Crystal Anderson is used to drawing attention for her unique appearance.
After all, she’s been experimenting with fashion since she was in elementary school here.
Now, the Myrtle Beach native is one of two full-time judges on the second season of “Craftopia,” a crafting reality competition show currently airing on HBO Max.
Anderson’s resume of fashion, modeling, social media prowess and more led to HBO courting her for the show. However, she believes her bold look also had something to do with it.
“Inevitably they wanted someone with a big personality and as a person who currently has neon green hair and a bunch of tattoos I’m sure that didn’t hurt the cause at all in looking for fun personalities for the show,” she quipped.
Being on the show is the culmination of many zig-zags in life — and a lot of hard work.
‘Making something out of nothing’
Anderson’s passion for fashion began late in her elementary school years.
“I took a great interest in thrift shopping and going to the Goodwill and finding things and re-purposing them in the way that I’d seen them in like magazines,” Anderson, now 39 years old, said. “We didn’t have Instagram at the time or access to just like go online and place an order for the coolest outfit. If it wasn’t at (now-defunct) Myrtle Square Mall or Briarcliffe Mall (now Myrtle Beach Mall) you had to go make it if you wanted it.”
“So I think that’s really where my love of making something out of nothing came from. It really is what led me to the type of work that I do now and the show,” the Craftopia judge added of her love for do-it-yourself, aka DIY, activities began.
Anderson’s infatuation with fashion has continued through the years, though she made a bit of a detour years before it would become her career.
Anderson graduated from Myrtle Beach High School in 2000 before moving to Washington, D.C., to attend Howard University, where she earned a Bachelor’s in mass communications.
Upon graduating from college, Anderson moved to New York City, where her life went in all kinds of directions.
“It’s a winding road,” she said of her journey following college to now being on HBO Max, a subscription streaming service.
Anderson went into modeling, which she said she did for approximately five years. She also worked other positions at modeling agencies before deciding to take a new route.
“I decided that it really wasn’t for me and I really jumped into the corporate world,” Anderson said.
She went on to work for 29Rooms and the Museum of Ice Cream — venues that provide interactive art and social media experiences — Tough Mudder, which puts on miles-long obstacle events that include rough, outdoor conditions, and other jobs such as fashion editorial while growing a social media following.
“That was what really fostered my love for experiences and events,” Anderson said.
Later, Anderson and her fiance — Lakiesha Herman, whom she met in New York City in 2018 before they got engaged in 2019 — started their own creative company called A Very Good Job and decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue new opportunities.
Just before relocating, Anderson got a chance phone call.
“Two weeks before we were set to head to LA we got a call from HBO about this opportunity. And I was like ‘Obviously, yes. This is right up my alley: DIY, crafting, a fun show and being a judge on that show,’” she said.
‘I was in shock everyday on set’
Anderson said it was a surreal moment when she found out an HBO series had come calling.
“It was insane. It didn’t even cross my mind,” she said. “Everybody dreams of having this moment where you get a call from a number you don’t know. It was just exciting and really sort of confirmation that my partner and I were making the right decision to relocate for some of our time in LA and being away from Brooklyn full-time.”
Craftopia, which became available on HBO Max on Nov. 18, was filmed in September 2020 with Anderson and JP Connolly as the judges. Anderson said she didn’t initially know what she was getting herself into.
“I thought I was going to go on the show and see some cool crafts and be like ‘Oh, this one is good. You win.’ But there were really intense conversations sometimes, especially with my co-host JP,” she said. “These people are really talented. These aren’t just like someone who likes to put beads on a bracelet.”
Without divulging too much information, Anderson pointed to an early episode that ultimately opened her eyes to the creativity of the competitors.
“On the second episode there’s this paper artist and he made this — I won’t spoil what he made — but the art that he created in an hour and a half and I got to watch it go from a literal sheet of paper to this piece of art I was in shock everyday on set at the caliber of talent that came to compete on the show,” she said.
Hosted and produced by famous crafter Lauren Riihimaki, who has a YouTube channel with nearly 9 million subscribers, the show pits competitors against one another in 30- and 90-minute challenges of craftiness.
“Any material — glitter, foam, metal, scissors — anything that you think you would need, they have it at their disposal,” Anderson said. “We would give them a prompt, but we wouldn’t say ‘You can only do so.’ We allowed them to run rampant in Craftopia and create what they want to create.”
Ultimately, a winner of a challenge is crowned when all three judges — a celebrity guest judge is included in each episode — come to agreement on who made the best exhibit.
