The Derek J
Yes, we wear our standard-issue, appropriate-for-work haircuts, but when you first plop down in your neighborhood hairstylist's chair every eight weeks or so, don't you want to be blown away with something big, bold, and non-occurring in nature? That's what fantasy hairstylists do. Squared. And Derek J. does it in heels.
Award-winning fantasy hair creator Derek J., who you may remember from Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair and The Real Housewives of Atlanta, is calling the shots as a sweet yet headstrong judge on the new show Hair Battle Spectacular (Oxygen, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time). The show is a condensed, weekly version of what would typically happen at the annual Bronner Bros. International Hair Show, where stylists go head to head in coming up with (onstage, by the way) the most whimsical, fantastical, and imaginative hair creations.
Derek J. tells The Advocate about the odds of creating a masterpiece of sculpted hair in just a few hours and his previous brush with a contestant.
The Advocate: How did you get into hairstyling?
Derek J: I just picked it up, and I didn’t even think it would turn into anything. I moved to Atlanta to go to fashion school and I ran into this lady that was doing hair for music videos, so I started working with her as an assistant. At first I didn’t like the industry because it’s too catty. People are constantly trying to get jobs from you — it’s just too much. I stepped away for about two years and reemerged as a competing hairstylist. And then from there everything started snowballing into a big situation. Next thing I know, I’m on television shows, I’m doing this, I’m doing that. I don’t know how it actually happened; it just happened really quickly.
Did you happen to know any of the contestants before the show? Did you work with any of them or compete against any of them?
I actually had competed against one before. Obviously I beat them [laughs]. You know, I was very surprised when I walked in on set, ’cause I didn’t see anybody before until the first day I got there. Then I saw that person and I was like “Oh, OK. You’re here?” But yeah, I had competed against one of them before. The rest of them were very new to me, and I was really amazed to know that a lot of them were just getting into fantasy hair. So for them to be able to pull of some of the hairstyles they pulled off and not really having the formal training or the knowledge in that area was outstanding to me.
Even though competitions like the Bronner Bros. have sprouted from the black hair industry, the interesting thing about this show is the diverse crowd of stylists, not just racially but geographically, the diversity of style — it’s really fascinating.
The group of contestants they had, as you said, were very diverse. To see that even, like some of the people that were there, I’m like, “Oh, y’all know about fantasy hair? Y’all can even do this?” You know, for me, I’d only seen it in the black world. I just saw black people do it all day long, but to be able to see different ethnicities do it, it was good to see. And actually seeing everybody working together as one was really good to see.
Are there any really fun challenges that the contestants will be facing over the next season that you can reveal to us?
I don’t know. That’s a good question.