Jason Christopher Peters

It was February 2008, and then-25-year-old Jason Christopher Peters felt like a prisoner. As a finalist for the competition reality show “Stylista,” he had been sequestered in a Los Angeles hotel with no phone, no computer, and no one to talk to except CW Television Network casting agents and producers for a week.

Shuttled from interview to interview, Peters was grilled endlessly: His aspirations in the fashion industry. His upbringing. His feelings about the recent death of his grandmother. When he wasn’t being interviewed, he was sent to his room; a security guard posted on the floor made sure he stayed there.

By the afternoon of the seventh day of isolation and interrogation, still uncertain if the producers had picked him to be on the show, Peters was exhausted. I want to go back to my family, he thought as he flopped his skinny frame onto his hotel room bed for a nap. I’m over this. I want to go home…

Peters fell asleep. He dreamed of his grandmother, Dolores, who had instilled him with a love of fashion. Since he was a toddler, the two had watched pageants and awards shows together. Peters’ favorite was always Miss America. When the contestants came out in their evening dresses, he sat right in front of the TV, his face glowing from the light.

All that Peters remembers of the dream is that his grandmother was speaking to him. “Your life will change forever at eight,” she said.

When Peters woke up, it was 8 p.m. The phone was ringing.

It’s been more than three years since the wrap of  “Stylista,” a reality-TV show in which fashion wannabes competed for an editorial job at ELLE magazine. Peters, who made it onto the show, was eliminated after just two episodes, gracing TV for a grand total of two hours. But two hours has been enough. As his grandmother predicted, his life has changed forever. As a budding fashion designer currently building his brand by selling “couture accessories” off of his personal website, he credits the continuing attention from “Stylista” as paramount to his success.

“Everywhere I go now this sea of people seems to follow,” Peters, now 29, said on the phone, his tone gleeful as he described his recent birthday party in January as “really, really, really, really insane.” As he entered the venue where his birthday was being held, “This cameraman was like, ‘Mr. Jason Christopher Peters, happy birthday from TMZ.’ And that’s when I knew—TMZ was at my birthday party. Like, what?” By the time Peters finished his story, he was almost breathless.

Walking towards the insanity of his birthday celebrations, Peters remembers thinking, What the hell? “Because I’m just Jason,” he explained. “I’m just a regular person. This life has just happened to me really, really randomly.”

Not all of it is random. So many people showed up to his party partly because Peters posted an open invitation online, advertising that “special celebrity guests” and “tons of media, press, and photographers” would be in attendance (there was free cake, too).

And he became a contestant on “Stylista,” he believes, because the story of his life was sellable: a country boy, raised in rural California by his grandparents, who supported Peters and his two brothers on pittance.

Peters also stood out naturally from his competition. “He was so different,” said “Stylista” casting agent Chrissy Glickman, 26, who not only remembers Peters from hundreds of applicants but is still in contact with him. “His style, attitude, demeanor—he had this spark in him.” When Peters was kicked off the show, she said, she was “heartbroken” that he did not win.

These days, Peters knows even better how to stand out on his own terms. On Twitter, he is “Celebrity Designer/Model/Socialite Jason Christopher Peters!” With almost 4,000 followers, he has Tweeted over 41,000 times: no small feat for someone who does not own a smart phone. He uses Twitter as a vehicle both to promote his business and connect with supporters, whom he calls his “Twitter fam.” At least once a day he Tweets some variation of greeting to them. “Goodmornin’ To My Beautiful and Sexy Twitter Fam! I love ya’ll!” he Tweeted one morning in February.

Peters is adamant that before he was on reality TV, he never wanted fame. (“No! Never! Never, never, never!” he responds when asked.) And yet, maintaining his 15 minutes is important to him, managing to work it in with a day job as a salesclerk at a midtown H&M. At night he becomes a fashion designer and model always on the lookout for career opportunities—promoting his career, he said, was the main reason why he went on “Stylista” in the first place.

