God, new TV is exciting these days isn’t it? Whether you’ve been filling the pandemic entertainment dearth by existing on reruns of Modern Family or you’re spending your week counting down to the next episode of Line Of Duty, it feels like a true blessing from above when something new hits our screens.
For those who haven’t tuned in thus far, the reality TV competition is based on the search for Britain’s next big makeup artist. Across the season, the 10 contestants will work on huge campaigns while being judged by some of beauty’s biggest names.
This first week, the professional assignment is a campaign for Superdrug with the winning look set to be displayed across 800 stores nationwide. Guest judge is the estimable Dr Ateh Jewel, a beauty journalist who’s placed diversity at the heart of her long career. She’s creative directing the shoot and the number one thing she’s looking out for? Each contestant’s ability to colour match their model’s foundation. As Val Garland says, a good makeup artist should be able to work on any skin type, on any skin tone.
The contestants are a mix of amateurs and professionals. There’s Ryley, who has zero professional training but who has learned to love her port wine stain birthmark and experiments with looks which amplify what she once thought of as a flaw. Samah, a MUA at a counter in west London, is keen to defy any outdated expectation that Muslim women should stay meekly in the background. And then there’s Dolly who, as a young mum, says she is scared of people seeing her ‘fail’ and just wants her daughter to see she’s really good at what she does (spoiler: she’s amazing). This season there’s also a small but super important change which mustn’t go unnoticed: all the contestants are introduced with their preferred pronouns. Hallelujah.
For the second challenge, the creative brief, the judges ask the contestants to create a look that represents what makes each of them unique. Some take inspiration from their cultural heritage, others focus on unique aspects of their personal look, two choose to express their neurodiversity. Huge props here — women with autism and the socialisation mechanism of ‘masking’ are never discussed on TV (let alone on reality TV) and it’s something that’s well overdue.
It’s during this challenge too that we really get to see our new host do her thing. Maya Jama is calming and empathetic, even taking time to do a breathing exercise with one frazzled contestant. In fact, the whole vibe of the show feels different from previous seasons; it’s far less catty and critical and much more celebratory of the contestants and their work. The results of the creative brief are (mostly) a triumph. Good luck checking out Dolly’s final creation without actually gasping in awe.
UK reality TV competitions have really had a moment this year. From Great British Bake Off to RuPaul, The Great Pottery Throw Down to Alan Carr’s Interior Design Masters (hands up who could imagine themselves watching those last two shows a year ago), we’ve consumed them during the pandemic with an unexpected enthusiasm. These shows may be the polar opposite of the glamorous but mean-spirited US competitions we’re used to but the wholesome mix of real skill and talent, earnestness and (most crucially) the support the contestants give to each other is exactly what we needed when the global situation was at its most desperate. This new series of Glow Up, in which a group of seriously talented young people rally around each other, overcoming personal demons while getting the chance to show off the skill they were put on this Earth to do, places it firmly in this same category of heartwarming camaraderie TV. We’re not crying, you’re crying.
All that’s left to say as the sun shines outside the window and the opportunity to meet friends in the pub (legally!) later beckons, is where was this uplifting hour of telly back in the dark days of January? Roll on episode two.
Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star is on BBC Three from Tuesday 20th April at 7pm.
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