Lauren Perlstein

e.l.f.'s Beautyscape Contest Solidified 2020's Big Beauty Influencers

After a long day touring the most scenic neighborhoods in Nassau, Bahamas, and soaking up countless murals splashed across Bahamian buildings (and maybe a little too much sun), I'm ready to sleep for the next 12 hours. I can only imagine the 25 beauty influencers selected for e.l.f. Cosmetics' 2019 Beautyscape contest, with whom I spend this day, feel the same. But as our tour of Nassau comes to an end, the influencers' days are essentially just beginning. Their time in paradise is about to take a challenging turn — one that will solidify a select few as the next big beauty influencers to watch over the next year.

The influencers, who were selected thanks to their fierce tropical-inspired makeup looks, are on the island to compete for a chance to win $10,000 and collab with e.l.f. for their summer 2020 makeup collection. To win Beautyscape, the contestants must work with their designated teams to develop a full tropical, Bahamas-inspired makeup collection and present it to a panel of judges: Kory Marchisotto, e.l.f. CMO; Jason Wagenheim, Bustle Digital Group CRO; Alison Conlin, Target buyer; and Nam Vo, professional makeup artist.

Each team's collection must consist of at least one eyeshadow palette, face product, and lip product, and believe me when I say the contestants can leave no stone unturned. The brand tells them they must consider and present everything, from the color palettes to the textures and finishes, the graphic design, the "story" or inspiration, the marketing plan — the list goes on, and the list has to be finished in 24 hours.

After the art tour, which e.l.f. organizes to ensure participants are equipped with enough inspo to create a compelling story for their lines, stress sets in. Each team heads to their breakout room, a hotel suite complete with several notepads, Pantone color books, a graphic designer at the ready, and every e.l.f. product you could ever imagine scattered amongst the furniture. This marks the beginning of a long night for the contestants, during which feedback from e.l.f. representatives changes everything for one team: The Glam Gyals (Jessa Green, Diana Curmei, Elicia Aragon, Alissa Holmes, and Valeria Loren).

Turns out, nailing the "story" seems to be one of the hardest parts for the influencers. "The toughest feedback for our team, for me, would be [the brand] telling us to put ourselves and our narrative further into our collection," contestant Alissa Holmes tells me about her team's experience in the breakout rooms. Valeria Loren adds that the team was told they "needed to go 'deeper,'" which meant pushing their collection's emotional value even further. "We already had a solid plan for our collection but really needed to dig into why we were inspired by our collection and what it meant to us," says Loren.

While this and the rest of the e.l.f. team's feedback — the importance of a marketing plan, the need for a targeted collection rather than a general one, and the need for a uniting factor for every product — could have easily derailed a group's vision (and for some, it might have), it invigorates the Glam Gyals to push their collection as far as it can go. "I struggled with storytelling. It’s hard for me to romanticize information into a product storyline — I’m rather blunt and don’t like embellishment — but this process helped me to tell a cohesive story within the confines of a brand," says Jessa Green. "After the e.l.f. team left, it was really motivating to keep pushing, and we felt confident in our vision. I felt a sense of confirmation that we were on the right path."

The Glam Gyals are, indeed, on the right path. That much feels clear when I visit their breakout room with the e.l.f. team during the very first check-in, and, after only an hour, the team has most of their collection already conceptualized. It feels even clearer when the girls present their final collection to the judges.

Walking onto stages with their heads held high, the team opened up with a convincing intro to their collection's story — a nostalgic one that has everyone in the room reliving their past memories of paradise — the team, quite frankly, crushes it. I have chills just listening to their sheer excitement and giddiness for what they created, and I, admittedly, am a harsh makeup critic. The collection itself is sadly a secret for the time being, but for now, just know the team's on-trend eyeshadow palette and innovative face and lip products make me want to pull it off the screen and keep it the minute I see it.

Fortunately for this team, the judges feel this way, too. As all the contestants settle into a small theater, I could swear the tension in the room visibly starts to swirl. Teams reach across seats to squeeze hands and everyone lowers their heads and closes their eyes, waiting for an announcement that will change their lives. After a suspenseful 20 seconds that feels like two hours, Beautyscape emcee Frankie J. Grande announces the Glam Gyals as the winners of Beautyscape 2019.

The girls sit stunned in their seats for a long beat before eventually making their way down to Grande and sharing a strong, loving group embrace — as if they were all longtime friends. "We didn’t know each other prior to Beautyscape, so we accelerated the process of getting to know one another," says Green. "We all wrote down three to five attributes about ourselves, and we had a reoccurring theme of 'loving' and 'kind' pop up, which both really represent how we worked together." Aragon echoes this sentiment, saying, "The camaraderie was invaluable, and I made so many lifelong connections with likeminded individuals."

As the Glam Gyals pose for pictures, laugh through happy tears, and cheers their fellow contestants over a joyful, yet bittersweet dinner, I know this won't be the last we all see of each other — not only because everyone has already exchanged Insta handles, but because Beautyscape has solidified the next group of big stars. After having done what takes some brands months to do in just 24 hours, who knows what these influencers could achieve and where we'll see their faces in the near future. Peep the 2019 Beautyscape winners to watch below — they're the stars behind your next fave makeup collection.

Elicia Aragon

If you're a fan of bright, bold colors and costume makeup that makes you do a double take, you'll want to follow Aragon. The creator can transform herself into Scar from The Lion King just as easily as she can do a sunset eye, and if that's not artistry, I don't know what is.

Diana Curmei

People come to Curmei's Instagram for her clever color combinations and stunning natural complexion, and they stay for the breathtaking lifestyle shots. (A full white suit in the waves, anyone?) At 115K Instagram followers, Curmei's only getting bigger.

Jessa Green

At over 230,000 followers, Jessa Green and her Instagram have it all: classically stunning full-glam looks, tons of tutorials, and a whole load of personality. Whether she's showcasing her latest shimmery eye makeup look or trying the latest viral skincare treatment, you won't be able to look away.

Alissa Holmes

Holmes is incredibly versatile when it comes to beauty. One minute, she's rocking a bright full glam, and the next, a classic, pared-down beat takes center stage. Either way, her over 65K Instagram followers can't seem to get enough.

Valeria Loren

With over 55,000 followers on Instagram and over 100,000 subscribers on YouTube, Loren is taking the beauty industry by storm. She's consistently serving up near-constant sultry makeup looks with lashes for days and a glow so bright, it's blinding.