Behind the Scenes at the Oprah Show
Karie Bennett, stylist, writer and owner of Atelier SalonSpa and Atelier Studio in San Jose, California
The recent departure of Oprah Winfrey from network television after 25 years has left us with a gap in our DVRs, but the last few months were filled with exceptional "lasts," including a last makeover show that brought some of the top hairstylists, makeup artists, and fashion designers together for a phenomenal episode. SALON TODAY Contributing Editor Karie Bennett, who also owns Atelier SalonSpa and Atelier Studio in San Jose, California, recently caught up with celebrity men's groomer, Diana Schmidtke, who was a part of that amazing show. In preparation for a feature on the men's business for SALON TODAY's September issue, Karie asked Diana about her Oprah experience as Diana took some well-deserved time off in her favorite spot on earth, Costa Rica.
KB: Diana, you've been on the Oprah show three times for her "Makeover My Man" segments, most recently as part of her final schedule. What was the experience like, and what has it meant to you? What will you never forget about it?
DS: Working on the Oprah show is always incredible. Once I get the call, all I know is I'm flying to Chicago to make over someone's husband, brother, or son. When I get to the actual taping, that's when the story unfolds. For this last show, Oprah's "Last-Ever Make Over Extravaganza", the producers brought me backstage, and that's when it all hit me. I looked around and I saw myself surrounded by Fredric Fekkai, Sally Hershberger, Ken Paves, and Orlando Pita. I've never had the opportunity to meet Orlando before, and since Oprah and her staff are all about making dreams come true, the first thing I got to do was meet Orlando, since he's my all-time favorite hairdresser. That's unforgettable. I'm not sure there will ever be a time where that caliber of talent is all together again. But each and every one of my Oprah experiences has been a dream come true.
KB: How did you first become involved with the Oprah show—did you reach out to them, or did they contact you?
DS: They reached out to me. The very first time they called, I was traveling back from Costa Rica. Upon returning to the states, I checked my voicemail messages and there was a message from one of the producers. I just about fell off my chair.
KB: When you do a makeover show, how much time do you get to meet with the subject, and formulate and execute your plan. Do you have creative control, or does the show decide what should be done? How closely do you work with the person who chooses the clothing? Could you walk us through the process a bit?
DS: It all depends on the theme of the show. The first two times I appeared on the Oprah show it was for a show called "Make Over My Man." For these two particular shows, Tim Gunn styled the men and I did all the grooming, which included cut, color, beard trimming, eyebrows, nose hairs, ear hairs, facials, manicures; the works. There were around 6 to 8 guys who received makeovers for each show. Tim and I both had several assistants on hand to help execute our ideas. Each man had been nominated for a makeover by their wife, girlfriend, children, or mother. We started at around 9 a.m. and finished at about 6 p.m. Then the men were sequestered overnight and revealed to Oprah and their family members at the taping which took place the next morning. Tim Gunn and I worked very closely together on each candidate. We started by going through the consultation process with each guy. Together we decide which direction to take them. Upon finishing the makeovers, we send pictures to the producers for final approval. Since these were all "regular guys" and not actors or models for a photo shoot, we based our decisions not only on our own personal opinions but also on the different needs and personality of each guy. We have full creative control, but it is equally important that the makeover candidates are comfortable with the direction of their new looks. A great makeover happens only when everyone is satisfied. It is a group effort. For this last show, "Last-Ever Make Over Extravaganza", I had only one guy to makeover. This particular show was all about Oprah's Make-Over dream teams, which made over both men and women. Being the men's expert, I was called in to makeover Eric who had previously had an Oprah makeover a few years ago. Except, during that makeover, which I did not perform, Eric left the show feeling like a banker so he went back to his old "Grizzly Man" ways. The goal this time was to give Eric a look that was a better fit with his personality so he would never let himself turn into the Grizz again. After speaking with Eric it became quite clear early on in the consultation that he is more of a fun, rocker, carefree kinda guy. Not a banker!!
KB: Where are you doing the makeover? Is there a 'salon' on set, or do you go somewhere locally?
DS: All depends on each show. For the Make Over My Man episodes, the producers secured a local salon for the makeovers to take place. With that many men, it was important to have a professional salon environment in which to work. For the Last-Ever Make Over Extravaganza show, Lowe's, the hardware store came to the Oprah studio and built a huge salon in one of the studios for all of us to work. It was gorgeous and had everything a hairdresser or make-up artist might need. Of course I brought all of my own favorite tools. But the actual set up was the same as any salon. This time around the set needed to be huge because in addition to the makeover candidates featured on the show, each member of the audience also received a makeover.
KB: When you're on set with other high-profile stylists, who decided who gets which makeover 'victim'?
DS: The producers decide all of those things before we even arrive to set. The Last-Ever Make Over Extravaganza show was all about who Oprah's dream team makeover artists would be. This is why there were so many talented hairstylists, make-up artists, and fashion designers all in the same room for that particular show.
KB: What's it like behind the scenes—relaxed, stressful, or chaotic?
DS: It is very relaxed. Oprah and her team of producers are so professional and organized that they always provide the perfect environment in which to create your art.