I was a lead hairstylist on 'America's Next Top Model' for 9 years. The job was chaotic but full of perks.
- Michael Kanyon got a call to work for "America's Next Top Model" in 2009 as the lead hairstylist.
- He had to style over 20 models each episode, until they were eliminated.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Michael Kanyon, 48, a celebrity hairstylist who worked on "America's Next Top Model" for nine seasons. This story has been edited for length and clarity.
I started cutting my friend's hair when I was 14 years old. It just made sense to me; it was geometry the way a person's hair could be cut and styled to literally change how they look. I know it's not saving lives or helping pay bills, but you can make a person feel better about themselves, and that's what made me passionate about becoming a hairstylist.
I didn't know a career as a set hairdresser existed. Your high school guidance counselor doesn't tell you about that. I decided to go to Wilfred Beauty Academy in New York when I was 19 years old, and then I started working at a salon in Long Island. One night, I heard about a famous editorial hairstylist in Manhattan, John Sahag, and I thought his rockstar vibe was so cool. I wanted to be like him. The next day, I went to his salon and told them I wasn't leaving until he gave me a job. After waiting hours for a response, John told me to be there the next day at 5 a.m. That job helped launch my career as a respected hairstylist.
By the age of 22, everything changed for me
I had entered the fashion world, and I was booking jobs doing hair for models getting shot by famous photographers. I loved this industry; the energy, the people, the environment, and, of course, the models.
During the 2009 economic crash, a lot of my work with the fashion industry, celebrities, and TV shows got paused. I was running through all the money I had saved, and I wasn't sure what would happen next. All of a sudden, one day, my agent called with an opportunity to work on a show that I had never heard of that was being filmed in Hawaii. The show was "America's Next Top Model." I spent nine seasons working on the show as a hairstylist, and was even featured on-camera quite a bit in the episodes during those years.
I'd usually work a season or two a year, and each season would last six weeks or longer. I was getting paid between $1,200 and $1,400 a day. During my off time, I saw private clients and took on additional work in the fashion industry.
The job was a lot harder than working on fashion shoots
There are more than a hundred people on set every day. You have cameras in your face at all times, and you're dealing with the energy of the models (often nervous energy and sometimes aggressive or assertive energy). It's a reality competition show and when you put a handful of people from all walks of life in one room, you'll have each person trying to stand out in their own way. Every model brought their own energy and personality to the set, and most had never been on camera like that before.
Depending on the season, I'd start off having to do 20 to 26 models' hair for every episode. I had around nine assistants at the beginning of every season, and that number would decrease as people were kicked off the show. Even though it was a lot of work and long hours (often 12 hours a day or more), you were fed well and you got a nice paycheck, so it wasn't that bad.
The job had so many perks, from traveling to places like Hawaii, Greece, and Miami, and staying at four-star resorts to having access to any materials I needed to do my job well, from endless wigs to the top-of-the-line products.
But there were also unglamorous moments on set too. You also had to do hair in tents and tough weather conditions, like in the middle of a desert with 125-degree heat. I also didn't usually get to decide what kind of hairstyles to give the models. Sometimes there was a theme, like making the models look like dolls in a box. It was a fast-paced environment and involved a lot of creativity.
Every once in a while, you'd get a surprise thrown at you
While the show has received all kinds of press over the years, my experience working on "America's Next Top Model" was always a positive one. When the model was in my chair, my main goal was to style their hair but also make the process enjoyable. That felt easy to do because everyone around me, from the camera crew to the producers, all seemed to have fun with each other and the contestants.
Spending nine years on the show made me a better hairstylist. It helped me work faster, and I learned how to deal with a lot of different energies and personalities. It also made me start to understand how many of the hair products out there can really damage a person's hair. That's what led me to start a hair care line, Kanyon Beauty, after I stopped working on "America's Next Top Model."
If someone wants to become a celebrity hairstylist or work on a reality show, my best advice might sound a little tricky
First, you need to get a portfolio of celebrities you've worked with already so you can get an agent. To get your initial celebrity clients, you have to really put in the work like I did. You need to shadow other famous hairstylists, network with people in the industry, and constantly keep on working on your skills.
You can't just think about it or dream about it; you have to go out there and constantly do it. That's the truth. That's how I ended up working on one of the most popular reality shows in the world, and I'm proud of that.
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