Jonathan Antin strikes a pose. - Kevin Lynch/Bravo PhotoA few weeks ago, I had the unbelievable opportunity to chat with entrepreneuer and hairstylist-to-the-stars, Jonathan Antin. My time with the razor-sharp "Shear Genius" judge was limited, but it was a total treat nonetheless. Long story short ... he's everything you'd expect and more: outspoken, charming, and dedicated to his craft. Check out this excerpt from my interview with Jonathan, and don't forget to tune into the season finale of "Shear Genius" on Wednesday, April 7 at 10pm on Bravo to see the sassy stylist crown this year's champ!
What made you decide to pursue a career in hair?
"I was 16 years old, and I had just gotten my first car ... and as a good grandson I went to go pick up my grandmother at a beauty school where she was having her hair done. I was sitting in the beauty school with her in Hollywood, and the instructor was up at the chalkboard drawing heads of hair and teaching this one type of haircut. At the time, I didn't know what he was talking about, but it was basically a bob. Being a loudmouthed 16-year-old punk, I said to my grandmother -- because I can draw; I can sculpt; I can basically make or draw or paint anything I'm looking at -- this guy doesn't even know how to draw. He was drawing heads of hair that looked like extraterrestrial-shaped heads. Well, he heard me and came over to me and said, 'Excuse me. I was in the middle of a class, and that was a little rude. Do you think you know how to do better?' I said, 'I know I know how to do better,' and I went up to the chalkboard, and I drew three heads of hair for him. I handed him the chalk, and I said, 'That's how you draw a head of hair, dude.' And on my way out, the principal of the school came over to me and handed me a business card and asked, 'You ever thought about being a hairstylist?' I said, 'Never. Not in a million years.' I was in an acting class and was on the ice hockey team. I was like ... a dude. I thought I was going to be a movie star one day, but I went home, and I thought about it. There was just something about it. It was just so easy for me to draw this hair, and I knew I could sculpt it with a piece of clay. I was just curious as to whether or not I could cut someone's hair. So, I mentioned it to my sister Robin -- this is my sister who owns the Pussycat Dolls -- and she said, 'First of all, if you became a hairstylist, I'll have every girl in LA coming to you, and second of all, you gotta see the movie "Shampoo" because it'll make you want to be a hairstylist.' So I saw the movie, and I was sold. I dropped out of high school and enrolled in beauty school. It was easy. I saw hair in a different way than other people."
How did growing up and training in LA affect you as a stylist?
"Well, my training doesn't solely come from Los Angeles. I did my apprenticeship in LA, in the same salon that I then purchased and owned for 22 years. After my apprenticeship, I left LA and I moved to New York as I was turning 18. I did all the shows and all the photo shoots. I was an apprentice, and I was grinding ... taking every job I could get. I apprenticed at Fashion Week. Then I left New York and went to Milan, and I did the same thing in Milan for about six months. I went from Milan to Paris to London to Milan to Paris to London. I had a Eurorail pass, and I just kept making circles on the train. I got a lot of experience in styling in Europe, and my cutting and coloring came from LA. So, the combination of the two really gave me a different edge. I ended up becoming the key hair stylist at Milan, Paris, London, and New York Fashion Week ... running my own shows because I had this ability to speak to a designer and draw what they were thinking. I had a serious advantage with this ability because I could show them what I was going to do. I could actually draw camera-ready artwork that looked like it was going to walk down the runway. Real hair ... exactly the way they wanted it. And I could make changes right there with a piece of charcoal in my hand."
Is having that advantage what convinced you to open up your own salon and eventually start your own product line?
"I believe so. Having that advantage helped me in the area of photo shoots and in becoming a big editorial stylist ... doing a lot of covers and getting my name in magazines. It then translated into doing celebrity [and working with] clothiers who would hire me to do their campaigns. [The advantage] allowed me to start making great money, which enabled me to purchase the salon I was working in. I was booked solid a month in advance before the age of 20. I was on such a fast-track. I was doing such huge jobs before I was even great. I was good, but I could cover it up. I could fake it."
Antin consults with his fellow judges on the set of "Shear Genius." - James Sorensen/Bravo Photo
Besides your artistic abilities, what differentiates you from the other high-profile stylists?
"This doesn't come from my mouth. I've been told -- and it shouldn't make a difference, but it does -- being a young straight dude. I believe that really appealed to all types of clients, whether it was a girl who was like, 'Wow, he's hot,' or a gay man, who was like, 'Wow, he's hot,' or another heterosexual guy, who was like, 'Yeah, he's a dude. He gets it.' From what I heard, that was unique at that time, 25 years ago. There was only one other guy who had made a great name for himself -- or 2 -- but one that was kind of a star; his name was Gene Shacove, and he was a big deal. He did everyone's hair. He was straight and cool and a little bit of a dog. The one thing I didn't do ... I wasn't into sleeping with all of my clients. If I went out with them first, they always became a client. At that age there was no shortage of women in my life. I was all over the place. But it's different now. There are a lot of straight guys doing hair now. I mean, there are millions of them ... but at that time, it was different. There weren't a whole lot of us. When people spoke of me they said, 'He's this cool, young dude. He's a great stylist. He's a great artist, and he's straight.' I remember these are the things people would say."
