Kandee’s Sweet Taste of Victory
It is said that people finally make a change in their life for one of two fundamental reasons: either out of INSPIRATION or DESPERATION. For Kandee Johnson it was a healthy mixture of both. Ten years ago the divorced & unemployed single mother of three posted her first makeup tutorial to a website known almost entirely for its cat videos. Little did she know at the time that this tiny act would set in motion a chain of events that would catapult her to the forefront of the beauty industry and change her life forever.
Nearly a decade later Kandee is now a classic case study in how to use the power of online communities to build your own personal brand. Not only has she launched her own line of beauty products, but she’s parlayed her popularity into film and television as well – voicing a character in Trolls alongside Justin Timberlake and Zooey Deschanel, and just last month, debuting her own Lifetime television show, Glam Masters, produced by Kim Kardashian West.
She also recently celebrated crossing the 4 million subscriber mark, making her self-produced YouTube channel more-watched than many small cable networks. It’s a far cry from where she was on that fateful day ten years ago.
“I was in a difficult point in my career. I had just finished going through a divorce, and my mom who would help me with the kids had just moved away.” Kandee got married at 17 and had the first of her four children shortly thereafter. In the beginning she would take her son to beauty school and onto set with her, but as the brood grew, that became more difficult.
I became a makeup artist because I wanted to make people FEEL beautiful
“Working as a makeup artist is hard because you’re there long hours and I was turning down badly needed work because I had no one to watch the kids. I was in a really frustrated and terrible place, actually.”
But out of this frustration, a glimmer of hope emerged. When a friend showed her a makeup video by Lauren Luke, she had one of those life-changing epiphanies that often slip by us if we don’t stop to take notice – and then of course, act upon them. Luckily, she did.
“I’d never seen somebody doing something so carefully thought out on YouTube… I thought it was brilliant.” She saw something that she herself could do, that she wanted to do. “You know, for everybody that ever sat in my [makeup] chair saying, ‘I wish I knew how to do eyebrows, I wish I knew how to do foundation,’ and I always felt like, ‘I wish I could teach you!’ And this was sort of a revelation – I can actually teach them!”
At the time there were no famous YouTubers. No one believed that there was any money to be made. For most it was a wasteland of kids entertaining each other with disposable videos that lacked any real merit or cohesion. But for Johnson, it was something much different – it was therapy.
“I didn’t know where it would go – I was just excited to teach people. To be honest, it was a very lonely time in my life, I don’t think I had many friends…” Her voice trails off as if she’s putting herself back in that time and place, before quickly re-collecting herself. “When I started on YouTube, I suddenly felt like I had friends. You know people were responding and interacting and I was like ‘I’ve got friends and they like what I’m sharing!’ It was a great outlet because I’ve always loved teaching.”
And she’s good at it. Through the years, she’s evolved from creative cheerleader and confidante to young women everywhere into a powerhouse brand showcasing creative mastery of the art of makeup. Three years and 32 million views later, people are still watching her Barbie transformation tutorial every day, trying to emulate the other-wordly effects Kandee coaxes out of her makeup brush.
Along the way she’s also developed a keen eye for what it takes to make it as professional in an industry overflowing with competition. There are thousands of makeup artists in Los Angeles with new ones popping up every day. How do you stand apart?
“Your craft really has to be mastered. There are people that really look at makeup as an art. They study facial features, they study lighting, they even study ingredients and how they interact with the skin. Those are the artists that celebrities want to work with. And it comes with your style – how you carry yourself, how you dress, how you interact. It’s a creative field so everything should show that creativity. It could even be from your hair to your outfit. That’s your image, your brand, what you’re selling. This is your creativity, what you’re capable of. Always standing out and being who you are – it’s part of the package, you know?”
But giving career advice is only one aspect of the gig. It’s clear Kandee has a very special relationship with her fans even now, responding to them, supporting them, and encouraging them through her various social channels and in-person appearances. Part of her success is that she cares more about the person in the chair than the person doing the makeup.
“The reason that I got into makeup in the first place was I liked how it made somebody feel more than how it looked. I always say that makeup is what unlocks your inner self-confidence to come out. You’re not looking at your face all day but you FEEL beautiful.
“And the number of times where I’ve worked on women who have never had makeup on, and they say, ‘For the first time in my life I feel like I look beautiful,’ – I mean tears would be coming down THEIR eyes, tears would be coming down MY eyes. That’s an amazing gift.”
- What is an important fact about yourself that isn’t on the internet?
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit since I was small. I was always starting businesses and making business cards and handing them out. I started a jewelry company and then I’d make jewelry; I’d pretend I had a photography company; and then I would do these drawings and I would nail them to our front tree to show my drawings to the neighbors.”
- What is the most valuable piece of advice your parents ever taught you?
I love my dad he always told me his favorite game was Make Today Better Than Yesterday. No matter what happened yesterday make today better than that. And he always taught me, ‘Always leave people that you’ve been around better off for having been in your presence. Always make people feeling better after they encountered you.’ My mom taught me that love is the most powerful place you can speak from for anything that you’re going to say to anybody. Always make sure that it’s coming from a loving place and you’ll never regret anything that you say or communicate when you do that.
- What is the BEST thing about being Kandee Johnson?
Oh man, I think the best thing is that I love getting to do something that I love doing. I love making people happy. I love making people feel beautiful. I love encouraging and inspiring people. And the fact that I get to do this… sometimes I just sit there and it’s unreal to me. I’ve had some terrible, crappy jobs in life and I’m like so glad I don’t have to do those anymore.
- What is the WORST thing about being Kandee Johnson?
Not having enough time in the day. A 48-hour day is what I need because I feel like, no matter what, I never get to everything, and my only time for a break is like, in the shower.
- What fictional character do you most closely align yourself with?
That’s a really tricky one…you know I did like Punky Brewster. I was like Punky Brewster when I was a kid because I dress weird. Kind of goofy, kind of a tomboy. I loved colorful things, and was a little spunky. I guess I’d feel like that, and maybe Anne from Anne of Green Gables. She was alone a lot, she didn’t have a lot of friends, and was off in her own little world that she created. So a mixture of Anne from Anne of Green Gables and Punky Brewster.