“Project Runway” and its ilk have finally spawned a reality competition centered on beauty. “American Beauty Star,” premiering on Lifetime Sept. 21., features 12 hair and makeup mavens competing in challenges ranging from creating high-end editorial looks to red-carpet and runway-ready beauty.
Hosted and executive produced by Adriana Lima, the show features makeup artist Sir John as its mentor, and former Vogue beauty editor Sarah Brown and photographer Russell James as judges. Guest judges over the 10-episode series include Teen Vogue editor in chief Elaine Welteroth, Behati Prinsloo, Camila Alves, Michelle Phan, beauty influencers Huda and Mona Kattan and singer Michelle Williams.
The quartet of regulars sat down with WWD on the “ABS” set to preview the action:
WWD: What makes this reality show different from others in the fashion space?
Adriana Lima: It shows a little bit more of the human side. It’s about the artists pushing themselves, but we also are showing their struggles and the emotions that go behind it. I feel a lot of people at home are going to be connecting.
Sarah Brown: Beauty is so huge right now on the Internet, in the world, in terms of what is selling. It is a several-hundred-billion-dollar industry. Our show has no gimmick. We are not here to deliver a line or to tear someone down for no reason and we have a point of view that is our own. These contestants are getting real advice from people who know what they are talking about.
Russell James: The concept is not unique of an elimination competition around a subject, but I was fascinated that no one has done one around this space. All of our guest judges have said, “It’s cool to come onto a panel where they let you say what you think.”
Sir John: If you look at past shows about modeling or fashion, there is a separation that happens with people when it comes to their clothing, but there’s an emotional connection with cosmetics that everyone has. It is completely democratic and it seems personal more so than a garment or a modeling contract. Lipsticks are definitely a connection to your soul.
A.L.: I agree. I love my red.
WWD: Have the challenges been heated so far?
S.B.: You will be yelling at your TV screen. There is going to be high drama. I can just see people saying, “Why is that one going home?” and “Why is that one staying?” There are going to be people you root for and who you love to hate but we are also showing a wide range of beauty.
WWD: What qualities are you looking for in the winner?
A.L.: Who will win this challenge will have a combination of great personality, great connection with people and great talent.
S.J.: Anyone can be a great makeup artist or hairstylist, but it’s also about how you are with people. It’s about marrying with a team and how you can put the client first.
R.J.: To me it’s about commercial viability. The commercial viability comes with every piece they just spoke to, creativity and artistry, but also what I don’t see as a photographer. Are they able to keep things calm in the hair and makeup area?
WWD: How has the industry changed since you started?
S.J.: We have a multifaceted world we didn’t have before: you have to Snap and keep up the social engagement and know about YouTube and there’s a multidimensional aspect to your artistry — you can’t just be editorial or red carpet. You have to be a full package, which can be dizzying at times. It’s a game of hide-and-seek and knowing when to bring out your peacock feathers and when to be humble and let your work speak.
S.B.: That’s what some of the contestants don’t realize. It’s not about you; it’s about your skill and expertise and if you do that, you will be recognized as a celebrity in your own right, but it is all about the work. If you don’t like the way something is going, can you get over your ego to do the job? We are showing them what it takes to have a career in this business. It’s not always easy because you don’t always have the time you would like to have or the best conditions or tools or a client you love.
WWD: Who are the contestants?
S.B.: If you are obsessed with following beauty on YouTube or Instagram, then you might know some of our people. We’ve got people who own the best salon in their city so we might have your local hero. They are the real deal. Some have had multi-decade careers, but they are of all ages and in all stages of their careers.
WWD: What is the winning prize?
R.J.: The biggest prize is opportunity. It is so hard to get recognized even when you have talent.
S.B.: They are getting a lot of good advice. We are applying some tough love.
S.J.: So many people have a moment that they turn into a huge career, like Iman. Hopefully they can expand it instead of just being a flame in the pot.
WWD: How has social media influenced the beauty industry?
A.L.: What is shown in social media a lot of time is not real, but you are going to see real here.
R.J.: If someone is hiding behind a social media presence, but they don’t really have the talent to be at the top, we can’t let them get away with it. If someone has the talent, but not a big following, we don’t want to penalize them for that.
S.J.: I asked Beyoncé and Viola Davis this question: If Marvin Gaye or Aretha Franklin were to come along now, would they have a contract now? Sadly no, because they have the talent, but we look for so many other things now which have little to do with the actual talent.
S.B.: Social media is the ultimate manufactured image. Here, there is no filter.
WWD: How has the definition of beauty changed?
S.B.: The past definition of beauty has been very narrow. Now it’s expanding in a way that includes a diversity of ethnic backgrounds, of body types and face shapes and gender fluidity.
A.L.: I also think it’s about what you feel inside. I’ve talked to some of the world’s most attractive people, but sometimes what comes out of their mouths is not beautiful.