Since joining Queer Eye in 2018, the reboot’s Fab Five have been through a whirlwind of success, seeing the series become just as much of a pop culture phenomenon as the original Bravo series, while embracing the opportunity to effect real change in the world. For the quintet, who saw the show win three Emmys in its first year on the air, the streak continued just this week, as Queer Eye led all winners at the inaugural Critics’ Choice Real TV Awards.
Created by David Collins, the Netflix reality series features five “make better” masters—food and wine expert Antoni Porowski, fashion expert Tan France, culture and lifestyle expert Karamo Brown, design expert Bobby Berk, and grooming expert Jonathan Van Ness—who set out to the South, and then the Midwest, to help everyday people of all stripes live their best lives. While the series will continue to contend at the Emmys for Outstanding Structured Reality Program, among other awards, this year, the Fab Five will also be up for consideration as hosts.
With a Japan-set mini-season of Queer Eye on the way, the hosts discuss the personal challenges they set for themselves during production on Season 3, leaning into vulnerability, and taking their message of kindness, love and acceptance all the way to Washington, D.C.
What has it been like for you all to see your Queer Eye reboot become the success that it is?
Jonathan Van Ness: It has been a truly awe-inspiring experience for all of us, I think. The five of us haven’t seen each other for two or three weeks, so to have all five of us together now, doing this cute panel and being able to celebrate the success of the show, and what we put into it as hosts, is really special. We’re excited to be together, and not to be overdramatic, but frankly, it’s really been the honor of a lifetime to have the show be the success that it’s been.
After two seasons in Atlanta, you made your way to Kansas City for Season 3. What was on your mind, going into the latest season?
Tan France: I won’t speak for the group, but for me personally, I will say that I don’t treat the location differently. Geography wasn’t my concern. I only wanted to find a way to be even more open and vulnerable. I was actually quite guarded in Season 1 and Season 2, because I didn’t know what the edit would be, and how much I wanted to share with the world at the time. Being so public was so new to me, so I really wanted to say to the world that I was a lot more vulnerable, and I think that helped me [in] the show, that I was able to share what I wanted to.
Karamo Brown: I think something else that we all did when we went into Season 3, especially as five hosts, was that we felt very much more confident in our skill sets, making sure that along with the vulnerability that we were bringing, we were also perfecting what we did to really have more profound makeovers, and doing the best that we could to really see that our heroes—which is what we call the individuals that we help—could really succeed for the long run. I think the producers and the network really encouraged us to show more of our skills, more of our talents, and what brought us to this place as hosts, so that the show can be even better and more of a success.
Bobby Berk: For me, as the host that probably wasn’t on Season 1 and 2 as often, it never made sense for me to go on field trips with my brothers or be around, because I was working on the house. When Season 2 came out, I was like, “Oh! I see. I’m the host that doesn’t get seen as much, because I was working on the house.” So for me, it was letting myself take the opportunity to go with my brothers on field trips, and take the hero shopping, and spend more time with the heroes. Because I’d kind of looked at my category as a host as the one that was working on the house, and not really anything as much to do with our hero. But I was really glad for Season 3 that I put my work to the side sometimes, and spent more time with the heroes, and really had more of a personal connection with them.
Season 3 presented another diverse, memorable assortment of heroes. Could you talk a bit about the episodes or aspects of this season that were most memorable to you?
Antoni Porowski: One is certainly the fact that we were able to have our first African American lesbian. At the end of the day, I think with every single hero, their stories are so different. But it was just so lovely to continue the message of the [show], bringing down the fact that we’re all more similar than we are different. That’s something that we mentioned in Season 1, but I think that just continues to be a theme, and it doesn’t matter where we end up in the world or in the country. Those stories are always going to continue to be interesting, the more that our heroes open up to us.
With Season 3, I think you actually saw all five of us open up about things that are going on in our own life. We’ve gotten a lot more comfortable, and started sharing more about ourselves. I think that’s just going to hopefully continue to evolve, and as hosts, I think that is something that we take very seriously.
On the show, we’ve seen all five of you connect with your heroes on a deep emotional level. What has been your approach in getting to that place with people you’ve just met?
