccups come along and you gotta change your game plan.  They don’t have people in our sandbox that can’t make split minute decisions and change on the fly.  If something catastrophic comes up, you gotta cut bait or fish. You can’t bring 9 consultants in or get 20 different opinions, you gotta go with it!  And that’s what we do, and that’s all of our personalities or we wouldn’t be on the show!

What can you tell me about the episodes we’ll see for the rest of the season, specifically the next one you’re in?  What can you tell us about what to expect?
Well, the next one that I’m in, it’s a wonderful episode.  It’s about a little boy that’s got Brittle Bone Disease.  And there is a famous actor that has it to, Atticus Shaffer, he’s on the series THE MIDDLE, and we had the opportunity to go out to the set and meet everyone.  It’s a great episode.  This kid has got every obstacle in the world facing him, but his outlook on life is amazing.  It’s a great episode.  The first one, the one that you’re going to see [tonight], it’s very, very moving. It’s sports-oriented, which is right in my family’s wheelhouse; everything we do revolves around sports.  It’s related to baseball, and Derek Jeter plays a role in it – the five episodes that are up and coming, every one are great episodes.  I don’t think we ever have a bad episode.  I do one, and I go, I don’t see how this next one can be any better, but they all seem to be great.  The people that do this, they do their homework.  There’s a lot of due diligence done; they pick stories that they feel like will be impactful on this country. If you do have everyone’s attention, then you have to do something that hopefully people are going to watch and go out and make a difference.  This is National Volunteer Week, and we’ve been tweeting all week this week about how are you volunteering, what are you doing?  Well that’s what EXTREME MAKEOVER does.  We have 5,000 volunteers that show up on every site, every set, and we hope they leave there inspired to continue when we leave.  It’s a great, great, great show.

That has to be so rewarding to see that you’re able to get 5,000 people that maybe on another day, wouldn’t be out there helping.  What are some other rewarding things about working on these shows and with these families?
You know, not only do we end up helping the family that we see.  We always do something in the community that you don’t see.  We go in to build a house, and we really have to have perimeter space, we need a lot of room.  Everybody is always so gracious.  “Use my yard, use my street,” you know, “use my extra office here.” And we always leave those places better than we found them.  That’s really a great thing.  We not only affect that family that we’re working on, and what you see, but I wish you could see what goes on behind the curtain.  We leave everything better than we found it.  We make a difference.  We may get the local high school new uniforms, or the local band new instruments.  We may get a teacher a new computer for her classroom.  There is always something going on that you don’t see, and it’s always amazing to me, because I’m thinking, this whole thing should be on TV.  But you know, we don’t have 6 hours on Sunday night; we have 1, so you have to hit the highlights.  Everything that we usually do is life-changing.

It seems, too, with every different episode, there’s more and different technology available.  The designers and your team, you have access to show much stuff.  Does it make it difficult to go back to your every day design world, not having access to what you might on the show?
I was just telling somebody earlier, not two weeks ago, I was doing something, and the contractor goes, “no we can’t it.” And I was like, “yes you can do that!  We do that on EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION! Now you just pull your bootstraps” and he just stared at me, and I thought, you know, they really probably can’t do this!  You get kind of jaded that you think that everything can happen as quickly as it can happen on the show, and that’s not the case, you know? [laughs]  I have to remind myself, ok, you’re in the real world, act like it!

Why do you think that this hour on Sunday night is an hour that people should tune in and watch?
First and foremost, I think it’s a great time to wind down, get ready for your week.  We’re always on the go, it’s always go, go, go, and everybody’s got a million things on their plate.  I have found it’s hard for us on Sunday night, so we have all of Michael’s football games on Sundays [her son, Michael Oher, is a Baltimore Ravens left tackle]. So that makes a little bit difficult for us, and we have to figure out where we’re going to be.  If it’s a 1:00 game or earlier, we’re good.  If it’s a 3:00 game, we have to TiVo, and that kind of thing.  It’s kind of like the movie “The Blind Side.”  You can take your whole family to it!  Well, you know, you never have to worry when you sit down with EXTREME MAKEOVER, what you’re going to get, because you know.  It’s a great family show that if your kid is 2 or 22, it’s something you can watch with them.  I always tell people that it makes nice conversation with your children.  What you get from it, what did you take away from this.  What can we do with it, how can we implement it in our family and make a difference.  People always ask me, well how can I make my kids givers?  Well, start the conversation with them.  You gotta talk to your kids about giving back and volunteering. What a great way to open the door, other than to sit down and watch our show with them!

I’ve got my box of Kleenex ready; I’m ready to go!
[laughs] Well ok!

Tune in to tonight’s all new episode of EXTREME  MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION, airing at 8/7c on ABC.