Before we get to "Shear Genius," I need to ask about "Blow Out" because I'm a huge fan, and I miss it terribly. Are you still in touch with the stylists who appeared on the show? Do you miss it? Would you ever consider resurrecting it?
"I absolutely am in touch with the stylists. They're all family. They're like my kids. I definitely think of the possibility of coming back with it. Obviously my product line, Jonathan Product, was a huge part of the show. Jonathan Product, today, is a different world than it was then. It's worldwide. I was just in Dubai. I was just in Prague. [I'm on] QVC and [in] Sephora ... it's larger than life. [Resurrecting the show] has been talked about, as have other shows that would be similar ... a hybrid, like 'Blow Out' meets, I dunno, 'Dr. Phil.'"
Well, I'm glad you've decided to return to TV. How did you end up back on Bravo? Did you contact them about Season 3 of "Shear Genius," or did they contact you?
"Well, after 'Blow Out,' I needed a break. I had two children. I had one of them on 'Blow Out,' a son Asher, and then I had my daughter, Jocie. I needed a break to be a dad and a husband. And, again, Jonathan Product was just blowing up, and I couldn't do 24 hours a day with a camera in front of me anymore. I was out of town every other week ... bringing the family with me ... and it was just too much. I really didn't want the kids to be on camera, and I see all those other couples on reality TV who end up getting divorced, so I tried to keep mine off of TV. I was kinda superstitious about that. But, I always kept in touch with the network and Mark Koops at Reveille [the production company]. And Ben Silverman, the former head of Reveille, became the head of NBC ... in my opinion, primarily because of how great 'Blow Out' was. I believe 'Blow Out' created all of Ben Silverman's opportunities. That's my opinion. Mark, even more so than Ben, was responsible for 'Blow Out.' Mark and I always talked ... maybe like once a month ... or played golf, or would go to dinner, and he'd always ask, 'You ready yet? You ready yet?' He originally asked me at the beginning of 'Shear Genius' if I was interested, and I was; but it was just bad timing. It didn't work out. But he called me on the phone and said they were going to do [a third season], and asked if I was interested. And I said, 'You know, I am!' And he said, 'Alright, come in; let's talk about it.' I went in, and he said, 'It would be so different with you on it. We're changing the show up ... and what do you think about this' ... and kinda ran all of the ideas by me and asked me for some of my ideas. We brainstormed, and it worked out. Reveille is like family to me and they are directly responsible for ... I was already a big hairstylist, but they helped me launch my product and they brought my name to a whole other medium, and I'll never forget that. We talked about it. It was good for both sides, and I signed a three-year deal and started shooting."
Nobody teases tresses like Jonathan. - James Sorenson/Bravo PhotoReady, aim, fire! - James Sorenson/Bravo Photo
Did you watch the first two seasons of "Shear Genius," or did you just jump right in?
"I'm bad. I don't watch a whole lot of reality TV. I saw a few episodes of the first and second seasons. I'm a hairstylist. All hairstylists are going to tune into 'Shear Genius' at least a couple of times. They're gonna tune in. It's about us. I checked it out. I looked at it online, went to the website, and I thought it was cool, but I didn't really remember any of the storylines. By the way, I never watched one episode of 'Blow Out.' I would see bits and pieces at the end of each day, some of the dailies. I never watched my own show. I don't like watching myself on TV. It's kinda weird."
You mentioned that the producers asked for your input once you jumped on board, but did you have any specific suggestions when it came to developing the Short Cut Challenges or the Elimination Challenges?
"The producers, the network, and I all provided input. With regards to the types of challenges ... little tweaks -- as an expert in the world of hair -- to increase the level of difficulty or sometimes decrease it, if it was going to be impossible. You want to make it doable. We want the best to shine. If you make it impossible, it's never going to happen. We wanted to make this as realistic as possible. We didn't want people picking up garbage off the street and creating hair accessories -- or making hair out of garbage. That never happens."
Speaking of being realistic, you're known for being very honest with the contestants. Is it ever difficult for you to take a harsh tone with them? Is it ever uncomfortable on set, or is that just the way it needs to be for good hair to happen?
"It's not always the way it needs to be for good hair to happen. However, and you've seen this on the show, from time to time I'll reward somebody or commend somebody for doing great work. However, thousands of people applied, and there is $100,000 on the line. This is a great opportunity for somebody, so as the resident expert and judge, it's my job to make sure that a) nobody's f------ around, and b) the best man or woman wins. But I don't think I have to be an a------ all the time. Unfortunately, it's not a stretch for me. It comes quite naturally sometimes. (Laughs) It is what it is."
Speaking of something else you're known for ... your signature saying from your "Blow Out" days was "that's banging." Do you have any new signature phrases, or is "banging" still part of your lexicon?
