Audra and Brian Skaggs’ son Jhett has been fighting for his life since his birth. At 10 months, Jhett underwent a heart transplant. Jhett’s recovery is miraculous, but with his family’s rotting home, his immune system is under constant attack. Enter Pennington, Harris and the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team, and cue the tears.
She exclusively talks to SheKnows about her Extreme Makeover: Home Edition experience, as well as how she and her Bachelorette fiance Ed Swiderski have weathered the storm of tabloid fodder to emerge “more in love than ever.”
SheKnows: I’ve talked to a few people who have guest starred on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and they all say it was the most rewarding experience. Was yours?
Jillian Harris: I’ll probably start crying answering this question. But it really defined the word “profound” for me. Stew — this person who would go to work in the morning with his coffee and listen to some good old honky tonk… I got a tear in my eye because I was grateful for life. And after everything I’ve experienced in the last few years, you would think I’d be even more grateful, right? But you become a little bit numb. After so many helicopter and limo rides, hot tub sessions… all those things, you become a little bit like, “Wow, what just happened?” The little things in life, I’m embarrassed to say, weren’t affecting me the way they normally do. The show made realize that all of us need to pay attention to life. It’s short, and it should be beautiful. We should be giving back and [having] a lot of laughter.
SheKnows: Just hearing you talk reminded me of the now famous line of Sandra Bullock’s from The Blind Side when her friend commends her for changing this boy’s life. She replies, “No, he’s changing ours.”
Jillian Harris: Totally! It’s true. The Staggs were thanking me and thanking me. I was crying. I was like, “No, thank you.” This has really changed me — opened my eyes and made my heart bigger. You want to reach out to everyone you know and say, “If you’re having a bad day, just reach out and lend a hand. It will change you.”
SheKnows: I know your background is in design. How was that — being able to use that part of your personal expertise to better lives?
Jillian Harris: It was a little bit of pressure. Especially since I’m used to what I call magazine-style design. Stuff is going to appeal to hundreds of thousands of people. In Extreme Makeover, you have the main living areas, which I was able to help design. But I also designed Merit’s room. She’s Jett Stagg’s older sister. She is 5 years old. You have to make the room extreme. So, my biggest challenge was how I could make this room extreme [so that] when people watch, they’ll say, “Wow, I’ve never seen that before.” And Merit will walk in and say, “Nobody has a room like this.” But I still wanted to make it cool enough that I could use my design talent, adding my own personal style. I struggled with that, but in the end, there was a really good symphony of extreme factors, and mine and Merit’s personal style.
SheKnows: I’m sure you just didn’t get along with that affable fellow Ty Pennington.
Jillian Harris: Oh, my gosh! People must wonder what he is like, and he is exactly the same in person, all the time. He is so full of energy. He is so funny. We became such good friends on the show. He made fun of me all the time in the most endearing way. We all had a ball. It was so much fun.
SheKnows: You know, they’re making a big deal about the big revival of The Bachelor in these last few seasons. I like to think back to your season on The Bachelorette, stirring the pot that has made The Bachelor a phenomenon once again. Is that something you’re comfortable with?
Jillian Harris: Absolutely. What other Canadian girl can have that much fun in a hot tub and have ratings success? I’m just kidding. I don’t know if I had anything to do with it. I think it’s a combination of cast and the direction of the show. I know that some of the drama that Ed and I had, unfortunately, brought a lot of attention to the franchise itself.