Making up Wendy Williams
Merrell Hollis paints daytime’s fab diva
Published Thursday, 25-Mar-2010 in issue 1161
How do you transform a New Jersey housewife into the “Queen of All Media”? Merrell Hollis, the personal make-up artist to daytime talk’s sharpest diva Wendy Williams, can tell you how.
“Wendy is open to what ever outlandish idea I suggest,” he explains. “She is fearless and confident enough to know that when she steps out of the make-up chair, she will look fabulous because she is fabulous. Above all, she’s fun and that’s what makes my job the best in daytime TV.”
Matifying the skin, gluing the eyelashes and applying the make-up can take up to an hour, but when Merrell’s at the brush, he can complete the job in less than 30 minutes.
“I get so antsy sitting in the make-up chair,” says Wendy Williams. “Merrell is so skilled that all I have to do is sit and presto, before I know it I’m done and looking fabulous.”
It’s no wonder his talents have been sought out by many of today’s top celebrities. Among them: Mary J Blige, Vivica Fox, Naomi Campbell, and Kim Catrell. In fact, before Mrs. Williams, Merrell Hollis was the personal groomer to Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, and later made Key Groomer for Bad Boy Entertainment where he was responsible for the make-up and grooming of all Bad Boy artists.
Hollis’ artistry has been displayed on Oprah, Americas Next Top Model, Entertainment Tonight, and numerous BET shows. He’s also been showcased in several top fashion books including GQ, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Vibe, and Essence.
It was difficult for him, as an openly gay man, to carve a niche for himself in the hip hop industry, he admits. “Much of it was due to my own insecurities. I thought they didn’t want me around because I didn’t share their interests in the ‘T and A girls’.”
“Truthfully, though, most rappers didn’t know about my sexuality or they simply didn’t care. They knew me as the dude that made their ladies look extra fine and that’s all they cared about.”
Well, that, and looking fine themselves. Merrell has brushed the faces of male artists like Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Nelly, G-Unit and 112. Though he won’t name names - “I’m not that crazy,” he laughs – he says fans would be surprised to learn how highly some of the men regard their make-up. It makes sense. In an industry where image is everything, make-up can be career defining.
As far as the differences of doing make-up for men and women, Merrell Hollis says when working on men, he concentrates on correcting blemishes and smoothing the skin. On women, it’s all about lashes, color, hi-lighting, and contour. “It sounds like applying make-up on a man would be much easier,” he says. “Often times, it’s not. Men usually have more to hide.”
It was the hip-hoppers reliance on his talent that ultimately led to Merrell making a name in the entertainment industry. “The artists began to regard me as an artist and eventually, I won the thing they’re all striving for in hip hop, respect.”
He also says that as hip hop begins to open their minds to homosexuality, so does the African American community. “Rappers used to sing about killing fags, but many of today’s songs are less violent and I’d even go so far as to say more accepting.”
“The community is beginning to open their eyes and see that we’re everywhere. We’re their brothers, their uncles, their girls’ best friends. We’re not living in hiding anymore.”
According to Hollis, the perception Americans have of gay black men ‘living on the down low’ is not accurate. “Living on the down low exists, but it’s in all communities, not just among African Americans as the news media has depicted.
“Hiding was never an option for me because my strong Black family taught to love me for me. I’m also lucky to have received support from my friends.”
He counts Wendy as one of those friends. “People ask if Wendy truly is a drag queen in a woman’s body and the answer is yes!”
Only a gay man can get away with calling his boss a drag queen.
“I am always reminding Wendy that less is more,” he continues. “My only exception to the rule is the smoke eye – that’s when you go to town!”
According to Wendy, “artistry is everything and Merrell is an artist.”
“He also has a great respect for my naturally beautiful skin,” she adds with her patented wide grin.
As far as other grooming tips, Merrell Hollis says it’s important for men to trim their nose and ear hairs. “Just because you can’t see the ears doesn’t mean you should forget about them.”
And hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! “Too many people are walking around with skin that would look better on a pair of boots.