Terry Morrow: Jenny McCarthy basks in glow of 'Extreme Makeover' Knoxville visit

Actress Jenny McCarthy says Knoxville helped remind her that the down-home, heart of America is alive and well outside Hollywood.

Photo by Jason Merritt, 2010 Getty Images

Actress Jenny McCarthy says Knoxville helped remind her that the down-home, heart of America is alive and well outside Hollywood.

PASADENA, Calif. — Knoxville reminded actress Jenny McCarthy earlier this year of what's important.

She spent more than a week around here in January to work on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The crew built a home for Daniel and Mandy Watson and their three children.

McCarthy was here substituting for Ty Pennington, who was in New York City doing the ABC daytime flop "The Revolution." That show has since been cancelled.

Being part of the makeover in Knoxville was a career highlight for McCarthy.

"It's one of the best experiences I have had to date," says McCarthy.

"It was so beautiful and rewarding. The people were so kind. They reminded me that people can be warm."

Knoxville is a far different world than Los Angeles. The people working in Hollywood, "don't give themselves to other people the way that people in Knoxville did (in January)," she says.

Building started Jan. 10 and was continuous for a week. This process normally would take almost a year.

More than 3,000 local volunteers did everything from building to feeding the workers and providing support services such as tents, signage, transportation and public relations.

Mostly local companies donated all materials for the build. Grace Construction was the lead builder.

McCarthy was helped in her "Extreme" task by designers Paul DiMeo, Tracy Hutson, John Littlefield and Jillian Harris.

Outside of her work, McCarthy also made it to the Knoxville Zoo (which turned into a media event), and she surveyed a jungle safari exhibit.

McCarthy's local media exposure was limited due to her work schedule.

And then, there was the food.

She says she enjoyed exploring the local eateries of Knoxville.

How could the skinny minny not gain a lot of weight being here and eating all kinds of Southern comfort food?

"I did gain weight," she says with a laugh. "I came back from that trip to Knoxville, and I had gained 12 pounds.

"I ate and ate and ate and had a ball."

McCarthy stays in touch with the Watsons. "I talk to Mandy a lot," she says. "I text her all the time.

"I want to keep that connection between us going. I said that while I was there, and I meant it."

McCarthy's career in her post-Knoxville visit includes hosting the new dating competition "Love in the Wild," set to debut this summer on NBC.

An airdate for the Knoxville installment of "Extreme Makeover" has not been announced. The series was cancelled late in 2011 due to low ratings.

The Knoxville portion will be billed as a special. It probably will be airing around the holidays later this year.

And when McCarthy gets this way next, she may do a visit to Dollywood with her son, who is 10 years old.

"He'd love that," McCarthy says. "It has the two things he loves — rides and (breasts)."

Terry Morrow may be reached at 865-342-6445 or morrowt@knoxville.com.

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