Friday, September 05, 2014

She’s got skin in this game

Nicole Desiree Hays/Game Show Network
One of the contestants on this season of the Game Show Network’s reality competition series “Skin Wars” counts Panama City as her “second home,” and credits Gulf Coast State College’s theater program for encouraging and supporting her love of performance art.

Nicole Desiree Hays, 30, now lives outside of Tampa and runs her own business, CirqueVille Entertainment, which provides everything from simple face-painting for birthday parties to stilt-walking balloon artists, fire-twirlers, human statues, burlesque acrobatics and more.

“It’s kind of hard, and you have to be versatile, for sure,” Nicole said by telephone Wednesday afternoon. “I’m just happy to be able to create and make a living doing what I love to do.”

Nicole, who I met some years ago when she was in theater productions with my son at Gulf Coast, got into body-painting after modeling for local artist Amanda Stiffler. “She showed me everything about body-painting,” Nicole said. “She became a real mentor to me.”

Two years ago, while pursuing her master’s degree in entrepreneurship, Nicole took a class in body-painting, and that teacher recommended her to a producer for “Skin Wars.” The producer talked to her about the show more than a year and a half ago, and Nicole was called to an audition several months later. Of about 25 who auditioned, 10 were brought to Los Angeles for the February 2014 shoot.

“The cast was awesome,” she said. “We took care of each other, really had each other’s backs. Yes, we were in competition, but everybody grew really close.”

The producers wouldn’t let contestants keep art supplies in the shared house, so they couldn’t work on concepts they might try to use on the show. Nicole said the housemates found a unique way of getting around that prohibition.

“Artists draw all the time, no matter what,” she said. “They took away our supplies, so we used condiments in the kitchen to do art on pots and pans.”

“Skin Wars” is hosted by actress and model Rebecca Romijn, who knows something about body-painting from her time portraying the mutant Mystique in the “X-Men” movie franchise. Romijn was also the first model to be body-painted for Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue.

“I adore her,” Nicole said of Romijn. “She’s the most down-to-earth person, and she complimented my outfit one episode. I couldn’t believe it.”

One of the judges is RuPaul Charles, who shot to fame as a drag performer and also hosts “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Although the contestants are not allowed to talk with the celebrities at length, Nicole said, RuPaul kept the experience lively with his quick wit and energy.

Nicole couldn’t talk at length about the elimination aspect of the show, which is halfway through the current season, but she bragged on the talents of her castmates. Each episode, the contestants receive a challenge and limited time to complete it, then one is eliminated by a panel of judges. The finale will feature three finalists competing for a cash prize and a career-launching opportunity.

Nicole said her greatest challenge in an episode that has been broadcast was when she was tasked to create a new superhero in only a few hours. The guest judge for the episode was Lynda Carter, who portrayed Wonder Woman in the 1970s TV series.

“I thought I had a really great story behind mine,” Nicole said, as the design incorporated an item that her grandmother gave her, “but they weren’t able to use the backstories. I guess there wasn’t time to tell everyone’s story. I did a full glitter bodysuit, but really shot myself in the foot. That was the first time I was in the bottom three, which was terrifying.”

Originally from Van Buren, Ark., Nicole describes herself as “the black sheep” of her family of conservative dentists and doctors, in part because she chose the Bohemian lifestyle of an artist. She first came to Panama City on a college Spring Break trip and decided to stay.

“I called home and said, ‘Send my stuff,’” she recalled. “I felt like an orphan. But I met so many amazing families, and Gulf Coast was such a great start for me.”


Peace

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‘SKIN WARS’
What: Elimination competition between body-painters
When: Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Game Show Network (repeats throughout the week)

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