Since the rise of “Survivor,” competitive reality shows have become a mainstay on television, drawing in massive audiences of casual viewers and die-hard devotees alike. From run of the mill cooking contests and baking battles to over the top dating dramas and modeling matches, the genre has nearly been beaten to death. But BBC has tapped the quickly drying well of novelty to unleash a fresh challenge perfect for the digital age: a makeup competition for beauty gurus hoping to transform online influence into professional careers, fittingly titled “Glow Up.”
With a freshman season of eight episodes on Netflix, “Glow Up” sees 10 aspiring MUAs (makeup artists) fight tooth and nail to prove their creative chops and technical skills — all for a chance at a contract with the world’s top agencies. Each episode centers around a single theme, ranging from editorial looks one would find in a high-fashion magazine to special effects makeup from the world of film, allowing each artist to shine in their niche while also forcing them out of their comfort zones.
Like most of its contemporaries, “Glow Up” relies on its diverse group of talented contestants to entertain and invest audiences in its winners and losers. The show features a host of beauty fanatics and social media influencers painstakingly plucked from over 2000 applicants, all in search of fame and success in the “real world.” Let’s meet this year’s lineup.
Boasting over 500,000 followers on her Instagram and almost 200,000 on YouTube, Nikki Patel has the largest online presence of the bunch. She posts daily videos and pictures typical of any major beauty guru, testing and reviewing countless skincare and makeup products for her fans. But her talent is anything but “typical.” She shines brightest with her elaborate illusions and insanely detailed artwork, like her ‘90s Cartoon look where she drew a labyrinth of popular characters upon her face, from Homer Simpson to Kenny from “South Park.”
Next up is another major player on the ‘gram: Tiffany Hunt, with over 350,000 followers. With a NYX Face Award already under her belt, Hunt finds her muse in fantastical creatures, including intricate interpretations of famous “Alice in Wonderland” characters along with a host of totally original creations. From mystical unicorns and fairies to Ursula and a female Grinch, Hunt loves playing with color, perspective and imaginative props to bring life to her ideas.
A standout for her sweetness and unassuming nature, Belinda Chatterton has amassed 160,000 followers and a verified account. Her specialty? Mesmerizing illusions and beautiful artwork that belongs in a modern art museum. From an octopus resting on her head to a lifelike “Purge” mask to a face of fast food, Belinda delights her fans with her genuine talent backed with her sincere personality. She’s even got behind the scenes footage from the show on her page — watch out for spoilers though!
While Brana Alunan sticks to current trends and shines with “Insta Baddie” looks, there’s nothing basic about her or her 110,000 fans. With an inspired use of color and a knack for technique, she’s a master of looking snatched, whether it be “regular” glam or a purple demon. The transgender star has expressed anxiety over appearing on “Glow Up” before her transition, but it’s exciting to see how much she has personally and professionally grown since filming and since coming out.
With the normalization and proliferation of male MUAs, of course “Glow Up” also showcases men with massive fanbases. Over 250,000 people follow drag queen and “self-proclaimed catfish” Ellis Atlantis. Drawing inspiration from classic drag makeup, Atlantis imbues each loud and proud look with his own creative twist. His drag persona enjoys cosplaying as iconic characters as well, from Marge Simpson to Cruella De Vil.
A relative newcomer to makeup, Leigh Easthope has already amassed 130,000 fans of both his glam makeup and his penchant for looks that fall outside any box, especially his multiple interpretations of the Rorschach inkblot test. He may suffer from colorblindness, but you’d never be able to tell from his flawless technique.
Not all the contestants are social media megastars, but that doesn’t mean they have any less talent or character than their more famous counterparts. A graduate in specialist hair and media makeup, Steph Harrison enjoys expressing her unique personality with attention-grabbing, brightly-colored looks. With a taste for the morbid that underlines her sunny, punk-rocker vibes, Harrison stands apart from the rest and has already had work featured in the film “The Exorcism of Karen Walker.” Her Instagram features both her creepy and blindingly bright sides, including a powerful look inspired by the Salem Witch Trials and a decrepit old woman along with her show-stopping eyeshadow looks.
Driven by the desire to prove to her parents that not everyone has to go to college, Paige Cole has carved out her own slice of the dream and found work as a freelance MUA. Her resume includes a role as the key, or lead, makeup artist for a fashion show as well as features in multiple major magazines. It’s safe to say her most recent monochromatic polka dot look has cemented her place in the makeup industry.
Even though she started on the show as a grocery worker, Dina Schofield has since become a certified MAC makeup artist. While she isn’t super active on social media, her page still showcases the talent that won her a coveted spot on “Glow Up.” With a flair for both fantasy and the macabre, her whimsical characters and illusions stand in stark contrast to her gruesome fake injuries, like a pencil stabbed through her nose and a soda can jammed into her eyeball.
Perhaps most unique among the contestants is special effects artist Mathieu Dausmann. The only one not traditionally trained, Dausmann calls himself the show’s “black sheep.” Having lived in both France and Japan before moving to Great Britain, Dausmann stands apart both for his French accent and his specialty in prosthetics. Most recently, he’s created several wintery wonders. From demonic to frostbitten, he’s mastered original takes on Santa. His social media spotlights both his creations and the methods to his madness, with tutorials on fake acne, scars, bruises and more.
Now, what would “America’s Next Top Model” be without Tyra Banks? Well, a commercial flop and a shadow of its former success. Likewise, “Glow Up” would be nothing without its wacky judges who also happen to be industry giants. Val Garland, the L’Oreal Paris global makeup director who’s worked with legends like Lady Gaga, and Dominic Skinner, the global senior artist for MAC Cosmetics, both regularly steal the show from their contestants with their powerful yet supportive presence.
Garland’s iconic seal of approval — “Ding Dong!”— and Skinner’s often controversial opinions make each a nail-biting pleasure to watch, especially when they play off each other while disagreeing over different looks. Each episode, they task the team with a professional commission and a creative challenge, after which they force the two most disappointing MUA’s to face off to prove their technical skills to avoid elimination.
Without fail, each episode proves more intense than the last. Pressure runs high as the artists struggle to impress industry icons with decades more experience than them. But rather than tearing at each other’s throats to get a leg up on the competition, the contestants are quite wholesomely friendly to one another, regularly helping each other out by sharing tips and products. Belinda even invited several castmates to her wedding this past year. Without any scripted drama or “bad guy/good guy” narratives, “Glow Up” shines as a gleaming example of a purely professional competitive reality show that relies entirely on a cast as lovable as they are talented. Here’s to the already confirmed second season!