As head of the make-up department for NBC’s hit show The Voice, Darcy Gilmore helps artists shine.
One just needs to look at videos of today’s top musical artists to know that sometimes a look can be just as important as the music. There are hordes of talented singers, but a style is something that can take a performer to that next level. This is something that the hair and make-up team of The Voice tries to impart on all of its artists as they contend to become the winner of NBC’s long-running singing competition.
“Specifically to The Voice, a look matters so much to the audience,” says Darcy Gilmore, who leads the make-up department of the popular show, which started in 2011 and is now starting its 17th cycle. “Everyone wants to root for someone. They want to start out maybe seeing someone the way they perceive themselves, who has their own glam and point of view, and then they follow the journey as someone changes their look over the course of the show.”
It’s not uncommon for emails to come piling in after each show with people proclaiming how much they loved the transition of a contestant from one week to another.
“A lot of people personalize it and want to see a transition with their look and follow the trends for themselves,” Gilmore says. “It’s a note on human nature. People love a makeover story and love to find someone they can root for, and make-up and hair is a very significant part of it all.”
Landing at The Voice
In 2005, Gilmore was the make-up department head for Rock Star INXS, a Mark Burnett-produced reality show where 15 contestants competed to become the lead vocalist for the Australian rock band.
“I had met Mr. Burnett several years ago, but back then I was often the first call for the make-up department for a lot of his reality shows and was lucky enough to have established myself with all the producers who were coming up with me at the same time,” Gilmore says. “I got a reputation as someone production could trust.”
When The Voice first started, Gilmore was supervising with producers directly and they relied heavily on her experience.
“It was difficult for a reality production to know the needs of a department this large and how to get 100 singers through make-up and hair with two weeks of continuity,” she says. “Now there isn’t a second thought and the reality genre has come very far.”
At the time, Gilmore’s team was responsible for make-up for all of the contestants, but she was also personally working with all three of the male coaches—CeeLo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton.
“Originally, Shawn Finch ran the hair department. We were partners for the first couple of years as the show took off,” Gilmore says. “The show grew really fast and we never realized it would become such a hit and become this crazy machine, and we expanded the department a great deal.”
That included bringing in Jerilynn Stephens as head of the hair department and Kristene Bernard as her make-up creative key position.
“And originally, we had three make-up artists and two hair people, but now, I have up to 18 make-up artists, and Jerilynn has up to 18 hair people,” Gilmore says. “I have eight people just doing contestants, a social media PA and a show PA assigned to my department. We have the ‘Glam Pound,’ which is the main make-up room, and another stage for additional make-up work on some days. And then during Lives, often we have an additional three to five teams just covering A-lister guests performing.”
Today, each coach has his or her own teams of hair and make-up specialists.
Gilmore’s day usually starts with an early call around 6:30 a.m., and the first 30 minutes is used to set up for the day.
“We get the first person in our chair, and set it up like we’re doing an episodic or a film, where every single make-up artist is assigned a look,” Gilmore says. “I’ll put an artist with a contestant and go over it with them, and we design the look. For example, with Kristene, after a pregame conversation we’ll then go over what someone is going to wear and what make-up we think she should do. This is typical for every single make-up and hair person working.”
Gilmore edits some looks after watching the rehearsal, but for the most part, lets her artists do their thing, freeing her up for the coach prep and helping to fill their needs with the inevitable 100 last-minute decisions that need to be crossed off.
“The producers have input as well. They are really knowledgeable about current trends and knowing what works and what doesn’t, though usually it’s 99 percent of the time we get a thumbs up and they love everything we do,” she says. “Once the show starts, we run live for two hours and it’s such a fun time.”
She compares an episode of The Voice akin to doing a Grammy Awards show every Monday and Tuesday night. The looks being that large and creative.
“I feel we have hands-down the best make-up on TV because we have the luxury of time and we’ve been gifted products, and we’ve honed in on what product needs to be placed based on our specific lighting and cameras that is so fine-tuned,” Gilmore says.
Creating a Look
Almost every performer has some sort of make-up done, and some over the years have seen really big transformations happen. For example, contestant Kyla Jade from Season 14 had a lot of experience with make-up and it was new for her to have someone else do her make-up from scratch.
“It’s sometimes hard for these beautiful women who know how to do make-up on themselves to let someone else take over, but our artists (Gina Ghiglieri, Kathleen Karridene, Nikki Carbonetta and Erin Guth) work very hard and the next thing you know, it’s the most stunning make-up work you’ve ever seen,” Gilmore says. “It’s one our favorite things about the show.”
Many of the male contestants—especially the so-called “cowboys” who do country music—initially want no part of make-up, but they soon grow to love the experience.
“They find the time in the make-up chair sets them in the right direction of performance mode,”
Gilmore says. “They have a blast and love making fun of themselves, but they really get it and how important it is.”
And not everyone needs a big make-up look. Gilmore shares that one of the “gorgeous” contestants this year didn’t want to wear make-up, and Gilmore was excited to show that the make-up team is capable of flawless no-make-up looks.
Some of Gilmore’s most important tools in her make-up kit for the show are Anastasia Beverly Hills Eye Shadows as well as M.A.C. Cosmetics Eye Shadows, which she calls not only gorgeous but buildable and can easily be sheered out; M.A.C.’s Lipsticks, because of their amazing palette of colors and wearability; and RCMA’s No Color Powder, which is utilized on every single person on the show. A lot of the artists also use It Cosmetics, Inglot and Kevyn Aucoin for obvious reasons of compatibility.
When working on men, Gilmore also is a fan of old-school powders in cool tones, because she doesn’t like using gold or warm tones unless the skin is literally golden and warm. She often turns to Make Up For Ever for that.
“Our number one must-have product is Armani’s Luminous Silk Foundation, which gets blended and customized into other projects, and it’s really, really beautiful,” Gilmore says.
Stephens’ responsibilities are to take the singers from the blind audition and transform them into who they want to become.
“It’s our job to keep to the integrity of who they are but also to enhance their natural beauty,” Stephens says. “For make-up and hair, I like for them to make Pinterest boards and show me their inspirations so I can take them to the next level a little bit at a time.”
A look, she says, not only makes a singer feel amazing, but can boost his or her confidence and give him or her that added push when going onstage for the battle rounds.
Gilmore has been Levine’s personal artist since Season One and worked with Pharrell Williams when he was a coach, this current season she is also doing John Legend.
Meanwhile Michelle DeMilt works on Blake Shelton, and coaches like Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys have their own teams. Host Carson Daly has personal artist Kristi Fuhrmann work with him on the show.
“With the men, it’s mostly about skincare, beard work, brow trimming and a little complexion work,” Gilmore says. “They’re all so great and everyone is having a fun time, it is so inspiring to work with creative people.”
It’s an atmosphere that Gilmore believes is probably second to none on television and she loves the camaraderie that everyone on the make-up team has and the joy of seeing the singers perform.
“If someone is lucky enough to be in our make-up room, they will probably go home with at least five new ideas or tricks they never considered before because people are always sharing information and product knowledge,” she says. “Every season we meet new contestants and it’s so invigorating when they bring their fresh new attitudes and ideas with them. It reminds you why you do this creative job. It feels good to know that my team is there to make them beautiful season after season—it’s so rewarding.”