Season 11 Winner Eddie Jackson Returns to Star … As a Judge

We caught up with Eddie Jackson on set about what he needs to see in rivals' performances and what it's like to return to his roots of Stardom.
Food Network Star

Hosts Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay introducing the Guest Judge, Eddie Jackson, for the Star Challenge Cook For Your Life, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 13.

Photo by: Eddy Chen

Eddy Chen

Each and every one of the Food Network Star challenges is important, of course, but perhaps none is so all-or-nothing as the Episode 10 Star Challenge, when the final four hopefuls — including the winner of Star Salvation — fight to earn three pilot spots. Eddie Jackson knows the pressure of this moment well; it was only two years ago that he too endured this same nailbiting test — and passed. He earned the right to film a pilot directed by Food Network pro Rachael Ray, and sure enough, just a week later he was crowned a Star.

This week, though, he's back in Food Star Kitchen, not as a hopeful finalist but as a judge who will evaluate the remaining Season 13 competitors' final dishes and presentations. We caught up with Eddie on set about what he needs to see in rivals' performances and what it's like to return to his roots of Stardom.

When you meet the finalists on Sunday, four of them will be fighting for three pilot spots, just as you did two years ago. What do you remember about that all-important challenge?

Eddie Jackson: I remember being extremely nervous, because the people who were left were so good. At the time, I believe Big Jay was the frontrunner, because he had never messed up, and he was so good at what he was doing. I was like, "There’s no way I can beat this guy."

Everyone is feeling jitters going into this final challenge. How should they stay calm and focused in the face of what will be the most-important challenge of the competition?

EJ: I think the most-important thing at this stage of the competition is reflect back on everything that Bobby and Giada have told you, and be extremely confident, because that confidence definitely shows to the camera.

How does it feel to be on this side of the table as a judge instead of a competitor?

EJ: I have to say that being on this side of the table is a lot better than being on the other side — a lot less sweat.

Now that you are judging, what’re you looking for? You know better than anyone about what finalists should be able to do and say and cook by now.

EJ: First and foremost, I’m looking for confidence. I want to be able to believe everything that they’re saying and know that they have an authority on whatever their POV is. Secondly, I want them to have that look. If you think of every Food Network Star that’s out there and anybody who's on Food Network, they have that look and they’re believable. From Bobby to Guy — the list goes on and on and on. I want them to have that “It” factor.

When it come to filming a pilot, what are some words of wisdom the top-three hopefuls should keep in mind about that process?

EJ: Basically you just let everything loose. You think about everything that you’ve learned, and you let yourself go with it and really live in that moment. I think that’s what the pilot is all about. Take everything over the course of this season and put it all in one, and really produce good-quality content.

Did you get any advice from your own Star experience that you're still using today?

EJ: One of the first things Bobby told me was: “Who is Eddie Jackson? Each and every time you step in front of the camera, you should let everybody know who Eddie Jackson is and what you’re about." And to this day, every time I step in front of the camera, I try to provide that to people and show who I am. This is really me. I think that’s how you get a fan base, and that’s how you get people to love you and want to follow you and want to watch you.

Two years later, what do you know today that you wish you’d known at this stage back then?

EJ: I wish I would have known what 30 seconds really was. It goes by very, very fast when you’re trying to convey your POV and get yourself across to that camera. Now I can do something in 30 seconds that I didn’t know I could do two years ago.

Don't miss Eddie Jackson on Food Network Star on Sunday at 9|8c.

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