Instagram and YouTube are crowded with influencers these days, but makeup artist and micro-influencer Talon James Maxwell shines a little more brightly than most. Born and raised in Texas, Maxwell’s parents named him after an eagle's claw.
“They thought it would be a cool baseball name,” he jokes. “Plot twist: I hate to sweat and became a competitive cheerleader and a makeup artist instead.”
Maxwell grew up in Baytown, Texas, but moved to nearby Humble when he was in seventh grade. “That’s when I came out as the new gay kid in school,” he recalls. “At the time I was the only openly gay kid at school and I had hoped that if I came out and showed everyone that it was okay to be gay that it would inspire people to be themselves.”
He started working at a fast food restaurant at 14 and then maintained three jobs while he did high school cheer and gymnastics, and competitive cheerleading for Woodlands Elite Cheer Company under the direction of Casey Jo Knight and Michael Knight. He credits the Knights with helping “mold me into the man I am today and taught me a mindset that I owe my career to.”
Knowing college wasn’t for him, Maxwell started working on makeup to perfect his craft while doing a day job at a gym. He was working one morning when an elderly man named Marvy Finger came in.
“He is the 83-year-old CEO of 87 luxury apartment complexes nationwide… a true visionary,” he recalls. “We got to talking one day while he waited for his driver and he asked me about myself and my story and what my work ethic is, and by the end of a 10-minute conversation he asked if I would like to work for him as one of his leasing specialists since I had been in customer service sine I was 14.”
That was enough for Maxwell. He quit his job the next day and became a leasing specialist at a luxury apartment complex at 19. The job s afforded him a bit of luxury (a great apartment and a good salary).
He juggles his day job with doing makeup tutorials on Instagram and YouTube and being a family man. “I also have a baby sister by the name of Harper Kendall Munro who is my pride and joy,” he says. “She is only 5 years old and inspires me daily to be the best version of myself I could be. She loves makeup too. The brighter the colors, the more sparkles there are, the more she loves it. The most pure, energetic, and sweet child I know.”
His own journey with makeup happened not long after he came out. In eighth grade, Maxwell was cast as the male lead in his middle school’s musical production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. It was here the makeup bug bit him.
“When you are on stage, you have to wear makeup so that the audience can see your face better from a distance as well as seem like a character,” he says. “My mom put on my foundation, some mascara and eye liner and I felt like a brand new, more perfect version of myself. I was so nervous but the fact that I looked flawless and got to play someone else helped me channel my character to the best of my ability. I had been doing makeup ever since!”
But don’t think getting here was easy. “Growing up in the South as a gay male can be quite difficult. I grew up in a more conservative family, we went to church every Sunday and God’s word was instilled in me at a very young age.”
Maxwell says he realized he was gay when he was in the fourth grade. “I didn't know that it was a normal thing to feel because I was a sheltered kid,” he says now. “I kept to myself about the way I felt and who I was until I moved schools in the seventh grade. Once I moved schools I told myself, OK, Talon, this is your chance. You get to be yourself here. This is a new place, a new school, no one knows you here so you can be whomever you’d like.” So, he chose to be himself.
He says the staff at his middle school (including his theater, journalism, and social studies teacher and his best friend Ryleigh) “helped me feel better about being myself.” He learned from his supporters then that “being yourself and honest about it earns you respect and support from your peers.”
He says today he’s watched the same YouTubers since he was a 16-year-old aspiring makeup artist: Patrick Starrr and Jeffree Star. “They still inspire me and teach me new lessons,” he says. “Patrick taught me that no matter who you are, what your sexual orientation is, makeup is a one-size-fits-all and that being your most authentic self is something that should be celebrated. Jeffree showed me that no matter where you come from, no matter what everyone else thinks of you, you determine your own level and amount of success. He is someone who started from nothing and is now is one of the best businessman I have seen. Not only does he have a successful makeup line, but he invests in the things he believes in.”
As his fanbase grows (including everyone from tween girls to middle aged gay men), Maxwell dreams of inspiring others as Starr and Star did for him. But he’s not sure he’ll ever get used to being called an icon himself. “I knew one day an opportunity like this would arise if I worked hard enough, but to be named an icon is a true honor. I have always wanted to create and inspire those around me with my work, personality, and who I am.”
Now, he’s hoping that life continues to take him “to people who need inspiration, to those who want to learn and understand themselves better. The ultimate goal isn’t just to be a makeup artist. I want to be a true influencer and influence the minds and hearts of the future, own my own brand, and be a role model.”
It’s not lost on him that the Talon Maxwells of the future are now following him. He calls his fans “birdies, because my name is Talon and it means an eagles claw, and I call my social media the ‘nest’ because that’s where we come together as a family to create something beautiful.”
He tells his birdies to evoke change and to be the change they want to see in the world. After all, “If you want the world to be a more kind and accepting place, be more kind and accepting. The power to change the world lies within. You have a civil duty to put your best foot forward and set the best example possible.”