Porowski: I’ll start this one off with a little anecdote; God knows, I love an anecdote. There were parts of my life that I actually didn’t want to discuss. My sexuality was something that I felt was very sacred and private, and I told myself that I wasn’t going to talk about it on the show. But bringing it back to Season 1, when we met AJ [Brown] and he was talking about what coming out was like for him, and how he viewed himself as a gay male, I realized very quickly that for him to share so much of his personal story with five complete strangers, it’s only fair that I reciprocated that with sharing about my own story.
I think that’s something that continues to hold true, because they’re meeting people that they don’t know. It’s a little different now, because some of the heroes have seen us on the show and have a bit of an idea. But especially in Atlanta, I think it was a really good teaching lesson in going forward, because they had no idea who we were. A lot of the heroes had never even heard of the show, and we were complete strangers. For them to open up, we have to be willing to do the exact same in return, because it’s a conversation. As hosts, I think we have to know that we’re not there [to] be too preachy. It’s very much this symbiotic, two-way thing that’s going on.
Has accommodating each heroes’ tastes and unique qualities, while agreeing to take their style up to the next level, always been an easy balance to strike?
France: We never push our own agendas, because the show truly isn’t about us. It’s about us being willing to put our agendas aside to help our heroes, and I think we do that beautifully as hosts. As five very unique hosts, we have very unique skill sets, so each of us gravitates towards an individual hero. You must notice when you’re watching the show that every episode, one us will have this very strong connection with the hero, and that’s usually based on an area of their life that they really struggle with. Whether it be grooming, fashion or food, before the episode even starts to film, we [try to] make sure that they’re benefiting truly in that area of their life. It truly is based on who they are, and the life that they actually want.
As you mentioned, each of you comes to Queer Eye with your own particular set of skills. Have there been things that you each have picked up from one another along the way?
France: Jonathan has taught me about things that I never knew. For example, green [concealer] sticks. I think it’s genius.
Brown: Given Jonathan’s hosting skill of having such vast knowledge in beauty and grooming, he learned a lot about things that would help his skin glow, and his hair just be as amazing as it is.
For me, I’ve learned the most from Bobby. I literally have found this passion for going to stores and understanding the details that it takes to really make a house a home. And also, where I focus on mental health, I think Bobby’s category focuses on mental health, as well. So, it was very symbiotic when we were talking about stuff, [with] the things I learned from him, and his just being a great design host.
What have been the greatest gifts of having a platform as Queer Eye’s Fab Five?
Van Ness: In this day [and age], with the climate of our country—and so many people really suffering and in need of something to spark that feeling of self-love and acceptance, and get them on a road to feeling good, and being engaged—having the ability to be that for anyone at this moment in history is really an honor. I don’t think any of us could have realized how much of an impact we would have.
But when we were in Washington, D.C. to advocate for the Equality Act, and got to meet with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi—and I got to interview Nancy Pelosi last year…There are opportunities that all of us have had to effect change, whether it’s Tan, with the beautiful, rich cultural history that be brings to the show, or Karamo as a father, or Antoni, as someone who’s trilingual, or Bobby, as someone who has been on his own from a very early age, and [has become] a successful business person with little to no help. I think in some way, we all have been getting ready for this opportunity before we ever even knew that we were. I just hope that we’ll be able to continue to bring the passion and awareness that we have been able to bring so far.
You shot a mini-season of QueerEye in Japan, which will hit Netflix this year. What can you share about that?
Porowski: The only thing that we are allowed to say about Japan—legally, I’m pretty sure—is that it’s going to be really cute. [laughs] Honestly, going in, I thought it was going to be a real challenge with the language barrier. We had a translator, which definitely made our job as hosts a lot easier, but what was really touching was that there was the lag in which the translator would basically switch from Japanese to English or vice versa, and you could see what we were saying hit our heroes. It had a slightly delayed reaction, but it forced that connection to really hit hard—and again, it was just a testament to the universality of this show, and the message that we try to carry forth in every single episode.
We’d long had talked about wanting to do this in other countries and other spaces, but it proved that what we do, we can do it anywhere. Anybody can do it, and we hope that that shows as an example to not only LGBTQ youths, but also our allies, that that message of kindness is something we can all benefit from.