'American Idol': It's 'The Kiki Show!'
On Wednesday night, "American Idol" said goodbye to its early co-front runner, LaKisha Jones. Lost this season beneath the Sanjaya hysteria was the more quietly subversive spectacle of The Kiki Show.
Initially aloof from the other contestants (she told one interviewer quite plainly that she hadn’t here come to make friends -– although in the end she broke down and seemed to do just that) LaKisha was a locomotive charging through the well-mannered, good-humored group. She was a force of pure determination every time she took the stage, to the point that on at least three occasions, most recently with Barry Gibb, she brazenly flouted the mentor’s advice.
In her final moments, Kiki went down swinging. Unlike Phil Stacey who used his goodbye song to bond with his Idol family, LaKisha was clear that this was her last moment and she wasn’t sharing it with anyone.
Not entirely visible on TV but very noticeable in the Idoldome, was the sight of surviving contestant Blake sauntering towards her to offer comfort at the beginning of her song.
LaKisha slapped his hand and charged on past into the audience.
Wanting to create one last group moment, the surviving three then positioned themselves at the end of the aisle as LaKisha finished her lap of the floor, only to have their fallen comrade stroll blithely past them as she leaped back on the stage.
Kiki’s raw force will be badly missed in the final two weeks.
As the civilized world (starting with myself) reads significance into the contestants’ every hand gesture and raised eyebrow, there is one member of the "Idol" family who lives as close to the contestants as it is possible to get, without actually inhabiting their skin.
Walking the floor of the Idoldome at every show is the contestants’ (and the judges) most important ally, the keeper of their faces –- the American Idol make-up artist, Mezhgan Hussainy, with whom I spoke after Wednesday night’s show.
For Talmudic scholars searching for keys into the mysteries of "Idol," a find of Dead Seas scrolls level significance is the Beauty Secrets blog Mezhgan keeps on americanidol.com, in which she weekly reveals the back story behind every splash of glitter and bronzing lotion.
There you can find out that in Week One, Blake Lewis’ “lashes are curled to open up his eyes and his brows were brushed” or that in Week Three rocker Gina Glocksen accepted a splash of color that was dubbed “The Posh Spice look.”
On the floor of each results night, the striking former model, who looks radiates glamour as much as anyone on screen, functions as the show’s fashion paramedic, rushing to the death couch when tearful contestants waterworks endanger their foundations. “Nobody on the staff likes Wednesdays,” she says of the feeling backstage on results day.
In the make-up chair, pre-show, where Mezhgan becomes the "Idol" contestants' final confessor before air, the atmosphere gets extremely tense.
“All the contestants, I’ve heard it for the past so many years, they always say, “It’s me. I know I’m going. It’s me, it's me.' And I say, ‘Stop it, guys. you've come so far.’ They’ll ask me, ‘Am I going home tonight?’ And I say, ‘Even if you do, you've come so far. You've done the best you could. You’ve taken it as far as you can and now it’s whatever the universe wants. You have to believe that and not beat yourself up.”
Mezhgan’s "Idol" journey took a roundabout route to the top of her profession.
An immigrant at age eight from Afghanistan to Los Angeles, Mezhgan grew up in the shadow of Hollywood dreaming of a career in entertainment.
While eventually pursuing an acting and modeling career, she attended dental school to keep her worried parents at bay, knowing all the while that she “couldn’t imagine cleaning teeth for the rest of her life.”
Eventually, Mezhgan found her calling via a part time job at the Robinson’s May make-up counter, which in time led to her first TV job, which in time led to the call from a little talent competition that was starting up called "American Idol."
“Unfortunately I passed it up Season One. I was doing Family Feud. I watched and was just kicking myself, but I got lucky. They called me again for Season Two.”
Asked how she takes these diamonds in the rough who have never tasted the joys of professional makeovers and creates appealing public frontispiece’s for them, Mezhgan explains, “I just get to them and their personality. I don’t want to change their look too much. I want them to be them and I want them to be happy with it, it’s a give and take. I'll suggest certain things and tell them how to groom themselves and clean up and how to work with their eyebrows. Their comfort level is the most important thing to me. If I want to put red lips on somebody and they're thinking more natural, then I’ll go with natural.”
One happy consequence of "Idol’s" rise is the arrival of a new breed of male contestants ready to do what it takes to win, including submit without complaint to Mezhgan’s brush.
“The guys in prior seasons have always said, ‘Do I really need make up?' Automatically they think they are going to look like a girl. Last season and this season they were very savvy about makeup and said, 'Okay, let’ go for it' and I didn’t have to have that talk."
Like most of the mega-achievers drawn to the "American Idol" complex, Mezhgan is not content to spend her days charging around just one planet-devouring show.
In addition to keeping her blog and working on what seemed a few dozen other shows, she is currently working with a chemist to develop her own make up line (“Me”) and maintaining a prodigious website of her own (mezhgan.com) with a veritable museum of past Idol contestants passing through her chair.
They come to her small town unknowns but by the time Mezhgan’s work is done, dozens have left as stars.
“I work with so many other celebrities, but the contestants always remember me. I was the first make-up artist they ever worked with. When they come back, they're so excited and they remember how hard it was. They can't believe they went through all that process. But they remember and I will always remember every single one of them.”
(Photo: Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times)