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A fab time with the Fab Five of “Queer Eye”

By: Pam Pastor

It’s just hours after Tan France officially became a US citizen and the “Queer Eye” fashion expert and the rest of the Fab Five—Jonathan Van Ness, Bobby Berk, Antoni Porowski and Karamo Brown—were on Zoom, talking to journalists from the Philippines. 

Four days before this interview, the show’s fifth season started streaming on Netflix in the middle of really strange circumstances—with the pandemic still ongoing and the Black Lives Matter protests taking over the streets of America.

“With everything that’s going on right now, I’ve been really torn as to how to talk about the new season of ‘Queer Eye,’” Tan said in an Instagram video. “I’m not suggesting you watch to distract you from the Black Lives Matter movement or what is going on in the world… But I know how many people rely on ‘Queer Eye’ for a moment of reprieve, to feel love and connection and to be reminded of the hope that there is. I hope that you will love our heroes for what they represent. They represent the best of our country and the beauty of the diversity of our country. I hope you will continue the fight against injustice and the fight for equality.”Incredible stories

Jonathan, the show’s grooming expert, posted a similar video, saying, “I don’t want this season of ‘Queer Eye’ to be seen as a cure for what’s going on. And I also don’t want it to be a distraction to what’s going on… The heroes that are featured in this season, some of which are such incredible stories of black excellence and strong black stories that deserve to be told, I want you to meet those people.”

Season 5 hero Rahanna Gray gets a surprise

That’s the beautiful thing about the “Queer Eye” reboot. The show is so much more than just makeovers. The Fab Five and the show’s producers have managed to create a fun, safe and positive place—one we find refuge in again and again—while at the same time tackling sensitive and difficult subjects. They strike a magical balance that’s made so many people around the world fall in love with the show and the new cast since it returned in 2018. 

Sensitive and aware 

“I think it comes relatively naturally to all of us. We’re all very sensitive and aware of our surroundings and we try and speak only when we’re informed,” said Tan. “But it is interesting being on a show where we have to open up so much. We are asking our heroes to open up so much and it does start a conversation that I hope encourages others to have conversations in their own homes and in their own communities.” 

Season 5 takes us to Philadelphia where we meet 10 new heroes. Jonathan said, “The stories were just so beautiful and deep and diverse… our heroes are just incredibly lovable and there is such a resilience and strength to them.”

The Fab Five with Pastor Noah Hepler, one of the heroes of season 5

We often found ourselves laughing, crying and clapping in the course of watching a single episode. 

Our Zoom session with the “Queer Eye” cast felt just like one of their episodes—it had funny moments and serious moments and it was a fab, fab time. 

Antoni, if the Fab Five were food, what would they be? 

AP: I’ll start with Tan. (Tan starts twerking on his bed while the others laugh). In honor of today and his citizenship, he would be an American sheet cake with the stripes. Jonathan would be the world’s crispiest on the outside, juiciest in the center cinnamon bun with, like, 5 pounds of vanilla icing. For Bobby, I would make a really perfect meringue with fresh peaches and cherries and apricots. Karamo would be cake that when you cut through it, 100 pounds of Skittles would come out. 

JVN: Oh I love those cakes!

The world is a mess right now… do you have any tips for finding the good in others?  

Karamo Brown talks to Season 5 hero Nate McIntyre

KB: First of all, to see the good in others, you need to see the good in yourself. I think any change that we see in the world starts with ourselves first. It starts with how you’re communicating with yourself. Are you talking to yourself with kindness and love and empathy? Are you educating yourself about who you are and clear about who you are? That way you can then learn about other cultures and other people’s experiences. When you do that, you’re then able to meet people who may have different points of view from you or who have different perspectives and speak to them in a way where you get your point across but it’s still respectful and loving. That’s where our country and the world is right now—people banding together through empathy and education to say “enough is enough.” Some of the most difficult conversations that are happening around the world have needed to happen for a while. The same thing we try to teach people on the show I teach anyone around the world.

TF (laughing): Can I get in for a second? I just realized that you could all see my video. I was twerking on the bed, that wasn’t for your benefit, that was for Jonathan and Antoni. But I feel no shame. I don’t take it back. Sorry, go ahead with the next question. 

JVN (laughing): I don’t think they could see it but now you told everybody.

