Barbara Nitke/Lifetime

The top 18 finalists must go one-on-three with the judges to become contestants.

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July 25, 2014 at 03:00 AM EDT

All Stars and Under the Gunn were nice placeholders, but let’s be honest: A year is too long to wait for Heidi and Co. Although it didn’t see the return of King Kors, this season has some big stakes: It is “lucky season 13” as Tim Gunn says with a very weak fist pump. The winning designer’s prizes include an opportunity to design a fashion accessory for Red Robin servers (probably along the lines of this) and international hotel accommodations from Best Western. With all that on the line, it’s no wonder that Korina and Mitchell already have their claws out.

Returning to a season 9 scheme, 18 designers were brought to NYC to show their fashion lines to the judges; only 15 continued to become official contestants. Like a lightning round, we met all 18 before the commercial break:

•Korina Emmerich, 28, Brooklyn, NY; inspired by her American-Indian roots

•Sandhya Garg, 28, Birgmingham, AL; uses the middle finger in her prints

•Jefferson Musanda, 25, Brooklyn, NY; integrates his hip-hop background into fabric movement

•Emily Payne, 40, San Francisco, CA; is a mom and has her own children’s line

•Sean Kelly, 25, Brooklyn, NY; has a “sophisticated eye,” so speaketh Nina

•Emmanuel Tobias, 29, Dallas, TX; “I design for girls like Kylie and Kendall Jenner”

•Char Glover, 37, Detroit, MI; single and ready to mingle

•Kristine Guico, 26, Brooklyn, NY; has a “secure” rack, according to Zac

•Alexander Knox, 22, Chicago, IL; avant-garde

•Mitchell Perry, 25, Fort Lauderdale, FL; “the shorter the shorts, the closer to God”

•Nzinga Knight, 33, Brooklyn, NY; “one note”

•Tim Navarro, 32, Minneapolis, MN; muse is a middle-age lesbian

•Carrie Sleutskaya, 24, Los Angeles, CA; futuristic copycat

•Hernan Lander, 33, New York, NY; was forced to show looks that weren’t on loan to J-Lo (read: he’s a name-dropper)

•Samantha Plasencia, 27, San Antonio, TX; “urban-y” as the people in Texas say

•Kini Zamora, 30, Kapolei, HI; a denim man

•Fäde Zu Grau, 45, Coral Gables, FL; likes to club like Janet Jackson

•Angela Sum, 32, Los Angeles, CA; the definition of Plain Jane

Out before it even begins: Tim, Nzinga, Emmanuel

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Karlie Kloss and Christian Siriano guide undiscovered designers through the harrowing rites of fashion.
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