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Political Makeup Artist Uses Position To Highlight Heroin Crisis


When a presidential candidate goes on television for an interview or a debate, they wear makeup. And it turns out there are makeup artists who specialize in politicians. As part of our series Snapshots 2016, NPR's Tamara Keith introduces us to a makeup artist from New Hampshire who is blending advocacy with her craft.

KRISS BLEVINS: My name is Kriss Blevins. I'm owner of Kriss Cosmetics in Manchester, N.H., and I'm a national, political and media makeup artist.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: If you've been a candidate in New Hampshire, chances are you've sat in Kriss Blevins' chair - Romney, Obama, McCain, Bush - father and son and other son - Clinton - Husband and Wife. You get the idea.

BLEVINS: OK. let's put this cape around you. You don't want to get any makeup on the beautiful outfit.

KEITH: Blevins was doing my makeup for a TV appearance, so I interviewed her while she worked. She got her start in political makeup back in 1991 and very much by chance. Her husband at the time happened to strike up a conversation with Pat Buchanan's campaign manager in a men's room.

BLEVINS: My ex-husband said, well, my wife does makeup if you ever need a makeup artist. And he said, we need one tomorrow. And that would be the cover of Newsweek magazine, and that was my first makeup gig politically.

KEITH: Blevins worked as Buchanan's makeup artist for that campaign and developed relationships with CNN and NBC along the way.

BLEVINS: And through those two networks - painted every presidential candidate in that election, and it's been that way ever since.

KEITH: Blevins tells me this election cycle is different for her. As she paints every face in the race, she's using her intimate minutes with candidates to raise awareness about the heroin and opioid crisis ravaging the state of New Hampshire and beyond.

BLEVINS: Amber was my stepdaughter.

KEITH: Amber was 22 years old and died of a heroin overdose shortly after Easter in 2014.

BLEVINS: She was found in an alley in Manchester, N.H.

KEITH: Just two weeks later, Kriss Blevins was back at work doing makeup for the state's politicians who were running for reelection that year.

BLEVINS: I'm in grief, so of course, I'm doing makeup, and they're asking me how I'm doing. And I'm falling apart while doing makeup, crying and telling them about this. And I started talking about it.

KEITH: And she suddenly realized the power of her makeup chair. She had a captive audience.

You get a candidate sitting down in the makeup chair. How does this work?

BLEVINS: (Laughter) So how do you feel about the heroin epidemic?

KEITH: You just ask.

BLEVINS: I do. I come right out. In the beginning of the election, they were like, what; what do you mean, heroin epidemic? I'm like, we'll, let me tell you; let me tell you the story about my stepdaughter Amber.

KEITH: She did the makeup for Bernie Sanders before last month's Democratic debate. When the heroin epidemic came up as a debate question, Blevins swears she could hear her influence in the answers, but her influence was more visible in another way. Blevins says she was able to tame Sanders notoriously wild hair.

BLEVINS: I told it to him straight. I said, look it; we've got to make you look like a president, OK? So let me work my magic, and trust me. And he did.

KEITH: Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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