DURHAM — Howard Eason has no regrets about leaving behind his 18-year career with IBM to pursue his passion of interior design.
The former business operations manager now not only runs his own design business, HE Designs LLC in Durham, he's also a contestant on the new season of the HGTV reality competition series, "All American Handyman."
Eason, who was born and reared in Dunn and graduated from Triton High School (his mother and most of his 10 siblings still live around Dunn), said design was such a calling that he worked at it part time while with IBM in the Washington area.
When company cuts presented him with a "stay or go" option a few years ago, he left the corporate world to pursue his dream full time.
"Without pursuing what you really want, there's a void," Eason said of his decision. "I'm so glad I can focus my talent and creativity on something I love."
Eason's path to "All American Handyman" wasn't a direct one. He initially submitted an audition tape to HGTV to be a contestant on "Design Star," a show in which designers compete for the chance to host their own program on the network. He had several conversations with producers but didn't make the cut.
Then about a month later, Eason once again heard from the network. Because he'd done some of his own handyman and installation work on his audition tape, producers thought he'd be a good fit for their handyman show.
What the winner gets
"All American Handyman," filmed in Brooklyn, N.Y., in April, offers a $10,000 Sears shopping spree and a development deal with HGTV to the winner.
Eason said 20 contestants competed at various handyman projects and that filming was "very raw."
"There was no makeup and no tricks," he said. "Just a stopwatch and blood, sweat, and tears. The time limits were very true to life; there was no fudging on that."
In fact, the primary difficulty of the tasks derived from the fact that they were timed, he said.
"We went in blind not knowing what we'd be doing for the day. And you either had one or two hours to complete the task, so it was a beat-the-clock type thing."
Eason, who attended N.C. Central University, said the cast got along great, and things never got nasty, as they sometimes can on reality shows.
"We had the most phenomenal cast ever," he said. "It wasn't a competition where we had to go at each other. We were our own worst enemy because of the time element. And if the skill set wasn't there, it was obvious."
Help from judges
Eason said he also learned a lot from the show's judges, Scott McGillivray (host of HGTV's "Income Property") and Mike Holmes (host of HGTV's "Holmes on Homes").
"They would come around and talk to us about dos and don'ts, and we learned a lot about what professional contractors know about code or the best way to install something," Eason said. "Every show was a learning experience and only made us all better in the end."
Eason, who turns 42 just a few days after the premiere of "All American Handyman," can't say how far he got on the show. For now, he's keeping quiet and continuing his design and event planning work in the Durham and Washington areas.
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