On one level, it seems to have been worth it. In the three years since “Stylista” aired, Peters has been bedecking fellow reality TV personas—Angelina from the “Jersey Shore,” Raquel Castro from “The Voice,” Tracey DiMarco from “Jerseylicious”—with his handmade signature bejeweled eye-patches and felt animal-face pins.

And he is a frequent attendee of red carpet events, where he can network and continue the buzz. A week ago, Peters was photographed by Getty Images at the Barami Fashion House show. Two weeks ago, at a Mercedes-Benz fashion week show. Three weeks ago, at an event with Nick Cannon at Bar Basque. A month ago, at the “Bad Girls Club” season 8 premiere party.

At one point, making appearances at events was all Peters did, and he relied upon it as his only source of income. After “Stylista” finished (it only ran for one season), he was attending 10 to 15 events per week, urged on by a team of managers, public relations people, and assistants who were making money off of each appearance.

Surrounded by the golden aura of fame, no one knew that Peters was homeless, crashing at friend’s places and paying for hostels when he could. During the day, when there were no events to attend, he would walk the streets of New York for hours. “That first year, I got sidetracked,” said Peters. “The red carpet events and photographers, they were just consuming me so much. I was drinking, partying nonstop.”

Sometimes, he would sleep in diners or cafés. In case someone recognized him from “Stylista” while he slept, he made sure to take out a sketchpad and pens—that way, it would look like he had simply fallen asleep while sketching.

Eventually, he began working at H&M and turning down appearances. And that’s when everyone—his manager, his public relations person, his assistant—disappeared. “They just left me,” Peters said. “They didn’t care.”

For Peters, betrayal in the pursuit of fame was an all-too-familiar theme. He was cut in the second episode of “Stylista” partly because other contestants teamed up against him, pegging him as the weak link and exploiting his quiet demeanor.

By the finale of the second episode, Peters was stressed to the point of medical emergency; with a rash covering his upper body, he was sent to the hospital. The show said that he was having a panic attack. (“I’ve never had a panic attack in my life,” said Peters.) Panic attack or not, he was ready to leave.

Reality TV, it seems, is both Peters’ burden and his blessing. Although he’s wary of pigeonholing himself into the reality TV box, he would love to be on NBC’s “Fashion Star” or Lifetime’s “Project Runway.” Friends of his are currently filming footage in hopes of producing an all-Peters reality show. After two months of filming, no networks have bitten yet. But Peters is certain that if it is picked up, it will be successful.

It’s true that Peters, at least on Twitter, has a natural aptitude for showcasing the banal details of his everyday life. “Shower Time!!!” he Tweeted two weeks ago, followed quickly by two other Tweets about how awesome his shower was.

Showers notwithstanding, Peters is busy. Looking at his Twitter and listening to his stories, his life seems to be an endless barrage of celebrity meet-and-greets, fashion projects, and red carpet events.

“Can u meet me at 340 w39th st? Im gunna get styled for an event,” Peters texts on the day of our interview.

The address turns out to be an unmarked grey metal door in the garment district. Outside, Peters meets Brian Wood, whose designs he will wear later that night. Accompanied by a female friend whom Peters met for the first time at his birthday party in January, the trio traipse upstairs to the designer’s office on the fourth floor.

Once inside, Peters goes through the boxes and racks of clothes that cram the small room. He holds up a Brian Wood T-shirt  and looks in the mirror. “This is cool,” he says, referencing the shirt’s graphic: a sitting woman with a hot pink ball-gag in her mouth. Two bright yellow chopsticks emerge from the armpit of the shirt, pinching her like a grain of rice. Underneath, there are two Japanese characters. “It means fisherman,” the designer says.

Eventually, Peters puts down the shirt and chooses a black sweatshirt instead, its front covered by a smiley face with Xs for eyes. He stays in the baggy black pants and black sneakers that he came in, and puts on a black leather jacket. His final touch is a Jason Christopher Peters designed backpack: black, of course, with bejeweled straps.

You can check out Jason Christopher Peters’ designs at www.jasonchristopherpeters.com and follow him on Twitter @JasonCPeters.

Image by Quro Studios.