When The Style Network approached AJ Johnson about basing a new reality show around his salon, you could say there was a true meeting of the minds.
The new star of Chicagolicious had already hired his own camera crew and done three days’ of filming. You see, AJ already knew that he, the people who worked at the salon, and the celebrity clientele would make for good television; and he was preparing to shop the idea to producers himself.
“So when they called it was perfect timing,” AJ says. The show premieres Monday at 9, and RealityAired.com talked exclusively with AJ about how in this case great minds came to think alike.
Taking things to the next level was something destined to happen, as AJ sees it. He’s always been kind of a step ahead of things, and could never see himself in some 9 to 5 where he wasn’t in the spotlight.
“I knew at a young age I wouldn’t be able to work with a boss,” AJ explains. “I like to work at a higher level and take it to the pinnacle.” And style in general has just always been his thing. He’s known for being immaculately dressed in the finest suits at work, and for having just the right look for any occasion.
Suits have to be sleek, European cuts, “not cookie cutter,” AJ explains. He’ll buy Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci off the rack, but he’ll likely have a Hugo Boss or Paul Smith suit custom fitted. He likes a colofrul lining too. “I want to be able to turn the jacket inside out and have it still look good.”
“I probably have more clothes than the women,” he notes. “I’ve always been crazy about style.”
In childhood pictures, when other boys might be photographed in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt, AJ would pose in a suit with a bow tie and even a briefcase.
When it was time to go to college he thought of majoring in advertising or marketing, but everything began to change when he decided to try a summer cosmetology course and perhaps earn a little spending money.
“I’ve always been very creative,” AJ says. “It was the best decision I ever made…it was the perfect match. “It was a lot of theory, but I breezed through that because I’m very inquisitive.
“You have to know how the body works…then when I got to the clinic floor I really just wanted to see if I could cut hair,” he adds. The answer was a big yes to that one. Women waited as long as they needed to to get their hair done for $10 by this student.
“‘We want to wait for AJ,’” he says people were saying as they lined up to be one of his customers. “I couldn’t keep up. Everybody wanted me!”
He knew he had found his calling when he was good at something he really enjoyed that came so easily.
“I said, ‘This is all I have to do? Just sit here and talk to pretty women and make them look good?”‘ He adds doing hair also gave him the chance to still get involved with marketing and advertising.
His first professional gig was working at a high end salon in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood – home to the city’s weathiest residents and where AJ has an apartment. He also has a house in Oak Park, a middle class suburban community that border’s Chicago’s west side.
By the time he was about 21 AJ had opened his own salon, which he describes as “small, but professional and upscale.” He says he was making 10 times more than his sisters who had gone to college. When word of his talents spread, he was hired to do print ads for major hair care companies and to work his magic on models from the top agencies, Elite and Ford.
His first famous client was supermodel Iman, then came other celebrities including Tyra Banks, Jill Scott, Mary Mary, Angela Bassett and Jennifer Hudson.
An admitted “control freak,” AJ says that when ad campaigns were involved he’d want to be in on all aspects of the project, from sitting in on focus groups to learning about the target market and doing casting. “I’m like a lie detector. When I touch a project it blows up.”
With all the opportunities available to him, AJ then had to figure out whether he wanted to work just for celebrities or ad agencies, or do something that had more to do with promoting himself. “I came out with the reality show (idea),” he says.
Nine months ago AJ introduced his own line of hair products, which will of course be featured on the show. It’s for maintenance and keeping hair healthy. “It’s very diverse and is for everybody…It’s going to give you the best hair of your life,” he says.
Asked his specialty – or exactly what it is that keeps clients coming back for more – AJ says, “My specialty is giving you the best look, that’s it. I’m really good at cutting and I’m a really good colorist.”