Location: Bravo TV headquarters, Summer 2006
Executive #1: "Project Runway put us on the map. Top Chef and Top Design were decent enough to keep people watching. Now how else can we convince educated, urban, well-off women and gay men to watch yet another reality show? What has the glamor and pizazz of fashion, gourmet food and interior design?"
Executive #2: "Um.. women and gays both like pretty hair and spending time at salons? What about a reality show for hairstylists?"
Executive #3: "YES! They will create hair that will rival the drama of an Austen Scarlett wedding gown. We'll show America that toilet paper rolls and pipe cleaners aren't just for making clothes, they can make beautiful hair sculptures!"
And a television show was born...
To be honest, when I first heard about the new show "Shear Genius," I laughed out loud. It seemed like Bravo was really scraping the bottom of the barrel... I mean, a hairstyling competition? Why not just ditch the themes, throw 12 outrageous, flamboyant characters in a room and let them duke it out? Honestly, watching people cut, curl and dye hair isn't exactly entertaining.
But when I saw that iTunes was offering the first episode for free, I had to download and check it out (if you're really anal about spoilers, you probably don't want to read on).
Following in the footsteps of Heidi Klum, Padma Lakshmi and Todd Oldham is host Jaclyn Smith, who, other than being blessed with fantastic hair genes, seems to have no particular qualifications for this job. During the judging, she does add a normal woman's perspective, which is refreshing (the other regular judges are celeb hairstylist Sally Hershberger, famous for the Meg Ryan shag, and Michael Carl, fashion director for Allure magazine, and both definitely know their stuff), but she doesn't seem to know more about hair than any normal person.
The format follows that of Top Chef, where there's a mini challenge in the beginning, the winner of which gets some kind of benefit in the main challenge. The first "short cut" challenge was hilarious to watch. The stylists were asked to create a "signature style," the twist being that they had to cut mannequin hair. After much sighing, whining and moaning, there were 8 identical, hideously angled cuts that would never be seen on a real person (we're talking hair that's 5 inches longer on one side, with a giant piece hanging over the face) and 4 normal, pretty wearable styles.
Oh, and there's a Tim Gunn-like figure who gives advice to the contestants, a Danish dude named Rene Fris. He comes off as totally boring, but he looks vaguely like a younger, hotter, gayer version of Peter Gallagher (aka Sandy Cohen of The O.C.), and imagining Sandy flitting around the salon is enough to keep me interested in his scenes.
Already, they had introduced a number of larger than life characters, most notably evil Frenchman Paul-Jean, head bitch Tabatha and ghetto fabulous Dr. Boogie. When asked why she liked her job, one girl burst into tears while discussing her passion for hair... it was hilarious. It was clear that these people knew what kind of exposure they'd be getting from the show and wanted to milk it for all it's worth. Unfortunately, no one felt as real or likable as a Jay McCaroll or Austin Scarlett or Santino Rice (who you couldn't help but love to hate), though hopefully later in the season more engaging characters will emerge.
By this point I was getting kind of bored, both with the annoying contestants and their obnoxious "LOOK AT ME, I'M SO HIP AND EDGY" styles. But lo and behold, Bravo had a new trick up their sleeve that entertained me to no end.
Okay, get this... at the end of each mini-challenge, they RANK the people in order of who did the best job, and your rank determined who got to pick the models for the big challenge. As if reality TV wasn't intense and competitive enough, this infuriated people. The awkwardness! The brutal honesty! The jealousy-inducement! This is what great TV is all about.
Finally they got to the main challenge, which was to create "hair art" that incorporated arts and crafts materials from Michael's. This was a ridiculous concept, but I was glad that I wouldn't just be seeing variations on one style or cut. As Project Runway has taught us, often the silliest challenges (use trash to create couture!) are the most entertaining, even if most people don't "get" it.
So what did these stylists come up with, once armed with an arsenal of pipecleaners, feather boas, silk flowers and rhinestones? Take a look:
This is like the physical representation of the bridezilla. I think that people sometimes confuse throwing lots of random materials together with being creative, and that's definitely the case here.
This was my personal favorite. It had a funky, island vibe, and the soft, beautiful hair contrasted nicely with the ribbons and wooden balls. I can see a really cool, confident woman pulling this off in real life.
The judges just about threw up when this model walked down the runway. To top it off, the hairstylist, Paul-Jean, was all "F.U. judges! You're wrong and this is beautiful!" Luckily, he was kicked off (kudos to Bravo, because not only would he have caused the most drama, but you know that he'd also have the most outrageous styles each week, and we all know that drama=ratings).
This was the winning design (ironically, it was by Tabatha, who placed last in the mini-challenge). She made a coherent sculpture out of her materials, and the similarity between the texture and color of the hair and the feathers was striking and beautiful. I could imagine this on a Fashion Week runway.
This is representative of most of the styles in the middle range: they were SO FREAKING LITERAL. Honestly, if you asked a group of 5th graders to make hair art, this is what they'd come up with.
I don't want to ruin the surprise, but when this model reached the end of the runway, she pulled a little string that popped open the box, propelling glitter into the air. You really can't get any more gimmicky than that.
The Allure editor judge made a fantastic comment after everyone finished showing, "There's a huge difference between ugly and edgy." I think that sums up the problem with the show's contestants, most of whom have spent years working with regular people, creating normal hairstyles, and are in over their heads when asked to do something so creative and conceptual. I'm going to keep watching to find out what happens, if only because I'm a sucker for this kind of over the top, campy entertainment, but I'll be counting down the months until Project Runway is back on.
Has anyone else watched the first episode? If not, you can catch it tonight at 9 (the new ep premieres at 10) or download it for free on iTunes.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Location: Bravo TV headquarters, Summer 2006