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NKU Grad Takes Home Third Emmy, Reflects on SNL Success

By Cara Hannah Sullivan
Special to KyForward (a partner publication)

Editor’s note: How many Kentuckians watching the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards a few weeks ago realized they were watching another Bluegrass champion, Cara Hannah Sullivan, who won her third consecutive Emmy for “Outstanding Hairstyling for A Multi-Camera Series or Special?” Sullivan, a 2000 graduate of Northern Kentucky University in theater arts, is the hairstylist for Saturday Night Live.
This time, the 37-year-old brought along her 11-year-old daughter, Rachel, and Ryan Clark of NKU marketing and communications asked her to describe her experience and answer questions like: who does your hair? what is it like when you hear your name called again? when do you get a chance to go to the bathroom? Read below her response:

My night at the Emmys

In 2000, I got my bachelor of fine arts in theatre arts. NKU inspired my love of theater, which led to film and television! NKU allowed me to explore the many different areas of theatrical design and production and develop a real appreciation for the hard work each department – props, makeup, costumes, set design, writers, lighting, etc. – puts into the final product. And when the audience – whether 25 people or seven million people – claps and cheers with approval, that’s when you know you did OK!

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Sullivan and her daughter Rachel on the red carpet outside the Emmy Awards ceremony (Photo from Cara Hannah Sullivan)


Now I am a hairstylist at Saturday Night Live, which means in four days, we create over 80 different hairstyles, most of which are wigs.

Each week, original hair designs can include anything from turn-of-the-century dog-walkers to Mid-American airplane passengers with Mohawks. We also do hair replications of celebrities, politicians, athletes, news personalities – the list goes on.
Average wig application time is 90 seconds during the live broadcast every Saturday night. Some of the coolest people I have met are: Betty White; Josh Hutcherson – who is from Northern Kentucky, by the way; Justin Timberlake; naturally, Jim Parsons; Lena Dunham; Louis CK and the list goes on.
On top of SNL, I have the privilege of working at Late Night with Seth Meyersassisting in the hair room. I have always said that if SNL ever goes out-of-business, I’d love to work for a late-night talk show.
There is nothing like winning an Emmy for the very first time. It is the most unbelievable feeling.

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Sullivan styles her daughter’s hair just the way Rachel said she wanted it. (Photo from Cara Hannah Sullivan)

When you win a second time, you are shocked. But a third time?! It’s stunning and there are no words to describe that moment. Well, except maybe asking to see the envelope to make sure there wasn’t a mistake.
One of the coolest things about this year was that I got to share my Emmy win with my 11-year-old daughter, Rachel.
I always do my own hair and makeup. It’s a whole process! My husband will tell you that the magic starts happening in the hotel bathroom around 11 a.m. He pretty much vacates the premises until I am in the last stages of my Emmy transformation.
The first year I came to the Emmys, I brought tons and tons of hair products. But now, I have it down to a science: Travel size hairspray, UNITE Expanda Dust, UNITE Beach Day texturizing spray, wide-tooth comb, teasing brush, BaByliss travel hairdryer and a small curling iron.
I also got to do Rachel’s hair, which was a real treat for me. She knew exactly how she wanted to look for the Emmys: Braided hair on top, curls hanging down the back and small sparkly hairpins strategically placed throughout the braid. Voila!
She told me that she felt beautiful and that she was happy to have a mom that did awesome hair. Insert a small tear of happiness here.

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Rachel holds her mother’s third Emmy. (Photo by Cara Hannah Sullivan)

When Natasha Lyonne – from Orange is the New Black – announced that the winner for Outstanding Hairstyling for a Multi-Camera Series or Special was the team from Saturday Night Live, I had a slight out-of-body moment. But then I jumped right up and mustered my way through the audience – we were buried deep – and jolted to the stage.

If you are fortunate enough to have won your category, you only get 40 seconds from the moment your name is called to sprint up the stage, give your acceptance speech, then you are forced off the stage with the Sanford and Sontheme song if you go over. We went over!
A little backstage information: After you have received your Emmy and have given your acceptance speech, you are whisked off stage where you must turn over your “display model” Emmy. Then you are asked to give small interviews with Yahoo, E!and other news affiliates. Finally, you are taken to the trophy room where you sign your name in the Emmy recipient book, receive your actual Emmy and pose for a series of official Emmy pictures.
And that is where the bathroom picture comes into play. Our Emmy category is 45 minutes into the ceremony. Calculate the celebratory drinks before hand, the excitement of the day and those SPANX you have been wearing since 2 p.m. … well, it really puts things into perspective.

I nearly slammed in to Jon Voight as he was coming out of the men’s room.
It’s really just unbelievable to win an Emmy three times – in a row! I don’t think any of us saw that coming.

This article originally appeared in Inside NKU

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