Stylist Melissa Schleicher, left, is the stylist for country music star Carrie Underwood and celebrated the grand opening of her new salon, Parlour 3, in Brentwood last month. / Sanford Myers / The Tennessean
They get paid to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with celebrities like Carrie Underwood. They see these stars barefaced and vulnerable and have the task of transforming, and sometimes even shaping, their images. They also have their own agents, who are charged with managing their portfolios. And occasionally, they end up forming a friendship that could include a stint as a bridesmaid.
It's not high-powered music executives or in-the-loop publicists who recite this list as a job description. This list belongs to the hairstylists and makeup artists who call celebrities their clients.
'It was love'
Carrie Underwood was a fresh-faced ingenue right off her 2005 American Idol win when she met hairstylist and makeup artist Melissa Schleicher. But Underwood's look was about to change.
"I came to Nashville right after Idol and right in the middle of CMA Music Festival. I had already had a couple of people work on my makeup that I wasn't crazy about, and we called Melissa," says Underwood.
Since that first hair and makeup session with Schleicher, Underwood has never used anyone else. "It was love," Underwood says with a laugh.
So much so that when Underwood married Nashville Predators hockey player Mike Fisher, she asked Schleicher to be a bridesmaid.
But for Schleicher, the path to working with one of music's biggest stars was not an overnight journey. In fact, a decidedly-country-girl-makes-good song could have been written about the humble Schleicher, who says she collaborated to transform Underwood, a "precious small-town girl" to the "All-American glamorous woman" she is today.
"I graduated from beauty school and started working at a salon at Hickory Hollow Mall. It was during the Glamour Shots heyday, and I was doing makeup for them," Schleicher remembers.
A photographer noticed her work and she started doing photo shoots, as well as cutting hair. She then worked under Melanie Shelley at Nashville salon Trim Classic Barber & Legendary Beauty, and while there, met country star Alan Jackson.
"I started working with Alan and (his wife) Denise, and then it just grew. And once I started working with Carrie, I was basically on the road for two years," says Schleicher, who also cites country stars Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts as regular clients.
The hair and makeup artist says she often feels like Underwood's big sister after the hours they have spent together; she still travels with the singer for video or photo shoots. But she is at home in Williamson County more often these days, especially after opening her makeup boutique and salon, Parlour 3, in Brentwood.
How different is working in a salon versus the celebrity red carpet?
"Working strictly with artists, I forgot the feeling of taking an average woman and making them feel like they can walk the runway. It is such a special feeling, and I love it."
"You are a kind psychologist who has this accidental talent in hair and makeup."
That is the description Melanie Shelley, owner of Trim Classic and veteran of hundreds of photo and video shoots with celebrity clients, gives to hair stylists who work with music artists.
Shelley, who started her career in New York City, says that when she first came to Nashville, it was a town that was far from cutting edge in the beauty industry.
"I was working on Naomi (Campbell) and Christy Turlington, and we were doing all these shows with stick straight hair. Then I came down here and there were mullets and perms," Shelley says.
She made a name for herself, she believes, by offering a more sophisticated look to Nashville music artists. And she got her foot in the music industry door by using an agent.
"Celebrities will call a top hair and makeup agency, look at 40 or 50 portfolios, and make a decision. My agent basically makes connections, shows my portfolio, takes care of billing," Shelley explains.
Shelley gained what she describes as classical hair training by working in Italy at couture runway shows such as Versace and Thierry Mugler and apprenticing at New York's top salons, and she says her first forays into Nashville were primarily country music artists who wanted something different.
"Early on I worked with the Dixie Chicks and Deana Carter. More country artists. Now I work with 3 Doors Down and our salon does The Fray. And I am seeing more indie artists," says Shelley, who shuttled from New York to Nashville until settling down two years ago to call Nashville home.
As she talks, an assistant brings Shelley a note that she reads and then hands over, laughing. It reads, "If they'd like a glowing quote from me, I'm your fan." A curlicue "N" is scrawled across the bottom, and Shelley says Naomi Judd is waiting for her.
So how does the "kind psychologist" definition play into the world of transforming music artists through hair and makeup?
"I try to build trust with the client," Shelley says. "The truth is, my job is to make the artist feel so confident that they can go in front of thousands of people and not worry about what they look like. I am in service to someone who puts on the cloak of a star."