Dean Banowetz has earned the right to drop names. So when the DeWitt, Iowa, native talked to fellow hairdressers Monday at the Salon Luce Academy in Davenport, mentioning the likes of Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell and Leeza Gibbons, it was as clients and co-workers and not as celebrities.
Banowetz, billed as the "Hollywood Hair Guy," was back in the area for a 90th birthday celebration for his mother, Sally, along with his 14 siblings. He spoke to about two dozen stylists about his work on TV series "American Idol," "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance," showing them some of the tricks he uses to keep stars' hair indestructible for live performances.
"My career, I swear, is all about figuring it out and trying to MacGyver it," Banowetz said, frequently evoking the name of the problem-solving TV character.
A U.S. Army veteran and former owner of several hair salons in the Quad-Cities, said that 16 years ago he decided to try working for TV and movies.
"My goal was to do a Farm & Fleet commercial in Iowa," he said.
After taking classes in California for motion picture hair design, he was called to apply for a job with the TV magazine "Extra." Banowetz survived a host change and crew purge, which brought Gibbons into the co-hosting job.
When Seacrest appeared on the show, "it looked like he had a blond toupee on top," Banowetz said, and he made changes in the personality's hair color and tamed Seacrest's naturally curly hair. It so pleased Seacrest that he included in his contract that Banowetz be his hairdresser.
That included "American Idol," where Banowetz tried to tame what he called the "chunky highlights" of Clarkson — herself a hairdresser and the first "Idol" winner — so much so that he received dozens of phone calls from the media about starting a new trend.
After seven seasons of "Idol," he joined "Dancing with the Stars" in the spring of 2012, where one of his first celebrities was "Little House on the Prairie" star Melissa Gilbert. Banowetz also designed the hair for this spring's winner, Rumer Willis, and told his hairdresser audience of the challenges of working with her hair, a Mohawk on the top and shaved on the sides.
"MacGyver," Banowetz said, "what the hell would he do?"
Banowetz is part of a crew of eight hairdressers for "Dancing," he said, alongside the first Oscar winner for hair design and another hairdresser with armloads of Emmys.
The 49-year-old was nominated for his first Emmys — twice — last season as members of the hair team for "Dancing" and "So You Think You Can Dance." He attended the Creative Arts Emmy Awards with his brother, Leon, who remembered how Dean would braid cow's tails on their parents farm outside DeWitt and encouraged him to go into hairdressing.
"It was very surreal," he said of the ceremonies. "I lost to 'Saturday Night Live.' I never thought I would have said that in my entire life."
Hired to handle the hair for Perry's dancers for the American Music Awards last year with an Oriental theme, he found a friend who designed the hair for the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha" and cut wigs into what he called "Tootsie Rolls" for the male dancers.
Perry, Banowetz said, cornered him and told him she wanted him to be involved with her on future projects.
"I always want to over-deliver," he said.
Banowetz is returning to "American Idol" this spring for the show's final season, as well as next summer's edition of "Dancing with the Stars." He also is designing hair for an NBC kids talent contest called "Little Big Shots."
Sporting a full, large 2½-year growth of beard, Banowetz also has become an on-camera personality and entrepreneur. He and two associates developed the InStyler professional rotating iron, the newest model of which he demonstrated for the students Monday.
Banowetz said he was apprehensive to appear on camera for the first time to sell the InStyler on the QVC home shopping channel.
"I'm an Amazon Sasquatch. I'm a big, hairy dude. How is anyone gonna buy anything from me?" he asked. The first time the product was on QVC, it sold out in 7½ minutes, and he has now appeared on home shopping channels in 28 countries.
DaMel Smith, owner of Salon Luce with her husband, Craig, said her salon wanted to add an educational component so stylists could learn from each other rather than compete.
"We try to bring them all together to keep getting inspiration from each other in this very competitive business. We want to change that to make it more of a collaboration," Smith said. "We can help each other out and raise the bar for stylists in general."
Before speaking to the stylists, Banowetz said that growing up on a farm in the Midwest gave him a firm work ethic that he doesn't always see in Los Angeles.
"I think that is a huge, huge component of my success," said Banowetz, most of whose eight-person staff are Midwesterners. "Half the battle is getting them to show up and hoping they're talented.
"We all can do hair. But it's your personality, your attention to detail and how you react to different situations that sets you apart from everyone else."