Vanilla Ice brings modern flair to Amish country in new reno show
Rob Van Winkle aka 'Vanilla Ice' is pictured as he promotes his new television show 'Vanilla Ice Goes Amish,' in Toronto, on Tuesday, October 8, 2013. (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, October 9, 2013 5:18PM EDT
TORONTO -- What could a flashy, Florida-based pop icon share in common with members of a tight-knit religious sect in rural Ohio? Well, a passion for craftmanship for starters -- but not of the musical variety.
Rob Van Winkle -- better known as Vanilla Ice --catapulted to fame with his 90s smash "Ice Ice Baby," the first rap single to top the Billboard Hot 100. More recently, he's been charting success in the renovation realm by purchasing, remodelling and selling homes, not to mention documenting renos on "The Vanilla Ice Project."
In "Vanilla Ice Goes Amish" which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on DIY Network, Van Winkle heads to Holmes County, Ohio -- the largest Amish settlement in the U.S. -- to learn from master craftsmen and to fully immerse himself in the Amish way of life free of modern conveniences.
"I wasn't sure what to expect because I know that they build furniture and stuff like that, but I didn't know much beyond that," admitted the affable Van Winkle said during a recent press day in Toronto.
"And so, when I get there, I see that they really ... pride themselves on craftsmanship and their abilities and their skills. They'll build anything you want. They have great 'MacGyver' skills. That's what we call them back at the lab back in Florida," he added, a reference to the '80s TV character who could make inventive items out of everyday materials.
"We say: 'There's no real rulebook on how you're going to fix that. You can do it with mortar, you can do it 10 different ways, but you've got to fix it, so let's see how good your real carpentry skills are.' The good ones that have been around for a while, they'll figure out a way to make that work, whether it's a corner or whether it's holding up a beam."
Once the idea for "Vanilla Ice Goes Amish" was cemented with the network, making initial arrangements to film required extraordinary measures.
"You can't send a fax. You can't send an email. You can't send a tweet, a text, a Vine (video), a nothing," Van Winkle said, noting that a representative flew to Ohio and drove two-and-a-half hours to meet with community members.
"He didn't even know if they knew who Vanilla Ice was. And they did, they knew. They'd heard of Vanilla Ice. It was pretty cool," Van Winkle recalled.
"They're not that sheltered. They're American. They know what's going on. They knew who LeBron James was," he added, in reference to the Miami Heat basketball superstar and former Cleveland Cavalier.
"They're from Ohio, so they weren't too happy that he went to Miami, but I was. I was real happy. Championship," he said, grinning.
In the series debut, Van Winkle works with a construction crew to transform a dated kitchen into a state-of-the-art space. But he quickly learns of the challenges of carrying out routine tasks, like requiring permission from the church bishop to use electricity or power tools.
"When we're doing (work for) the Amish folks, you have to consider that there's no electricity. So your backsplash, you don't have to worry about putting a bunch of outlets (in). There won't be any lights, there won't be any fixtures, under-counter lights or anything."
Van Winkle also brought his own design influence to help marry traditional workmanship with modern finesse, like a double ogee edge on granite countertops.
"I introduced the design style which is much different than the Amish design style. It has a lot of luxury in it, a lot of above and beyond, a lot of pop and a lot of wow."
When he wasn't involved in construction work, Van Winkle was walking the walk when it came to Amish life, taking residence on a farm. Not only did he live without electricity, phones, the Internet and even mirrors, the tattooed, ballcap-sporting rapper-renovator would even wear attire more in-step with the community -- including garments without zippers.
He recalled feeding baby calves, doing laundry and shovelling manure -- all measures he felt were important to earn respect.
"Once they saw I knew what I was doing there, they warmed up to me," he said.
"We had such a great time, great stories, great jokes. They love to interact with each other. If you've ever seen a group of people and they're all on their phones ... they don't do that! They all talk and it's good and it's a good time. And they wake up with the sun and they go to sleep with the sun."
"Vanilla Ice Goes Amish" is the latest series to turn the lens on members of the Amish community. But in doing so, it offers a stark contrast to the gun-toting vigilantes on "Amish Mafia" and young adults who leave their communities for the big city in "Breaking Amish."
Van Winkle was quick to draw a distinction between his own show and the often-controversial portrayals of the Amish seen in other programs.
"I don't want to talk anything negative about these other shows with the Mafia or 'Breaking Amish' and stuff. But they're very entertaining, they're good shows," he said.
"I don't how much truth is there -- I wasn't there, I don't know. But I do know for a fact that Amish do not drive cars -- especially Cadillacs -- and that's what they're driving in those shows. So you make up your own decisions.
"But the truth is, this is a real show. It's not staged," he added.
"This is me with real Amish families and building with a real Amish team and doing a fantastic job and showcasing their heritage."