“I’m looking at different things,” Anderson said. “I’m looking at the totality of all the work they’ve created on the episode. I’m looking at how much creativity they put into the work. And obviously I’m a stickler for appearances so I want things to look nice. So no glue hanging out, none of those sorts of things. But I also look to judges who are experts in their own way.”
The craziest episode, Anderson says, is the one in which the competitors are equipped with a Smart car to customize.
“The way that the contestants went in and were able to do whatever they wanted — if they want to spray paint the cars, if they want to rip the ceilings off or take the seats out, nothing was off limits — was incredible.” she said. “These were like actual cars. I think they removed the engines so that they wouldn’t fly around the set. In general, they had full access to do whatever they wanted to these cars. And it was wild to be sitting in our chair watching it happen in real time.”
While she’s a judge on the show, Anderson said she’s often been inspired by and in awe of the competitors’ abilities.
“Sometimes I’m like ‘How am I judging this?’ I could never do this.’ So it was just exciting to be on set everyday,” she said. “We would come on set and we’d have no idea other than ‘Here are the contestants. You can look at some of their work.’ But outside of that, we didn’t know what was going to be presented to us before we got there.”
Anderson said each episode is packed with excitement.
“It’s down to the wire every time,” she said.
Despite the current fame, Anderson describes herself as just a girl from the beach with family that dates back to Bucksport in the outskirts of Horry County.
‘I’m still a girl from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina’
With the company Anderson owns with her fiance, she keeps busy. However, her experience on Craftopia has proved fruitful and she plans to continue doing all kinds of work, perhaps even more television if networks come calling again.
“I’m really open to whatever,” she said of moving forward.
Nowadays, Anderson has more than 54,000 followers on Instagram and she uses the platform to help lead and relate to others.
“Making my family and young people, specifically young Black women in Myrtle Beach, proud is the ultimate honor,” she said of her wide reach. “It’s why I do what I do. It’s why I live the way that I live so publicly and freely.”
One particular area in which Anderson uses her platform to help others is in mental health, a topic that is very personal to her.
“I, myself, have struggled quite a bit so I’m really open about my diagnoses and the medicine I take and the time that I’ve spent in treatment,” she said.
Anderson said that at the age of 33 she was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. That’s when she decided she would use her influence to help educate folks on a topic that often comes with a stigma.
“I really made it my business to speak freely and openly about my experience, especially for young Black women. I’m gay, so young, Black queer women, you rarely see yourself in those spaces,” she said. “So it’s really important for me to talk about those things and explore what it means to have a life well lived, and have a partner that loves you not despite those things but because of those things. I try to be open about taking medication everyday. That is just a journey that I have to be on. Those are all part of my story.”
Two years ago Anderson began taking her medicine live on camera throughout May, which is mental health awareness month, to show it’s just a normal part of life.
“Yes, I am into fashion and I’m on a show on HBO and I have an amazing life and a great partner and a cute dog, but also I have really dark days,” she said of what she tries to display for others. “I have to maintain myself every single day and this is how I do it. And it doesn’t make you weird or awful or a monster because you have to do it too. I’m here to show you that.”
Anderson said young people have reached out to her on social media seeking help and that she tries to offer any help she can.
“I do have a lot of younger followers who come to me and say ‘Hey, I’m struggling. What did you do with this? How did that work for you? What’s the best way to go about this?’” she said. “I try to help be like an older auntie for those folks and help out as much as I can. I’m not a doctor or expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I see it as my responsibility to help when I can.”
Anderson said she comes back to Bucksport every other year to spend Thanksgiving with family. In fact, she was most recently in the area this summer when she showed Herman — whom she is currently working with to set a new wedding date — around Myrtle Beach. She made a point to take her fiance to Miyabi Japanese Restaurant, the Craftopia star’s favorite place to eat.
There isn’t one in LA, of course, so that’s what makes home, well, home.
“It’s just my favorite place in the world,” Anderson said of Myrtle Beach.
While she’s found some fame in recent years, Anderson said she makes it a point to remember where she came from.
“I still tell people this all the time, and I just wrote an article for this magazine and in that I said ‘I’m 39 years old, I live in LA, I have a hit show on HBO, I run a company with my partner, but I’m still a girl from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina,” she said. “That’s who I’ll always be.”
There are local mental health facilities in Horry County, such as the Waccamaw Center for Mental Health in Conway, and national centers for those in need.