"I've taken it to another level. (Laughs). Now it's, 'That hair is Bangladesh!'"
What did you enjoy most about this season of "Shear Genius"?
"There was one guest host that was kinda great for all of us as stylists. He's kinda like the living grandfather of hair, Oribe. That was neat. I know Oribe. I've known him for 20 years, but for everyone else ... they were kinda like, 'WOW!' Another exciting moment was [having] Estelle on the show. So cool."
Favorite celebrity you've worked with?
"It would be a mix between Madonna ... and the Pussycat Dolls."
Dream client that you've yet to get your hands on?
"There are a few: Kate Beckinsale and Donald Trump."
Dream event to style for?
"Fashion Week is incredible and I've done like 60 of them. Well, I just did George Clooney and his girlfriend for the Oscars. That's about as big as it gets. You know what I mean?"
Which celebs are in desperate need of a Jonathan Antin makeover?
"Hmmmm ... I would say the judges of 'American Idol.' Ellen cut all of her hair off, and it doesn't look great. It looks a little too hard. Simon ... BORING! He has the same haircut, and it's a weird one. I saw him about a month ago, and I was like, 'Dude, you gotta let me fix your hair.' He said, 'I cut my hair every two weeks; I'll drive you crazy.' And I said, 'That's fine; I'll do it every two weeks, but it's a really bad crew cut.' The back of it's all f----- up. It's not even straight. (Laughs) It's funny but true. And the other chick ... bad hair. You know what I mean? I don't even know her name, but they all need a Jonathan makeover desperately."
According to Antin, the "Idol" judges are in desperate need of his handiwork. - FOX
What's the ultimate hairdon't for 2010?
"If you're a guy, and you want long hair, and you're putting extensions in your hair ... you're retarded. You're just the ultimate tool. It's so lame. I can't even begin to tell you. Here's another good one: 2010, no shags. Over it! Done! Over!"
A lot of celebs, such as Melanie Brown, are rocking partially shaved heads these days. Are you feeling it?
"It's like Rihanna. I commented on Rihanna on the 'Today' show awhile ago, and it's like ... a shaved head? Put some extensions in your hair! We're over the short Elvis Presley pompadour on you, or that drastic asymmetric bob. Put a weave in that hair already! I don't like it when it's shaved on one side. I don't mind it when it's cut short on one side; that can look cool, but you gotta be funky. You gotta have some serious funk to rock that."
A pompadour? Puh-leeze! - Jason Merritt/Getty Images North AmericaThankfully, Rihanna bid adieu to her bob. - James Devaney/WireImage.com
What is the one product you can't live without? I think I know the answer to this question, but I'll ask it anyway.
"Dirt. Dirt by Jonathan Product is a staple. 40% of the celebrities in the world use Dirt by Jonathan Product. We just did a brand awareness study and we asked 100 celebs ... and 40 of them all said they used Dirt, which was UNBELIEVABLE! I'm so excited."
Did you see Chris Rock's documentary, "Good Hair"?
"Dying to see it."
Well, a lot of the film focuses on hair shows, and I'm dying to know your take on them. Are hair shows insane or insanely awesome?
"Ridiculous! The worst thing. Retarded. So ridiculous. They're the worst hairstylists in the world. They're all educators, and those who teach can't do. If they were any good, they'd be doing what I do, making the money that I make. I just don't believe they don't want to make a lot of money, and they just want to teach, and they want to stand up in front of a crowd like Madonna on the Celebration Tour with a microphone and a big leather satchel on with 400 combs and 100 pairs of scissors in it ... their hands are moving a hundred miles per hour, and some have two pairs of scissors, and they're chopping the s--- out of the hair like Edward Scissorhands, using all these crazy techniques, but it's like, 'What about making the person look good instead of branding into their head your crazy artistic integrity b-------?' It's not about that; it's about making people look great and awesome. Who cares about these crazy techniques? It's what it looks like when you get to Z, not how you get from A to Z. So, they're just really weird. You really don't see a lot of it in the U.S. because it's not about that here. People are so narcissistic, they don't care who the Stylist of the Year is; they just care about how they look."
How much is too much to pay for a haircut? Is a good cut priceless?
"It depends how much money you make. I have clients that fly me out and pay me $3,500 for a haircut and blow dry, and they're extremely wealthy. Billionaires. But that's too much to pay for a haircut. WAY TOO MUCH. But that's my rate ... unless I'm doing an advertising campaign; then, it's double. A regular cut inside a salon? I'd say if you're paying more than -- and this is a lot -- $750, that's a little crazy. I really like $250 hairstylists. That's what I like. I like them in my salons.
Will Matthew, Janine, or Brig prevail? Tune in Wednesday! - Ray Mickshaw/BravoPhoto
Once again, don't forget to watch the season finale of "Shear Genius" on Wednesday, April 7 at 10 p.m. on Bravo to see Jonathan crown the champion ... and stay tuned for a lot more of Mr. Antin and his signature antics on omg!