The MyRecipes team is thrilled that one of our contributors, Martie Duncan (Martie Knows Parties), is a finalist on season 8 of Food Network Star. The show premiers on Sunday, May 13 at 9 pm/8 CST. I had a chance to chat with Martie last week and get the scoop on the show.

Photo: Courtesy of the Food Network

How did you get selected to be on the show?
Early one Monday, around 1 am, I was on the Food Network website and saw the announcement about casting calls. There weren’t any close to Birmingham, but there was one in Chicago—on Wednesday! So I got up and drove to Chicago. It was horrible weather driving up – lots of rain and wind and road signs in the air. I had to pull over in Indiana, but eventually got to Chicago and went in and did the audition. I was one of the last ones to audition and was asked to come for a call-back the next day. For the call-back, I was supposed to bring some food and figured I would go to a nearby Target for the food, but I needed a kitchen. I ended up seeing a fire station and went in and asked the fire captain if I could use their kitchen. I worked out a trade – I would cook them lunch if I could use their kitchen. So I made my dish for the call-back and went back and did the presentation. It was an easy dish: One-Pot Shrimp Boil. After the audition, I went back to the Fire Station to thank them and they fed me dinner – a Southern dinner with fried catfish.

So what happened after the call-back?
After I made the first cut at the casting call, there were lots of phone calls and phone interviews, and I had to send photos and an audition tape. Then I got called for an audition in Atlanta with Alton Brown. He told me at that audition that he was picking me for his team. I practically knocked him down when he told me I was on his team. There was a lot of screaming and jumping involved. Maybe some dancing, I can’t really remember.

You have not been to culinary school – did you feel intimidated by the other contestants who are chefs?
A little bit. All the other contestants were in the food industry, mostly chefs or caterers. There was a lot I did not know, but I did my best and learned a lot.

How did your Martie Knows Parties background help you?
Resourcefulness – being in the wedding business, there’s no such thing as “No”. And there’s no such thing as a do-over. All of that experience helped me to know who I am, what I want to be, and what I want to show the audience.

Did doing videos for MyRecipes help you with this experience?
Absolutely. Being on the show is 50 percent cooking/50 percent personality , so having some experience doing videos and live presentations helped a lot with the entertainment aspect. But here there were no unlimited takes like we had at MyRecipes!

Did you ever get to sleep?
Not much. This was really a 24-7 kind of thing. The cameras were always going. There was some down time, but not much. It’s work and not at all for the faint of heart. You’ve got to have stamina.

Do you like the different twist this year with the judges having teams that they are coaching? It’s kind of like The Voice, right?
I liked this approach. I’ve played sports all my life –and I like being on a team. Plus, I just love competition! It was great that we didn’t have to figure out everything on our own. The mentors (coaches) helped identify our weak areas and make suggestions for improvements. I was over the moon to be on Alton Brown’s team. He knows the hows and whys of cooking – which is so valuable for this show. He is so smart and very intimidating. He’s awesome! I tried to do everything he told me to do.

Is Giada really as tiny as she looks on TV?
Tinier! And I had to stand beside her almost every day. She is no pushover though. She’s one tough cookie. I’ve always been a fan of hers, and now I’m a huge fan.

What about Bobby Flay?
I didn’t talk to Bobby Flay much – he was on the other team. But he is very serious, professional, and very intense—the consummate kitchen professional.

How did the teams get formed?
The mentors picked the people they wanted to be on the team. I’m sure that there must have been some reasoning behind the choices, but I don’t know any of the details about the team selections.

Did you get to be friends with any of the other contestants, or is it super competitive?
I made friends for life. Some I knew better than others – I didn’t interact a lot with members of the other teams. But our team was very cohesive and there wasn’t too much drama.

Do you get to have makeup and wardrobe people?
Yeah, but you had to do some yourself. You showed up with what you thought and they either said “No” or just helped you improve with some touch ups. It was hard to keep looking good though, with all that cooking and sweating. Well, I don’t know about the others, but I was sweating. They had these timers and you had to get finished on time. I was running all the time.

What’s been the best part of this whole experience?
I’ve been so lucky in my life and have managed to blunder my way into doing a lot of amazing things. But this ranks up there with one of the top experiences I’ve ever had. It ‘s given me a chance to find out a lot about myself. It’s also made me appreciate being from Alabama even more. People have been so supportive and kind, and I’ve heard from a lot of old friends who are so excited and are pulling for me.

You really can’t tell me who wins, right?
I don’t even know who wins yet. It hasn’t happened. Each week someone gets sent home, and then there are three finalists. After it’s narrowed down to the three finalists, America votes for the winners.

Stay tuned and see what happens . . . . Sunday, May 13, 9 pm/8 c on The Food Network.