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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Amazing Grays

Reader poll: When you see gray hair, what does it signal?

By Robin Abcarian
Los Angeles Times

Taylor Hicks, graying at 29, charmed the "American Idol" audience of millions into voting for him over his brighter-haired rivals.

Advertiser file photo

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Emmy Lou Harris | singer

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Anderson Cooper | news anchor

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Halle Berry | as Storm in “X-Men”

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Are those gray roots in the Jennifer Lopez tresses at a New York museum gala last month? Or just the lighting?

DIANE BONDAREFF | Associated Press

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In the afterglow of his win, the newest American Idol, 29-year-old Taylor Hicks, took questions after the show. Inevitably, the subject of his unusual hair color was broached: "I didn't have any idea that America would embrace gray hair as much as they have," he told reporters.

Gee, where on Earth would he have gotten the idea that America doesn't embrace gray hair? Could it have crossed his mind when he was told early on by Simon Cowell that he was too gray to be the American Idol? Or maybe because the culture is anaphylactically allergic to the concept of aging gracefully?

For baby boomers, whose fights against gravity, graying hair and growing waistlines have been chronicled relentlessly, it must be refreshing to see an older-looking guy conquer the aggressively youthful "American Idol" stage.

"I strongly feel that Taylor's hair was part of his charm and individuality, and I am very happy that he kept it after rumors that he was going to dye it," said Alexandra Seuthe, who lives in Las Vegas and writes an enjoyably catty blog about celebrity hair don'ts (www.badhairday.typepad.com.) "His hair and his talents are authentic — and I think that is why he won."

The prematurely gray-haired man seems to cycle in and out of fashion (although the distressingly high percentage of gray-haired men who insist on being called Silver Fox has remained stable).

While the evolution of Richard Gere from brunet hunk to silver-haired hunk sometime in the last decade may have started the trend, and certainly no story about graying hotties is complete without a mention of George Clooney, it is cable newsman Anderson Cooper who must shoulder the mantle of poster boy of this particular mini-trend.

The 39-year-old CNN anchor, whose steely blue eyes and even steelier hair are featured on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine this month, has a fine sense of humor about his hair, which has been graying since he was a teenager.

In 2003, in Details magazine, Cooper wrote that he had trouble accepting that his hair is gray, and for a long time thought of it as salt-and-pepper before realizing, alas, that it's all salt. But there really isn't a downside here. "In the TV news business," he writes, "gray equals gravitas. In fact, in just about any line of work being prematurely gray is an advantage."

Unless, of course, as Cooper points out in his essay, you're a woman. "When was the last time you saw a sexy gray-haired woman in a movie?" he asks.

How about the unfairly toothsome Halle Berry of "X-Men: The Last Stand," whose character, Storm, has shaggy gray hair? (Even her co-star Anna Paquin has a Susan Sontag-ish waterfall of gray in her long dark mane.) And what about the hotly anticipated movie "The Devil Wears Prada" starring a gorgeously gray-coiffed Meryl Streep as a satanic fashion editrix? Or Jonathan Demme's Neil Young concert flick, "Heart of Gold," featuring Emmylou Harris, 59, who has been gray for years and is the best-looking backup singer you ever saw?

"If it encourages other women to say, 'I can do that too,' that's great," Harris once said about her decision not to dye her hair. "We earned those gray hairs!"

(Small, possibly depressing, thought: If you look like Emmylou Harris or Richard Gere, perhaps letting your hair turn gray is an easier step to take than if you look like, well, you.)

Carmine Hogan, who owns Salon Vox in Santa Monica, Calif., said it's not uncommon for men in their mid-30s or early 40s to ask her to add a little something gray around the temples. "You know how you go to a young doctor, and you say, 'Oh, my God, how old are you?' These guys want to have a mature look so people feel 'OK, this guy has a little experience under his belt.' "

However, in her quarter-century of experience, said Hogan, not a single woman has ever asked for grayer hair.

But just about everyone (with the exception of Mike Wallace, who did not begin to go gray until sometime after his eleventy-hundredth birthday) starts to go gray around middle age.

And Johnathan Gale, a colorist at the Sally Hershberger at John Frieda salon in Los Angeles, thinks the world would be a happier place if his clients — especially his women clients — didn't try to fight the effects of age so hard.

"Women agonize more than ever," he said. He encourages his clients to add highlights and lowlights to blend their gray, rather than cover it entirely, which is expensive and time-consuming. In less than two weeks, he said, they can start to see a halo of gray at their roots, and they rush back for more color.

Which brings us to Jennifer Lopez, a nicely aging 36-year-old megastar, who was photographed recently with her hair parted down the middle and a good inch of what stylists call "regrowth" showing.

Lopez's brown roots were speckled with gray, the renegade hairs shooting off at angles from the head.

The change in her grooming set off rumors of a pregnancy, since women are sometimes advised to avoid harsh chemicals in their first trimester of pregnancy.

In Hollywood, though, it's probably more acceptable to announce you're going into drug rehab than that you have gray hair.

"Her hair is not gray," a Lopez rep insisted to US Weekly. "It's the lighting." ("No," said blogger Seuthe, "it's not the lighting. It's gray.")

Andy Sternberg is a 31-year-old journalism graduate student at the University of Southern California whose natural hair color is a light reddish brown.

He started graying in high school and he estimates he is now about 50 percent gray. He dyes his hair because if he let it go gray, he'd look like "a human Q-tip ... and that's not the look I'm going for."

"If I was going salt and pepperish — like Taylor Hicks," he said, "it would probably be a different story."