(We totally saw it. —ed.) 

The episodes with Pastor Noah really struck me… What advice would you give LGBTQIA+ viewers struggling to reconcile their sexuality with their religion?

BB: My advice is to realize the fact that a lot of the antigay rhetoric that is spewed from the Church is spewed from man. It’s rhetoric that was made up by who knows who but it wasn’t God. And so just remember that God is love and God loves you and God made you perfectly, the way you are. When it comes to family, sometimes especially when they’re religious, it can take a while for your family to be able to not just accept you, but to get rid of all the negative things that were taught to them in religion. You know, a lot of times when we come out, we’ve had our whole life to accept who we are and realize who we are, and often we expect our family and our parents to instantly be OK with it. But we have to realize that they have been brainwashed for years to think that their child is now going to hell. They need a while. It took my parents years but now my parents are two of my best friends. Remember that you are perfectly designed, that you are loved and you are made exactly the way God made you and that people will come around and it will get better. And just to love yourself because that’s the most important thing.

One of my favorite moments from this season was Tyreek Wanamaker telling you “you understand me” after seeing what you did with his home office. Can you talk about how much work goes into you getting to know the heroes before the renovation?

Bobby Berk with “Queer Eye” hero Jennifer Sweeney

BB: Thank you. A client or hero saying that I get them is one of the biggest compliments I can ever receive on a design and that makes me feel so, so happy. A lot of different things go into it, a lot of conversations that don’t necessarily make television… a lot of it is having to do with asking them about things in their life that have nothing to do with design. I’ve learned to ask them more about their favorite shows and their travel destinations and their favorite piece of clothing. For Tyreek, writing was one of his biggest passions and this was his first home so I really wanted to give him a space in his very first home that was dedicated to his passion and what really made him tick and what inspires him.

People want to know this—what happens to the stuff that you take out of the heroes’ homes?

BB: What you guys don’t see is the producers and I walk through the home with our hero and we put Post-its on everything, whether it’s to keep, donate or trash. Some stuff they keep, a lot of stuff we donate, some things we just shouldn’t keep or donate so those get recycled. Some heroes don’t let us get rid of everything and it ends up in a spare bedroom or in the basement that you guys never see or in some cases actually in a tarp out in the backyard. But, yeah, we try to donate as much as possible.

Which reality show would you want to join?

TF: “The Great British Bake Off!”

BB: You already did that!

TF: I wanna do it for a whole season. 

KB: I would do “RuPaul’s Drag Race” because baby, I love a wig and I love a heel and I’m not afraid to say it. I like it. 

AP: I would go on “Jeopardy!” because Alex Trebek is the funniest. 

BB: I would go on “America’s Next Top Model”… as a PA not as a model. 

KB: I can see Jonathan going on that show and winning. JVN: No, I really wanna go on “The Price Is Right.” I want to get Plinko and then I wanna get the Around the World challenge and get within two hundred dollars of the showcase so then I win both showcases. AP: Wait, I changed my mind, I changed my mind, I would want to go on “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?”JVN (clapping): Oh, I love that one!

BB: Actually I want to go on “The Amazing Race,” that would be fun. 

What are some of the things that amazed you the most about Season 5 heroes?

(from left) Bobby, Karamo, Tan, Antoni, Jonathan and Tyreek

TF: For me, it was Tyreek, his perseverance and his will to create a life for himself and help the people in his community who may be facing the same troubles that he faced as a kid. I think that’s really empowering.

Rahanna Gray

AP: Rahanna [Gray] is somebody who has worked incredibly hard since the beginning of her business Stylish Pooch and she’s had so many obstacles in the way. It’s definitely something that made me very well aware of my privilege.

Jonathan and Karamo have a moment with Marcos

KB: Marcos [Tlacopilco] for me was great. There’s a side of our country that likes to think that immigrants are coming here to be freeloaders and whatever, and the reality is they’re some of the hardest workers and they are some of the most honest and loving people. To see Marcos who has come to this country learn English, start a business and still try to connect with his family and be loving, I think he’s just the true American story.

BB: For me it was also Tyreek. Not only was he able to pull himself out of bad situations and educate himself and make himself successful, he also took the time while doing that to stop and try to help other people as well. It was just so impressive.