Here's Johnny! Five minutes with Mrs. Obama's hairstylist
Back in July, when Michelle Obama showed up to the White House’s Country Music Night sporting an incredibly chic bob, news headlines touting the First Lady’s dramatic new cut circled around the world. Yet it was quickly revealed that the ‘do wasn’t a drastic chop at all—it was the clever handiwork of her hairstylist, 32-year-old Johnny Wright, who had tucked her hair under with strategically-placed pins. We recently interviewed Wright, who works out of D.C.’s Corte Salon, for a feature about the politics of doing hair in Washington, but there was much, much more we couldn’t fit into the story.
When did you meet Mrs. Obama?
I met her at the beginning of the campaign at an Essence photo shoot in Chicago. We liked each other, it was very genuine. Afterwards, I decided to move to L.A from Chicago. Throughout the campaign, she was traveling back and forth to do speeches in the California area and her team would call me—that’s how our relationship grew.
When you’re working with her, does she tell you exactly what she wants?
No, she just kind of chills. I go with whatever she’s wearing and I pay attention to the moment. Should it be a little more flirty? Should it be a little more submissive? Should it be a little more strong? I believe hair is a language, if it’s not moving it has no voice.
So are you on call 24 hours a day for photo ops and hair emergencies?
A lot of people think it’s a beck and call thing, but she’s scheduled months in advance. It actually flows pretty smoothly. If I’m not available, I make sure she’s taken care of, even if my hands aren’t doing it.
Most people imagine you work exclusively with her—
No, I’m trying to build a clientele here in DC and I still travel to other cities to do my other clients.
I do Valerie Jarrett and Desiree Rogers. I’ve been doing a lot of political lobbyists. I’ve done some anchors. I’ve done people who work in think tanks, so that’s new to me. What I do appreciate about DC is, you know how John McCain said DC is Hollywood for ugly people? I actually disagree, there’s a great connection here between beauty and intelligence. And you can actually enjoy looking at the women here and have a great conversation at the same time.
Tell us about this reality show you’re working on.
It’s just my life and what I do with my friends, my family, my work environment, all that [but not his work with Mrs. Obama]. We shot some of the episodes so now we’re doing casting. I never knew I’d be interesting enough but it seems to be working out.
How did you start doing hair?
My grandmother did hair until she was 91 years old, she noticed the hairstylist in me when I was three years old. I really started doing it at 12. My freshman year in high school, I convinced a very popular girl to let me do her hair at no cost. The next day everybody wanted to know who did her hair. Within that year, I had 150 clients. I used to get done working at 3 o’clock in the morning and still go to school at 8 AM.
Wow, so how did you keep your grades up?
Partially because I did my teachers’ hair! [Laughs] I do not know one thing about Trigonometry, but I got a B out of it because I did my Trigonometry teacher’s finger waves and French rolls every two weeks.
Click HERE to read our related September beauty feature, “Heads of State”
Obama portrait: Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Time Inc.