Perf. Arts

Carmen De La Paz handy with tools and in song
Former Waukesha native, current HGTV star donating time for special benefit concert

By Jim Cryns - Special to TimeOut

November 9, 2012

WAUKESHA - There’s a woman who has more talent than Ben & Jerry has flavors of ice cream.

Carmen De La Paz can build you a house, and afterward she can sing in your living room. She’ll be appearing at the Waukesha Civic Theatre on Nov. 17 as part of the theater’s Random Acts of Entertainment series.

“My show will essentially be a one-woman performance with songs illustrating different points in my life,” De La Paz said. “I’ll be crossing over different musical genres, from Spanish pop to romance, some disco; telling about my life through pictures and song.”

Now based in Los Angeles, she’s lived in New York and appeared in numerous stage productions. De La Paz said during a recent phone interview, she’s excited to be coming home to Waukesha.

She is probably best known for her work on HGTV’s “Hammer Heads,” “Design Star” and “All-American Handyman.”

Musically, she said Barbra Streisand was a big influence. “She was so young when she started,” De La Paz  said. “She’s an example of how the wave just took her toward her passion.”

De La Paz’s roots date back to 1982 when she was a member of Kids from Wisconsin and attended Waukesha North High School.

“I started onstage at the Waukesha Civic Center when I was 12,” De La Paz said. “(I) always wanted to know what the business was about.”

She recently returned home after spending several months in South America while simultaneously filming four television shows.

“We’d shoot five shows in a day,” De La Paz said. Her favorite is “Be Handy Con Carmen,” which was launched last year for Fox International’s Spanish-language channel.

“It’s my pet show. I sold it to the network, I’m the producer and host,” she said.

The past few months have been quite an education and workload for De La Paz as she managed the crews, booked locations and wrote the checks.

Her cordial demeanor and true appreciation of other people has allowed De La Paz to enjoy a consistent array of work in an industry where so many people are struggling to make a buck.

“I’m the personality where people say, ‘Where do I know you from?’” she said.

De La Paz admits she’s a good teacher and has the ability to break things down in a way people can understand: “I love to learn. I believe people appreciate a good teacher. I love music, carpentry and have a curiosity about everything else. I’m always asking myself, what’s next?”

De La Paz is an interior designer, decorative painter, carpenter and cook. As the owner of De La Paz Designs, an interior design studio, she’s designed spaces in both Los Angeles and New York City.

De La Paz’s early passion was music, then the whole power tool world, furniture design and art direction jumped aboard her wagon. She plays nine instruments, including the violin, which earned her a full scholarship to college. “I also play classical guitar, mandolin, bass, percussions and the harmonica,” she said.

Later in her career, De La Paz worked in publicity and marketing at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles. 

“I was good at the marketing, but I was looking for something to be passionate about,” she recalled.

De La Paz hosted a kids show on Fox and guest starred on a sitcom.

“I’ve been very blessed,” she said.

When asked about what lessons she’d like to impart to younger folks, De La Paz said people should look outside themselves: “Ask yourself if what you’re planning to do is really what you want. Is it a dream, a calling? Look inside.”

WCT managing artistic director John Cramer said he’s looking forward to De La Paz’s show.

“We have a history with her,” Cramer said. “This is a great opportunity for us and she was willing to do a benefit performance, donating her time.”

Cramer’s wife, Kelli, was in Kids From Wisconsin with De La Paz.

“This isn’t a typical fundraiser, it’s a show,” said Cramer, who noted that every dollar raised during the performance will go toward theater operating expenses.

“My wife said Carmen was a powerhouse performer,” Cramer said. “Her fame came from her do-it-yourself television shows, but her goal was always to be a musical performer.

“I think this show would appeal to any age group,” Cramer said. “It may be best enjoyed by teens to adults, a very family-friendly show.”