Who is Mezhgan Hussainy?

American Idol fans and celebrity gossip watchers have probably already heard that Simon Cowell is widely rumored to be engaged to Mezhgan Hussainy, the show’s makeup artist. (Cowell’s reps have repeatedly denied the rumors.)

Turns out that Hussainy has a back story that’s far more interesting than the biographies of any of this season’s contestants. The Los Angeles Times‘ Idol Tracker blog reports:

Mezhgan’s family escaped Afghanistan soon after the Russians invaded in 1979. They spent a year in Pakistan before immigrating to the U.S. in 1983 and settling in Los Angeles. “When we came here, I didn’t know a word of English,” Mezhgan said when I recently interviewed her for American Idol Magazine. “I learned to speak the language, to understand the culture and how to fit in.”

Having gotten her start working behind the makeup counter at an LA department store, Hussainy now owns a makeup line of her own, me by (me)zghan. Just a glance at Husseiny’s official company bio shows how deeply she’s been affected by her family’s history. It begins:

“Just keep running and don’t stop.”

Those were the words my mother shouted as we fled Afghanistan, when I was just 8 years old. I knew we were headed for a better life, but I had no idea what was in store. That journey changed my life forever and I carry my mother’s words with me through my life and into career, to this day.

As she told Idol Tracker, “The irony for me is that, in my country, once the Taliban took over, women couldn’t even show their face or put on makeup. And here I was doing exactly that on the No. 1 show. I realized how important that was; [Makeup] is part of being a woman, and it does give you self-assurance and confidence. In a way, you’re ready to conquer the world.”

Update: Hussainy did a video interview with AmericanIdol.com in 2008. She talks about Afghanistan at 2:15.