Tovar clipped. Tovar snipped. Tovar flipped, and Tovar dipped. And, when the world-renowned "stylist to the stars" ended his marathon session with about 10 delinquent girls at San Diego County Juvenile Hall, he hoped he had cut away more than just hair.
"I want to help them get rid of the low sense of self-esteem some of them have," said Tovar, 29, a Beverly Hills coiffeur who has styled the hair of superstars such as Tina Turner and Dolly Parton. "I want to give them incentive to better themselves. When someone looks better, she feels better about herself."
For more than three hours Monday, Tovar shared that philosophy with each of the 13- to 17-year-old girls who stepped up for a make-over by Tovar's assistant, Paul Premo, and a free hairdo by the famous stylist himself.
Tovar's ideas seemed to catch on with those on the receiving end of the coifs.
"He's right. It makes me feel better to look like this," said Tina, 17, a Southeast San Diego resident serving more than two months for allegedly participating in a sexual assault. "It's different, way different from the way I used to make myself up. When I get out, I'm going to try to keep (the hair style) up."
Lightly fondling the new queue that dangled from a patch of jet hair, Tina acknowledged that many of the girls were unimpressed by the first announcement of Tovar's visit.
"We didn't know who he was," she said. "I didn't really care. But now it's exciting. Everybody is excited. It's better than being in class."
Officials coordinating the session agreed. Homework is but fodder for the mind. Perhaps the session with Tovar, they said, would go much deeper.
"I think it has the potential to starting some of the ladies to feeling differently," said Cecil Steppe, chief probation officer at the hall. "Hopefully, it will stay in their hearts and begin to have a long-lasting effect on their lives."
Like Tovar and the girls, Steppe said he, too, believes in the hairdresser's maxim.
"I think that, when you look good, you feel good," he said. "And when you feel good, you behave better."
Tovar, who was born in San Diego and grew up in Poway, agreed to the benefit session because he felt he could aid the girls by sharing both his talent and elements of his own past.
"I can understand what many of them have experienced and are experiencing," he said. "My life was very chaotic. Even though I was appearing with the vice president (George Bush) and going to the Grammys with Tanya Tucker, I got caught up in freebasing cocaine. I lost a lot of money and almost lost my business.
"I want to show these kids that you can bounce back. It just takes the realization that you are important."
Added Premo, Tovar's assistant and a native of Oceanside: "There was no hesitation on our part to do this. This is something very close to my heart. I know it's getting increasingly hard to grow up, and I can sympathize with what these kids go through. It's an honor and a pleasure to be here."
Premo and Tovar said they were approached with the idea by a probation officer.
"We were in a seminar together when I told him about the idea," said Linda Bell, the probation officer, who also has modeled for Tovar. "He said it would be great, and that he'd love to come. At first I thought he was just saying that. I mean, he has such a busy schedule."
Bell said she was surprised at Tovar's willingness to lend his services to the girls.
After all, she noted, he is part-owner of Tovar's, a 6,000-square-foot salon in Beverly Hills where he works to keep many of the entertainment industry's top performers well-groomed.
'But He's Very Nice'
Tovar has also been featured on the Oprah Winfrey talk show and has created such "dos" as the one Tina Turner wore in the movie "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome."
"But he's very nice," said Bell. "Both he and Paul are warm and sincere people."
The participating girls, chosen according to how well they behaved, picked up on a bit more.
"He dresses really nice, and he's cute," said Lori, 17, as she awaited her turn with Tovar. "I just hope he can do my hair good. I don't want any style like the movie stars. I want my own."
Tovar, who preaches individuality in hair styles, said he was willing to accommodate most of the requests of his new "clients."
"I'll always ask them what they think," he said. "I want them to be happy. I am the stylist, but they are the clients."
Still, Tovar said his versatility was hampered because girls in the facility are not allowed to use hair dryers.
The Wash-and-Wear Type
"Most of the styles will be the wash-and-wear type," Tovar said as he smeared mousse into one girl's hair. "An actress would require a more controlled look. She would have to maintain it more."
Nonetheless, most of the girls seemed glad simply to be able to place their follicles in Tovar's hands.
"It makes me feel neat to have him do my hair," said 15-year-old Vicky, a Livonia, Mich., native. "I can walk back to my friends, and they're talking about the places where they got their hair done, and I can say, 'I got mine done by Tovar.' That's cool."
But even the "stylist to the stars," the man whose $1,500 cuts may dent the purses of even the creme de la creme of Hollywood, can have his critics.
"I don't like it; it's too puffy," said Jackie, 16, who was trying to tug her blonde mane back into a ponytail even as Tovar was completing his work on it. "I'm used to having it straight. But it was too straight, so I asked him to fix it. Now it's just too puffy.
"And, oh yeah, I wouldn't pay all that money for a haircut, either," she said. "I like him, but I'd rather just get a haircut for $8 from Supercuts. That's what I'm used to doing."