Hairy Competition on Bravo’s “Shear Genius”

The most recent addition to Bravo’s family of creative profession-based reality shows, Shear Genius, is the hairstylist version of Top Chef, Project Runway and Top Design. But while all of these series featured many intriguing characters, only the Shear Genius cast includes two out lesbians — Tabatha, 39, and Daisy, 31 — which is all the more significant given the higher visibility of gay men in the hairstyling industry.

Shear Genius, airing Wednesdays on Bravo, is an eight-week competition with a Nexxus apprenticeship, an Allure magazine photo spread, and $100,000 in “seed money” at stake. The cast members include stylists from South Africa, France, the U.K., Australia (Tabatha) and throughout the United States.

“I think we were quite a mixed bag in that some had a lot of years of experience, some didn’t,” Tabatha told us. “Some do private work, some work in salons. It was a real cross-section of the hairdressing industry.”

From the first episode, neither Tabatha nor Daisy gets lost in the middle of the pack. Tabatha gets the lowest ranking when she gives a mannequin head her signature style in the first challenge of the show, but then makes it into the top three in the elimination challenge with her feathers-and-tulle Mohawk. The two women manage to each capture one of the judges’ top votes in the second challenge, and Daisy is the first runner-up for both challenges.

While some of the other stylists blend into the background with their milder personalities, both Tabatha and Daisy stand out as two of the gutsier competitors. Tabatha’s comments are bleeped for profanity at least twice in the first episode. And in the previews for the second week of the competition, Daisy is seen crying and Tabatha vows to beat one of the other contestants with her mannequin head, so clearly we’re in for more drama with these two.

The series is hosted by Jaclyn Smith of Charlie’s Angels and Kmart designer fame, and is judged by Allure fashion director Michael Carl and hairstylists Rene Fris and Sally Hershberger, who is the lead judge. Hershberger, whose client list is as star-studded as the Kodak Theater on Oscar night, is said to be the inspiration for Shane’s character on The L Word, although her hair — unlike some of Shane’s coifs — is perfectly presentable.

In the series premiere, the judges didn’t hold back — Michael Carl in particular. He comments that he half-expected cockroaches to crawl out of one stylist’s masterpiece and says that another stylist’s model looks as if she had fallen asleep for three hours, then didn’t bother to fix the back of her hair when she got up. It’s catty candor familiar to anyone who has watched Top Chef and the like.

As Daisy pointed out in an interview with “It’s a show. Of course they’re going to rip you a new a–hole! That’s what it’s about.”

Tabatha concurred. “The criticism was harsh at times, and probably rightly so,” she said. “It’s a competition at the end of the day.”

She continued: “It’s always really hard to stand there and take criticism, and you have to be up for that challenge if you’re going to expose yourself on this kind of show. At times the natural thing you wanted to do is scream, ‘What do you know?’ But when you’re looking at Sally Hershberger, you go, ‘Well, you know what? I know what you know.’ So there’s a level of respect there.”