The School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate and former city resident is a producer and judge on "Skin Wars" — a Game Show Network competition starring Romijn as host and RuPaul as a fellow judge.
"Skin Wars" premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
"I always believed in myself and felt like anything was possible," said Barcus-Slonina, whose art career was developed in several Chicago neighborhoods before she moved to Las Vegas and founded Skin City Body Painting. "I'm so excited. It's honestly like a big dream come true."
Justin Breen dishes on the Chicago native behind the reality competition show, "Skin Wars":
The "Skin Wars" website describes the show as a group of 10 body-painting contestants — among the "most talented and versatile body painters in the country" — testing "their creativity, talent and techniques as they participate in a series of challenges that all promise amazing reveals."
Over eight hour-long episodes, the contestants will be whittled down to three finalists, with the winner receiving "a cash prize and a career launching opportunity."
Romijn was the first model to be body painted for Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. Fellow judge and drag legend RuPaul is a "master of transformation" with makeup, Barcus-Slonina said, while a third judge, Craig Tracy, is an award-winning body painter.
"Of course I know Rebecca as an impressive actress and model, but who knew she was also brainy and hilarious?" Barcus-Slonina said. "This is an art form close to her heart and it really shows on 'Skin Wars.'"
Barcus-Slonina said she considered RuPaul "an icon."
"Ru is always a gentleman — on camera and off. The whole crew loved him. I just felt lucky to get to sit next to him," Barcus-Slonina said. "He has so much experience in show business and brings it all to the table on 'Skin Wars.' He was also great at keeping the energy up during long shooting days."
Barcus-Slonina, 43, moved to Rogers Park when she was 18 after graduating from Glenbrook North High School in suburban Northbrook. On the Far North Side, she worked as a waitress at Heartland Cafe and rode the Red Line to and from the School of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago Downtown.
She graduated in a class of 200, the smallness of the school embodied in a sculpture class that took place in a dark hallway under the Goodman Theatre.
She then lived in Wicker Park at the beginning of its gentrification and rented her three-bedroom apartment for less than $400 a month. Within five years, she watched "the whole neighborhood just blow up and change" and price her out of the market, so she left for Logan Square.
"That was a beautiful neighborhood, with beautiful boulevards and Palmer Square Park," Barcus-Slonina said of Logan Square.
She was in Chicago for most of her 20s, creating and organizing the painting of murals, including ones that still exist at Catholic Charities, the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center and Buona Terra restaurant in Logan Square.
"Every time I go back to Chicago, I eat there because I'm addicted to the garlic spread they bring out with the bread," she said.
Barcus-Slonina traveled the country for her next art project — making "State of Dress" sculptures from used dresses.
While she was in Las Vegas in the mid-2000s, she went on a blind date with Jimmy Slonina, who grew up near Midway and has appeared in numerous hits on the Strip, including Cirque Du Soleil. They quickly fell in love and were married a year later. They now have a 4-year-old son, Leo, and live a short drive from the Stratosphere casino.
Barcus-Slonina founded Skin City Body Painting in 2006. The company treats the human body as a canvas, with any design — from college football uniforms to comic book heroes — possible.
"It’s almost like a primal need that humans have to decorate ourselves — whether it’s piercing our ears or putting on makeup," Barcus-Slonina said. "Body paint just follows in that tradition yet takes it to a new level."
Barcus-Slonina had the "Skin Wars" idea in her head for five years before she met the right teammates in executive producers Michael Levitt and Jill Goularte.
"I wanted people that had integrity and intelligence," said Barcus-Slonina, who serves as a producer and judge on the show. "The three of us then sat down and conceived it."
Barcus-Slonina will watch the premiere show from downtown Las Vegas' Inspire Theatre, while her sister, Uptown resident Dawn Barcus, is throwing a local screening party for family and friends at Chop Shop & 1st Ward in Wicker Park.
"To be able to make a living doing what she loves is wonderful. I am so proud of her," Dawn Barcus said. "To see her on TV is going to be so exciting. I know she'll do great."
Said Barcus-Slonina: "I’m so impressed with all of Chicago’s support that I’ve gotten throughout the years. The fact that there will be a party in Chicago for my Midwestern friends adds a little sweetness to the whole experience."
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