By DAVID FISCHER
MIAMI — An unlikely home improvement show hosted by 1990s rapper Vanilla Ice is set to premiere its second season with the remodeling of another South Florida home.
During the 13-episode run of “The Vanilla Ice Project” on the DIY Network, the artist, whose real name is Rob Van Winkle, and his crew will take a dilapidated Palm Beach County mansion along the Intercostal Waterway and bring it into the 21st century with technology that isn’t on the market yet.
Van Winkle’s passion for real estate and renovation took hold in the early 1990s, after his hit “Ice Ice Baby” made him an international star with millions in the bank. He first bought a home on Miami Beach’s exclusive Star Island. He subsequently bought homes in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles, New York’s Greenwich Village and Snowbird, Utah, a skiing and snowboarding destination.
“I went on tour for three years and never saw any of those houses,” Van Winkle said.
Fearing they may have been a waste of money, he decided to sell them – and a new career was born.
“I literally made millions of dollars on them,” Van Winkle said. “I was like, you gotta be kidding me. It can’t be that easy. Let’s go buy some more.”
After Van Winkle’s early 1990s stardom faded, he became more heavily involved in real estate. While he acknowledges that the housing market is different than it was 15 years ago, Van Winkle said he’s been able to make money over the years by educating himself, studying markets and taking advantage of short sales and foreclosures. The longtime Miami resident estimates that he’s bought and sold more than a hundred homes, most of which were in Florida.
“The Vanilla Ice Project” came together after a producer remembered Van Winkle talking about his real estate experience during an interview for another show.
Matt Levine, with Departure Films, said he had done a special on Vanilla Ice for the Biography Channel several years ago. So when the production company was looking to duplicate the success of “Flip This House,” a hit on the A&E Network, Levine said he remembered Van Winkle talking about his real estate experience. When Levine called, he learned that Van Winkle was in the process of buying a large, completely gutted foreclosure in Palm Beach.
“I flew down with a camera, and we shot a little demo of him (Van Winkle) showing off the place and talking about his experience in real estate and what he wanted to do with this house,” Levine said. “It was really very impressive, and it became this little teaser reel. And DIY was immediately interested in it.”
That house became the project for the first season, which aired in the fall 2010. The show became an instant hit for the DIY Network, and the home sold a short time later.
Levine acknowledged that the oddness of the show’s premise – Vanilla Ice doing home improvement – was probably the original draw for most viewers. But they kept watching because of Van Winkle’s charisma and expertise, Levine said.
“I think it was unexpected, his likeability and how much he knew,” Levine said. “I think once it became clear that he really knew his stuff, people started to look at him in a different way. Instead of seeing him as a one-hit wonder or a blast from the past, people started to appreciate him much more than they expected.”
Although Van Winkle has been rebuilding his celebrity over the past decade with appearances on reality shows like “The Surreal Life,” Van Winkle and Levine are both quick to point out that “The Vanilla Ice Project” isn’t really a reality show.
“`The Surreal Life’ is reality TV: no plot, not informative, not anything, just a bunch of celebrities running around, seeing how crazy they can get.”
Levine describes “The Vanilla Ice Project” as more of a home renovation show, where the expert just happens to be Vanilla Ice.
“We’re not manipulating the story line or coming up with ideas,” Levine said. “We’re crafting episodes so it’s coherent. Beyond that, it’s his deal.”
Both houses featured on the show were purchased by Van Winkle.
“This is all my own money,” Van Winkle said. “It’s basically just them following me around, doing what I do.”
Van Winkle acknowledges that having the film crew there has given him a chance to boost the scale of his renovations. In the past, the work he did to homes was generally limited to painting, minor repairs and landscaping.
“Since the cameras are on it, these are the best houses I’ve done,” Van Winkle said.
And the new season promises to be even bigger and better than the first.
“I’m showcasing a lot of modern, state-of-the-art home features that you can’t even get until 2013,” Van Winkle said.
Following the renovation, the mansion will have a helicopter pad, a pneumatic elevator, electronically controlled beds and a 3D movie theater. They’re also tearing out an old swimming pool and replacing it with a lazy river and Tiki hut. The home will be wired so that everything from the televisions to the thermostat to the curtains can be controlled with a smartphone from anywhere in the world.
“Bill Gates wishes he had a house like this,” Van Winkle said. “There’s stuff he can’t even get.”
Most viewers might not have the inclination – or the money – to turn their home into a high-tech, rock-star pad, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t enjoy the show and even learn from it.
“You don’t have to put in the elevator; you don’t have to put it the lazy river or the huge 3D cinema,” Van Winkle said. “But you might like the flooring we used in the garage. It’s just snap-in tiles. It’s really simple. You can order them anywhere and make your garage a really cool man cave. There are a lot of cool little things that you’re going to be inspired by and have ideas to do to your own home.”
The second season of “The Vanilla Ice Project” begins Saturday on the DIY Network. The show’s first season will run in its entirety twice – starting once at 9 a.m. and again at 3 p.m. At 9 p.m., a special called “Ice My House” will feature a $30,000 renovation of a Dallas couple’s pool house. And the first two episodes of the second season are scheduled to run at 10 p.m.
Van Winkle his also holding a Twitter party @VanillaIce from 8-11 p.m., when fans will be able to ask him questions about the show.
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