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First lady's hairstylist to visit Tampa for convention

Most people care about foreign policy and jobs and the economy. But the stuff that really goes down in history?

It's the stuff we can see.

Pat Nixon's shellacked helmet head. Jackie Kennedy's flipped bob. Hillary Clinton's headbands of terror. And how about the foxy tendrils on that Martha Jefferson?

Someone has to make it work.

These days, it's Johnny Wright, first lady Michelle Obama's official hairstylist. Wright, who will be in Tampa next week, was behind the acclaimed locks in Obama's official White House portrait and her Vogue cover.

So, uh, what's that like?

"It's an awesome experience," he said Wednesday from his home in Washington, D.C. Wright will be in Tampa at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, teaching journalists how to improve their image.

If he's tight lipped on the presidential deets, you can imagine why. Perhaps more than anyone, Michelle Obama is a barometer of our hysterical lust for immediacy.

A glimmer of fresh info becomes hot news. She gets a sweater at J.Crew, and we freak. She pins her hair into something resembling a short cut, and we're experts with searing blog assessments. Sassy and fun for summer! Ew, old lady!

For Wright, who first met Obama on an Essence magazine shoot at the start of the presidential campaign, the Internet lightning rod is mostly a good thing.

"I'm an artist," said Wright, 32. "I like to see my work, and the Internet allows you to get that pretty rapidly. I love doing editorial work on the covers of magazines. I have something I can save and maybe 20 years from now have part of history. That's one thing I really appreciate about working with the first lady. I am literally touching history."

He's always been savvy at marketing. His career started in the basement of his family's Chicago home. By 12, he had clients from the neighborhood. At 14, he got the brilliant idea to offer services — pro bono — to the most popular girl in school.

"I gave her a French roll with spiral curls up front. Her hair was like a mahogany red. I'll never forget the hair I did for her. Everyone wanted her hair. Within a year, I had 100 clients."

In hair school, he started making industry connections. He worked on Jennifer Lopez, Vivica A. Fox, Vanessa Williams and LisaRaye McCoy-Misick, the ex of the prime minister of Turks and Caicos.

"She was the first first lady I ever worked with," he said. "First ladies are kind of in my world."

Now, he's artistic director for Soft Sheen-Carson, a division of L'Oréal. He gives hair advice on the Steve Harvey Morning Show and still sees regular clients in D.C.'s Corte Salon. He's also developing a reality show.

"We just closed the deal with a major cable network," he said. "I can't say who, but it's a pretty major one."

So, if his life will be all over cable, surely he'd give up a little more Obama info. The burning question — did he create the faux-bob that unleashed a frenzy last week?

Sorry, classified.

"I'm not going to answer that."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

FAST FACTS

If you go

Johnny Wright will visit the Tampa Convention Center at 3 p.m. Aug. 6 for the National Association of Black Journalists convention. He'll speak at a session titled "Your Image Is Everything: Redefine Your Look, Ignite Your Career." He'll teach registrants how to style hair on a budget and care for hair. To attend this or any other sessions that day, purchase a day pass to the conference, $245 for NABJ members, $395 for nonmembers. Visit www.nabj.org.

First lady's hairstylist to visit Tampa for convention 07/29/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 1:29pm]
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