By Jean A. Williams
When the Style Network came looking for an epitomizing salon that demonstrated the chic in Chicago, they cast a wide net. Ultimately, they set their sights on one they deemed most iconic: Ajes.
Located at 648 West Randolph, AJES Salon, Inc., is “the chosen one” to extend Style Network’s popular reality series Jerseylicious into a franchise.
Focusing on the staff at a renovated salon in Green Brook, New Jersey, Jerseylicious launched in 2010 and has aired for four seasons chronicling the inner workings of the shop and the dramatic antics of its owner and her staff.
The Chicagolicious season premiere kicks off Monday, June 11 on the Style Network, featuring a cast of characters associated with Ajes Salon: the mastermind behind it all AJ Johnson; hair stylists Valincia and Macray; make-up artists Katrell and Austin; barber Howard; business manager Q; salon manager Niki; and publicists Julie and Jennifer.
“There are always stories in salons,” said Alex Duda, who co-executive produces both docu-soaps. “That’s what we’ve found on these `licious shows. It’s just fun to watch because it’s relatable and it’s glamorous and it’s fun.”
“It’s about personality, and when we saw AJ, we knew,” Duda said. “When I was doing the Tyra Banks Show, he was a guest. He contributed to a show we did on good hair. He did a little taped piece, and just in that taped piece, he popped. So when he showed up in the casting tapes, it’s like, `Oh, my God! I love this guy.’ ”
“They came in and they were enamored with us,” says Johnson. “They liked that we had different types of personnel, people others can relate to. They were like, okay, we’re really, really liking you guys. They still had to go and look at other people, but we just won them over and that was it.”
Each week AJ and his crew will go for their dreams on camera with AJ as the dreamer-in-chief in a combustible mix of personalities. Even though conflict and drama make for the reality in a reality series, AJ indicates that his staff is like family to him and their dreams matter, too.
“In the kind of career we’re in, you’re more in with your co-workers than you are with your family,” he said. “So being the boss, I had to handpick each one of these people that I would want to come and work next to.
“I have people from a whole range of upbringings. Some people were raised in the projects. Some people were raised on the North Shore. Some people were raised in the Gold Coast; some people were raised in the ‘hood.
“But it didn’t really matter to me where you came from. It was more about, ‘What are you trying to achieve and where are you trying to go?’ I call myself the enhancer,” he said. “So if I know that there is something that you want to do and you’re talented in this beauty field and I get along with you and you can deal with me, then I will definitely bring you aboard.”
“I’m not the easiest person to work for,” Johnson said. “I am a perfectionist. I like things a certain way, and I’m really, really concerned about branding my name and my reputation that I took so long to build. So I’m not going to have anyone, even if I chose them, come in and (put me) in a bad light.”
Aside from the proprietor’s colorful and scintillating personality and the mix of personalities surrounding him professionally, Style Network found the salon’s overall personality, irresistible.
“We wanted an elite salon,” Duda said. “We wanted a different type of salon from Jersey – something completely different and upscale, with interesting clients. One of the things we wanted to explore that we don’t get to explore as much on Jerseylicious are the stories of the people in the seats. We very rarely do that on Jerseylicious and thought it might be interesting.”
Duda pointed out that Ajes’ clientele includes Marion Brooks, who hosts NBC’s The Talk, and other local TV personalities, a former Miss Illinois USA, AJ’s alderman, and other city luminaries. Plus, AJ has styled the hair of phenoms such as singer Jennifer Hudson, actress Angela Bassett, and super model Iman.
During the first 10-episode season, viewers will experience what promises to be quite a ride as AJ works with his staff to position his salon and a line of hair care products that he has developed into a nationally known phenomena.
Viewers will “spy” each cast member painted rather broadly and dramatically:
Howard the barber flirts. Valincia and Katrell clash over a line in the sand between the veteran and the newcomer. Macray postures for recognition of his stylist talents. Austin is the bambino of the salon trying to find her way professionally and personally. Niki and Q sometimes take drastically different tacks for positioning Ajes in the market. Julie and Jennifer strive to bring attention to AJ and his salon. And AJ mediates all of this while working toward the big time.
“All a reality show should do is put a magnifying glass on who you really are already,” Duda said. “So if you’re flirty, you’re going to be flirty. If you’re glamorous, you’re going to be more glamorous. You never want a show to make you into something you’re not.”
The other key personality in Chicagolicious is the city itself, according to Duda.
“Chicago’s a character because it’s an amazing backdrop,” she said. “This is a chic city right in the middle. It’s a glamorous, glitzy city that has the best of everything, but inside beats a working-class heart. So the people are real. Even though they’re polished on the outside, they’re going to be real with you when you talk to them.
“Then with the backdrops, we want to see the best of Chicago, so when AJ throws his birthday party, it’s at Japonais. Or if he schedules a promotion, he’s going to take it to one of the best boutiques in the city to partner with. We’re going to see Moto or Graham Elliot’s place. So it’s really showing it off.”
For more information about the show, visit www.myStyle.com, where a micro-series offering makeup, hair and fashion tips – including how to create dramatic eyes and how to maintain weaved hair – is also available.
View “Chicagolicious” on Mondays at 8 p.m. (cst). Following broadcast, episodes will be available for viewing On Demand and for purchase on iTunes.